Wednesday, May 04, 2011

The Worst Things are Never the Last Things

It was a week ago today that tornadoes ripped across Alabama. Within a day, my wife and I received calls, e-mails, and Facebook messages from friends in various parts of the country making sure we were OK. Yes, we were spared any damage, although parts of our city were not as fortunate.

As we began to hear statistics, we also began to hear of friends, or friends of friends, who had lost their homes, or worse. The statistics began to take on faces. Every  Alabamian was impacted in some way by this series of tornadoes.


The devastation in Cordova and Tuscaloosa is captured in these pictures. Thanks to Andrea Hollenbeck for her permission to embed this collection. Music is "I Shall Not Walk Alone" by The Blind Boys of Alabama.





Yesterday, a prayer service at Birmingham's Samford University included this video created by Lawrence Mathis:



 
Almost 25 years ago, I listened to Dr. John Claypool deliver a sermon in which he made the point again and again, "The worst things are never the last things." I have thought about those words many times since. I have thought about them a great deal this week. He ended that sermon with the story of the funeral for Sir Winston Churchill. In Dr. Claypool's words:

The account of Churchill’s funeral at St. Paul’s Cathedral confirms this fact. He had carefully planned it himself and included in it some of the great hymns of the Church and all of the wonder of our Anglican liturgy. Furthermore, there were two things that he specifically requested at the end that made it unforgettable for every person there. When the benediction had been said from the high altar, silence fell over the packed Cathedral. A bugler high up in the dome of St. Paul’s had been asked to play the familiar sound of “Taps,” a well-known signal marking the end of something. Those haunting notes brought home to everyone there the realization that an era had come to an end, and it was reported that there was hardly a dry eye in the church. 

However, as Churchill had requested, after the notes of “Taps” had sounded, another bugler on the other side of the dome, began to play “Reveille.” “It’s time to get up, it’s time to get up, it’s time to get up in the morning.” That final touch caught everyone by surprise, but revealed where Churchill had gotten the strength across the years to never give up. He did believe that the worst things are never the last things and the final sounds of history will not be “Taps” but “Reveille.”

We are already hearing "Reveille." On Sunday morning, our congregation listened as The Rev. David Hall talked about events of  the previous several days and how we could best help in the coming days, weeks, and months. David's position is unique in that he serves us as an ordained priest and is also a full-time employee of The United Way.

David Hall told us of the 47,000 phone calls fielded by his office. So many of them were requesting help. So many others, from every part of the country, were offering help. In short, he asked us to keep eyes and ears open for lists of things that would appear for needed items and to respond to those lists. "Don't just show up," he said. He told us more ham and turkey sandwiches have been prepared than those in need could possibly eat. Needs for bottled water had already been handled. Realistically, the tornadoes of Alabama will soon cease to be national news, yet the needs will continue long after the attention has shifted. "Watch for those lists," he said. He also added, "Write a check."

Last Thursday, David issued this communication:

I have been working on our United Way emergency response team since early this morning.  The devastation throughout Birmingham and the rest of the state is significant.  Currently, FEMA and law enforcement are discouraging volunteer efforts in the areas hit because conditions are not safe.  The best response is to do just as Stephen asks and make contributions to disaster relief through the Rector’s Discretionary fund or United Way’s website at www.uwca.org and you will see Tornado Disaster Relief on the home page.  I did not see a Disaster Relief link on the diocesan webpage but I am sure they will accept donations as well.  That website address is www.dioala.org.  Walmart gift cards are also an excellent idea.


When the time comes that volunteers will be valuable and needed, that effort is being coordinated through Hands on Birmingham, United Way’s volunteer recruitment division.  People who wish to volunteer their time should go to www.handsonbirmingham.org and click on TORNADO VOLUNTEERS.  You will be contacted when conditions are safer and volunteer teams are being formed.  Whether you make a financial contribution, give your time, or offer your prayers, thanks for the help you will provide for those who were impacted last night.

In the past week, in places like Tuscaloosa and Cullman, Hackleburg and Cordova, and in many other towns throughout Alabama, shock is turning into resolve. Hopelessness is turning into hope. Mourning what was lost is turning into thanksgiving for all that remains. As the notes of "Taps" fade, the sounds of "Reveille" grow stronger.

Alabama will rebuild, will make things even better than before, and will do so with the assistance and prayers of friends all over this nation. The worst things are never the last things.

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