Sunday, June 21, 2009

3 Pentecost


June 21, 2009

Job 38.1-11; Mark 4.35-41

Yesterday, June 20, was the fifty-second anniversary of the devastating tornado that struck Fargo. Some of you might even remember it. For those of you who don’t remember it or know anything about it. Here’s what happened. On Wednesday, June 20, 1957, an F5 tornado hit north Fargo from the west. It tore through Golden Ridge, through the north side of town before fizzling out over the Red River and Minnesota. In its wake, 9 people lay dead. One more died from injuries a month later on July 16. Another died in January 1960, never have regained from a coma. Finally, the last victim of the tornado died February, 1964 from her injuries.

Now all of this might seem like ancient history to many of you. 1957 was a different time. We have come a long way since that year and Fargo has come a long way since that hot summer day when the air turned black and unleashed a windstorm that destroyed a good part of the city.

But I mention it today because I grew up in the shadow of that tornado. I grew up hearing the story of the tornado—usually around this time of the year. I grew up fearing the change in the weather at this kind of year, fearing the dark clouds that seemingly rise up in the west on particularly hot days. I also grew up in the shadow of this storm because two people who died as a result of that tornado were my relatives.

My mother’s cousin, Betty Lou Titgen, was knocked into a coma that, from which she never regained consciousness before dying 2 ½ years later. Her husband, Don Titgen, was killed outright in the storm.


For me, that tornado obsessed me not only for its historical meaning. In many ways, what I found so interesting about the tornado was trying to make sense of the chaos of that storm. That chaos was a chaos that wreaked havoc for years afterward. The lives torn apart and destroyed by that storm were more than just the twelve people who died. Live were ripped open, families destroyed, lives driven by that storm into some awful wilderness.

As a result, I have found myself claiming this tornado as a personal part of my own history. And, I also claim it as a part of my own theology.

Last year, at this time, I was in the midst of writing a book of poems about the tornado, which I named simply Fargo, 1957. In the course of writing the book I found myself wrestling with my own family history, with the history of this event, but what surprised me more was that I found myself wrestling with my own theology.

Now it might seem strange to some people that writing a book involves wrestling with one’s theology. Actually, it isn’t all that strange. I just read a wonderful book called The New Christians by Tony Jones. The book is about the Emergent Church movement, which I have been following closely and have found very spiritually liberating in my own growth as a Christian. In this book, Jones has probably one of the best contemporary definitions of theology. He writes:

“Theology…speak directly of God. And anytime human being talk of God, they’re necessarily also going to talk about their own experience of God.”

Jones then goes on to definite theology more succinctly. He writes, “theology is talk about the nexus of divine and human action.” I like that definition very much.

“But theology isn’t just talk,” Jones adds. “When we paint scenes from the Bible or when we write songs about Jesus or when we compose poems about God or when we write novels about the human struggle with meaning, we are ‘doing theology.’”

For me, writing that book about the 1957 tornado became a very real and potent way for me to “do theology” by writing poems. And two of the scriptures I found myself returning to again and again and using as “jumping off points” in my attempt to understand the events of that disaster of over fifty years ago, were our Old Testament and Gospel readings for today.

I found myself “doing theology” by examining the tornados of my own life (both the tornado of 1957 and all the spiritual storms of my own experience) n the light of those scriptures. What is God saying to us from the whirlwinds that invade our lives? What do we do in the wind storms of our lives, when we feel battered and beaten and bashed?

For me, I found myself, in examining these scriptures, straining against the wind of the storm to hear the Voice of God. The fact is, if you do so, we will hear God’s voice. If we turn out spiritual ears toward God, we will hear God.

For Job, the voice of God he hears in the whirlwind has no answers to the questions we find ourselves asking all the time? Why do bad things happen to those of us whoa re faithful God? Why do our lives get turned upside down? Why do twelve people die as a result of a natural phenomenon and countless lives get turned upside down? The Voice that answers him from the whirlwind with more questions:

“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
[Where were you] when the morning stars sang together
and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?”

Sometimes that’s exactly what we hear in the storms of our lives. We want answers when we shout our angry questions of unfairness into the storm. Sometimes, when we do, the Voice in the wind only throws it all back at us with more questions. Just when we want answers, we find more questions and we ourselves are forced to find the answers within ourselves.

Sometimes the Voice answering back from the wind with questions, is a voice more succinct. Sometimes it is a more potent questions—a question not filled with poetic and symbolic meaning, but a pointblank question to us. Sometimes the voice form the wind—as we shake with fear and hold on for dear life during those frightening storms—asks us bluntly: “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

Why fear the whirlwinds and all that they unleash upon us. Have we no faith? Again and again God commands us, in various voices, “do not be afraid.”

“Do not be afraid.”

And still we fear.

But the message is that although the actual weather storms of our lives will rage around us, when we stop fearing, those storms are quieted. Because the other voice that comes out of the storms of our lives is not asking a question of us. The other voice that comes out of the storms of our lives commands, “Peace! Be Still!”

“Peace!”

That wonderful, soothing word that truly does settle and soothe.

“Be still!”

In that clam, stillness, we feel God’s Presence most fully and completely. As disoriented as we might be from being buffeted by the storm, that stillness can almost be disorienting. Still, in it, we find Jesus, calm and collected, awaiting us to have faith, do shed our fears and to allow him to still the storms of our lives.

So, in those moments when the whirlwind rages, when the storms come up, when the skies turn dark and ominous, when fear begins lurking at our doors, let us strain toward that Voice that asks us, “Why are you afraid. Have you still no faith?”

And when the storms of our lives abate, when we find ourselves in that mind-boggling peace after the chaos and violence of the storm, we too will find ourselves filled with great awe and will say to one another, “Who is this then, that even the wind…obey[s] him?”





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