From the Newsletter: “Wildfire and Memory”


Dear Friends at Second Church,

The wildfires ranging through Napa and Sonoma counties in California became more personal for me yesterday, as I saw pictures of a community being evacuated where my great-uncle David has a home.

As it happened, a little later I got an email from a vineyard where I once ordered wine for Christmas, letting me know that they were safe, at least for now, and even though I haven’t purchased anything from them in years, I was glad to know they were still there.

They’re in my prayers now, for sure.

Then this morning, I saw a picture posted by a clergy colleague who has retired to a farm near Santa Rosa, that showed firemen resting for a few minutes on their firetrucks, which were temporarily parked in my friend’s front yard.

What days these are.

Another friend who lives in Florida commented, “When the hurricane came, we had three days to get ready. With the wildfires, you get a call to evacuate within the next twenty minutes.”

It’s an awful thought.

Of course, that doesn’t make a wildfire somehow “worse” than a hurricane. We should resist the impulse to compare worry and suffering. So many places are hurting — and so many are still drying out, digging out, and trying to salvage what remains, which is such melancholy work.

Loss is loss — parsing it is beside the point.

But I do wonder about what I’d carry if I only had twenty minutes to pull it together.

It’s remarkably easy to picture how our girls would be pleading for every beloved stuffed animal while Liz and I were taking down pictures of our grandparents from the downstairs hallway. How the church’s Senior Deacon and I would be frantically over here at the church, too, trying to get the fireproof safe open to stash in a few more things.

How long would I let myself wonder if it made sense to take my diplomas or the hard copies of my sermons?

If you only have twenty minutes, how much of your time do you spend gathering the tools you’ll need for the coming days — the clothes, medicines, contact lens solution, dog food, phones, laptops, etc. — and how much time do you use for securing the irreplaceable items of your own history?

It’s hard to say for certain, of course, and yet I know that my own instincts would lean toward securing the history.

The most precious things are often the least valuable to anyone else — I probably wouldn’t even think to grab the jewelry (a lapse for which my grandmother would never forgive me), but would have the full run of Grace and Emily’s pre-school art work. Does a smurf matter more than a set of china? Who can say? And yet if you had to say, what would you?

Maybe the deeper lesson is not to underestimate how important such things actually are for the future.

Without a sense of where we’ve been, we struggle that much harder to remember who we are.  As we face a future that remains as yet unwritten, we find strength in those reminders of the road we’ve been traveling. The blessings we’ve encountered along the way remind us that there will be other blessings yet to come. We also learn that in so many ways, and even without knowing it, we have even been preparing for this current moment, whatever it may hold.

I concede that this might be a lot to ask of a childhood smurf, grabbed off the shelf before I flee with my family from a wildfire.

Yet the Lord works in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform.

Faith teaches us that our history fits within a larger story of God’s love for the world, and of God’s calling a people into being for love and service. We are those people. That is our story. This is our moment.

Whatever we need to keep close by in order to remember who we are in God and what God calls us to be, may we keep it close, indeed.


See you in church,

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