Ask the Thoughtful Pastor: Disaster Tourists and Changing the Paths of Tornadoes

Ask the Thoughtful Pastor: Disaster Tourists and Changing the Paths of Tornadoes December 29, 2015
What motivates people to show up after disasters to do the rubber-necking thing? I call them “disaster tourists” because they cause huge congestion and keep the trained workers from doing what must be done.

Why do we love action movies where cars blow up and ships sink and buildings collapse? What is it that draws us to the edge of volcanoes and near dangerous animals? What pulls us to sporting events where fights are likely or vehicles collide at high speeds?

We are drawn to danger, to the adrenaline rush that comes with it, to the sense of “That could have been me.” It makes us feel more alive, incredibly lucky, and deeply appreciative of our lives.

I visited NYC after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. I’d never gone to the area where the world trade center buildings stood. Yet on that trip, I went. I wanted to see the gaping holes, the twisted metal. I breathed the air, still full of disaster dust. I wanted to get closer, through the barrier fences

But human curiosity causes problems in cases like our recent tornadoes. These “disaster tourists,” as you have aptly deemed them, cruise the streets of devastated areas. They keep workers and necessary support from reaching critical areas and often clog vital supply lines. They tie up personnel from more important work but who have to be deployed to keep the onlookers away from dangerous areas.

In other words, they make bad things worse.

All we can do is continually say, “Please, please, please stay away. Do not be one who kept someone else from being rescued or from finding a valuable family treasure because you let your curiosity get the best of you. If you are not part of a credentialed, trained rescue/clean-up crew, stay away and donate money and other necessary goods (like work gloves but NOT clothes and especially not shoes) to those who are there.”


“We prayed and the tornado passed us by. God is good.” “I commanded the storm in Jesus’ name to stop and it did.” ” The tests showed no cancer. God answered our prayers.” How do you respond to such statements, especially when said by friends and family? What about those who were killed by tornadoes or who suffer from illness despite prayers? Doesn’t God love them too? Does God pick and choose who deserves to be protected?

Some see God’s sovereignty as complete. God choose those who did and did not survive last week’s tornadoes. God chooses who will and will not die today.

In that case, prayers for a specific thing to come to pass seem like an exercise in futility.

Some believe that their prayers can and do change God’s mind. By the power of their prayers, some originally destined to die may be spared, some destruction pre-planned is now averted.

I have a problem with both positions.

I do not believe that humans are puppets in the hands of a capricious Puppet-Master, without minds and without abilities to make choices.

I don’t pray for storms to change course so I may be spared but others destroyed. To do so is the antithesis of loving my neighbor as I do myself.

I do not pray because I think I can change God’s mind to pick and choose life and health just for me and those close to me.

Yet, I am a person of prayer and practice it regularly. I pray for the sick, the suffering, the impoverished, the oppressed. I pray for my enemies, for government leaders (and they may be one and the same!), for my children and grandchildren, for children and grandchildren everywhere.

I pray for rain, and I pray for the rain to stop. I pray when driving in hazardous conditions and when I get on airplanes and when I walk into hospitals. I pray at the bedside of ill and dying people and when holding newborn babies.

I pray because it is a basic discipline of the spiritual life. I pray because it teaches me humility. I pray because it puts me in touch with those I love through the Cosmic Lover of the universe. I pray because something happens to me and to those I pray for and it is a mystery to me.

I become aware in my prayers the presence of God in all of life–in good and bad, in inexplicable joy and inescapable terror, in the mundane day-to-day necessary tasks and in the delight of creativity and experimentation.

I choose, in my prayers and my life, to affirm God’s goodness and loving presence. Many disagree with my positions. I don’t even try to answer those who are sure of their ability to change God’s mind and to change the course of storms. That is their business. Mine is to stay faithful in prayer.


All questions are welcome. You can email your questions to, “like” her Facebook Page, use this form to send them or message her on Twitter. You can also send a question through conventional mail to the following address: Thoughtful Pastor, 314 E. Hickory St., Denton, TX, 76202.

[Note: a version of this column will appear in the Friday, January 1, 2106 print and online editions of The Denton Record Chronicle.]

Browse Our Archives