Sunday, December 26, 2004

The day after yesterday

I wonder if anyone is going to compare the Christmas earthquake -- the worst earthquake on earth in the last 40 years according to these reports -- to the terrible forebodings of "The Day After Tomorrow." Well, maybe, but not for awhile. For now, there's still so much work to be done.

The reports of the devastation are incredible. The death toll is estimated to be over 11,000, and that's not even to mention the greater numbers injured and displaced, and the property damage. So much damage, so many people. It makes you feel terrible that you don't have more funds at your disposal. I'm sure there'll be a collection at church today (I'm staying home today for reasons I'll explain elsewhere), but even all of us pooling our resources seem insignificant. It will undoubtedly come to light that mega-tons of supplies and millions (or billions?) of dollars for relief, services and aid are needed. If I were able to take every dollar I've ever earned in my life and every one I ever hope to earn and direct them toward this one cause, I doubt it would make any appreciable difference or keep many people from perishing for lack of medical attention, housing and supplies.

This is the terrible inheritance of the modern Christian. We're equipped, as all people in first-world countries are, with the incredible advances of mass communication which enable us to hear global news instantly. Consequently, we are aware of a much greater number of disasters from around the world. We also have the tremendous advantage of huge charitable organizations like the Red Cross, United Way and a plethora of others which send us constant appeals for donations. But in spite of having grown much bigger antennae to detect problems and much longer arms to reach out, we still only have one person's ability to pay for things, one person's lifetime to do them in. We're not permitted the indulgence of thinking that we have fixed something completely or permanently, because in the second it would take us to pat ourselves on the back, fresh reports have come in and fresh appeals have arrived.

It reminds me of my experience of giving this year, which in turn reminded me of something in a book I read. This year, Greg and I were blessed with an unexpected largesse -- money that came in from a joint property my family owned and which my mother decided to sell. I determined early that I would split up the tithe on that money and see where it could do the most good. In the course of things, I arrived December 23rd with $2500 left to spend when I happened across a story in the St. Joseph paper telling me that there were 203 families on their Adopt-a-family Christmas program who hadn't been adopted. Two hundred and three! My amount to give, which had seemed so enormous a minute before, seemed like nothing ... because it was. It would give every family about $12. In the end, I had to settle for giving to fewer families and hoping that I wouldn't be the only person moved to action by the news story. I may find out that they were all helped in the end. But then again, I might not.

It made me remember something in Catch-22. The protagonist (if you can have such a thing is a book as iconoclastic as Catch-22) named Yossarian is flying a mission when his plane is struck by flak and a crew-member named Snowden is hit. Yossarian goes back and sees Snowden on the floor of the plane talking almost incoherently about the cold and showing a bad, but not terrible, wound. Yossarian immediately begins medical care -- which is described in careful detail -- and quickly has the wound cleaned, stitched and treated. At which point Snowden mentions the cold again and indicates his side. Yossarian opens his jacket and sees for the first time that Snowden is, in fact, spilling out from a wound much bigger and completely past hope of treatment. I think in the book it's one of the many times that Yossarian goes insane. I believe that when he lands, he takes off all his clothes and climbs a tree and won't come down (but I could be remembering that wrong. It's been years since I read the book, and it's confusing enough to remember a week later, let alone years.).

That's the crux of our problem these days, and I suppose I don't need to just include Christians when I postulate that it's enough to make us insane. Our pain might be the more acute for having been directed by the Author and Perfector of our faith to give to the poor, but then it might be mitigated as well -- as my husband just now dropped by and sensibly reminded me -- by knowing that He never promised us we could solve all their problems. In fact, Jesus told us specifically that we would always have the poor with us. So when we give, we really have to give as if the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing. If we insist on paying a lot of attention to our charitable giving, and being logical and sensible about it, we'll undoubtedly end up in the same place as many scientifically-minded people are -- not giving at all.

So maybe again, we do the right thing -- when we do the right thing -- not because we're made of better stuff than those around us who don't, or even because we love the Lord on Christmas Day enough to empty our wallet many times over for earthquake victims, but because we have been given the blessing (or curse) of sight in a blind world. And so we give, because the alternative is too terrible to contemplate.

4 Comments:

Blogger Kelvin said...

Yes Grace, it's very very sad. Asia is wailing. Why did God allow so many natural disasters to us Asians? I am asking this question hoping that God will answer me silently. Asia is poor, but God is killing Asians.

December 27, 2004 at 4:26 AM  
Blogger Minor Clergy said...

May I? God is not killing Asians. I know this disaster is hard to fathom, but it is not spite or smite. I'm not trying to logroll, but please go look at my latest entry. Its not very good, but it was the best I could do.

December 27, 2004 at 8:14 PM  
Blogger Grace said...

Thanks, MC:
I'm late in getting back. I haven't gone and checked the link, but anything you have on this subject would be much appreciated.

Kelvin:
I hope it doesn't still feel like the wrath of God to you. But it's not for me to say how you should feel about this, any more than it's for me to say what the answer really is.

As you know, I'm in London right now, and they are taking up collections constantly (including at all three of the plays we've attended, and on the streets and in the subways). It has taken all the main headlines in the newspapers every day since it happened. I think if England were more of a religious country, they would be reminding each other to pray for your countries and all the victims constantly.

So for what it's worth, they don't think God is killing you. They think that a terrible thing has happened and that they must help.

January 2, 2005 at 7:56 AM  
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