In 2004, Tilly Smith, a 10 year old school girl on a holiday with her family in Thailand, having just learnt 3 weeks earlier about tsunamis in her Geography lesson, recognised the situation she was seeing – the sea draining away far beyond low tide and the water streaked with bubbles – and without asking an adult, started screaming at everyone on the beach to get to higher ground. Almost 100 people followed her lead and that stretch of beach had no deaths when the Boxing Day tsunami hit.
Disaster and catastrophe research suggests that there is a lot of inertia in people and that a siren or alarm can simply not get people moving because everyone is looking at what everyone else is doing! People need the siren and a cry or instruction to actually move. Often it seems no one wants to be first. When the 2011 tsunami hit Japan, every student at school in Kamaishi survived but not some of the city’s folk including some students’ parents; neither did many school populations along the coast from Kamaishi. The headlines were ‘The Miracle of Kamaishi’ but it was no miracle as such for the children had learnt a different way of looking at disasters, acted on the situation before them, and survived.
I find it fascinating that the 3 principles the children were taught in their disaster education were: 1. Don’t believe in preconceived ideas; 2. Do everything you can; and 3. Take the lead in the evacuation. (It cuts across the ‘follow the instructions’ culture Japan – and many of us – prefer.) Those living in earthquake prone coastal areas are told, ‘If an earthquake is long or strong – get gone!’. In the UK, our disasters might be more terror related and children – all of us – are taught to ‘run, hide, tell’. See something strange on the railways? ‘See it, say it, sorted.’
Commemorating the Lutheran Reformation is worthwhile, in my view, when it is not self glorification. I don’t want to suggest that sudden death is around the corner or that you should get a whiff of sulphur as you read on but Christianity itself is a response to human disaster and, I think, we can make the case that the Reformation is a response to church catastrophe. Living with God – not in terror but confident of his love – not complacent but striving to serve because we are God’s children – is a good thing because it enriches our days now and continues after death. The opposite is the disaster from which Jesus rescued us. We want to avoid and survive natural disaster and human evil, so why not spiritual disaster? Possibly because we don’t see them. Maybe because the people around are not ‘running out the door’. It could be that many people now just think, because we have medicine and food and relative safety, that life isn’t that precarious and there’s always tomorrow.
How would it be if we thought of the ‘solas’ as our spiritual disaster response? Grace alone. Scripture alone. Faith alone. Such messages can orient us to see things as they are and guide us how to respond. Yes, it is the story of our sin and God’s grace focused in Jesus. And that story gives us life – and a life in all its fullness – no matter what troubles the day might bring. That story energises us to action – repentance, worship, prayer, service – because we see the situation before us and those are the best responses. G