Finding religion during acts of God

I’m in New York City right now. The party I’d planned for the weekend was canceled and my friends and I spent all day yesterday getting ready for Irene to strike. I taped up windows, bought provisions, moved things away from windows, filled up bathtubs, you name it. And while the storm did pass us by without too much damage, we did have to flee where we were staying last night when the ceiling began caving in because of water.

But we made it through without losing power and so I’m reading papers. The most interesting media criticism question has to be whether the media behaved responsibly in preparing people for this storm. Some people say it’s best to prepare for the worst — with media playing a huge role in doing that — while others say that hyping up a dangerous storm only makes subsequent storms more dangerous. That’s because no one will believe subsequent calls to evacuate.

My own view is that the media need to learn different settings than just “ignore” or “hype.” This was a dangerous storm and many people lost their lives and property. It’s also true that it was known for days that it wouldn’t be as devastating as feared earlier in the week.

I wish everyone who’s making fun of how this storm was handled would think about those folks who stayed in New Orleans during Katrina. It’s really hard to know when to evacuate and when not to.

In any case, I was also curious to see media coverage of religion angles. One of the things I noticed yesterday on local New York news was how openly religious institutions were discussed. People were discussing sheltering, if needed, in religious institution facilities.

This Associated Press story mentions churches in the lede, but then drops it.

This Washington Post blog did updates throughout the weekend of what was going on in the area. The 7:46 AM update today was about several thousand “Crusaders for Christ” having worship at the Washington Hilton and helping out as able:

On Saturday afternoon, crusade volunteers distributed 25,000 pounds of food to the needy at the 13th Street Church of Christ in Northwest to people who came out and accepted donations in the rain.

Brother Graylon Freeman, minister of the 13th Street congregation, said the food giveaway was important. “We wanted people to know that the church is concerned about people’s needs,” Freeman said.

This Associated Press story about the storm included an interesting religion angle:

Near the epicenter of the quake, in Mineral, Va., trees were down, but the power stayed on.

“I was telling people, ‘All I can say is we all better go to church on Sunday,’” Mayor Pam Harlowe said. “But unfortunately a bunch of them are closed.”

My congregation still had Divine Services this morning but I got the feeling — from folks on Twitter, for example — that many churches were closed due to the storm. I wonder why that wasn’t mentioned in many stories.

Incidentally, a reader sent in this other Associated Press story about Mineral:


For Virginia town at epicenter of earthquake, near miss by Irene is proof they’re not cursed

Staring out at her shell-shocked congregation Sunday, the Rev. Marian Windel felt the need to reassure her flock that God was not “mad at us in any way.”

“For us, this past week has been trying at the least,” the Episcopal minister said, her clear voice echoing off the high-pitched ceiling of the Church of the Incarnation, Mineral’s oldest house of worship. “There was little, if anything, that we could have done to prepare for the earthquake. And who would have thought it would be followed by a hurricane?”

A great idea for a story but perhaps not enough time for good execution. In the next day or so, I imagine we might see some good stories about Irene that have solid religion angles. Do let us know if you see any particularly good or bad examples. I did find it interesting that when I searched the New York Times for stories about churches, the top hit was that bizarre piece by Bill Keller. Does that reflect the paper’s editorial outlook about the role religion plays in public life?

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  • http://!)! Passing By

    This, I suggest, is the Times’ view of the role of religion in public life.

    You know, when I heard the storm had sustained winds of 50mph, I wondered maybe if it were being hyped. I’ve seen 70-80mph winds here in north Texas more than once. But apparently the wind and water combination was really deadly, even at category 1 level.

    Gratitude that it wasn’t worse than it was.

  • Mike

    If I were a religion reporter in the East, today I would call my local clergy and ask them what they told their congregations about the earthquake and hurricane. It would be interesting to know their different perspectives from a faith point of view and also to learn how their congregations reacted.

  • Dave

    I’m glad you came through OK, Mollie.

  • Jerry

    There’s a firestorm of controversy right now about whether Bachmann was in fact joking about saying that God intended the disasters as a wake up call to implement conservative politics in Washington. Or perhaps she was making a very badly insensitive joke:

    http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0811/62217.html

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/under-god/post/michele-bachmann-jokes-that-god-sent-hurricane-earthquake/2011/08/29/gIQAUN6QnJ_blog.html


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