When the Wind Blows


I. Microburst

At our place in the East Valley, there are so many ways that the wind blows. Sometimes it’s gentle, and sometimes not.


I remember when a microburst hit Helena several summer ago, on Friday. I was standing at the southeast corner of our house, watching the dried-out skeletons of weeds from the open fields across the street not rolling, but flying by, and our trees which were maybe two years in the ground bending so far over I thought their trunks would snap.


The powerful wind knocked out our electricity, and I soon learned that we had no water pressure. “Don’t flush the toilets,” I said. My daughter from Virginia who was staying with us at the time knew exactly what the wind was: a microburst. She had experienced them before, in Virginia and on visits to her husband Roger’s father’s farm in Nebraska. But microburst was a new word for me, and I said, “Huh?” I knew tornado and hurricane and typhoon. But I’d never heard the word microburst.


A few days later, I learned that another term for microburst is downburst. Cold air from a thundercloud pushes down rapidly and when it hits the hot ground, moves outward in all directions at speeds over a hundred miles an hour. By definition, the microburst or downburst is no more than 2.5 miles wide. It had hit between two and three miles away from our home, blowing the roof off a barn for mini-horses and knocking down several power poles on Canyon Ferry Road.


The Sheriff’s Department closed Canyon Ferry Road from Wylie Drive to Lake Helena Drive, forcing drivers in our neighborhood to get to Helena by taking Lake Helena Drive either through East Helena or to York Road. Not much of an inconvenience, but I remember being irritated at our developer as Saturday evening rolled by and we still had no electricity and no water pressure in our subdivision.


I stocked up on bottled water, and as I did so I remembered the need of the tsunami victims for clean water, and I wondered about any homebound in our blackout area. They needed water to keep from dehydrating. I bought several blocks and several bags of ice and filled our coolers. We emptied our refrigerators and their freezer compartments. Some perishables we kept in our coolers. Most everything from our freezer we stuffed into the freezer of my daughter who lives in downtown Helena. We cooked some on our gas grill, but mostly it was easier to eat out.


We were on a community well, and obviously there was no back up generator in the pump house. We had no water in our house–which meant you couldn’t flush your toilet, that isn’t very nice. You couldn’t take a bath. If you’re very young or very old and you didn’t have a supply of bottled water to keep from being dehydrated, you could be in tremendous trouble.


I realized, of course, that the developer couldn’t help the power outage, but I remembered distinctly that during the hearing on the second phase of his development, the developer had said that he would be installing a generator that would kick in automatically if there ever happened to be a power outage. In my frustration, I said to Joan, “Obviously he hasn’t done that.” My saying that didn’t help the situation, but it made me feel better.


II. God

Of our Helena microburst, Lewis and Clark Sheriff said, “By the will of God, no one was hurt out there…. It’s a mess, a real mess.”


I loved our sheriff. I loved her presence among our peace officers, but as a pastor I begged to differ. It was not by the will of God that no one was hurt. It was because of the way the microburst struck and how its force dissipated. I do not believe that if someone had been hurt it would have been by the will of God. As Rabbi Harold Kushner says, in When Bad Things Happen to Good People, God does not do bad things to people, nor does he do good things to people. God created a world that is mostly good, for our benefit; then God inspires us to do our best to love one another. When good things happen to us, God inspires us to respond in thanksgiving. When bad things happen to us, God inspires or breathes into us the strength and the courage to overcome those bad things.


It was not by the will of God that Hurricane Katrina has wreaked such havoc in Louisiana and Mississippi. It was not by the will of God that so much of New Orleans was damaged or destroyed. It was not by the will of God that so many died. It was the way of hurricanes, and hurricanes happen.


Most of us begin our religious lives believing in a God who is All-Knowing, All-Powerful, and All-Good. Many of us continue to believe in such a God. But I’ve found it difficult to believe in such a God. If God is All-Knowing and All-Powerful and All-Good, why did God allow the Holocaust to happen, when 6 million Jews, men, women and innocent children, were killed by the Nazis during the Second World War? If God is All-Knowing, God knew about it. If God is All-Powerful, surely God could have stopped it. If God was All-Good, so many innocent lives would not have been snuffed out.


Perhaps, as Rabbi Kushner suggests, God is not perfect, and God needs to be forgiven, as he has forgiven us. Can I forgive God for not fixing my wife Joan’s congenital heart condition before it worsened to the point she needed open heart surgery? I believe I can and have. And I believe I have forgiven myself if I ever blamed God for not fixing Joan’s heart condition earlier. I do not believe that Joan has a congenital heart condition because God willed it when she was conceived or when she was an infant. That’s not who God is, for me. I believe that Joan has a congenital heart condition because of her genetic heritage, and I thank God for the doctors who finally discovered what was wrong with her, and I pray that our children will use this knowledge to have themselves tested sooner rather than later to see if they have inherited this heart condition.


I cannot believe in a Perfect, All-Powerful God. I do believe in a God who is powerfully compassionate, whom I may know through Jesus Christ to whom I believe we can get close, really close, through prayer. He breathes into us the strength and courage to overcome life’s difficulties, if we will accept him.


I thank God for leading Joan to the doctors who operated on her, and I thank God for the doctors and nurses and therapists who brought her through intensive care and through regular hospital care and through rehabilitation. I thank God for the support of our children and the prayers of friends in Colorado and Washington and California and Wyoming and Montana. And I thank God for the strength and encouragement Joan received as she worked to overcome the challenges of recovery. I thank God for Joan herself, who is the love of my life.


God’s compassion and love know no bounds. God through the gift of his Son Jesus Christ has bound us to himself forever, and taught us that no man is an island, but we are all part of the main. The people who have lost their homes and their livelihood in New Orleans, they are us because they belong to God. Those who grieve for loved ones who have died or who are dying because health care has been disrupted, they are us because they belong to God. Those who yell for help and shout angrily at rescue workers because they have waited so long for help to come, they are us because they belong to God. In Christ Jesus, they are us, and bound to God in love.