>The tsunami disaster that struck Japan has brought devastation at an
unbelievable scale. Looking at the pictures and videos the sheer
monstrosity of the thing looks like something from a Godzilla movie. I
am pretty certain that I will never watch Godzilla v. Mothra in quite
the same way ever again. Some may wonder why even watch it in the first
place…but that's another conversation.
Almost immediately following the first news reports disaster relief
organizations started appealing for donations. I do not want to be
callous about this so let me say that we should help, that our hearts
should be softened by devastation. But…
…a recent study ("Donating to disaster victims: Responses to natural
and humanly caused events" by Hanna Zagefka, et al) looked into why
people give more money to natural disasters like the a tsunami than
human ones like the crisis of Darfur. The bottom line: we judge!
If you are a victim of a natural disaster, then, the study shows, others
will have compassion and help you, since it was not your fault. But in a
civil war, it is less likely that people will sympathize, since wars are
(obviously) man-made "disasters."
For me this applies even in the micro level. I remember conversations
around the long dark cherry dinner table at my house when I was younger.
My father, it seems, was a firm believer in the Ben Franklin motto of
"God helps those who help themselves", going so far as to label
"communist" (a strong word in those days) anyone who suggested the need
for any social action. My grandmother, whose Scottish blood simply would
not allow her to agree with anyone, would hold on firmly to the Hilel
camp of "If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am
only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?"
So over rice and beans, delicious fried pastries called "pasteis",
toasted manioc flour with bananas, and copious amounts of passion fruit
juice, the debate between the Franklinites and the Hilelists would go on
and on…Oh how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell
together in unity! (Ps. 133).
But, it seems to me now, that both sides miss the crucial point, which I
hope we are all trying to work on: judgment. Not only judgment of
others, but judgment of ourselves. As you look in the mirror, and peel
back the layers of self judgment (wrinkles, resentment, vanity) and
search for Christ, until you see the face of Christ in the mirror. And
then knowing that you, with all your failures, can do the same for your
neighbor. Ah! Now we are getting somewhere!