the floodlands of iowa--a bishop's response

it seems every day i am confronted by my own inability to understand, make meaning of, theologically respond to, and faithfully engage the depth of human suffering, fear, and devesation marking this world and her days...

i post this letter not because it answers all my rumbling, rambling questions on theodicy, not because it captures an answer to the age old questions "where is God in the midst of this?" or "what kind of God can you believe in in light of this?" i post it because it is one relgious leader's faithful response to the suffering, hope, work, and wonder in the communities he is serving. too often i become so overwhelmed as to feel unable to utter any response at all. human suffering, however, matters too much to be met with silence. so too, the creaking tenderness of new life and hope coaxed through these cracks. as martin luther king jr reminds, "our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter."

thank you, bishop palmer, for your faithful response to what matters.


Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Iowa has been buffeted by wind and rain, especially across the last month. The floods and their aftermath with which we now deal have disrupted an unbelievable number of lives, households, farms, businesses, communities across the state and region. I join you in having sense of being awed, overwhelmed and wonderfully amazed all at the same time.

I am awed by the beauty and the force of nature. We have all been reminded by the storms of 2008 how vulnerable, fragile and precious all aspects of life are. Scripture reminds us in numerous places of all of these angles of view about planet earth and the cosmos. I am struck by the language of one of the Eucharistic prayers in the Book of Common Prayer that says in part concerning the magnificence and mystery of the created order:

At your command all things came to be: the vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses, and this fragile earth, our island home.

This world is fragile indeed and so are we. We are indeed vulnerable, more than we wish we were. But naming that vulnerability can move us to deepened faith and dependence on God.

Like you I am overwhelmed by the scope of the devastation. So many have lost so much. Homes, communities, livelihood, church buildings, and ministry centers are either gone completely or radically altered. But the floods following the rains and their destruction are being met and matched by the swelling tide of prayer and compassion, tangible resources and physical presence and hands on help that is making a transforming difference. You my friends have stepped up and are literally giving yourselves away individually, as congregations and communities.

I am amazed and inspired by the strength and resolve of people to rebuild their lives, churches and communities. As I have moved across the state visiting stricken communities I have been touched by the depth of the theological reflection that is going on. I hear praise for the creation. I hear lament that shouts “why”? I hear gratitude for physical life spared. I hear individuals and congregations asking “what would you have us to do”? I see them hearing the answer, and then going and serving in the name of Jesus. Years ago I read something like this: “to do theology is to care about what God cares about”. Thank you for caring about your neighbors, your communities, your churches, and this fragile world.

Yours in Christ,

I am,

† Gregory V. Palmer