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The Rev. James Ellis III The Rev. James Ellis, III

The Rev. James Ellis III is the senior pastor of a nondenominational congregation in Washington, DC.

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Been in the Storm

November 07, 2012

My parents tell me that we survived a typhoon when living in Japan. Just a wee toddler at the time I don't recall much of the encounter, but by all accounts it was pretty fierce with the wind violently albeit momentarily blowing open our home's front door. Through the years though, there have been more run-ins with "climactic wizardry," as one meteorologist described it - and these I recall all too vividly.

Devastating tornadoes in Maryland (twice) and Texas (twice), blizzards and massive nor'easters in "the City of Bridges," as well as Maine and New Hampshire. Did I mention an earthquake in the rolling hills of West Virginia? How about powerful thunderstorms and torrential downpour in the nation's capitol? Oh, and I can't forget the uncharacteristic freezing rain, sleet, and below-freezing temperatures in Atlanta that paralyzed the bustling city for nearly two weeks. A word of caution: the South, automobiles, and combinations of wet, wintry weather don't mix well. Unfortunately, I have endured more than my fair share of inclement weather or natural "acts of God," as insurance companies like to call them. And then there was Hurricane Sandy that recently wreaked havoc on the eastern seaboard, but principally in New York and New Jersey. My region was mostly spared from direct impact and my heart goes out to those whose life's timeline will undoubtedly contain an asterisk denoting this time of loss.

I am no storm chaser, but I know that storms come in all shapes and sizes, and they employ an equal opportunity policy. While there is no avoiding the fact that socioeconomic inequalities factor heavily into adequate preparation and the ability of individuals and communities to rebound from these kinds of uninvited houseguests (i.e., Hurricane Katrina), in the end storms affect whomever they will whenever they will. Also, beyond customary meteorological patterns, storms are ridiculously unpredictable, both the how and why of their origin and ultimate landfall. We might blame an increase in their frequency and force on global warming, but it may not be the main culprit, at least not in every instance. And despite technological advances (i.e., Doppler radar, etc.) we still don't always know when a storm will strike. They seem to have a mind of their own, and some are fast-moving whereas others move slowly with stealth like a predator stalking prey. Perhaps not as unpredictable as they once were due to our increased ability to track their movement, storms are still very much uncontrollable as well. At times all that you can do is hunker down and wait things out. In the aftermath you simply get on with the business of accounting for loved ones, assessing damage, grieving your losses, and moving forward however you can.

Isn't that just like life's other storms Relational, financial, social, spiritual, and emotional storms can rein as much misery and devastation on us, if not more than any amount of wind, water, or snow. And there is hardly ever any an insurance check or compensatory subsidy otherwise forthcoming to help keep us afloat in the midst of these nonmaterial tragedies. God led the Israelites "the roundabout way" of the wilderness toward the Red Sea in their path to foretold liberation,[1] a move that beautifully rebuffs our conventional wisdom that the best path to success or freedom is a straight line.

I am encouraged to know that God is in infinite control of my life and yours, no matter our many blunders and struggles. When we experience a great fall, God - clearly not all of the king's horses and all of the king's men - is the only resource fully capable of putting us back together again with ease. While it behooves us to take practical, firm participatory steps towards our own healing, only God can calm the storm and send a telegram of peace to our doorstep. Of course, this is foolish and weak, utter rubbish to the world. Nevertheless, we are the aroma of Christ to God.[2]

On Libation Song, his 2002 CD, Joel Dias-Porter (better known to the "spoken word" poetry world as DJ Renegade) said, "Spirituals are how angels would sound singing in a cotton field."[3] I believe that he is onto something. The 1956 rendition of "Been In The Storm So Long"[4] by The Fisk Jubilee Singers always moves me. If you have ever heard it performed well, then you know what I mean. The Lord is revealed to us through prayer and our world is transformed, first, by the perpetual prayers of those with ears to hear, eyes to see, and hands to act on God's behalf, following God's ways. If God is indeed in the boat with us, then whatever storms may come our way are in for a rude awakening. Even as we batten down the proverbial hatches and eventually work to rebuild following life's many unjust and erratic storms, we would do well to find a little time to pray.


[1] Exodus 13:13-22.
[2] 2 Corinthians 2:15.
[3] http://renegadesblog.blogspot.com
[4] Listen to it here, but if you are further interested see Nellie Y. McKay, Henry Louis Gates, eds., The Norton Anthology of African American Literature (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2003). The book has an audio companion CD attached in the back where jems like "Been In The Storm So Long" can be accessed.


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