The Sirens are Sounding: Will we Heed Them?

I am not sure when we as a world community will wake up. Two devastating tornado outbreaks within a month’s time in our nation with the allegedly rare EF5 tornadoes packing winds of over 200 miles per hour seem to be as good as an alarm bell as any I have heard.

Climate change is a reality.  It is not just a made up myth to scare little children before bedtime or to make block buster movies like The Day After Tomorrow.  We are facing massive climate change.  The floods in Pakistan, Australia, and Midwest; the uncontrollable fires currently in Texas, Russia, and Africa, record breaking temperatures, record breaking snowfalls; these are all pointing to dramatic climate change.

Firemap 11 May 2011 — 20 May 2011  Source: http://www.fire.uni-freiburg.de/current/globalfire.htm

I know we all laughed about global warming when we had record low temperatures and snow in the Deep South this passed year.  But with an increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere comes an increase in temperatures and an increased ability for the air to hold more moisture. So it makes sense that precipitation will be more than usual.  And it makes sense that parts of the earth will be scorched of what little moisture is left preparing the land for fire which releases more CO2 into the air—a vicious cycle.

So what will it take for humanity to wake up and take steps to drastically reduce CO2 and other emission gases?

Bolivia took a bold step in that direction when it passed laws that reflected their indigenous people’s values.  This small South American country passed legislation that equated mother earth to have equal rights as humans. These rights include: “the right to life and to exist; the right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration; the right to pure water and clean air; the right to balance; the right not to be polluted; and the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered.”

Bolivia’s Vice-President Alvaro García Linera stated. “It establishes a new relationship between man and nature, the harmony of which must be preserved as a guarantee of its regeneration.”

We need to follow Bolivia’s lead.  Our seventh principle states, “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.”  This principle is in harmony with the actions that Bolivia has taken.  We, as Unitarian Universalists can no longer afford to have nicely worded principles that we can simply point to. We need our actions and our behaviors to reflect these principles not only in our daily lives but also in our activism to change our society towards one that is also in harmony with Mother Earth. In short, we need to be radically progressive in embodying our principles if we want a planet that is conducive to sustaining not just life, but human life.  Blessings,

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So you are heading to AL to help…

Hargrove looking towards Forest Lake in Tuscaloosa, AL

So you are heading to AL to help with the horrendous devastation that has occurred in our state in the April 27 2011 tornadoes.  I think that is wonderful that you thinking about doing this.  I think it is wonderful that you are in fact planning on doing so.  However, there are a few things you need to know before you load up your van and bring your youth group with you to descend on Alabama.

First, most municipalities and counties are requiring that you register with them before you are allowed to volunteer.  This is for your protection and to protect the victims of these tornadoes.   We need to know what skills you are bringing so we can place you where the need is greatest. And we also need to be able to tell you, thank you very much but your skills are not needed at this moment in time.  Perhaps later or perhaps you were too late in offering but we need to be able to tell you this before your arrival not after you are here.

I received a phone call from a rather frustrated minister from a progressive Christian church in the Midwest.  He wants to come down Memorial Day weekend with his teens and other able bodied folks and spend a week.  He was turned away by  Samaritan’s Purse because they required a doctrinal faith agreement statement for volunteers.  His is a liberal church and he has members who are gay who would not be allowed to volunteer with Samaritan’s Purse.  Hey, it might be ethically wrong but it is their organization and their rules.

He was turned away by the Methodists for the same reason.  And he was told by the Disciples of Christ that they won’t be organizing their efforts until later in the summer when they expect their services will be needed.  This minister did not understand how we could be so unwilling to pitch in and help immediately. He gave me quite the lecture on what I was doing wrong in my ministry by not establishing a mission center to aid in the efforts.

He wanted me to house them at our congregation.  It might have been possible for us to do that but before I would answer that request, I asked what were they going to do?   His group was going to come in with chainsaws and remove trees from houses to enable electricity to be restored and get people back into their houses.  He stated he thought his congregation could get 50 houses to be able to reconnect to electricity and water within a week.  I told him based on the information I had, the houses that were livable were reconnected to power. He did not believe me.  When I told him the people who were displaced had no homes to go back to;  he became irate with me. How could I be so cold as to refuse to help people in need?   I wasn’t  being cold hearted.  The services he was providing was no longer of service to Tuscaloosa.  Every house that was livable has power  and water restored to it.

He did not want to register with the city to volunteer.  He did not want to call the American Red Cross to find out if other communities in Alabama could still use his congregation’s specific services.   I doubted this was a huge need as the last update I heard was that all homes that were livable had power restored to it in the state but since my attention has been on Tuscaloosa I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt and have him call.

Second, we are busy trying to get the 13K displaced people in Tuscaloosa into temporary housing.  Some are currently staying in hotels, some are starting to receive FEMA trailers, and some are staying with friends and relatives, some are still in emergency shelters, and some are staying in churches.  So just where do you think you are going to be staying?

Have a plan in place before you come.  Finding a hotel available might be difficult.   And staying at a congregation that is also dealing with many of their members still reeling from the trauma of losing everything they own, might not be the best solution.  It places an additional burden on the congregation to not only care for their own members but now they have to care for you too.  Just be considerate in your ask and be willing to reduce the burden of hospitality.

Third, one of the things that I have learned in this crisis is that needs change very quickly.  What is needed today might not be needed tomorrow or even next week.

Remember, my minister friend who wanted to come down with chainsaws.  That sort of help was needed one, two, three, and four days AFTER the tornado.  Tarps were also once a big need.  But chainsaws and tarps are no longer the urgent need.   Then  suddenly the need that was on everyone’s radar was clothes, new underwear, diapers, formula, shelters for pets, those lost  and displaced and those who couldn’t stay with their owners, pet food.

Today the needs that are being posted and  I have included the links in case you are seriously interested  are the following:

Tuscaloosa City Schools needs large plastic bins, boxes, and crates with lids. Persons interested in making donations should contact the School Supply Center at 205-759-8300 or the Central Office at 205-759-3700. Monetary contributions may be made online or by calling the Central Office at 205-759-3700.

Temporary Emergency Services this morning was looking for 8-10 long-term volunteers to help us cook and distribute food to needy areas, based at our Northport location (5510 McFarland Blvd, in Northport). Do you like to cook? Do you want to help, and have some time to donate today, and over the next couple of weeks/months? Give us a call at 205 758-5535, or show up at our Northport location today. Thanks!

Temporary Emergency Services on 1705 15th Street Tuscaloosa, AL  is in desperate need of cleaning supplies.

Soma of Christ Church needs: toilet paper, paper towels, Diapers (NB, 4 6 sizes), Pull-Ups, 1st Aid Kits, new underwear, flashlights, batteries, non-electric can openers, canned meat, noodles, rice, crackers, canned corn / tomatoes / tomato sauce, oatmeal, ketchup, mustard, and mayo. 212 44th CT NE Tuscaloosa, AL 35401 Call: (205) 553-2877

Board of Education in Hackleburg: Currently they have a need for plastic totes to store things. They are assessing everything else and will let us know what needs are. So, if you want to help kids in Hackleburg…totes are needed.

These are the needs that are being posted today on the Facebook page Tuscaloosa Tornado Donations.   The two school districts had several schools that were destroyed in the tornadoes. Tomorrow this list will change and some new and urgent need will arise. Another Facebook page with community needs for Tuscaloosa is Rebuild Tuscaloosa.

We are not yet in the rebuilding mode yet. Debris from destroyed homes and businesses still need to be removed before new homes and businesses can be built.  This means that Habitat for Humanity and other home building charities are  not yet ready for volunteers to build new houses for families.  That need will come but not today and probably not next month either.  So if that is what your group wants to offer, wait.  Raise some money to cover your expenses.  Raise some money to donate to one of the many funds that have been established to help in rebuilding.

So again some simple advice before packing the van with supplies and volunteers please do the following:

1) Call the American Red Cross or United Way of Western Alabama and find out what the current needs are for volunteers in Alabama.  Perhaps what you are willing to offer is not yet needed or may never be needed.  This will help in your planning and save you the aggravation of showing up and feeling dumb for not asking first.

2) Register your volunteers in the community where you are headed.  This might be with the city or it might with a county.  We want you to be placed where the need is the greatest.  If you want to volunteer in Tuscaloosa here is an online form to register.  More information is located here.

3) Be considerate of your hosts.  If a congregation is willing to put you up in their building, don’t expect them to wait hand and foot to your needs.  They are already trying to help their members to cope in the loss and grief they are experiencing.

4) Don’t become belligerent with the people you are offering to help.  We may have lost our community but we still know our needs.  We are living with this daily.  You are the outsider looking in.  We do not need self-appointed saviors to swoop in and save us. We have capable leaders who are mapping out the steps of what needs to be done today and what can wait for tomorrow, or even next month.  Allow us to take the lead in this. This is our home.

Blessings,

Published in: on May 16, 2011 at 4:46 pm  Comments Off on So you are heading to AL to help…  
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Two Poems in the Aftermath

The following two poems were written by me and used for a Listening Circle I facilitated tonight for members of my congregation in Tuscaloosa, AL who are putting the pieces of their lives back together again after the devastating Tornado that ripped through on April 27 2011. May there be peace in our hearts and minds as we continue our journey. Blessings, Fred L Hammond.

April 27 2011, Tuscaloosa, AL

After—the “Oh My God’s,” after—the tears,
After—the fears, unfounded and founded,
After—the adrenaline rush,
emerge the vacant eyes that stare
into the vortex of nothing
where something else once stood.
We—start the slow pace walks

through the thick black strap molasses of time.
Was it this morning—last week—yesterday?
that I—that you—that he—that she
asked, Is there life after all this?
Beneath convoluted rubble
is there hope of returning
to Eden’s garden?

The birds sing songs of life’s affirmation.
The flowers offer a rainbow’s promise.
Still some things take more than three days
to resurrect to their glory.
Tell me the songbirds’ song is true.
Tell me the flowers
are honest in their beauty.

***********

***********

Hope

I didn’t notice that
old maple tree’s buds swell.
One day it’s bare and then
the leaves are almost full.
Must it always be this
quiet explosion
that takes me by surprise?
Yet, I should’ve seen first–
yet, I could’ve witnessed
the flow of its sweetness.

Published in: on May 11, 2011 at 9:48 pm  Comments Off on Two Poems in the Aftermath  
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Feelin’ Like a Motherless Child

Sermon offered to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa on 8 May 2011 (c) by Rev. Fred L Hammond. One and a half weeks after the April 27th devastating tornado that rampaged through Tuscaloosa. 

“Sometimes I feel like a Motherless Child” is a spiritual written by slaves in the Deep South.  They are remembering their African homeland that they have lost.  They are remembering their mothers, their families that are far from them either back in Africa or those who have been sold to other plantation owners. It is a somber song but it also carries with it a hope.  Sometimes I feel implies that there are sometimes I don’t feel like a motherless child.  Sometimes means not always but occasionally this is true.

As I look at the devastation that has been wrought on our community and the efforts being undertaken to get through these tough times, I can say sometimes I feel like a motherless child.  I can join in and say sometimes I feel like I am almost gone.

But then I recall a few things.  I recall that when I felt that I had no friend, friends stepped forward.  People stepped forward into that role of friend, of mother, of nurturer, of protector.  All the things that we hoped would be there when the tough times come have been here in this place.

Now is the time for us to hang in together and nurture one another. To hold one another in sacred space, to hold one another in holy space where our hearts and voices are heard and validated as vital to making us whole.  This is a time of listening deeply, not debating “we should do this or that,” not seeking the fixes which are at best patch a worn piece of cloth which will rip again in the first wash cycle.  It is a time of listening.  Listening to our stories and holding them close to our hearts and validating that we have heard them. Truly heard them.

Mothers are great at fostering this in their children.  When a young child is hurt, physically or emotionally or in any other fashion for that matter, a mother will hold that child.  A mother will embrace that child, perhaps rock that child in her arms, perhaps sing to that child softly, and perhaps rub that child’s back.  These are all methods of soothing the child.  These are methods of calming the child to be in that moment and to pause in that moment.

The question of what we should or might do next will arise out of our listening to each other.  The experiences we are living through are offering us a choice as to who we will be in the future.  I know the temptation is to make a quick decision which will get the trauma behind us and as far from us as possible.  But now is not the time to make life altering decisions, now is the time to simply listen, to simply be in the moment we find ourselves in. The decisions we need to make will come when the time is ripe and their birth is ready to occur.

To be clear, I am talking about the intimate decisions of our lives, I am talking about the personal decisions here.  The more collective and larger decisions that need to be made need to be discussed. The city is already beginning to plan out what it needs to do to rebuild the city.  And it is right to do so.  These plans will take a while to develop and implement but even the city is not yet at the debating stage of these plans.  Even they are in the listening stage. They are at the information gathering stage. They have rightfully placed a moratorium on developers in the city to slow that process down so rebuilding can be planned with dignity and with integrity.  We as a congregation might have a role to play in how Tuscaloosa gives birth to the new city that will be built. But even here, we need to be nurturing, listening, and hearing the story of our collective lives being told.

When 9/11 happened, everyone in the nation was affected by the horrors of that event.  The nation was in uproar and whether you agree with what happened next or not, the nation launched an attack against Afghanistan and Iraq. We as a nation were hurting.  One person that I know responded differently.  Sarah Dan Jones, Unitarian Universalist singer/songwriter wrote a song that offered a way for us to be held, to be nurtured, to be embraced perhaps by the holy.  Perhaps if we had taken what we know from our mothers and held each other and listened with our hearts to each other then perhaps the narrative of our nation following that heart wrenching day would have been different.  The song she wrote in response was this:

“When I breathe in, I’ll breathe in peace.  When I breathe out, I’ll breathe out love.”[i]

Join me and allow the song to embrace you, to hold you close.

“When I breathe in, I’ll breathe in peace.  When I breathe out, I’ll breathe out love.”  Sing four times

We are sometimes mothers to one another. Regardless of gender, providing a mothering, nurturing experience when it is needed is something we all can offer.  The movie “The Secret Life of Bees” tells the story of young teen, Lily, who remembers very little about her mother, other than a traumatic incident during a fight between her parents. She carries this pain with her.  Her father is abusive and has told her repeatedly that her mother had left them and on the night of her death had come back only for her things.  The mother was leaving the daughter.   Lily decides to run away from home, and takes the few items of her mother’s with her, including a jar label of a black Madonna with the word honey on it.

The Black Madonna label leads Lily to a house where the honey is produced and she concocts a story that enables her to stay there. The house is owned by three African American sisters, each with their own unique gifts and strengths.  In the parlor is a sculpture of a black Madonna with a fist raised to the air.  August, the eldest sister, tells the story of this wooden sculpture.  It was found by one of her ancestors sold into slavery and once adorned the front of a sailing ship.  It is seen by the women as a symbol of their strength to weather the storms of life.  These three women and some of their friends would gather to pray around this sculpture and then as a parting ritual would place their hand on the chest of the Madonna to symbolize their drawing strength to endure. The women drew strength from each other and became mother for Lily.  In living in the mystery of life’s unfolding path, in sharing in their individual and collective struggles, they were able to offer healing to Lily. They shared a different narrative about Lily’s mother than the one she knew as a young child.

We are able to draw strength from the mothers in our lives.  We can help create a different narrative for those of us who are traumatized by the recent events.   By gathering together and drawing strength from each other we can also begin creating a different narrative for ourselves in the aftermath of this tornado.

“Gathered here in the mystery of the hour.  Gathered here in one strong body.  Gathered here in the struggle and the power.  Spirit, draw near.” [ii]

Spirit for me isn’t some other worldly entity.  I leave the mind open for the possibility of that but when I speak of spirit, it means something else.  For me, spirit is that energy that flows between two or more people.  The energy can express itself as an emotional energy but it might simply be that creative interchange of ideas that creates something new when expressed by one person and heard by another.

There is a strong connection of spirit between a parent and a young child for example.  It is a bond that transforms the other to wholeness.   Those who saw the movie, “The Secret Life of Bees” know that spirit can be a double edged sword as it was between Lily and her father.  But the spirit that I am referring to is a positive spirit, the spirit that is filled with affirmation.  The spirit I am referring to is patient and kind. This spirit does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. This spirit does not delight in harmful actions but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Now those of you who know your Christian scriptures might have recognized that this spirit that I am referring to is love.  It is also the best expression of motherhood.  This spirit is not just reserved to mothers, anyone can exemplify these attributes.

In the wake of the storm when people are most hurting, most feeling like a motherless child, we are called to be mothering to one another.  We are called to extend that spirit of love to one another, just as the slave was able to sing, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child” and add the conviction that this was sometimes; we too can help those who are feeling like a motherless child to reduce that experience to sometimes.

Blessed be.


[i]  Story and text of song used with permission of composer, Sarah Dan Jones.

[ii] Hymn number 389 in Singing the Living Tradition hymnal.

Published in: on May 8, 2011 at 1:49 pm  Comments Off on Feelin’ Like a Motherless Child  
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Hang on Toto, we are going to Oz!

Hang on Toto, We are going to Oz!”

by Rev. Fred L Hammond

Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa

1 May 2011 ©

I began Wednesday with waking up at 4:40 AM thinking that a police car was outside my apartment complex with its flashing strobe lights on. It turned out to be lightening that was happening so frequently that it produced this effect. At first I heard no thunder and then the thunder and the flashes of lightening began to fall into synch with each other. Until finally the storm was over head and the thunder was loud and booming. I never heard the tornado sirens go off as the thunder was that loud. And thus began the day that was to change the face of Tuscaloosa forever.

When I knew that we were going to be impacted by the largest tornado in recorded history, I wrote as my Face book status: “Hang on Toto, we are going to Oz!”

We know the story of the Wizard of Oz. A young teen by the name of Dorothy is feeling out of sorts and decides to run away with her faithful dog companion Toto. She runs into a shyster who takes pity on her and sees in his crystal ball Dorothy’s aunt who is very concerned for her. This revelation sends Dorothy back home but a tornado is coming and Dorothy is unable to get into a safe place so she goes to her bedroom. The tornado strikes and she is knocked unconscious. She dreams the tornado lifts the house up and lands her on top of a wicked witch in the distant and strange Land of Oz.

She longs for home in this strange place and begins her journey to the one place and the one person she has been told could possibly help her, the Wizard of Oz. Her only guide is to follow the yellow brick road. A road that she discovers has multiple paths to the Emerald City. A scarecrow tells her it really doesn’t matter which path she takes. His one desire is to have a brain that will offer him wisdom. She convinces him to join her; perhaps this wizard could give him a brain because if the wizard can get her home, then he must be some kind of wizard. They travel through some peculiar orchards and stumble upon an axe man who is made of tin but has no heart inside his hollow chest. Perhaps, just perhaps the wizard could give him a heart of compassion. Their final sojourner to join her is a lion, the king of the forest, who alas has no courage.

The four of them continue on their journey to find the Wizard of Oz in the Emerald City. A city that is green with horses of a different color; where all is peaceful, safe, and utopian-like. In some ways this is the beloved community; where justice flows down like waters and peace like an ever flowing stream.

But their journey there is not easy. It is not without conflict or unexpected detours, or pain and suffering. There are setbacks and barriers to overcome.

And by Wednesday afternoon our own journey was thrust into an unexpected detour of pain and suffering. The tornado- a mile wide slammed into Tuscaloosa and changed our lives forever. Based on the initial reports, the tornado was going to come through central Tuscaloosa and then over into Northport. And so as I saw the live weather cam and saw this monstrosity whirl its way towards us, I put on my bike helmet which I haven’t used in over 6 years, and threw the futon mattress into the center hallway of my apartment. I crawled under it and waited. After about 20 minutes I determined the storm must have passed and I walked outside into sunshine. Sunshine.

Nary a leaf was disturbed. The birds were singing their song of praise as if there was no care in the world. I had no internet, no cable and so I turned to my neighbors to hear what news they heard. I began to get a sense of the path of destruction and I became alarmed. I began calling our people who were possibly in the path of this beast. And I was getting no answer, not even cell phones were getting through.

Eunice Benton, our District Executive had called within about 30 minutes of the storm. The first inkling of destruction was beginning to hit the airwaves. Were we okay? I did not know. I was beginning the assessment of who I could get a hold of. People began to check in but those that I feared for the most there was to be no word.

I had been able to speak with Ana, she was safe but unable to get to her neighborhood to find out if her house was still there. I called Janis who live across the street, was she okay? Yes. Could she tell me if Ana’s house was safe? Yes, it looked fine from the street. When Jake, Ana’s son, who lost his trailer to the tornado, was able to walk into the neighborhood he discovered that though the front of the house looked fine the back of the house was gone. The dogs were there but traumatized.

I received a call from Rev. Jake Morrill who is a UUA Board Trustee, a minister of our sister congregation in Oakridge TN and a member of the Unitarian Universalist Trauma Ministry. These are clergy who are especially trained to help assess, plan out responses, and support clergy and congregations who have faced traumatic events. I break into tears for the hundredth time. This time because the greater world of our denomination has taken notice of our pain and the yet unrealized pain to be and wants to be with us. The message is we do not have to go this alone. Some of you may have met him when he was here Friday and Saturday to help us plan on how we can move through this event to the other side.

Thursday morning, I hear from Alice. She is with her son at Edelweiss German bakery. I meet them there. Her son shows me pictures of the community where his dad lives. It is Forest Lake. I was in Forest Lake a few months earlier for a private memorial service and marveled at its pristine appearance with perfectly landscaped yards, beautiful gardens and flowering trees filled with a variety of song birds singing their symphony. The pictures were of some other place. There were piles of giant match sticks with the lake brown with debris. Our house had landed and if this was Oz, it did not match the travel brochures.

Alice’s ex was in that rubble. One photo revealed only two things of his house still present. The stair case and a TV armoire with knick knacks undisturbed on top were all that were left. It is curious as to what remains. Students from the University of Alabama came through and found him under the narrow staircase and took him to the hospital where he was stabilized. Without their courage to go forth to help survivors, he might not have lived.

The students’ courage gave me courage for what I must do next. I still had not heard from people in the path of the tornado. I was going to walk into the neighborhood to find out, fearing the worst and hoping that they were alright at the same time is a strange tug of war of emotions. I was going to accompany Alice back to her house. We drove down one road. Blocked. We drove down another road. Blocked. We drove down yet another road and this time, Alice gets out of the car and speaks to the police officer. We are given permission to park the car to walk in. The next thing we discover the police are giving us a ride into the Kicker Road neighborhood.

There is nothing left as far as the eye can see. No trees, no houses, nothing. I have nothing comparable to compare this to. Not even the horrors of the Tsunami’s in Japan match what I am seeing. At this point Alice asks, “Where are we?” This is Kicker road, a road she has traveled on for decades. It is unrecognizable.

By this time we had received word that our people in that neighborhood at least were safe. Their houses were uninhabitable but they were safe. But what we were seeing was beyond imagining.

There was still one more couple that I had no clue about. I had lost all internet connections which meant no Facebook access. I could not even post via my cell phone. Who could have predicted five years ago that any of us would be so dependent on this new social media vehicle? I felt cut off from the world. Rob and Celeste were near the Forest Lake community, very close in fact. There was no word. I attempted a few times to get into their community and was blocked by the police. The rescue teams were still searching for possible survivors.

Some of our members were doing volunteering with other organized efforts. Ed called me and told me he was going to be walking through the Forest Lake community so I asked if he would be able to check on Rob and Celeste. He did and called to report that they were fine and house was unscathed. So this means that all of our members are safe. Some worse for the wear but safe.

It was then it hit me that we are on our journey to Oz. Many of us just want a place that we can call home. We want a place that will give us shelter. We want a place that can be our sanctuary, our refuge in times of need. We want our church to be one type of home for us and we want our living space to be another. This tornado has taken both kinds of homes in Tuscaloosa. Fortunately our church home was out of harms way but at least six of our personal homes were threatened to be unlivable.

Some of us want to make sense of all of this. I heard one of our members describing the experience of the tornado moving over head as wrestling with the almighty. This event stirs up so many old tapes in our minds. I had a fleeting thought that maybe the Baptist minister was right about god’s wrathful vengeance descending after Tuscaloosa passed the sale of alcohol on Sundays. I know that is irrational, if there is an anthropomorphic god, he or she does not cast down arbitrary vengeance. But the old tape was there. Why these people and not those people in the next house or next block? Why this tree and not the one next to it?

We are a meaning making people. It is in our evolutionary genetics. We want life to have a purpose. We want life to be filled with meaning, with destiny. These events are hard to comprehend because there is no meaning in them. So some of us want to have a brain that can comprehend, make meaning, make sense, and most importantly fill us with wisdom that will guide not just us but others around us.

I was in amazement of the number of people who were helping each other. While I was at David and Sheila’s on Thursday, viewing all the trees that had crashed on and around the house; David had stated that he needs to have some people to come and clear the driveway so that their vehicles could get out. There was a huge tree and I mean with a huge circumference that had fallen across the entrance of the drive. And I don’t think it was anymore than a few minutes and some one with a chain saw began doing just that very thing. It was if his wish was at this other person’s command. The generosity of people helping out each other was astounding.

People came by with water and sandwiches for those working. Others appeared to begin moving debris out of the yard to the edge of the road for eventual pick-up. The heart of Tuscaloosa was beating strong and it rhythmically spelled out compassion. Our own members were part of this compassion sharing. I fielded many calls from our members looking for ways to help. And the offers were as varied as there are stars in the heavens above. I know many offers were not taken up just yet, but that does not mean there won’t be future opportunities. Trust me there will be future opportunities. We were pulling together to help one another and I was amazed at how quickly that came together. And I was amazed at how much was done in the short span of time.

We are under the gun with the threat of heavy rain and so tarps had to be put up. And we responded with urgency and with largeness of heart.

And along with largeness of heart is another kind of heart, one that has courage. The word comes from the Latin cor which means heart and the old French word which refers to the inner heart, a metaphor for inner strength. Some synonyms include bravery, fortitude, endurance, mettle, spunk, spirit, tenacity. Some of us are searching for courage like the lion in the Wizard of Oz for in the days and weeks ahead it will be courage that gets us through.

It was only together that Dorothy, the scarecrow, the tin man, and the cowardly lion were able to reach their goal of defeating the wicked witch of the West and in the process developing the character that is needed to achieve their ultimate goals. Together we too can make our way towards the Emerald City.

We will need to lean on each other for heart, for courage, for wisdom and we will need to be the ones who create a sense of home once again. In the days and weeks and months ahead as we rebuild not only Tuscaloosa but the lives of those so devastatingly impacted by this tornado, we will be required to come together in new ways. We will be stretched to find new wisdom that has been there all along but never recognized. We will be called upon to love one another with compassion in ways that may seem foreign to us but if we want to rebuild, this compassion is not an option but a necessity for our spirits to be renewed. In the days ahead we will be required to act with courage, with fortitude, with tenacity because there will be days that seem that nothing is moving fast enough for us. Every disaster that has happened in this country on this magnitude or greater has been fraught with a bureaucracy that apparently has wheels stuck in molasses. And to get through this it will take courage the likes of which we may not have seen before.

But we will survive this. We will take this experience and grow from it. We will learn to love one another in visible ways that we have never imagined possible. This will happen because we have already decided to do so in the actions that we have done in these past few days.

Later today, Rev. Bret Lortie from the San Antonio Church and another member of the Unitarian Universalist Trauma Ministry will be here. He will be helping us take the next steps of healing. Mary, our board president and I will meet with him this afternoon to map out his time with us. He will be here the next few days and will leave on Wednesday. His role is to walk along side us as we begin to process all that has happened. He again represents that we are not alone in this journey. Depending on our needs there may be another minister who comes for a few days after Bret.

But understand that our yellow brick road will continue for quite some time. We need to follow it together and Bret and others will be available to us help us access the heart, the courage, and the wisdom that is already within us to lead us home to Oz. Blessed Be.