“Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. (John's Revelation 22:12-13)
On August 9th, as I awoke in Camden, Maine in the early morning before my parents arose, I got word of the fires on Maui. I spent the next several hours watching in horror as local island news outlets gave whatever information they could about the growing tragedy on the small island I had called home for a short 14 months. I began emailing, texting, and messaging friends and members of my former church who I knew were in harm's way. I reached out to colleagues to check on their communities and to offer acknowledgement and prayers for what was unfolding. And then I waited...
By evening that day, Lāhainā Town had been leveled, the Upcountry fires were still raging, the world was beginning to hear about this paradise lost, and I was engulfed in a whirlwind of thoughts on the latest "natural" disaster to impact people and a place that I love.
I don't know about you, but with each successive weather "event" (so often called "unprecedented") I can't help but wander into the apocalyptic narratives in the Hebrew and Christian corpus. The 12 inches of rain that my friends experienced in Vermont earlier this summer made me wonder about Noah's flood in Genesis. The fires on Maui make me think about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Droughts, Isaiah's valley of dry bones. Grasshoppers, the plagues in Egypt. Each event seemingly a message "for those who have ears to hear."
John's Revelation is filled with the imperative to listen. At the end of each letter written to a church in chapters 2 and 3 the author declares "Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches." These current catastrophes feel like letters that we, as individuals, as communities, as nations, are being asked to read. Messages to which we are being asked to listen.
But in this moment, I have to ask, what are we supposed to hear?
On a systemic level, i believe we need to hear that climate change is real, and that we are now in a time of great peril. The question then becomes, "What, if anything, are we willing to do as a human community to adapt in the face of great change?" I find myself asking, "What can THIS community do? How can we inspire others to live in the face of the reality we face as inhabitants of this great blue ball?" I'm sure Team Earth will help us engage these questions in the coming months.
On a personal level the message is less clear. What do I as an individual need to hear? Am I hearing that I need to give up all modern privileges that give me pleasure so as not to be a part of the problem? This would mean no air travel, no plastics, no coffee or chocolate, mangoes, bananas or avocados. Does it mean I run toward every disaster zone and offer my heart, my hands, my money? Do I write my legislators, support causes that align with my beliefs, share what I know? I think I am living sustainably. Is that enough? And there are days when I just want to give up since it is just so overwhelming.
Despite all of that, what I come back to is our human capacity to Love one another in the midst of hardship and peril. Our capacity to turn toward one another, to be honest and still hopeful. To be generous and kind and humble. This is the true meaning of Aloha, to live face to face with one another, the natural world, and our Creator.
John's Revelation is filled with the consequences of not living Aloha, not maintaining the command to "Love one another as I have loved you." (John 13:34-35) To be neither hot nor cold on Love (Rev. 3:16) is to be emeō (gk) or "spit out" from the mouth of God. This image is actually about God's breath or word being removed from the community. For God to no longer reside with a people was to be cast into sheol, the pit.
As I watch my friend and colleague Anela Rosa, pastor of the Waiola Church (UCC) in Lāhainā, and the members of this church community, people who have lost everything, I am inspired to see a community that lives the Aloha of Christ even in the face of such loss. Their Aloha is hotter than the fires that destroyed their homes, their church, and their community. Maui will recover, just as Detroit, Pheonix, Talent, and other places in our little corner of the world are. I know that God is doing a new thing there for all the world to see. May we listen and learn and recommit to Love for a world in so much need.
Aloha nui loa,
To help the community on Maui, please make financial contributions to the UCC Disaster Ministries here. You can read about the Hawaii Conference prayer service here. For other ways to make direct contributions to victims of the fires, please contact Pastor Robin at email@example.com.