Obladi, Oblada

Two weeks ago the GOP canceled part of their nomination convention in response to Hurricane Gustav.  On Thursday, September 11, both John McCain and Barack Obama pulled campaign ads from the airwaves and held only civic-minded appearances.  Now Senator Obama has canceled his scheduled appearance on Saturday Night Live out of deference to the victims of Hurricane Ike.  "In light of the unfolding crisis in Texas, Senator Obama has decided it is no longer appropriate to appear on 'Saturday Night Live' tomorrow evening."

I grow weary of the civic piety that drops everything to display deference and concern for the tragedy du jour or for the victims of war and terrorism.  It's not that those who suffer or have died do not warrant our attention – no, they do.  But I think they deserve more than a moment of silence or cancelled appearances by celebrity politicians (on both sides of the aisle).  

[Just think – Obama could open Saturday Night Live with an appeal for people to give to the Red Cross, continue with the sketches and jokes, and throughout the program continue to ask for donations and support for the victims of Hurricane Ike.  But instead of a creative platform for charity appeal, we'll have a last-minute crafted, poorly executed episode of SNL – or perhaps just a re-run.]

You see, despite all the tragedy in the world, life goes on.  Millions of people in our society can't tell their employers that they're taking a day off because of tragedy a few thousand miles away.  I know that I can't afford the luxury of pausing long to remember those who have died while I have three children to care for and a load of work to do.  There's a certain essentialness and blessedness in the work of daily life – work that, despite tragedy, must go on.  (And that's OK.)

At Back to School Night on Thursday, September 11, the school principal opened the program by asking us to stand for a moment of silence to remember the victims of that horrible day.  Not that there is anything wrong with that, but at the end of a day when most of us had already remembered the tragedy – this is the Metro DC area, afterall – I wondered if this pause of civic piety was really necessary.  Do we honor victims more by silence, or simply by doing the good work of building up our schools and teaching our children?  (I also admit to growing weary of patriotic performances of God Bless America during the 7th inning stretch of some baseball games.)

But more.  Why do we not have have grand public displays of civic piety for the 47 million Americans without health insurance, many of whom suffer and die of otherwise treatable conditions?  Why do we not have moments of silence for malnourished families in our wealthy country?  Why not remember with grieving hearts the unacceptably high number of victims of domestic violence, poverty, crime?  We fall all over ourselves to show deference and respect for high profile tragedies, but we often neglect the day-to-day brokenness present in our society.

Today I'm going to Arts on Foot, a community arts festival in Washington, DC.  Despite all the varied tragedy in the world, today I will smile and laugh and likely make a few partisan comments, while otherwise enjoying a Saturday afternoon in the city with my family.  And I will do so in thanskgiving for the Founding Fathers whose vision and soldiers whose sacrifices make such gatherings possible in our free country.  And I will do so also knowing that people in Galveston, TX would do the same if it were not for Hurricane Ike's wicked winds and rains.  

Tomorrow I'll be in church, where a bulletin insert will invite me to donate to Hurricane Gustav relief, a special offering will go to support the work of the Lutheran Church in El Salvador, and prayers will be lifted up for all who suffer sickness, hurt, oppression, and for those who have died.  These acts of prayer and almsgiving will not be a special "drop everything" display of Christian piety.  No.  They are just the simple, everyday acts of Christian faith.  We'll do the same on the following Sunday.  And the Sunday after that.  And the Sunday after . . .

Obladi, Oblada.  Life goes on.  Let us not simply stop and drop everything for momentary displays of deference, but rather strive to live our lives every day, every week with honor, love, respect, care and charity for all.

Published by Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. Veteran. Jedi. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.

3 thoughts on “Obladi, Oblada

  1. A corollary to this is the fact that, by giving so much civic piety to group tragedies, we send a clear message to those who’s loved ones have died in less publicized manners that those deaths are somehow “less tragic”. Today in the Washington Post is a story about a woman carjacked and abducted by two men at Springfield Mall. While driving at high speed, they crashed, killing her. There will be no national moments of silence for her. No presidential candidate will give pause today to reflect on her apparently senseless homicide.
    We forget, I think, that each person has but one life. Each single life has a family and friends that care for them. Losing that life prematurely by yourself is no less tragic for loved ones than losing that life with others. Are 32 individual shooting deaths more or less tragic than the Virginia Tech massacre? Collectively, we feel worse about the massacre. Do loved ones of those victims feel worse than the woman from Springfield Mall?

  2. Excellent post.
    Matt is right. In our community, four people died together in an accident. This was difficult and the X4 aspect made it seem worse, but of course, not really worse than if they had all died separately. There was an event held in memory of these people a year later, but then they decided to include the memory of another person also killed tragically because of a connection between these people. All well and good…..except for the parents of some other people who died prematurely who have never been remembered except privately by their own families. [We’ve had several unfortunate tragedies here.]

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