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United Methodist church volunteers cleaning up in the heat and mess of storms and a tornado in Van, Tx. in a scene that has played out in places all over Texas and the Southeast lately.

United Methodist church volunteers cleaning up in the heat and mess of storms and a tornado in Van, Tx. in a scene that has played out in places all over Texas and the Southeast lately.


I’ve seen first-hand, many times, the shock and trauma that can devastate people in hurricanes, floods, tornadoes and other weather-related disasters.

So even though I’m a world away from my home state of Texas, I know the trauma that so many Texans–God help them–are suffering right now.

The hardest and most challenging duty I ever had in my journalism career was covering weather disasters, and Lord knows I covered more than my share of catastrophic floods like the ones we’ve seen in Texas and other states lately.

The 1993 flood in the Mighty Mississippi Basin has been called “The Great Flood,” but every flood is disastrously “great” when it devastates you and your life for a long time to come. Pray for flood victims and please consider a donation for relief.

I covered killer floods not only in flood-prone regions of Texas, but also the Big Daddy of all American floods that was the Mississippi River disaster of 1993. The elaborate systems of water-control failed in the Mississippi River basin, leading to the greatest flood ever recorded on the Upper Mississippi.

In St. Louis alone, the Mississippi remained above flood stage for 144 days between April 1 and Sept. 30, 1993. A Houston Chronicle photographer and I traveled up and down multiple states gathering pictures and stories, sometimes going out on boats with guides who took us over whole towns that were deep underwater beneath us.

I also covered a massive flood in Texas, in the early nineties as well, that killed more than 20 people. This was a flood that occurred literally in my own back yard, as I was living in a lake house at the time on Lake Conroe, a popular recreational reservoir north of Houston.

My first challenge in covering the flood was getting out of my own neighborhood. Thankfully, my house was far enough away from shore that the waters stopped just short of my front door, sparing me a flooded house. Many of my neighbors who lived right on the shores were not so fortunate.

Covering floods entails all the nasty stuff that rescue and relief workers face–snakes everywhere and fire ants on drift wood and stifling heat and humidity after the rains stopped, and sickening stench from dead animals and dead waters unable to drain. The difference is that rescue and relief workers do such heroic work, putting their lives way more on the line than reporters, of course.

But reporters as well as relief workers see the shock and trauma in the faces of people who narrowly escape deaths, or who have seen loved ones drown, and all the rest.

We tend to associate post-traumatic stress with war, but it actually goes with every kind of disaster.

And a lot of people in Texas, Oklahoma and other places are going to be coping with PTS for a long time, long after the news media have moved on to the next disaster.

In my morning and evening prayers I routinely send up prayers for people all over the world suffering from disastrous events beyond their control, events that make the news such as wars and genocides, famines and diseases and of course, violent weather.

But rain and flooding of “biblical proportions,” as they say, has hit close to home in my beloved home state of Texas.

Watching the violent weather that has swept such a huge portion of a state that is bigger than so many nations caused me ever-rising anxiety and worry and regions one-by-one got smacked harder than the previous area. (The news this morning, however, is still not good as evacuations are continuing and will be in places.)

I thank God my family and scores of friends back home came out OK in it all, as far as I can tell.

But I’m keeping the others in prayer and, including the many people who were already poor or struggling to survive financially, and sending a few bucks for disaster relief to UMCOR, and hope you’ll donate to it or the Red Cross or some credible source.


This 4th-century poem by the Christian poet and hymnist Aurelius Clemens Prudentius was translated by the Irish poet and playwright Helen Waddell for performance at JFK’s memorial service in 1963.

“Take him, Earth, for cherishing
To thy tender breast receive him.
Body of a man I bring thee,
Noble even in its ruin.
Once was this a spirit’s dwelling,
By the breath of God created.
High the heart that here was beating,
Christ the prince of all its living.
Guard him well, the dead I give thee,
Not unmindful of his creature
Shall He ask it: He who made it
Symbol of His mystery.
Comes the hour God hath appointed
To fulfill the hope of men,
Then must thou, in very fashion,
What I give, return again.
Body of a man I bring thee.
Not though ancient time decaying
Wear away these bones to sand,
Ashes that a man might treasure
In the hollow of his hand:
Not though wandering winds and idle winds,
Drifting through the empty sky,
Scatter dust was nerve and sinew,
Is it given to man to die.
Once again the shining road
Leads to ample Paradise;
Open are the woods again,
That the Serpent lost for men.
Take, O take him, mighty Leader,
Take again thy servant’s soul.
Grave his name, and pour the fragrant
Balm upon the icy stone.
Take him, Earth, for cherishing,
To thy tender breast receive him.
Body of a man I bring thee,
Noble in its ruin.
By the breath of God created.
Christ the prince of all its living.
Take him earth, for cherishing.”

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It feels a Shame to be Alive –
When Men so brave – are dead –
One envies the Distinguished Dust –
Permitted – such a Head –

The Stone – that tells defending Whom
This Spartan put away
What little of Him we – possessed
In Pawn for Liberty –

The Price is great – Sublimely paid –
Do we deserve – a Thing –
That lives – like Dollars – must be piled
Before we may obtain?

Are we that wait – sufficient worth –
That such Enormous Pearl
As life – dissolved be – for Us –
In Battle’s – horrid Bowl?

It may be – a Renown to live –
I think the Men who die –
Those unsustained – Saviors –
Present Divinity –

— Emily Dickinson


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“Christ has no body now on earth but yours,

no hands but yours, no feet but yours;

yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion looks out on the world,

yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good

and yours are the hands with which He is to bless us now.”

Teresa of Avila

blog-PentecostFire
*(Image “Pentecost Fire” is by United Methodist minister, artist and poet the Rev. Jan Richardson from her great blog The Painted Prayerbook. Click here for more.)

*And this blogger’s message for Pentecost is: dare to love and to seek peace, mercy, forgiveness, understanding and justice in a broken, violent, unjust world.

Find out the rest of the story below here at your favorite blog.

Find out the rest of the story below here at your favorite blog.

Culinary scholar Michael W. Twitty is one of the most interesting of today's food writers, with interests that range from African American and Jewish culture to all kinds of forgotten Americana.

Culinary scholar Michael W. Twitty is one of the most interesting of today’s food writers, with interests that range from African American and Jewish culture to all kinds of forgotten Americana.

America takes time each year to celebrate the sacrifices of our war dead; this year, we should take a moment to also honor those who, despite facing hardships of their own, chose to commemorate the lives that had been lost partly in the service of securing their freedom from enslavement.”

— food writer and historian Michael W. Twitty

Food is all the rage these days, since TV food channels have made celebrities out of chefs and food writers (and investigative reporters like Michael Pollan* specializing in food but that’s another story).

Michael W. Twitty, a Judaic studies teacher, among other things, is steadily gaining acclaim as a unique food expert and historian.

He describes himself at his blog as . .

“. . . a food writer, independent scholar, culinary historian, and historical interpreter personally charged with preparing, preserving and promoting African American foodways and its parent traditions in Africa and her Diaspora and its legacy in the food culture of the American South.

“Michael is a Judaic studies teacher from the Washington D.C. Metropolitan area and his interests include food culture, food history, Jewish cultural issues, African American history and cultural politics.”

With that, I commend an article of his in the fine and very good newspaper The Guardian that begins as follows:

    “African Americans have fought and died for America from its earliest days, from frontier skirmishes to the French and Indian Wars to the fall of Crispus Attucks at the Boston Massacre, immortalized as “the first to die for American freedom”.

    “And though most official histories of Memorial Day credit with its founding a white former Union Army major general, whose 1868 call for a Decoration Day was reputedly inspired by local celebrations begun as early as 1866, the first people who used ritual to honor this country’s war dead were the formerly enslaved black community of Charleston, South Carolina in May 1865 – with a tribute to the fallen dead and to the gift of freedom.”

The Union major general mentioned above was Gen. James A. Logan, who was made famous in the excellent Civil War movie “Glory.” (See here for the late, great Roger Ebert’s 1990 review of the movie that became an instant classic.)

So if you’re interested in food and American history in all its, uh, Glory, you can find the Guardian piece by Michael W. Twitty* here

Union Gen. Logan, made famous in the great Civil War movie “Glory,” is credited with starting what came to be known as Memorial Day. But the roots of the observance (Memorial Day is supposed to be observed, not “celebrated”) involved slaves.

*Here is Michael Twitty’s web page Afroculinaria:

** Find more on Michael Pollan’s work here.

Poetry for your lazy Saturday morn by the terrific poet William Stafford, who, by the way, wrote this line for a poem on the day he died of a heart attack in August 1993:

    “‘You don’t have to

    prove anything,’ my mother said.

    “‘Just be ready

    for what God sends.'”

Funny how great poets have such strange lives and the strangest of deaths and on that happy note: Stafford’s pleasant little “Any Morning” follows.

———-

“Any Morning”
A Poem by William Stafford

Just lying on the couch and being happy.
Only humming a little, the quiet sound in the head.
Trouble is busy elsewhere at the moment, it has
so much to do in the world.

People who might judge are mostly asleep; they can’t
monitor you all the time, and sometimes they forget.
When dawn flows over the hedge you can
get up and act busy.

Little corners like this, pieces of Heaven
left lying around, can be picked up and saved.
People won’t even see that you have them,
they are so light and easy to hide.

Later in the day you can act like the others.
You can shake your head. You can frown.

And speaking of women we love (see prior posting on Lady Tickle's non-fear of dying.

And speaking of women we love (see prior posting on Lady Tickle’s non-fear of dying. Teresa of Avila will always be the greatest of great Christian writers, undoubtedly.

At 81 you figure you’re going to die of something, and sooner rather than later,” she says, sitting at her kitchen table for her first interview about her diagnosis. “I could almost embrace this, that, OK, now I know what it’s probably going to be, and probably how much time there is. So you can clean up some of the mess you’ve made and tie up some of the loose ends.”

“I am no more afraid of dying than I am of, I don’t know, drinking this coffee,” she continues, pointing to her mug. (It’s actually filled with Postum since she’s had to give up caffeine. She remains, thankful, though, that she can still drink a nightly whiskey. “Jack Daniels, of course!” she says, shocked at the suggestion that a Tennessee native would drink anything else.)

— Spiritual writer Phyllis Tickle (“the world’s worst, most devout evangelical Episcopalian”) on her end times

Phyllis Tickle is a southern born and bred, mother of seven and a doyenne of religion writers.  She is now 81, and a widow living on a small farm in Lucy, Tennessee just outside of Memphis. The land where her cows once roamed, stray dogs she has adopted and some family surround her. She is being treated for Stage IV cancer.( Religion News Service photo by )Karen Pulfer Focht

Phyllis Tickle is a southern born and bred, mother of seven and a doyenne of religion writers. She is now 81, and a widow living on a small farm in Lucy, Tennessee just outside of Memphis. The land where her cows once roamed, stray dogs she has adopted and some family surround her. She is being treated for Stage IV cancer.( Religion News Service photo by )Karen Pulfer Focht

The list of Great American Christian and Spiritual Writers has become a long one indeed in recent decades–there’s Anne Lamott (the most popular ever, and for good reason), Kathleen Norris, Karen Armstrong, Annie Dillard and more, like the young and talented and up-and-rising and fearless Rachel Held Evans.

And then there’s Phyllis Tickle, who ranks right up there with the best of the best.

Here’s an excerpt from a Religion News Service report on her eminent death:

    LUCY, Tenn. (RNS) Over the past generation, no one has written more deeply and spoken more widely about the contours of American faith and spirituality than Phyllis Tickle.

    And now, at 81, she’s working on her final chapter: her own.

    On Jan. 2, the very day her husband, Sam, succumbed to a long and debilitating illness, Tickle found herself flat on her back with a high fever, “as sick as I’ve ever been” and racked by “the cough from hell.”

    The fever eventually subsided, but the cough wouldn’t let go. When she finally visited the doctor last month, the diagnosis was quick, and grim: Stage IV lung cancer that had already spread to her spine. The doctors told her she has four months to live, maybe six.

    “And then they added: ‘But you’re very healthy so it may take longer.’ Which I just loved!” she says with her characteristic sharp laugh.

    Indeed, that’s the kind of irony that delights Tickle, even in sober moments like this, and it embodies the sort of dry humor and frank approach that leaven even her most poignant, personal reflections. It’s also central to the distinctive style, delivered in a rich Southern register, that has won her innumerable fans and friends who will be hard-hit by the news of her illness.

And now click here if you want to know more about this woman, God bless her, of amazing grace.

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