Monday, September 22, 2008

Never say "never" again....

Carne val

Protestants, by and large, don’t observe Lent; so Texans give up meat for hurricanes, not for liturgical seasons. But they give it up for the same reasons as those who observe a meatless Lent: because they are forced to. So when hurricanes roar in and remove our ability to keep meat fresh and cold, it is Fat Tuesday and all the meat must be eaten at once, and everybody gathers round the charcoal grill, or the propane grill, or the natural gas grill. In any and every case, it is a grill, and it is a party, until the meat is gone, and as long as the power stays gone, it is Lent and no meat is served. Unless you can find a place to go out for burgers, which are hardly meat anymore anyway, so it might as well be a meatless meal there, too.

Easter comes to those whom the high priests of the God of Electrical Power bestow their favors: being among the Elect, those assured of the Resurrection and Heaven's glories, is celebrated with meat. You can tell the Elect because they are in the grocery store replenishing the freezer: the one atop the refrigerator, the one in the garage, the chest freezer recently emptied of venison and game. They celebrate the end of their personal Lent (for everything is personal to Protestants) with happy purchases of meat, while the less favored, the less fortunate, stand in line around them sadly buying only those goods which are dry or canned, which will not spoil or need not be cooked the moment they return home. Having long ago lost the spirit to shop daily, none of us can conceive going home from the few open grocery stores to cook what we have purchased, and eat it that day.

So we shuffle off to restaurants, saving the receipts in hopes the defenders of the insurance companies will pour out their benison on us and take pity and pay us for the “Additional Living Expenses” they promised once to pay, but now pretend to never have heard of, to have meant to pay only when we didn’t need it, never when we did, because it is, after all, “additional insurance” and “not subject to the deductible,” and the guardians of the Insurance tell us the rules have changed since the storm meant such claims might have to be paid, and infer with long, sad faces when we inquire, that surely we were not so naïve and innocent as to misunderstand that something that was “additional insurance” and “not subject to the deductible” was ever meant to be paid to anyone under any circumstances; not when the Insurers can change the rules depending on the circumstances. Surely we understood the System would never survive such claims as we would make for our meals, because the Gods of Electrical Power have forsaken us, and their high priests will not take our calls or hear our pleas. Surely, the guardians of the Insurance say without saying, we understand this is our problem, and not a Peril Insured Against that the Insurer ever meant to protect us from. Not when it would cost money. Paying out money, for the Insurer, is when the iron bites; and surely it would be unfair to make the Insurer pay, since the Insurer was not responsible for the actions of the hurricane.

If Protestants understand anything, it is not “acts of God,” but money. And so we wait for the high priests of the God of Electrical Power to deign to visit us, and return to our homes, and look longingly at our empty freezers, propped open and waiting, and try not to go back to the grocery store to see the Elect pile up even greater stacks of plastic wrapped meat in their baskets, and hurry home to feed it to their happily humming appliances (surely a foretaste of heaven!). We sit in the heat and the humidity and the silence of our disconnected homes, and wait for the dark to tell us to go to sleep, that tomorrow is another day. A day just like today.

Wasn’t that a mighty storm?

Galveston is closed, until further notice. Not the city, the entire island. They tried to let residents back in, earlier, but they had to be out by sundown. The resulting traffic snarl was so bad, they didn't try it again. The island is closed. Bolivar Peninsula, just north of the island, is reportedly in worse condition. There whole neighborhoods are said to be reduced to slabs, mere concrete pads that mock the notion of human habitation. Galveston has no power, little water, less sewage, and much damage. The high priests of the God of Electric Power (GEP, to the initiated) issues statements daily about how many have returned to the graces of the GEP (O machine! O machine!). In the first hours, it was reported that over 3 million had been abandoned by the GEP, that in their suffering and misery and the face of the storm, the GEP had fled them, to return on a sunnier day, in fairer weather, to be their friend then, but not now. Day by day the reports were that more and more had returned to the favor of the high priests, who were reportedly busy visiting everywhere but where you are, because you are not yet worthy. The numbers dropped steadily and dramatically, from 3 million in darkness and powerlessness, to 2 million, to 1.2 million, to now 66% favored by the Lords of Creation; but still it is not for you. And you think about Galveston, and realize they have been dropped from the statistics, because like a war that has been lost, they no longer matter. And then, for awhile, you don’t think about yourself. But by nightfall, you do; again.

O machine! O machine!

Technology, be not proud, though some have called thee mighty and dreadful,
Thou art not so. For the simplest measure of nature dost so easily and casually thou overthrow.
Thou art slave to war, fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And a single hurricane can make you useless again.

In the visions of the future via recent movies, technology is either god-like in its power, pure and clean and magical, with unlimited resources of energy which can never be interrupted; or there are ceiling fans instead of cool, efficient air-conditioning, stirring what is surely musty air. In the future, at least the ceiling fans work. It is something to look forward to.

Without the benison of the God of Electrical Power, the ceiling fans are as useless as the light fixtures. They mock us with the memories of what could be and what has been, and we curse them for their uselessness and their mockery. But they are as indifferent as the high priests of the GEP. The couldn't care less. And then you realize they never cared; nor did you much care about them, until they didn't work. Or couldn't. Now even light switches seem to add insult to injury; and electrical outlets? Fuggedaboutit.


Ice is so valuable it is not spoken of, because someone else might get it before you do. Gold, platinum, jewels: all worthless in comparison. It is suggested you would trade your first born male child for it, and the thought doesn't even slow you down as you consider the sheer pleasure of simply possessing it. But, like all possessions, it is ephemeral: here today (if at all), gone tomorrow, leaving only a watery residue in your once-again bereft cooler. Why you keep anything in your cooler when your garbage reeks of what you emptied out of your refrigerator (to speak of what was removed from the freezer is a shameful act of blasphemy; one does not admit to commiting such heresies!) and which the city won't pick up because the regulation garbage can is crushed beneath the debris of your garage, is another mystery you do not delve into. Some things, after all, are just not done; and disposing of those things which you now desperately seek to ice down every night in the cooler, is one of them. It is, after all, what separates us from the beasts, and the savages. The real trappings of civilization may be gone, but we must keep up appearances. There is always a little bit of heaven in a disaster area. We learn to call it "ice."

The Powerlessness of Powerlessness and the Theology of Scarcity

Protestants don't do the story of Elijah and the widow. For them, spirituality is not so much practicality, as practicality is spirituality. God helps those who help themselves is their mantra, and on that faith they built the fourth largest city in the world in a place where no sane human being would choose to reside, what with the heat and the humidity and the mosquitos and the hurricanes, fellow travelers all. But those who help themselves also help themselves to the world's resources and technology's benefits, among which are electricty, air conditioning, and the consumption of fossil fuels. In the future, we know those things will run out, now. But until that future comes, we will face the present with hoarding and greed and panic-buying. So when the Apocalypse looms, we drive around and around seeking the gas stations which are still lit and following the tankers as they tease us with the possibility of delivery, and line up to suck the gas from the storage tanks where we can, because who knows what tomorrow will bring, and our tanks are already a quarter down. We have nowhere to go because no one else has power and there are no storms threatening and everything but our quotidian lives has returned to normal (100 years ago this would have been considered a full recovery; and after a century of progress, we still wait to "recover"), but still we fear scarcity and hardly believe in tomorrow, so quickly was it wiped off the page by a half a day of wind and rain, and so we prowl for the gas station that is removing its hand-printed "Sorry, out of gas" signs from the pumps so we can descend like a plague of metal locusts to make the signs go back up again, thus proving our perspicacity and wisdom and prudence. Protestants are nothing if not prudent.

And Our President visits somewhere or speaks from somewhere else (we only hear him on battery powered radios or on car radios while we are lurking and looking and lining up for more gas) and says the problem is one of "distribution," but even the 24% of us who still think he's doing a "fine job" know that it isn't a matter of distribution of gasoline, but rather of electricity to drive the pumps that supply the gasoline hoarded underground. So powerful, though, is the name of the GEP that none dare speak it, not even Our President, so we ignore him once again and continue driving and lurking, burning up gasoline we are desperate to replace, desperate to burn looking for more to hoard and burn and obtain and hoard and burn.


And every day you curse the Priests of the GEP because they do not come; and every night you tell yourself: "Tomorrow my savior arrives."

The Power of Powerlessness

Cut off from technology and the flow of information and the creature comforts of the machine (well, the ones we consume daily, without noticing; like breath, like blood flow, like digestions, we only notice we are doing them when we can't do them anymore), the discomfort seems more true than anything else in the world. But this, too, is also true:

My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth’s lamentation
I hear the sweet though far off hymn
That hails a new creation:
Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul—
How can I keep from singing?

What though my joys and comforts die?
The Lord my Savior liveth;
What though the darkness gather round!
Songs in the night He giveth:
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that refuge clinging;
Since Christ is Lord of Heav’n and earth,
How can I keep from singing?

When tyrants tremble, sick with fear,
and hear their death knells ringing;
When friends rejoice, both far and near,
how can I keep from singing?
In prison cell and dungeon vile
our thoughts to them are winging;
When friends by shame are undefiled,
how can I keep from singing?

I lift mine eyes; the cloud grows thin;
I see the blue above it;
And day by day this pathway smoothes
Since first I learned to love it:
The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
A fountain ever springing:
All things are mine since I am His—
How can I keep from singing?

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