In Emergency: Blog



Rarely in the time that I've been blogging, and even before that when I was merely a spectator in this weird and wonderful virtual world, has one subject so dominated the blogsphere for so long a time... Haiti... I posted my own semi-coherent rant last week prompted by Pat Robertson's nonsense... But one week on from the disaster the flow of words continues... So I thought I'd just point you in the direction of some of the more interesting ones I have come across... You might have already seen them, but maybe not...

Going back to Pat Robertson's pronouncements on Haiti's pact with the Devil, well that has been both refuted and nuanced in great detail (according to Franklin Graham he "miss-spoke"), but for my money the best response came from the pages of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune, which posted a "Letter from Satan". A more cerebral response was the BBC's "Why does God allow natural disasters?" where they unleashed tame philosopher David Bain (that's Bain, NOT Blaine... tho perhaps a response from the weird one might have been interesting), on the question... But the answer was a little bit like a first year philosophy of religion essay on the "Problem of Pain." The response of Clayboy was the wonderfully titled 'Hey philosopher, repeat after me, "Shit happens!"' from which I originally gleaned both the Letter from Satan, referred to above and a piece from the Dawkins Foundation that annoyed me almost (but not quite) as much as Robertson's rubbish.

It wasn't the fact of the "Non-Believers Giving Aid" campaign, as I don't care where the money comes from to help the people of Haiti, so long as it comes, but the rationale for such a site, namely "When donating via Non-Believers Giving Aid, you are helping to counter the scandalous myth that only the religious care about their fellow-humans" and "giving the lie to the canard that you need God to be good." This is a total parody of the perspective of most faith-based aid agencies. I've been critical in the past of some organisations who have used natural disaster or the aftermath of war as an opportunity to explicitly evangelise whilst handing out aid. I suppose my knowledge of the history of Ireland, where people were encouraged to "convert" in order to get a bowl of soup during the potato famine, makes me more than a little suspicious of such an approach. But whilst I would argue that you have to be careful if you are carrying a loaf of bread in one hand and a Biblical tract in the other, I am equally suspicious of those who carry a loaf of bread and a humanist treatise... Just give... don't try to score points in your giving... just give... be it to Oxfam, Save the Children or the Red Cross (non-religious), or to Christian Aid, Tearfund or many of the denominational schemes...

And if I am suspicious of those who carry religious or humanist tracts into the midst of a disaster such as Haiti, I am equally suspicious who bring a camera crew with them. My son asked the other day why the news reporters didn't help the people instead of just filming their agony, to which I said that by publicising their plight they were helping indirectly. But I'm not entirely sure that is true when the coverage gets to saturation point... which I think was reached about 3 days ago. And I'm especially unsure when the film crew is there to cover the ill-thought-through good works of a bunch of high-profile pastors. That said, perhaps the material that Mark Driscoll and his mates film and send back will reach an audience that mainstream news and current affairs footage will never reach, and if these pop-pastors can use their profiles to draw down further aid for Haiti, and skilled volunteers willing to give of their time and expertise in the long rebuilding process when the reset of the world's media has moved on, then good on them. I just hope that their amateurish approach does not make them an encumbrance to those currently trying to meet the dreadful needs in that land.
Which brings me to Leading from the Heart... The author Laurie Haller is the District Superintendent of the United Methodist Church in Grand Rapids, where I served briefly on exchange in 2008, and that district has a covenant partnership with the church in Haiti, indeed when this post was written a mission team from Grand Rapids which was in Haiti at the time of the quake was awaiting evacuation. However, their experience has not daunted the District from planning future trips.
In the face of some of those who dub such trips "mission tourism" (a feeling which has always disuaded me from signing up for one with our own church) Laurie makes a cogent defence of the approach, not primarily from the perspective of what they do for the host community, but what participants recieve and achieve through them. Is that sufficient reason in the immediate aftermath of such a disaster? Probably not, and I would argue that those going to Haiti in the first phase after this disaster, should only be those with specific and appropriate skills... But further on, I fully agree with Laurie. The people of Haiti will need every helping hand they can get in the rebuilding process, but on top of the benefit to the people of Haiti is the benefit to the people who go and the communities who send. I have seen such trips completely change friends of mine... Coming back from the place of need motivated to motivate others... but also more awake to the fact that there is need all around us, even in the affluent west.
What does it take to wake us up to the needs of others here and abroad? C.S. Lewis once famously referred to pain and suffering as "God's megaphone to rouse a deaf world" and whilst I don't fully agree, I know what he was saying. So perhaps Pat Robertson is more correct than he, or any of us would believe in saying that this earthquake was "a blessing in disguise". While groups such as the United Methodist Church have worked faithfully with the people of Haiti for years, the rest of the world has generally turned a blind eye to the crippling poverty there. Haiti was already a disaster zone before the earthquake hit! It briefly burst into the blogsphere for a while when people there were making mud pies to actually eat, but all too often it was a side bar to the "real story" ie the hike in fuel prices. Did it really take a devastating earthquake to stir this deaf world to action?
In the end, the ultimate response to an emergency such as this is not an outpouring of words or images, it is not even the giving of money (whether to Non-religious aid agencies or not), which is, in the end, generally fairly painless (although a special commendation has to go to the couple from Deluth who donated the cost of their wedding reception, intending now to feed their guests peanut butter and jam sandwiches)... Eventually the cheap words in a virtual world must become real, long-lasting actions...

Word become flesh...

ps. I had no sooner posted this that Kim's post on Connexions appeared in my sidebar, demonstrating the limitations of the Wesley's theodicy in the wake of the infamous Lisbon earthquake 0f 1755. It was this same earthquake which caused Voltaire to satirise Liebniz (the originator of the term "theodicy") in his novella Candide, for his proposition that this might well be the best of all possible worlds.

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