Of Floods and Prophets

The tragedies were reflec­tions not on the pow­er of nature but on the pow­er of our human dis­re­gard for one anoth­er.
When the ram­parts of New Orleans burst and flood­ed its streets and homes, I was at a hos­pi­tal prepar­ing to wel­come a child. As my part­ner and I cel­e­brat­ed new life we saw images of peo­ple trapped in attics, heard tales of loved ones swept away as they sought to pro­tect their chil­dren. We watched oth­er new par­ents and their vul­ner­a­ble chil­dren caught with­out food, water or ser­vices in a city sud­den­ly unable to oper­ate.
The tragedies show our human dis­re­gard. The trapped were almost all African Amer­i­can. They were almost all poor. Sto­ries on the news – shot-at heli­copters, mass vio­lence in the Con­ven­tion cen­ter – reflect­ed America’s racist imag­i­na­tion more than real­i­ty. The lev­ees failed because our polit­i­cal lead­ers ignored the rec­om­men­da­tions of gov­ern­ment engi­neers and sci­en­tists and slashed spend­ing on storm pro­tec­tion. Even the hur­ri­cane itself was super­charged by a cen­tu­ry of burn­ing fos­sil fuels, our dis­re­gard for nature and our stonewalling over the real­i­ty of glob­al warm­ing.
A favorite image of paci­fists comes from a line in the Book of Isa­iah, that part in that talks about beat­ing the swords into plow­shares. But sur­round­ing pas­sages have been echo­ing in my ears late­ly. Like this one:
bq. Bring no more vain obla­tions; incense is an abom­i­na­tion unto me; the new moons and sab­baths, the call­ing of assem­blies, I can­not away with; it is iniq­ui­ty, even the solemn meet­ing. Your new moons and your appoint­ed feasts my soul hat­est; they are a trou­ble unto me; I am weary to bear them.… Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings before mine eyes; cease to do evil. Learn to do well; seek judge­ment, relieve the oppressed, judge the father­less, please for the wid­ow. Isa­iah 1:13 – 17.
The right­eous indi­ga­tion that fol­lowed the images from New Orleans is fad­ing. Life is return­ing to nor­mal in Wash­ing­ton DC and the high costs of recov­ery (and the con­tin­u­ing costs of Bush’s wars) will be shift­ed to the poor. We can­not stay silent to the vain obla­tions of our gov­ern­ment. It is time to do well and pro­tect the poor. It is time to relieve the oppressed and demand jus­tice for the human deci­sions that led to bro­ken lev­ees.
This isn’t all finger-pointing: we each need to seek a self-judgement about our Amer­i­can lifestyles that have fuelled glob­al warm­ing with its con­sumeris­tic dis­re­gard for con­se­quences. We need to depend upon each oth­er more, seek a com­mu­ni­ty deep­er and more inter­laced than that offered by Wal­mart and McDon­alds. We are all part of one anoth­er, part of the earth and brethren to our human fam­i­ly. We need to gath­er togeth­er as a peo­ple who know that gov­ern­ment and con­sumerism alone can nev­er address our society’s deep­est needs and that vain obla­tions alone will do noth­ing to put away the evil of our doings. We need to get angry and sing a song of change. We need more Isa­iahs.