Outside tonight, the wind is howling. Sometimes it dies and things start to still, but it’s never for long; mostly it just sounds like a poltergeist stuck in a blender, making the air spin and tumble through our house like some invisible tide of unruly miniature cyclones. Whirly whirlies we used to call them when I was a kid. I don’t know if they still do that. It’s halfway through an Australian summer, and I’m sitting here trying to comprehend the coolness in the air tonight. This is wrong: I know that. This is my favourite kind of weather, but I know I should be baking, sweating; randomly sticking my head in the freezer for a burst of ice and making cold towels for my neck out of drenched tea towels that have been used to roll up ice cubes into the material, to put over my face to help me sleep. That is the summer I have known all my life. By now we would’ve won the cricket and all been bunkering down for a summer of tennis. We’d be looking up at the perpetually blue sky, craning our hot, damp necks and wondering if this blistering dry would ever break. We’d watch, as desensitised as we could be, the nightly news reports stating that 85 percent of our state or more was drought affected. There would be digital maps of our coastlines, covered in red, yellow and orange patches to signify the level of desperation due to water shortage. There’d be stories about how farmers were being forced to hand feed their livestock, and the rock bottom prices for which said livestock were being forced to be sold. There’d be more stories about bushfires; how they were sweeping through acres of bushland as was always the case in this season, destroying everything in their path. An endless parade of scorched, parched faces and landscapes that we knew like the backs of our own hands.
Not surprisingly, it seems strange and wildly disconcerting to remember a time when the greatest prayer of this country was for a great fall of rain.
At 4am tomorrow morning, the Brisbane river is expected to peak, devastating the CBD and surrounding suburbs for miles at levels that are anticipated to pass even the great floods of 1974. As we in other states watch the 24/7 coverage with sad and nervous anticipation of the devastation that is to come, we are likewise unable to escape the many nameless faces of our countrymen and women, who are spending tonight in emergency shelters or in the highest place they have been able to get to. We have watched on – helpless but for the money in our pockets, the prayers of our hearts and the thoughts of healing and recovery we desire now for them so desperately – as men have waded from the depths of muddy waters, pulling a stranded horse behind them to higher ground, or holding a drenched kangaroo in their arms that is too bewildered to act in the way it would usually have done in the unexpected hold of a humans arms. We have watched mothers raise hand painted signs at the grey sky as news choppers survey the devastated areas, blocked off from all bar boat and SES assistance with their kids at their sides and their possessions floating down river to who knows where. We have watched death tolls rise, and heard stories of courage and fearlessness so moving that the lump in our throat is there before we are even ready for it.
Tonight as our country tries to take in the full scope of this disaster, one particular story really struck me at my heart, the way I imagine it has struck anyone who’s heard it in the days and hours since it came to pass. It is the story of the life and death of a 13 year old boy. Jordan Rice was swept to his death alongside his mother in the flash flood that hit Toowoomba this week, after asking the rescuers who had come to try and save his family, to take his younger brother Blake (aged 9) first. It seems impossible to think that the tragedy of these floods could be made worse, but when stories such as these emerge, giving an innocent child’s face to such great and unexpected horror, we realise that our imaginations will never do justice to these events.
For me, this story struck doubly home, as – alongside the flood coverage – Australia, like much of the rest of the world, continues to see the fall out from the shooting of US Democrat Gabrielle Gifford and the subsequent attacks on bystanders that amongst others, claimed the life of Christina Green – a 9 year old girl, born on September 11, 2001 who has in many respects become the public face of this senseless American tragedy. While the gunman appears to bear no remorse whatsoever for this violently hateful and barbaric act, America like the rest of the world stands back in grief and astonishment at how powerful the senseless loss of not just a life, but a child’s life, can be.
But much like in the case of the floods, and in the subsequent loss of Jordan that has gripped this nation’s already grieving heart, just when you think a situation cannot be made any crueller, something – or some people in the case of the Arizona shootings – come along and do just that.
As a Christian – as someone who believes wholeheartedly in the power of God’s grace through Jesus death on the cross – I am intensely grieved and angered by groups such as the Westboro Baptist Church, who have brazenly announced their plans to picket Christina’s funeral, as they have done at a number of previous funerals and memorials held for others, whose deaths they have chosen to use as a media platform to spout their arrogant vitriol and hatred.
I know that a lot of the people who read this blog won’t be Christians, nor will the intricacies of my faith be familiar to them. No doubt, many will see – as they have seen many times before throughout history – people who claim to be Christians and yet behave in a manner that is undeniably cruel, unjust and even violent towards others, an antithesis of the faith they pretend to claim in order to justify their actions. With this association so strong in the minds of secular society, immediately secular society seems to see fit to group together legitimate Christians and those who only claim to be so, in order to humiliate and undercut our faith as a whole. In doing so, there is a similarly brazen attempt to dishearten and humiliate good people with a legitimate belief, and it is undertaken without any fear of recourse. It’s like identity theft, only identity theft where to prosecute the victim is seen as just as permissible as the prosecution of the thief. Staring as a Christian out into a world that I know has little or no time for my faith, I know that before I even start, there will be a contempt of what I have to say in some minds, long before I’ve said it. And likewise, I know that to write a blog entry on something as controversial as faith or religion is to invite heated and sometimes even unkind discussion.
But for my part, despite all these things I write for this reason: this is what I believe. This is a faith that I hold dear. So when I see hateful people who would have the world believe that somehow their cruel, wicked and unfeeling actions towards others – even towards those who are grieving and utterly vulnerable – are inspired and driven by my God, I feel like I cannot help but rise to my feet, feeling utterly violated, in order that I may speak up for the truth to which I hold for my life. As long as Christianity – a faith which rests not on us saving ourselves, but on the grace of God alone to save us – exists in a world that is utterly bent on proving that it is quite capable of saving itself, it will never be popular. The idea that humanity, for all it’s technology and wisdom and experience, cannot save itself from itself is not something that humanity likes to hear. And after all. How easy it must seem to doubt a loving God when we are surrounded by the hate and hypocracy of groups like Westboro Baptist Church, and by the seemingly senseless tragedies of Arizona and Brisbane.
In short, how easy it must seem to doubt grace.
And yet, here we sit. A world so often divided and cut apart by cynicism and the societal labels which we seem so determined to pin upon ourselves, now choosing to ignore all else but the suffering of our fellow men, women and children, in order that they might know they are not alone in their strife. Here we sit, separated by time and space, and yet regardless of the hour, we who once were strangers sit up and encourage each other to help those who struggle as though we have been friends for lifetimes. All the circumstances of our lives and all the choices we have made seem to have converged at this moment, in order that we might encourage each other to better love not just our planet but the people who inhabit it alongside us. I don’t pretend to know or to understand any of what goes on here, for better or worse. While it might seem an illogical philosophy to those who don’t share my faith, I believe such things are for God to know and for me to trust that He knows exactly what he’s doing in all of it. But all that aside. Are all these good things not miracles in their own right? Is it justice to call such beautiful things, accidents, or attribute them to sheer blind luck?
For me, in my own heart to do that feels so…wrong. Ungrateful somehow. Like I’ve been starving my whole life, and have suddenly found myself sitting in front of a banquet, only to fall rudely on the food without even bothering to thank the cook. And that just isn’t right.
Now for the record, I’m not trying to convert you. That is certainly not my intent with this blog, and that’s not the reason you came here to read. No. Here, tonight, I’m only trying to speak from my heart – fumbling and disorganised words though they might be at times – in order that you would know how firmly I believe that you – whoever you are out there reading this, wherever you might be – just by being here, and whether you agree with anything I say or not, are a blessing to me. By being here, you challenge me to be honest, to be a better writer, to be who I am and acknowledge that person. Regardless of what each of us believe, regardless of the places we are at in our lives and of any number of crossroads which our different paths may have led us to, know that you are proof to me of God’s grace, and that because of it, someone out in the world is thankful for you tonight.
It’s late now. The wind is still blustering around outside in the dark like a storm without a teacup, and I find myself exhausted. So much so that if I’m being honest, I realise I’ve hardly been more excited by anything else today as I am at the prospect of seeing the inside of my own eyelids shortly. Thoughts of tomorrow sit heavily on me inside; I wonder what devastation I will wake up to find has taken place before Brisbane sees the sun again tomorrow. But to my right, my ipod sits idly and I find myself reminded of a song that I have on it, that on days like todays, moments like this, I go back to for some reason.
Based on an essay by the creative mind that gave us The Chronicles of Narnia, a dear friend of mine put me onto a song called the CS Lewis Song, which is sung by Brooke Fraser. An amazing artist I highly recommend if you haven’t heard of her yet. I leave you with their combined words.
If I find in myself desires nothing in this world can satisfy,
I can only conclude that I was not made for here
If the flesh that I fight is at best only light and momentary,
then of course I’ll feel nude when to where I’m destined I’m compared
Speak to me in the light of the dawn
Mercy comes with the morning
I will sigh and with all creation groan as I wait for hope to come for me
Am I lost or just less found? On the straight or on the roundabout of the wrong way?
Is this a soul that stirs in me, is it breaking free, wanting to come alive?
‘Cause my comfort would prefer for me to be numb
And avoid the impending birth of who I was born to become
For we, we are not long here
Our time is but a breath, so we better breathe it
And I, I was made to live, I was made to love, I was made to know you
Hope is coming for me
Hope, He’s coming
(c) Brooke Fraser, taken from her album Albertine (2008), Columbia