Though my house was spared from an extended power outage last week, I was struck by the hospitality that was shown in our Bethesda neighborhood toward those who were not so fortunate. Up and down our street, folks opened their homes to friends and family seeking refuge from the record heat wave.
During a 4th of July reading of the Declaration of Independence (a yearly tradition on our street), we gathered over donuts and coffee to share stories about downed power lines, water boil alerts, and tree-lined streets turned into tree-buried streets. Everyone enjoyed seeing new faces at our holiday gathering, strangers with whom we had this one thing in common – the storm.
The spirit of hospitality was tested during the outage too. A friend who lives on the other side of town dropped by last night and spoke about the new divisions that had developed in her neighborhood. It turns out the issue of generator ownership had created a new class schism of “haves” and “have-nots.” The have-nots were doomed to spend the night serenaded through their open windows by the loud clap and noxious fumes of gas-powered engines, while the haves slept in quiet, frosty homes. Play dates were cancelled, relationships strained.
Another entity who did not experience goodwill in the aftermath of the storm was the universally condemned Pepco. Saturday morning one neighbor related how she testified heroically against the power company at a city hall meeting. The gathering audience nodded in agreement. Untrimmed trees, mis-trimmed trees, slow response-time — the community united around a mutual disapproval of the Pepco’s performance.
But it’s hard to judge too harshly, isn’t it, in light of that freakish thug-storm that surprised us all as it careened through the eastern U.S. last Friday. A friend of mine reports drawing water from the stream behind his house to flush the toilets, and I was reminded how we are all one bad storm away from little house on the prairie (albeit with smart phones).
Creation is a fickle sister, and perhaps she has reason to be. The apostle Paul speaks of creation as being in a state of earnest anticipation, waiting for a wonderful, grand, and global event (Romans 8:18-25). Until that time, creation “groans,” and we groan with it, because, according to Paul, we know at a deep human level that all is not as it should be. There is a communal aspect to suffering of this type, but, if the apostle is right, it is actually a hope for a better world.
It is also a hope that we share with nature. We yearn with nature for a time when the suffering will be set aside, replaced with glory.
As a Christian in the modern world, I realize how strange this sounds, how alien and unbelievable, and yet at the same time Christians still believe it, just as they believe God raised his son Jesus from the dead, which itself is a much more extraordinary claim.
Last week’s storm was relatively minor in the scale of natural disasters. Beside a tsunami or a real hurricane, our derecho seems a bit quaint. Even so, the hospitality seen in its aftermath points perhaps to something greater than the sum of our parts.