Shut Up and Grab a Shovel
We’ve all worked with someone like Chris.
“Chris” (name changed to protect the guilty) and I worked together at a chemical company before I entered vocational ministry, and Chris knew exactly how things ought to be. He knew how HR could be improved, lectured the rest of us regarding shift schedules, and was constantly telling others how their work could improve. We just couldn’t count on Chris to get any of it done.
There has been a “Chris” in every church I’ve ever served as pastor. I’m sure anyone reading this knows a “Chris” at their workplace, or even in their family. “Chris” is one of the most frustrating people to be around. And over the past three weeks, I’ve seen a lot of “Chris'” in the wake of major hurricanes that have decimated Texas and Florida. I saw him on a news program, shouting about climate change, and blaming the very people who are victims of this storm because they have the unmitigated gall to drive a car with an internal combustion engine. I saw him again personified in a TV preacher confidently declaring that these hurricanes were God’s judgment because “the gays are getting married!” As I write these words (its Monday) it appears Maria is poised to take the same path as Irma, and I imagine the usual suspects will once again offer strong opinions, but no actual help.
Unfortunately, this penchant for pontification is as old as the Bible. John’s Gospel records a story of Jesus and His disciples encountering a man who had been blind from birth, and Jesus’ own followers’ first response is to offer an opinion in the form of a question. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
You just can’t get much lower than engaging in theological debate at the expense of a blind man. Yet Jesus quickly responds that the issue isn’t sin, but instead “that the works of God might be displayed in him.” And then comes the ultimate challenge to the disciples: “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.”
The truth is, we don’t always know what God is up to, and most often, He chooses not to explain His actions to us. But Jesus does tell us that crises are an opportunity to display the works of God, and that it is our responsibility to “work those works.”
A blind man doesn’t need a lecture in theology. He needs to see! And in seeing, he will bear witness to the God who created him. Likewise, the Texas resident whose furniture is now floating in the Gulf of Mexico doesn’t need a lesson in climatology, sexual ethics, or even “smart home-buying.” He needs people to shut up and grab shovel!
The late Fred Rogers used to say that when catastrophe strikes, if we want to be encouraged we should “look for the helpers.” Thankfully, there have been plenty of those as well! People from every walk of life, every religious faith, and every economic and social status have adjusted their schedules and budgets to donate money and time to rebuild. Our own church family has teamed up with 40,000 other churches around the country to provide relief on Texas and Florida coasts. USA Today reported just last week that faith communities are providing the bulk of disaster recovery in coordination with FEMA. God’s people are “working the works,” and its encouraging to watch!
I have an Imam friend who tells me that when it snows in his neighborhood, he doesn’t ask his neighbors whether they are Muslim. They just team up and clear the cul-de-sac. That’s a pretty good model for the kind of action we need more of. 100s of thousands of people are hurting, and it is time to “work those works.” Along the way, we can have serious and important discussions about life and faith. But first, grab a shovel!
Joel Rainey is Lead Pastor at Covenant Church and Professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. He and his family live in Shepherdstown.