In the Houston Flood, People at a Day of Reckoning

  • drown pathIn the Houston flood, I saw people come to a day of reckoning and for many it became a day of glory. I fear for a few it was a day of doom.

The Day of Reckoning: Doom or Glory

In Iliad some warriors come to a moment, a day of glory, when everything goes their way and they are heroes. This happens as the musical says: oh what a beautiful feeling, everything’s going my way. Classical paganism got it right: sometimes you are a hero, because the fates all line up correctly. Our strengths are the right strengths for just this fight, our answers are the proper answers, and we woke up in a good mood.

And then there is the day of doom. This is the day when the fates go the other way. No matter how awesome a man is, say Hector, he cannot win. His friends, human and divine, are gone or abandon him. He cannot choose and like Hector, running around the wall from his enemy Achilles, there is no dignity in death.

flood bankJudaism and Christianity take both ideas and transforms them. We know that both days are days of reckoning. The day of glory, that perfect day, can be a bad day, because often we get swollen with pride. Ask Bellerophon, hero turned loser: a big victory, a winged horse, and soon you are taking on the gods only to die from your hubris. Too often the day of glory is the prelude to the day of doom and there is no rec0very.

The day of doom is also a day of reckoning, because things can turn out well for a man or badly. If you end up on RMS Titanic that seems like a ticket to doom, but it might not be. It depends if you are a Bruce Ismay or an Isidor Strauss. Ismay, chair of the White Star Line that built the ship, escaped to live as a known coward. Strauss died like a man so others could live. We still know both men’s names, because when the day of reckoning came, Ismay made it doom and Strauss glory.

First, for a Greek the afterlife, controlled by cruel gods with no good God in sight, was nothing to desire. Nobody buys a vacation cruise on the Styx. Christianity thought harder, had a revelation that there is a good God in the person of Jesus Christ, and got hope for eternity.  When a society loses sight of eternity, then it makes short term, selfish decisions easier to make.

Second, Christianity denies our fate is fixed by gods or the stars. As our greatest English playwright has a character say:

Men at some time are masters of their fates;

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,

But in ourselves, that we are underlings.

Brutus and Caesar: what should be in that “Caesar”?*

Brutus faces a day of reckoning: kill Caesar and “save” the Republic or let his friend become a King. The greatness of the play is that Brutus, an honorable man, chooses, history is changed, and we are not sure to the very end whether it is doom or glory. Christianity understands that men are in God’s image and so can choose, badly or well.

Houston Flood and the Reckoning

Aerial_views_of_the_Houston_Texas_28005uThis week I spoke to many people and saw them respond to a crisis. Some people escaped the flood and then spent days serving other people. I saw my son-in-law and daughter spend days cleaning up for friends and mentors. The day of reckoning came and Jane and Jacob found some glory. Other folk lost everything and when I called them were cheerful, moving ahead, and finding ways to help other people in the moment of tragedy.

As the flood rose, some picked programs over people, safety over service. For them the flood was a chance to profit and charge fellow Houstonians too much.

Thank God that has not been the norm. For every story of profiteers I heard, I knew five people who were giving so others could have what they needed. For every church with closed doors, I saw ten with round the clock ministry to the hurting.

The day of reckoning came and churches like Saint George, West U Baptist, and others in Houston served for God’s glory while others found doom in dithering and delay. We never know when the day of reckoning will come. To be ready, we must practice putting service over self-promotion and prayer over profit.

God help us.

 

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