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September 20, 2005
Getting It

Jesus said, "What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, `Son, go and work in the vineyard today.' He answered, `I will not'; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, `I go, sir'; but he did not go.
Matthew 21:28-30

I open the door of Rosie's room and close it again quickly -- it's just too frightening a sight for someone with heart trouble. We have had family meeting after family meeting about the very few rules of living here, and one of them is Keeping One's Room Clean. Not Martha Stewart clean: Q and I are not unreasonable people. Just Centers for Disease Control clean. Just clean enough not to be a health hazard.

At the meetings, there is always grudging agreement about this -- the it's-my-room-yeah-but-it's-our-house kind of detente which is often the best one achieves with very young adults. The meetings end up with a plan that the minimal cleaning we require will take place. Always. And it rarely does.

Meanwhile, she has cleaned my office to within an inch of its life without being asked. I hardly recognize the place.

I do not understand her.

What made the son who said 'no' go and work after all? Somehow he must have crossed over into a more mature place -- he must have understood that everybody's livelihood depended upon the harvest. That nobody would eat if the crop failed -- including him. And that his dad couldn't bring it in alone. He must somehow have gotten it. What had felt to him like an external demand suddenly became his own

Some of them are so easy and some of them are so hard. Some of them say yes and then do what they say, and others do all sorts of other things. We look at those others with a clutch of fear in our hearts, because we know fifty-year-olds, sixty-year-olds who have never gotten it, who have lived irresponsible and unhappy lives and have blamed everyone else for everything that happened in them, and we are so afraid they will end up like that.

And maybe they will. But most of them will get it, even if it takes them longer than we wish it did. Life will teach most of them what can and can't happen, and they will come to understand that nobody on earth has nearly as much to do with what happens to them as they themselves do.

The father in this story just gives his instructions and leaves. We don't hear of him again. He doesn't hover around the situation. He doesn't check up on his sons. He doesn't make repeated requests. He seems not to have family meetings. He just waits to see what will happen.
Ezekiel 18:1-4,25-32
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:28-32
Psalm 25:1-14 or 25:3-9

And here is the ERD meditation:

Acts of God

Yet you say, "The way of the Lord is unfair." Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair?
Ezekiel 18:25-26

An "Act of God" is what something like Hurricane Katrina or the Indian Ocean tsunami is called in the language of insurance policies. If you smoke in bed and burn your house down, it's your own dumb fault but you're probably covered. If somebody breaks in and makes off with your TV, you're covered. I somebody trips over a footstool and breaks his ankle at your Christmas party, you're covered, even if he was feeling no pain and wearing a lampshade on his head and couldn't see where he was going. But the misfortunes that don't arise from human folly are Acts of God, and you may have a problem.

Does God make the weather? The earthquake? Yes: however you think such things come to be, they certainly are not the result of human agency. But does God target them at specific cities or groups of people? The ancient writers of scripture thought so, but most of us have moved on from that. And most of us know something else: human folly may not author a natural disaster, but it can sure make it worse.

These matters are for government and political activists to change. But, for Episcopal Relief and Development and all who must respond first to disaster, they can never be the immediate concern: we must take care of the people, the wise and the foolish, those who knew better and those who didn't. Whose fault made a bad situation worse is an important question, but it cannot be our question. What we must do now is get people to safety, get them housed, get them medical care and food and help local leaders prepare for the long haul of reclaiming their homes and their livelihood.

A sudden crisis stops being sudden right away; it becomes an ongoing ache of need and more need. ERD is experienced at responding. The local dioceses with whom we work always know their people and their resources and their needs better than anyone from far away ever could.

Whose fault is Hurricane Katrina? The tsunami? ERD is too busy right now to spend much time pondering that question, but one thing is certain: the strong loving national response to the needs of the people on the Gulf Coast is surely an Act of God.
I am indebted for the germ of this "Acts of God" meditation to a sermon preached this past Sunday by the Rev'd. Jonathan Percival of St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Metuchen. NJ.
ERD continues to work hard everywhere tragedy has struck, long after the television cameras have moved on to other things. In Africa, Asia, South America and the Caribbean, long-term recovery and development work continues, and we are there. To learn more about ERD or to make a donation, visit or telephone 1-800-334-7626, ext. 5129.
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