life in the suture zone...

In the earthquake faults between tectonic plates, the suture zone is the in between place where they meet. I find in that a metaphor for the times in which we live... and invite your conversation in the suture zone.

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Location: Bakersfield, CA, United States

... a struggling, but mostly joyful, apprentice of Jesus.

Friday, September 02, 2005

devastation and desperation and life under the scab...

Note: I don't know how I feel about the following post; I feel it strongly, but welcome your dialogue (as always).

I had a hard time going to sleep last night. I should have.

Since our daughter got her television fixed and went back to school, we’ve had our television back in our bedroom. I left it on the floor for awhile, reluctant to put it back in the armoire on its swivel platform. Seems more peaceful without it. For one thing, I like to read and I can’t read with the television on. I especially can’t read when the television is spewing out words of desperation and accusation from people who have been abandoned in New Orleans.

So just before bed, after having ridden the emotional rollercoaster of the all news channels with interspersed forays into the Food Channel and A&E and the Family Channel looking for relief (and finding none – not even Whose Line Is It Anyway? sufficed), I sat down on the bed. Dorothy asked something like, “Do you mind if I turn this on? Is this going to bother you?” (If you’ve been married you know the answer to the question, right guys?) But I picked up my book and walked into our family room. I couldn’t take it anymore.

I don’t know how many of you have spent time glued to your television set with the Katrina disaster, but it has been heart-wrenching to say the least. I was nearly apoplectic last night to hear the phone call to one of our local news stations from the daughter of one of our local families, who, with her husband, an older woman (grandmother?) and several others caravanned in two cars to one of the open bridges out of New Orleans only to be turned back – with gunfire making the point – by of all groups the National Guard!

The natural devastation is horrible. But we’ve had horrible natural devastation before – two huge storms in Florida last year alone. We’ve seen the heroics before. Remember the stories from Florida and the twin towers in New York?. And this story started the same way shortly after the hurricane passed through. But it began to take an ugly turn two or three days after. To say that the local, state and federal response has been inadequate is to master the height of understatement. Obviously, they never expected such magnitude in the crisis. And I’m not trying to pretend the answers are simple ones. Shutting down a city of more than 1 million people and trying to find a place for all those displaced people is no small project (not to mention housing the forgotten victims of this tragedy – Biloxi, Gulfport and to a lesser extent Mobile, plus all the farms and little towns; Waveland, I understand, was ground zero for the hurricane).

What we have not seen before, at least to this extent, is the ineptness of the response and the dark underbelly of our society. This is going to rest uneasily on the national psyche of the United States for a long time. Fellow citizens of US America, welcome to the real world.

Sadly, we are used to seeing these pictures from some sub-Saharan African nation run by a dictator plagued by a militant rebel bent on coup. We are used to seeing the desperation of people caught between a corrupt South American government on one hand and the drug lords on the other. We can see that on the evening news when television news editors deem it more important that the latest scandal surrounding the latest Hollywood star. And we can go to sleep.

But in the United States? No, it can’t happen here! Our threats are from outside terrorists, not our neighbors. We cannot descend into such anarchy. Well, we have. The scary thing is that it is not very far below the surface. Scratch a festering wound and it breaks open to reveal much hidden below the scab. That which unites us is frayed and worn, stretched and oozing. This shows us just how much like the rest of the world we are and how quickly we fall into anarchy when something opens the wound.

I in no way blame the desperate people trying to find a way out of the nightmare that the aftermath of Katrina has become. I ache for them. I wish I could do something more for them. New Orleans is not a safe place. This nation is not a safe place. The world is not a safe place. Makes me value once again David Lipscomb’s distrust in any government to bring about the kingdom of God. Guess I’m a true son of at least that part of my heritage.

Truth is that our middle class is disappearing. The rich get richer. The poor get more desperate. It takes such a disaster as Katrina to open our eyes to it.

I guess the question for those on the suture zone… and those still not there… is how do we respond to such a world as people of faith? What does it mean for the good news of the kingdom of God to break in into such a fragile and desperate situation? Certainly not doctrinal systems and finely parsed dogma. Is it words? Is it money and volunteering? Is it cooperation with others with whom we may disagree religiously or politically? Is it joining people from the Big Easy in crying out to God in desperation, demanding to know why such a tragedy should befall them?

The news is not all bad. The initial crisis, though prolonged almost a week now, will subside. There are people opening their homes up to complete strangers who have been displaced by Katrina; strangers that they are fearful of, and yet they open their homes. Churches of all stripes (and I imagine synagogues and mosques and temples, etc) are opening their doors as shelters for the displaced. The scab will reappear soon and we will try to pretend that what is beneath it is not really there.

Last night, God saw beneath all the scabs of the world. He saw the desperation of the people in New Orleans. He saw the desperation of the people in Darfur and Columbia and a million other desperate places. He saw the desperation of your neighbors, the homeless in your community, the addicted. And he couldn’t sleep. He hasn’t slept in millennia.

Open our eyes to what you are doing, O God, and give us grace to join you.

Grace and peace,



Blogger Adam Cooper said...

Thanks for the thought food!

1:13 PM  
Anonymous Marshall said...


– For Owen, in consideration of the victims of Hurricane Katrina

Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not.
– Matthew 12:32, NIV

Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.
– Matthew 25: 45, NIV

Reading McLaren, I realize
the gospel has many hearts.
But the one I hear beating loudest today
is the one that calls our spirits

to recognize the greater Spirit.
Jesus says we may
reject the man himself, but must
see good as good to pray

forgiveness. True that poor men starve,
which the wealthy can’t prevent
en masse. But to call a man a fool
for sacrifice, we are sent –

self-sent, I think – beyond the pale.
True, too, that the wealthy starve.
The poor as well have a store of greed.
Such a famine of love!

My Doctor, give us eyes to see.
My Painter, thick black lines.
My Legal Analyst, propose
desire to pay the fines

of “lesser” men, of “greater” men;
we are uniformly dust.
My brothers’ houses are in ruin.
Let us not mistake the just.

September 2, 2005



What an impossible thing to be a man!
The accident of birth and all our crazed
predispositions. Desires that tug our chains,
and pains unlimited: the “Suck my d**k, you f*g”
of elementary school; the irony
of irony; the paper cuts, tsunamis,
infant cries we stifle all our lives.

Pure monkey laughter, all the salvation
we get, some days it seems. Many a Nazi
slaughtering Jews was Christian – the broken heart
upon the cross, the broken cross upon
the heart. And everywhere the mystery
of being at all. Counterintuitive nature.
The burden of consciousness. The alarming fact
of death. The appendix of intuition through
the empirical age. Cancer. Birthdays at the bar.

But, look: the fried-egg sandwich that is hope.
The house burnt down, but the date with a red-haired cop.
The courage to stare at the staring void and shout,
“Get bent.” Perhaps God isn’t Mercy; then
to articulate the stiff, cold facts like Hamlet and
collapse with dignity.

Yet still the reckless,
steel-hard drive to turn a sixth and seventh
cheek, our loopy willingness to sacrifice,
to hit the ground and hit the ground and hit
the ground, rise and hobble, wait and see.

September 1, 2005

1:13 PM  
Anonymous Marshall said...

Hi, Owen & friends,

Just a note to say that I've been watching the news closely each day. My poems above have come to seem inadequate, almost flippant, as though perhaps silence is the most appropriate response to such devastation and suffering. So many questions have been raised. I have seen more than one commentator ask, "Is this intelligent design?" I feel pretty sure that the ancients would have taken the devestation as a mark of God's wrath. The problem of American poverty and disparity has certainly been trumpeted around the world. GWB's slowness to respond, at least initially, seems inexplicable in decent terms. The devastation at home casts a harsh new light on the war in Iraq. One commentator has asked how we can presume to demand a civil government in Iraq when this is what we have at home. What part has race played in all this? What part has class played? Should we rebuild? Is Katrina the result of global warming? The news today said that the aftermath of Katrina is now costing us more per day than Iraq, which already was extraordinarily expensive. Gas where I live is about $3.30 per gallon. Two more hurricanes are off the coast, and the season has yet to peak.


At the same time, many brave, generous souls, rich and poor, are working alongside the God of Love, from celebrities such as Celine Dion, who gave a cool million from her own pocket, to the fellow who opened his private home to 27 refugees. In my own life, I have been thinking about how action weighs in the scale alongside theology.

Owen, your prayer above is haunting in that it raises the question, What is God doing? The teaching and wisdom of a song by spiritual/secular pop singer Sam Phillips keeps running through my head: "After you've given up and all is gone / Help is coming / One day late."

10:11 AM  
Blogger Owen B. said...


Actually, I think God is doing a lot. My next post tells the story of what one man did, while facing devastation nearly on a scale of what Job suffered.

What Celine Dion has done, what other famous people have done and many not so famous people, whether they acknowledge God as God or not, are still reflections of the life that God has called us to -- kingdom living, recognizing our common humanity and responding to each other as brothers and sisters.

At the least, this horrible tragedy is giving a face to the poor and disenfranchised of our world. Something we who are well off have avoided, especially in our cloistered churches.

I know I keep beating this drum. But I can't help it.

Regarding our government's response (or lack of timely response) to this tragedy...

I do believe some hard questions need to be asked and answered. My preliminary judgment is that it is not so much a failure of the federal government as it is a failure of judgment at all three levels -- local, state and federal. This is to take nothing away from those who have tried to respond to this unprecedented tragedy. But I don't think there were clear mechanisms in place for handing off responsibility up the chain as the tragedy escalated. I may be proven wrong in this in time as examinations take place as to what went wrong. But I suspect that significant coordinated policy changes are in order at and between all three levels.

I have largely stopped watching the news because it has turned to photo ops, finger pointing and especially attempts to gain political advantage. Understand that I am jaded in that regard, having dealt with state-level legislators for some years. To both parties, it appears to me to be a game as to who can embarrass whom, what advantage can I gain by spinning something a certain way, what compromising position can I place my opponent in, etc. Believe me, I could tell you stories from both sides of the political aisle. I have sat across the desk from a number of California's legislators. And I am admittedly cynical from the experience. And with very few exceptions, I should use the word "rare" I think, most politicos are in it for money and power. That's it. Period.

I especially resent Rep. Nancy Pelosi's rabid dog attack on Mark Brown, director of FEMA. He may need to be fired. But not as the result of a rush to judgment with a lack of facts, and especially not because she wants to gain politcal advantage for her party by embarrassing the President. (Seems to me, he can do a good job of that himself at times.) Understand those "righteous" words from Rep. Pelosi were thought out for political advantage only. Of course, I could cite examples of inappropriate response and obfuscation from the other side of the political aisle as well, stuff just as reprehensible. (Her reported response from the President is just as inane and reminds me of schoolyard word battles when someone doesn't know what else to say. "My dad can beat up your dad!" Ridiculous!)

Somebody, please, remember that these are people we're talking about who have been through something that our imaginations cannot even conceive of no matter how many pictures of video clips we've viewed. The word "hell" certainly comes to mind as a description.

Finally, I don't think these poems are flippant at all. I have little faith that any politician will do an adequate job of summing up this tragedy. That is the work of poets and philosophers and artists and photographers and writers and such. It's going to take a lot of writing and painting and sculpture and poetry and whatever to get us through this one. A lot.

All the questions you ask are important questions and deserve reasonable investigation and response other than spin. I hope our leaders take the time to do that responsibly. Unfortunately, personal experience makes me rather cynical in that regard as well.

It's a good reminder that God never promises that his kingdom will break into the world because of the involvement of any political/government structure. The church would do well to remember that that is our job.

Again, God give us eyes to see and willing hearts and hands to join.

Grace and peace,


11:16 AM  

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