E-pistle September 3

Jesus, The Weather Channel and Our Addiction to Disaster
As I entered the hospital room yesterday afternoon, the patient greeted me and then turned back to watching the television. Though she had some medical concerns that were serious enough to warrant a stay in the hospital, she was much more concerned about Hurricane Earl and the damage he might do as he lumbered towards the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
My eyes were also drawn to the screen and I saw the now familiar scene. A Weather Channel reporter in a company wind breaker, her hair blown by the wind, standing on the beach with the pounding surf behind her. After her report about the blowing wind and the pounding surf, we returned to the studio where the anchorman provided narration for the satellite images and maps and diagrams being projected behind him.
But as hurricanes go, Earl has not at all lived up to his initial billing. What little category 4 energy he could muster was wasted far out over the Atlantic and he has been altogether timid about getting close enough to land to do much damage. Of course, Earl may yet do harm further north and we need look no further past than five years to be reminded of just how serious a threat hurricanes pose.
The science of predicting the strength and course of a hurricane is still inexact at best. But that is not what interests me.  What interests me is a sense that we’re almost disappointed when hurricanes veer out to sea and earthquakes rattle but topple no buildings. The mine collapse holds our attention until they find all the miners alive and well. Celebrities and politicians are most fascinating to us when their private lives spin out of control.
I think we’ve become addicted to disaster.
Or maybe it’s nothing new at all. Maybe like the Romans we’re addicted to the circus – and isn’t it nice that hurricane season is over just about the time the NFL and college football seasons heat up. Maybe like the citizens of Jerusalem in Jesus’ time we’re addicted to gossip. Disaster, live from the scene, 24/7, entertains us. Disaster in the lives of those whose names we all know, gives us something to talk about.
Disaster happens. Jesus told stories with disaster themes to teach us life lessons. There was the one about the wise and foolish builders who wanted to build vacation homes on the Outer Banks. Or the story of the person who took out a home equity loan just before the real estate bubble burst. Jesus thought we should do all we can to avoid disaster – trusting his word living by Kingdom standards, is what he taught.
Jesus also taught us to respond to, rather than be entertained by, disaster. He commends to us the sort of person who feeds the hungry, gives drink to the thirsty, befriends the stranger, clothes the naked, cares for the imprisoned and the sick.
Whatever else Hurricane Earl does over the next few days, we can be pretty sure that he is going to leave Bucks County alone. We have our disasters, however; just not the kind that make for good circus and tantalizing gossip. Homelessness and hunger – Jesus commends to us the sort of person who volunteers for Bucks County Housing or Aid for Friends. Poor education and declining health – Jesus commends to us the sort of person buys school supplies for Hunting Park Christian Academy or visits a nursing home. Spiritual hunger and moral confusion – Jesus commends to us the sort of person who shares his gospel in word and in deed, in a Sunday School classroom or over coffee at Starbucks.
We won’t make cable news, but it really is better to respond to than to be entertained by disaster.