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Signs of the Times  •  29 August 2017 •  No. 134

Processional.The Flood Blues,” Louis Armstrong & Hot Seven Band featuring Bertha “Chippie” Hill.

Above: Rescue boats fill a flooded street as people are evacuated as floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey rise on Aug. 28, 2017, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Invocation. “I was hollerin' for mercy, and it weren't no boats around / Hey I was hollerin' for mercy, and it weren't no boats around / Hey that looks like people, I've gotta stay right here and drown.” —Big Bill Broonzy, “Southern Flood Blues

Call to worship. “Listen, all you who stagger in desert waste, / disgraced by gloom’s unremitting groan, dragged / daily to death’s gate and the sea’s drowning flood. / The Blessed One stands at the gate of plenty. / The Beloved waits by the well of refreshment. / Abandon your beggarly quest for breath beyond / the pale of praise, for sustenance beyond the tie / that binds all hearts as one.” —continue reading “Let gladness swell your heart,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 107

Hymn of praise.Wade in the Water,” Blind Boys of Alabama.

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Houston, we have a problem: Hurricanes and nature's disdain

        Currently, “Harvey” ranks at 97 on the top 100 most popular boys’ names in the US for 2017. I doubt it will still be on the list at year’s end.

        Monday morning I heard from two good friends in Houston. Turns out they were safely away during Hurricane Harvey’s crawl across the region. Good neighbors braved flooded streets to get to my friends’ home to check on damage. Flood waters were lapping at the porch but had not yet crossed the threshold. Just in case, the neighbors went in and carted some valuable items upstairs.

        Investing neighbors with a key to your house is testimony to actual neighborliness.

        I was glad for this small bit of news; but the gladness was no match for the sadness of knowing what was occurring on a larger scale throughout much of the Southeast Texas (and, increasingly, in Louisiana, where Harvey seems to be headed next).

        So I spent the morning listening to bluesy music about floods. I’ve noted some of those above and below.

Right: Shardea Harrison looks on at her 3 week old baby Sarai Harrison being held by Dean Mize as he and Jason Legnon used his airboat to rescue them from their home after the area was inundated with flooding from Hurricane Harvey on August 28, 2017 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

        The extent of this deluge is hard to fathom. It may prove to be the largest flood event in US history. Some 30,000 are homeless and will be for weeks, months, “even years” ahead, according to one emergency response manager. Some 35% of the metropolitan Houston area, home to six million, is totally uninhabitable.

        There already are stories of heroism from both official responders and ordinary citizens who’ve pitched in to help, risking their own convenience and safety. And we will celebrate those stories, like the one below of the owner of a giant mattress and furniture store opening his doors to take in the displaced.

        In one news conference, Texas Senator John Cornyn offered a powerful metaphor, saying the community was “lashed together” in facing this crisis. We should all be encouraging that such traditional—I dare say conservative—cultural values are still available to call on: of people prioritizing the community’s health over personal circumstances. The older name for this is covenant life. As far back as Sinai, standing before God was organically connected to, and reflective of, our standing with each other. Neighborliness and Godliness were irrevocably entwined. Failing either put the other in jeopardy.

        But of course Sen. Cornyn, along with his fellow Texas Senator Ted Cruz, both voted against the federal aid requested by New Jersey and New York after Hurricane Sandy’s devastation in 2012. There’s nothing especially honorable to the idea of being “lashed together” if it only includes me and mine. Such convictions are disturbingly modernist.

        Being lashed together means allocating preventative measures at least as much value as responsive ones. Houston has some of the weakest building codes in the nation; and earlier this month President Trump rolled back provisions that would strengthen those standards in flood-prone areas.

        Hailing acts of personal valor while ignoring, or denigrating, policies supporting the commonweal is among the worst forms of deceit.

        We know that powerful economic forces are arrayed against the truth when it comes to climate issues. For instance, for the second time in as many years—this time, one week prior to Harvey’s mauling—researchers definitively documented the fact that ExxonMobil has known for at least four decades that burning fossil fuels was devastating to the ecosphere, yet they spent googobs of money hiding the facts.

        Market-based truth, like market-based health care, may be profitable in the short run but ruinous in the long.

        We also recently learned, the Trump Administration’s claim notwithstanding, that the federal government’s own “Climate Science Special Report” asserts it is “extremely likely” that more than half the rise in climate temperatures of recent decades is caused by human activity, specifically by greenhouse gas emissions. The report has yet to be formally released by the Trump administration—we only know about because someone among the researchers’ staff leaked it to the press.

        Finally, while it is right and proper that we, here, give devoted attention to Hurricane Harvey’s impact, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that at about the same time catastrophic flooding ravaged parts of South Asia and West Africa. In both cases, the death toll is nearly 100 times higher than produced by Harvey.

        At the very least, through one of the several larger networks to which we are connected, we must draw into our attention span and response-ability what is happening in the larger world. Even the Pentagon knows that climate change is a threat to global security. We should be at least as aware. —Ken Sehested

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“When covenant life is eclipsed and no scale of
justice endures save that which we enforce,
might makes right and every moral compass
is reduced to the self’s enthroned appetite
. The
commonweal is commandeered by shrewd
maneuvering, willful disinformation,
calculating propaganda, legislative malfeasance,
judicial folly, and political intrigue.”
—continue reading “Another Word is in the wind: A psalm of complaint and avowal

Good news. “If you live in Houston, you know Jim McIngvale—or rather, "Mattress Mack." As local businessmen go, he's among the most recognizable thanks to the local TV ads for his Gallery Furniture stores. Those stores are now serving a new role—emergency shelters for families in Houston (photo at right) driven from their homes by flood waters. McIngvale's stores are particularly well suited to the situation. They're massive warehouses filled with beds and furniture, the kind that can only exist in a place like Houston, where space is plentiful to the point of excess.” — Jason Abbruzzese, “Mashable”

Hymn of lamentation. “When it thunders and lightnin' and when the wind begins to blow / There's thousands of people ain't got no place to go.” —Bessie Smith, “Back Water Blues

Stay tuned to this. How flooding in southeast Texas will create additional environmental pollution due to damaged oil refineries and petrochemical plants is uncertain. ExxonMobil has admitted its plant in Baytown has been affected “and said it was taking action to ‘minimize emissions.’”
        “Earlier this year, a Texas court ordered Exxon to pay $20 million in fines for "serious" violations at Baytown that caused the release of about 10 million pounds of pollutants into the atmosphere. A judge ruled that Exxon violated the Clean Air Act 16,386 times between October 2005 and September 2013. Exxon said at the time that it disagreed with the finding.” Matt Egan, CNN

Hymn of assurance. “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand,” Pastor Danny R. Hollins & the Greater Fairview Sanctuary Choir. 

Word of warning. “You who live by mighty waters, rich in treasures, your end has come, the thread of your life is cut. “ —Jeremiah 51:13

They knew. “A new study shows how ExxonMobil downplayed climate change when it knew the problem was real.” Michael Hiltzik, LATimes

¶ In Scripture, water can symbolize deliverance or death, salvation or destruction, healing or harm, prosperity or peril, blessing or curse, assurance or threat. What follows is a selection of such texts. —continue reading “Water texts

Left: Victims of flooding in Bangladesh, where last week high waters claimed the lives of more than 1200 people. (Photo: Kamrul Hassan / Bangladesh Red Crescent)

At last count, the death toll in Texas from Hurricane Harvey’s wind and flood stands at 14. The day before Harvey’s landfall, monsoon rains in India, Bangladesh and Nepal has killed more than 1,200, as rescue workers scramble to provide aid to millions of people stranded by the worst such disaster in years. And on the same day, floods in Sierra Leone, on Africa’s west coast, created mudslides that have killed “more than 1,000.” Another 600 are missing, which means the death toll will likely climb.

¶ “Climate change did not produce Harvey the Hurricane, but climate change made Harvey worse than it would otherwise be.” —Jean Cole, “Top 5 Ways Man-Made Climate Change Made Hurricane Harvey Much Worse,” CommonDreams

¶ “An executive order issued by Trump earlier this month revoked an Obama-era directive that had established flood-risk standards for federally funded infrastructure projects built in areas prone to flooding or subject to the effects of sea-level rise—like many of those now sinking in Texas. Houston already has some of the laxest building regulations for structures in potential flood zones and the president wants to spread that policy across the US.” Benjamin Preston, The Guardian

Hymn of intercession. “Well dark clouds are rollin' in / Man I'm standin' out in the rain / Well dark clouds are rollin' in / Man I'm standin' out in the rain / Yeah flood water keep a rollin' / Man it's about to drive poor me insane.” —Stevie Ray Vaughan, “Texas Flood

Best one-liner. “If you defile the land, it will vomit you out.” —Leviticus 18:28

The state of our disunion. “The wicked are like the tossing sea that cannot keep still; its waters toss up mire and mud.” —Isaiah 57:20

Altar call. “Still I catch myself thinking / One day I'll find my way back here / You'll save me from drowning / Drowning in a river / Feels like I'm drowning / Drowning in the river.” —Eric Clapton, “River of Tears

Benediction. “The river is waiting, come rise up / A new day is coming, come rise up / They'll be sailing at first light, come gather / Said I force for the crossing, together. . . . / The river is waiting, I'm ready / To step from this island, I'm ready / Gonna leave all my sorrows, behind me / Lift my face to a new day, I'm rising.” —Irma Thomas, “River is Waiting

Recessional. “Lord, here comes the flood / We'll say goodbye to flesh and blood / If again the seas are silent / in any still alive / It'll be those who gave their island to survive / Drink up, dreamers, you're running dry.” —Peter Gabriel, “Here Comes the Flood

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