August 16, 2020

Dear Friends,

Many years ago – when she was in elementary school – our eldest, Elizabeth, participated in a poster contest. The contest was, “Who could make the best tornado warning poster?” It was spring in Southern Ohio – the start of tornado season – and whoever was sponsoring the contest wanted to make sure the children knew how dangerous tornadoes were and what to do when the sirens sounded their warnings. 

We had moved the previous fall from Buffalo. Western New York isn’t thought of as tornado-prone – it’s better known for its snow and ice – so the idea of preparing for a tornado was new to us. Elizabeth created a collage of different items – chairs, houses, cars – all whirling in a vortex with the following words in gigantic letters: “Tornadoes are strong! Take cover!”

We were all reminded of the power of the wind when the derecho plowed across the nation’s midsection this past Monday and slammed into Chicago, spawning an EF1 tornado whose path took it through Rogers Park. I did some research and found this statement: “The damage from an EF1 tornado will be moderate.” If what I observed when I drove back into Chicago last night is “moderate” damage, I don’t want to see what “severe” damage looks like. 

Life has felt something like a tornado these last few months. So much of what used to be normal has been upended. At times life has felt like being in a whirlwind. We have found ways to cope – reluctantly, sometimes angrily. We’ve sought shelter, and taken cover wherever we’ve been able to find it. Very little seems easy.

One of the classic movies of the 1990’s was “Twister.” The movie was about a team of storm chasers who were on a mission to study the structure of tornadoes. To do so, the team invented a data-gathering “robot” called Dorothy – named, of course, after the little girl from Kansas in “The Wizard of Oz.” 

A tornado starts the human Dorothy on a journey where her experiences, and those of her traveling companions, are lessons that help them understand, what is love? wisdom? courage? What does it mean to be “home”? 

I’ll be the first one to say that it can be hard to gain any insight, or derive much spiritual meaning when life is a tornado – when it is unpredictable, powerful, and whirling. But I hope that you and I can learn more about ourselves through our journey on “the yellow brick road” or on whatever color road we’ve been traveling. To do this is to redeem some of the loss each of us has experienced. I believe redemption is what God is always up to with us, bringing new beginnings out of every ending, new life out of every death. How will each of us, with God’s help, redeem these times?

“Tornadoes are strong. Take cover!” Good advice when the storms of life approach. But it’s what we do after we emerge from the cellar that makes us who we are.