The images we have all seen on TV and internet sites of the damages from Hurricane Katrina have been amazing, frightening, sobering, and stunning. All of that damage, all of those people displaced, so many lives lost, and such a long-term recovery ahead.
In the midst of those images, we have seen the very best and the very worst of human behavior. The best of human behavior has been demonstrated by those heroic persons who have rescued the survivors from helicopters, boats, emergency vehicles, and even on foot. Often those rescuers have risked losing their own lives in order to help those who seem so lost and desperate in the midst of the floods. Sure, some of those rescuers are paid to do this work, but all of them seem to be working extra hours and with extra care which goes ways beyond their job descriptions. Every human being can look at those rescuers and feel a sense of pride about our human nature and its tendency for caring and saving the helpless and hurt.
And yet, in the midst of this same tragedy we have seen the worst of human nature in the actions of those who are looting stores and ATM machines and others' homes. Some of those looting may be trying to find a few necessities just to survive the ordeal, and that is understandable. But so many of the looters are simply stealing, taking items (like electronic devices) for which they have no possible use in the midst of this disaster. Now we even hear reports of gangs with weapons terrorizing helpful victims. How sad, and yet how typical of the worst of human behavior.
So, there we have it, a clear demonstration of our human condition. We humans are capable of great beauty, joy, love, sacrifice, and bravery. But we are also capable of selfish, degrading, and destructive behavior. There is a name for that reality: sin. We don't talk much about sin anymore, even in the church. We talk about social conditions, or emotional distress, or blame others for our failures. But the Christian tradition teaches us to acknowledge and to confess our human condition, and then to receive God's forgiveness, and to open our lives to God's transforming power to make us new persons.
It starts with admitting our human nature is a mixture of saint and sinner, and we have seen that reality portrayed vividly in this current disaster. So, let us turn off the TV coverage long enough to confess: to confess how human we are, to confess our complicity with economic structures and racism which have left the poorest of the poor to suffer in places like New Orleans, to confess that our enjoyment of luxury has contributed to economic dependency upon oil, to confess our selfish enjoyment of safety and security even while watching the suffering of others from a safe distance, to confess how quickly the veneer of society has dissolve into violence and greed and despair.
Let us confess, let us refrain from judging others, and let us receive God's power to transform our lives, our society, and our world.
from Bishop Michael J. Coyner