Guest post: Memories of the hurricane


Beltway, Houston, Texas, after Hurricane Harvey hit (August 2017)

Another guest post, this time from Brian Turnbow, one-time student on placement in Rotterdam (2007) and later returning as locum during Rev. Robert Calvert’s study leave in 2012.

Brian lives and works in Houston, Texas. After Hurricane Harvey hit the city at the end of August, I thought he might have something meaningful to contribute on the theme of refuge (September’s theme of the month). Here, instead, a post in our remember series, as Brian reflects back on his experiences before and after the hurricane.

Brian writes,

Like most residents in the city of Houston, Texas, I watched the televised news reports of the approaching hurricane at the end of August with a mix of fascination and concern. Should I join the throngs of residents at the local supermarket – with increasingly empty shelves – to stock up on food and water? Or should I drive two hours north to a safer location, get a hotel room, and wait for the hurricane to pass? Would I be able to get back to the city if I left?

Like the hurricane, my memory and impressions of the aftermath are a swirl of images and encounters: two women with no place to stay, knocking on the door of a small neighborhood church; helicopters flying overhead seeking people stranded on rooftops, escaping the rising waters; Good Samaritans in motorboats and canoes patrolling the neighborhoods, in search of stranded residents; my own car under a meter and a half of water.

My apartment, attached to a larger house where my landlords live, became a small peninsula as the water effectively isolated it on three sides from the rest of the neighborhood (the one side that remained accessible by foot led to nowhere). Sealed inside the relative safety of the house for three days, my ears became attuned to an unusual sound for such a large city: shear silence. No cars. No people. No movement. Only an occasional wind.

On the third day, signs of life slowly emerged in the city and the true extent of the devastation became clearer: houses with debris in front of them; abandoned cars, many having floated to their final destination; and entire sections of roadway still covered in meters of water. As my landlords and I ventured out of the neighborhood, we discovered – could it be?! – a small restaurant, open! Within an hour it was filled to capacity, customers and staff grateful for the time and space to gather, eat, and feel human again.

And then the process of rebuilding. Ordinary residents helping each other with food, water, clothing, and shelter. Volunteers moving from house to house helping with salvage efforts. Relief agencies pouring into the city.

When it was safe to return to my office at Fuller Seminary’s branch campus in Houston, we discovered that one of our students had lost everything in the floodwaters and had given birth at the same time. Another was on his way to visit family in Puerto Rico (and would be stranded there for a while after the next hurricane). One colleague lost his car, while another lost everything except his car.

But there’s one memory that stands above all others: the “Arkansas Baptist Men” with an armada of barbeque grills near the First Baptist Church, downtown, serving up pork sandwich plates to passersby. The memory of people taking and eating captures for me the one act that defines the city after the hurricane: hospitality.

Litany and a Prayer

We remember before God all who cry out for peace in the storm.

For those recovering from disasters of earth, wind, fire, and water:
Grant your peace, O Lord.

For those rebuilding from nothing,
and for those who rebuild the lives of others:
Grant your peace, O Lord.

For orphans and the elderly, refugees and the homeless,
for trafficked women, and for all who depend on acts of compassion and mercy for their survival:
Grant your peace, O Lord.

For those in positions of power and authority,
who direct the flow of relief and aid:
Grant your peace, O Lord.

For the ark of your Church, a shelter in the storm:
Grant your peace, O Lord.
 

 
Eternal God,
in the beginning your Spirit hovered over the waters of creation, and now calls us out of the chaos of despair and into the hope of new life.

Give us, we pray, such a vision of restoration and the world to come, that even in the midst of disasters and strife, we would know more fully your peace which surpasses understanding and the depth of your love for us in Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Amen


Before and After Hurricane Harvey, New York Times

Guest post: War and peace

Loods memorial Rotterdam 32Jewish Children’s Monument, Rotterdam (Source: wikipedia)
 

Each year, since the mid-1920’s, the Scots International Church Rotterdam hosts an annual Peace Service on Remembrance Sunday.

Joost Pot – retired auxiliary minister of the Church of Scotland and long-standing member of this congregation – reflects on his war-time experiences and our abiding need to pray and work for peace.

Joost writes,

I remember, I remember,
the house where I was born

Thomas Hood (1798-1845)

 
I remember. I was ten years old when the war started in the Netherlands on the 10th of May 1940. On that day, without warning, in the middle of the night, the Germans invaded our country. The fighting only lasted 5 days; the German army and air force were too powerful and overwhelmed us. Many Dutch soldiers were killed, and, after the bombing, the centre of Rotterdam was on fire for days. When the government and royal family left the country, the war went on from London with the Royal Navy (also around the former Dutch East Indies).

Please, not that tune

It was not easy in the war to live under an unloved regime. Most Germans knew very well that they were hated. To show their power and impress the population, the solders marched through the streets, singing. They had a complete repertoire of songs full of fighting spirit, sung to their own German tunes. One of these tunes was a Croatian composition by Franz Joseph Haydn. This same tune has found its way into English hymn books as the tune for John Newton’s wonderful hymn, ‘Glorious things of thee are spoken’. Now you understand why older Dutch church members have difficulty singing that hymn (tune).

No more war

The German occupation lasted 5 years. When they capitulated, they left the Netherlands in chaos, with hunger and starvation, people being executed in reprisal or punishment, the Jewish population almost completely murdered, and so on.

I remember May 1945 when the Germans capitulated; we were free but I knew of many who had been killed, never to come back. That was the start of local Remembrance ceremonies and speeches. We vowed we would all tell the younger generation, ‘Never again war’. But younger generations in some countries are not listening; they glorify war, it seems.

I remember the stories I heard from people who survived the concentration camps and other awful things. What war does to people is terrible, humiliating and cruel. The Bible tells us that a time will come when war will be studied no more and swords will be transformed into ploughshares and the spears into pruning hooks. (Isaiah 2:4) Jesus taught us to love our enemies and he did not condemn those who crucified him. He taught us to forgive . . .

Abiding legacy

I married Marion in Edinburgh in 1961, and we moved to Ridderkerk (15 minutes’ drive south east of Rotterdam centre) and found our way to the Scots Church in Rotterdam. Like many churches in Britain, we have a Remembrance service on the Sunday closest to 11 November, with a bugler and piper. That same evening we hold our annual Peace Service.

In reference to this long-standing tradition, Mrs Jean Morrison, a minister’s wife, writes in her book, Scots on the Dijk (1981):

“Dr Brown’s abiding legacy to the church is the annual United Service for Peace, an idea, stemming originally from a conference in Stockholm in 1924”.

In this service clergy from different nationalities and churches in the city of Rotterdam are invited to take part in their own language, so underlining the international prayer for peace. The service has a special atmosphere and is very inspiring.

A Prayer

Almighty and Everlasting God,

As the annual day of Remembrance approaches, we pray for the survivors of war. This is the time that they think of all that has happened – the destruction, their fears, the tragedy, the cruelty, asking why? It all comes back: the pain, the loss. It looks as if their scars get deeper and deeper. Is there no healing for those who once were the brave ones? But You are the Everlasting, the God of Peace, goodness and healing of all the wounds. When will our friends get rest?

Yet, we must confess the shortcomings of the world; its pride, its selfishness, its greed, its evil divisions and hatred. Yes, we must confess our share in what is wrong, and our failure to change things for the better.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God”. Lord, we pray for all who are united in their passion for peace, justice and righteousness.

Lord grant us Your Peace.
Through Jesus, our Lord and Saviour.
Amen.


Also see From generation to generation

Environmentally water-wise

River Kelvin, Glasgow, where Rev. Norman Hutcheson grew up

Rev. Norman Hutcheson served 2 terms as locum during a recent vacancy in my home congregation in Rotterdam. During his second stint in September 2015, with the Paris Climate talks due to take place in December 2015, he chose as overarching theme for the month “Climate Time”.

The Paris Climate talks proved ground-breaking. “Representatives from 196 nations made a historic pact … to adopt green energy sources, cut down on climate change emissions and limit the rise of global temperatures — while also cooperating to cope with the impact of unavoidable climate change.” (http://www.npr.org)

On a local level, Norman inspired us as a congregation to consider our environmental footprint, and we’ve made good headway in that regard, with 48 solar panels on order (as we speak), and other measures in place to reduce energy costs.

Recently the Paris Climate Agreement was once again in the news when President Trump announced that the U.S. would cease all participation in the 2015 Paris Agreement. How this will all pan out in the long run, we will have to wait and see.

What can we do to play our part for the good of the planet water-wise?

Norman’s reflections:

Haves and have nots

For years I took water for granted – always pure, straight from the tap. I now know that safe water to drink and adequate supplies for sewage and irrigation remain a far off dream for half of the world’s population. Often it’s the result of the rich and powerful taking more than their fair share of the water resources.

Will we play our part to work for equity and justice where water resources are concerned?

Food

Two years ago I represented the Church of Scotland at a meeting on Environmental matters organised by the Church of South India. I was astonished to learn that it takes 600 gallons (2500 L) of water to produce a 6-ounce (150g) hamburger. A hidden cost we should be aware of.

Will we play our part to use the earth’s resources in a responsible way?

Signs of hope

Where I come from we have little experience of water scarcity. I do know about the effects of water pollution, though. Until the mid-19th Century the River Kelvin in Glasgow where I grew up had salmon swimming up the river. Then industrialisation ruined their habitat and the fish disappeared for 150 years. In recent years there have been initiatives to restore the habitat and to bring the salmon back, with success.

Will we play our part to promote good water management where we live, for the benefit of all God’s creatures?


Recommended listening/reading
The inside story of the Paris Climate Agreement (TED talk)
To make a burger, first you need 660 gallons of water …
The Hidden Water We Use

Prayer

Lord of all, we forget sometimes that your love involves responsibility as well as privilege; a duty not just to you but to the whole of your creation, to nurture and protect rather than simply to exploit it.

Forgive us our part in a society that has too often lives for today with no thought of tomorrow. Forgive us our unquestioning acceptance of an economic system that plunders this worlds’ resources with little regard as to the consequences.

Help us to live less wastefully and with more thought for those who will come after us.

Challenge the hearts and minds of people everywhere, that both they and we may understand more fully the wonder and the fragility of this planet you have give us, and so honour our calling to be faithful stewards of it all.

In Christ’s name, Amen.

by Nick Fawcett, from 2000 Prayers for Public Worship (2008), Prayer #916


See also Water world news

Guest post #1 : Fire reflections

Wildfires have been raging for days in central Portugal, 90 miles (150km) north of Lisbon, with devastating effect.
 
Reflections and a prayer from Stewart Lamont who is currently serving as locum in our sister church, St Andrews Lisbon.

 

Reflections

20 June 2017

Most of us shuddered with horror when we saw the Grenville tower block in London become a raging inferno with helpless humans struggling inside. Then last weekend a heatwave hit Portugal and created the conditions for a conflagration in the tinder-dry countryside such as they have seldom seen, with dozens of lives lost. Now the landscape north-east of us here in Lisbon is decimated and scorched. The stench of fire is everywhere in the air. These events remind us that not all will go according to plan and that without warning the climate can turn ugly.

Such events are not a judgement on the people of the Portugal any more than they are an “act of God”. No doubt they will inspire fanatics to claim that it is another sign of the End Times, such as is found in Luke chapter 21: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.” Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.” (v. 8-11)

My interpretation of this passage is that it stands as a metaphor for the cycles of devastation which have happened so many times in human history. The point to be taken is that such tragedies WILL happen but we need to be prepared that they will happen and do what we can to avoid them, whether by avoiding war or damage to the environment or making our houses fireproof. When we do nothing to prevent disasters, or ignore the needs of those who suffer, then – in that sense only – the disaster becomes a judgment upon those who had the responsibility to act. The innocent still suffer and alas will go on doing so. Each incident affords us to respond in an appropriate way.

We are consoled by the rituals of mourning, but sometimes they deepen our sense of helplessness or we want a public enquiry and someone to blame. Moments of silence should go alongside moments of reflection on how such events can be prevented. It is long way from the flap of a butterfly’s wings to the creation of a tornado, and a long way from our recycling rubbish to the prevention of global warming, but the link is there. Each small act and each small prayer does not go unheeded by the Jesus of the Scars.

Pray

Let us remember in our prayers those who lost their lives in the fires of London and Pedragao Grande.

Gracious God, fire warms us in winter and cooks our food; it powers the machines which are now integral to our way of life and burns away our waste. Yet fire can consume innocent lives and damage the planet on which you have placed us.

We pray for:-

those who have lost their lives in the recent fires and those who mourn them;

those whose peace of mind and way of life has been consumed in the fires;

and those who will struggle to cope with the aftermath of disaster.

Loving God, grant those who survived such healing of mind and spirit that they may never be haunted by the horrors they had to endure.

May we, amid the ashes of such disasters, rebuild our resolve to ensure that we do all that we can to harness the power of fire and prevent it bringing disaster upon our communities.

We ask these our prayers in the name of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Amen

Bonus: a parable

The Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, tells a parable of a theatre where a variety show was taking place. Each act was more fantastic than the last, and was applauded by the audience. Suddenly the manager came forward. He apologized for the interruption, but the theatre was on fire, and he begged his patrons to leave in an orderly fashion. The audience thought this was the most amusing turn of the evening, and cheered thunderously. The manager again implored them to leave the burning building, and he was again applauded vigorously. At last he could do no more. The fire raced through the whole building and took the fun-loving audience with it. “And so,” concluded Kierkegaard, “will our age, I sometimes think, go down in fiery destruction to the applause of a crowded house of cheering spectators.”


More on the fires:
from The Guardian


Footnote from Stewart (26 June 2017):
St Andrews Lisbon held a retiring collection for the victims of the Portugal fires yesterday and the Kirk Session topped it up.