Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed or At the Cross?


Do you prefer “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed?” or “At the Cross,” which is the same song with a much happier chorus added to Isaac Watts’ s stark original:

Alas, and did my saviour bleed

And did my sovereign die?

Did he devote that sacred head

For such a worm as I?

Was it for crimes that I had done 

He groaned upon that tree?

Amazing pity, grace unknown, and love beyond degree.

Saying or singing those verses out loud really makes you stop and examine yourself.

Am I living up to this great love that was and is being shown to me? Am I sharing that “love beyond degree” with others, regardless of whether I think they deserve it?

This questioning and turmoil isn’t necessarily fun, and it isn’t the stuff of a properly cheerful church social.

And so a later writer, Ralph Hudson, added a refrain that ties everything up in a neat triuphalist bow, so you can smile and move on, putting all those sharp introspective edges right out of your mind.

At the cross, at the cross, where I first saw the light

And the burden of my heart rolled away

It was there by faith I received my sight

And now I am happy all the day

There is a time and a place for triumph: Easter, less than 2 weeks ago, was a perfect time to celebrate.

We’re celebrating Jesus’ resurrection victory over the darkness without and within us, the powers and principalities, the adversary, the corrupting power structures of this world and beyond.

Our triumph doesn’t come from candy coating everything that reminds us of that darkness, everything that pushes us to question just how much we’re still wallowing in it. 

If you’re really “happy all the day” in this world, you’re probably not paying attention. 

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The Ethics of Disaster Preparation

Port Sulphur, Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina

Port Sulphur, LA, after Katrina. NOAA

As I sit here, listening to the rain from Isaac’s feeder bands battering our windows, my thoughts have turned to hurricane preparation, and then disaster preparation in general.

I’ve been reading up on disaster preparation and management for several years now.  It’s a hobby of mine, I guess, and one that can be useful.  I certainly have some of the coolest flashlights around.  That said, it does have a bit of a dark side.

A lot of prepping and survivalist literature, communities, and online forums tend to take a very self-oriented view.  Part of the “survivalist” mindset, I think is the idea that to survive, you have to focus on the survival of yourself and your group (family, buddies, etc), to the exclusion of everybody else.

I think some of this comes from the backgrounds of many of those who set the tone – in an infantry unit, it’s your group versus the enemy on one hand, and a population you can’t trust on the other.  But some of it comes from the selfish, atomized, community-less nature of American society, and I honestly see the worst of it in people who aren’t former soldiers.

But wherever it comes from, the theme seems almost axiomatic: you don’t help anyone else, because that involves splitting your supplies, and taking on one more mouth to feed, clothe, and transport.  That is, unless that person has important skills, equipment, or knowledge that will help you to survive.  Even then, you have to worry a lot about who you can trust.

And I suppose there may be a certain degree of prudence to this if you ever find yourself in a zombie-pocalypse – why just look at all the trouble helping strangers brought to Hershel and his family in The Walking Dead.  But zombie-pocalypses are the stuff of comics, movies, and television.  They’re not the real world.  And in the real world, we have a responsibility to maintain our humanity even in the face of disaster.

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So, let me turn my critical eye inward and stop kvetching about the culture.  Looking at what I’ve done to prepare for this storm, I see a number of missed opportunities.  Both of which would have required a plan ahead of time (doesn’t all disaster preparation require a plan ahead of time?).  The first, and arguably biggest, was that I didn’t give a single thought to finding out how to help the homeless in our city find shelter during this storm.  Even though we’re far from the coast, the wind and rain threaten to be much stronger than any thunderstorm.  Right now, I feel compassion, but that’s all I actually can do now.  Feeling bad on my part doesn’t help anyone.

The second, and arguably the most shameful, is that I still don’t really know my neighbors that well.  I know the young couple across the street, who hold Bible studies, and my neighbor to the right, who’s lived in this neighborhood for a very long time.  But the others?  I only know them to wave at them.  I wouldn’t know if they had any specific needs for this storm.  And that’s really pathetic.  They’re my neighbors in the most literal sense, and I don’t even know them.  And I have no excuse.

I’ve basically fallen into the survivalist selfishness by accident.  Sure, I wouldn’t grab a shotgun and chase somebody away who’s just asking for food or clean water, but I’ve set myself up to not be in much of a position to help anyone.  Great job, Tim.

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Oh, I hear someone saying, cooperation doesn’t work in a disaster.  Let me tell you a story about my village.  Perkinston, Mississippi, late August and early September, 2005.  Katrina hit, and knocked out power and water for three weeks.  My parents (God bless them) stayed, not because they were too proud to evacuate, but because they had some friends with serious medical conditions, and they wanted to be there in case those friends needed to be rushed to a hospital.

After the storm, when it became clear that power and water were out, people started pulling together.  One friend, Mr. B____, had well water (for those of you who live in the city and never encountered that term before, that means he was outside of the municipal water grid, and had a water well in his yard with a pump that supplied water to his house).  That pump usually ran on the standard electrical grid, but could run on a generator.  Mr. B____ ran the pump for about an hour a day, providing water for his family and for several other families, including my parents.  Those among these beneficiaries who had gasoline brought it to him so he could keep the generator going.  Mom remarked to me, “It’s funny, but that gas can was just as full when I got it back than it was when I dropped it off.”

FEMA distributed supplies (they’re not completely worthless: their failures were well-publicized, but their successes were not), and the people generally tried to help distribute them, even to people who couldn’t make it to the drop-off.  In time, donations from further upstate poured in, and the locals created a food pantry to manage distribution of the goods.  They called it Our Daily Bread, and it’s still in operation to this day, running on donations from individuals and local businesses.

It’s true, a shark-selfish survivalist strategy might have worked, too.  My parents and their friends might have survived based on what they had stored.  Some individuals, the ones in the worst health, might not have.  And, in such a dog-eat-dog scenario, looting might even have taken place, as we saw in New Orleans.

But no looting occurred, not because Perkinston people are too good to take extreme measures if they’re starving, but because they were too good, and too well connected to each other, to let it get to that point.  Nobody starved.  Nobody died.  Nobody got gunned down.  The community came together, and they not only survived the worst hurricane in Mississippi history, they thrived.

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The real shame, here, is that I’ve had seven years to learn from their example, and I still haven’t gotten it yet.  But I’m trying, and I’m learning.  I hope this will be the turning point.

Hurricane Prayer

Twisted Tree in a Storm

(Original Photograph, 2012 Tim Dedeaux)

As the storm comes: Abraham’s son, Jacob’s father, Isaac,

As the wind lifts, and the air hangs heavy,

Announcing its coming while it is still far away.

Father God, I won’t ask you to spare us from the storm.

That storm’s got to hit somewhere, and I won’t wish destruction on someone else.

I will ask that you calm the winds, as you did in Galilee so long ago,

But I know you may choose not to.

And in that case, I merely pray for your mercy:

May we be prepared,

May those in the most danger choose to evacuate,

May they find means, even if they don’t own cars,

May the shelters stand,

May the generator-fueled refrigerators keep the insulin cold,

That no life would be lost.

And in the aftermath,

As the sun shines across broken cities,

May our hands be extended

Not grasping as looters or closed as enemies

But open, as neighbors.

Amen.