I simply could not believe what I was reading. It appeared in some comments on the City of Burlington’s Facebook page. Mayor Jeannie Hefty was sharing how proud she was of “Burlington Strong” and the outpouring of support from the community in response to the 100 year flood that impacted us all at some level.
But it was the comment by a certain woman that truly floored me. The woman, an Illinois resident, was responding to the news about the Echo Lake dam being gradually opened to release the pressure on the dam. The gist of the comment was, “Well, since the dam is being opened to let more water out up there is Burlington going to pay for all the damage it is going to cause us down here?!”
Call it ignorance, self-pity, or the “it’s all about me” mentality; we have to ask, how someone could actually think that one riverfront community already impacted by flash flooding could actually be blamed for more flooding downstream. Not to mention the fact that many towns like Burlington have built dams to actually control flooding.
What really gets my goat is the fact that this is such a common theme in our society today. It is so easy to blame others for personal hardships or to pass the buck for problems that we face as individuals and communities; some of which are certainly our own doing while so many more are outside of our realm of control. In an attempt to turn this story into a positive lesson for us all I remind you of a little parable (non-biblical). Once a certain was a village having a community wide picnic, when someone noticed a small child screaming for help in the river nearby. As a couple people rushed to save the child, more children appeared in the river and more of the villagers joined in the rescue effort. The village was so overwhelmed with what was happening that two of the villagers finally decided to go upstream to find out how and why the children were entering the river to begin with.
The moral of the story: if we lived in a just world (upstream) there would be no need for charity (downstream). Charity is how we deal with immediate problems; the symptoms; we donate food, clothing, money; we volunteer to help “clean up the mess.” The Parable of the Good Samaritan is a good example of charity. We are pretty good at charity; dealing with the effects. But so much of Jesus’ teachings tell us that we should not stop there but, rather, attempt to address the root problems; the causes.
Working for justice means going upriver and seeing why people are entering and drowning in the river; and by addressing the roots causes of the problem and then work to help prevent the problems at their origin.
In the end, there remains those who are victims of the complex system that is our society and though I do not condone the kinds of “blaming” remarks like this woman’s, I want to encourage heartfelt efforts to address systemic change. May all of our hearts be driven to make a difference not just by throwing some loose change in a kettle at Christmas time but by living at the core of the gospel message which means confronting the real issues and problems that face our community, nation, and world.
See ya’ in church. Pastor Bob