Sometimes, there really are no words — no adequate words anyway — to describe a given set of circumstances.
The flooding in Houston stemming from Hurricane Harvey is one of those times.
"It's catastrophic, unprecedented, epic — whatever adjective you want to use," National Weather Service meteorologist Patrick Blood told the Houston Chronicle, describing the 29 inches of rain unleashed on the nation's fourth-largest city.
At times such as these, journalists — particularly local ones such as the Chronicle staff — play such a vital role in keeping their hard-hit communities informed and helping them rally and recover:
Forgive me for saying so (because I know it's a cliché to do so), but my thoughts and prayers are with the countless reporters and photographers putting their own lives on hold to dedicate themselves to their friends and neighbors. Yes, I know they are not alone (think first responders and other public servants on the front lines), but the news media's heroic efforts should not be ignored. We can save discussions of "fake news" and media bias in coverage of politics and social issues for another day.
I read today's Chronicle with an eye toward pointing out any faith angles that I came across.
Unless I missed them, I did not see any.
There was mention on the front page of "God," but only in a cameo role. A story on nursing home residents who were evacuated includes this quote:
And, despite frantic phone calls from staff — some at the home, some trapped in their own residences — help did not come.
“I was on the phone with anybody except for God,” said employee Tina Davis.
God didn’t answer the phone, but in the end it was the Army National Guard that showed up to save the day, floating the wet, half-clothed residents out on mattresses to waiting trucks — massive light-medium tactical vehicles well-equipped for such conditions.
I'm not sure I totally understand that quote or the "God didn't answer the phone" transition. But the Chronicle played it up in the headline.
The only other reference to faith that I saw in today's Chronicle — and I could have missed something — was in a staff editorial titled "In this together, Houston."
The editorial includes mention of "communities of faith":
Across this vast city, neighbors are banging on the doors of neighbors, checking on their safety. Volunteers are maneuvering boats through submerged streets, putting their own lives at risk to rescue strangers who have retreated to upper floors, attics and roofs. Other are making their fishing boats, their trucks and their high-water vehicles available to rescuers. First-responders — police, fire and medical — are working without rest to rescue residents and to keep the city functioning to the extent possible. The American Red Cross, communities of faith, service centers and social-service agencies are providing shelter and sustenance to people who have lost everything. Reporters — yes, those much-maligned purveyors of “fake news” — are putting themselves at risk hour after hour to communicate to Houstonians what they need to know during a time of danger.
The selflessness, indeed the bravery, of our fellow Houstonians, who come through yet again when they’re challenged by Mother Nature’s fickle moods, has become a Bayou City trademark. We’ve had more than our share of practice, of course, as a bevy of names — Allison, Rita and Ike among them — serve to remind us.
A new name on that ignominious list, Harvey, is setting records for sustained rainfall across a wide area, “unknown and beyond anything experienced,” the National Weather Service tweeted. Unfortunately, that dubious distinction may be short-lived, considering our recent penchant to experience 100-year rain events. We’re likely to experience future weather catastrophes just as cataclysmic.
I'm hopeful that in its ongoing coverage, the Chronicle will devote more attention to the faith angle and God's role in Houston's recovery.
In the meantime, a former Chronicle religion writer — Kate Shellnutt of Christianity Today — has an interesting piece on the "rains of biblical proportions":
It takes a lot to cancel church in the shiny Bible Belt stronghold of Houston, Texas, home to more megachurches than any city in America. Specifically, 9 trillion gallons of rain in a weekend.
Hurricane Harvey shut down Sunday services from downtown to the sprawling suburbs, where churches replaced typical worship gatherings with sermon videos posted on Facebook or simply messages to stay safe.
Almost all Houston-area churches—including the Bayou City’s biggest congregations such as Second Baptist, Houston’s First Baptist, Church Without Walls, Wheeler Avenue Baptist, and Woodlands Church—canceled all Sunday activities as a precaution.
The congregations were glad they did when unprecedented rain levels ended up blocking many routes and leaking into some church buildings by Saturday night and Sunday morning.
And by all means, please share links if you see Houston/Harvey stories that GetReligion should highlight.