By Pastor Chris Brown
Bethania Lutheran Church
A doctor who performed surgery on countless people in our community; his 22-year old daughter, a college student pursuing fashion; a young father looking for new opportunity in America and his two small children; a firefighter who leaves behind a wife, a 2-year old daughter, and a second on the way.
These are glimpses of some of the people who lost their lives in the Thomas Fire and mudslides that have rocked Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. You don’t have to look far to find someone connected to the 25 people who died or are still missing. Their deaths, but most especially the effect of their lives, can be felt throughout our community.
In my role as a pastor, a consistent question I get amidst such tragedy is how to move forward – and I’ll be honest, a lot of the time, I don’t know. I’ve studied the faces of those who’ve lost their lives, I’ve read their stories, I’ve seen the pictures of the devastation in Montecito and the surrounding areas, and they are so overwhelming. How do you move forward in the midst of all that?
Truth is, I don’t have a magic answer that covers all of the pain and loss of such events. There’s nothing I can say, no scripture I can quote, no semblance of wisdom I can offer that will make everything okay again. Yet, I feel in that sad truth there is a glimmer of light that can at least point us in the right direction and allow us to move forward.
We — to our own chagrin — often deal in absolutes. We are either completely overcome by grief and loss or we expect, at some point, to be completely recovered from it. And so I think part of my role is to highlight that life doesn’t operate in absolutes, and we can hold, in tension (or balance), the non-dual existence of both tragedy and hope, of dark and light, at the same time.
While I don’t have an answer that takes away all the pain or grieving – no one does – I can say that in the midst of such devastation that hope and love and the will to rebuild and the joyful, loving memories of those who lost their lives are all still present. I can’t remove the pain and I can’t promise that it’ll ever be gone, but I can promise that people can come together, that communities can rally, that even if it happens slowly and with mourning and with anger, and pain, and grief, we can move forward. And that’s what we’ve witnessed.
Right in the middle of such darkness and tragedy we’ve seen our firefighters, police officers, emergency response men and women, accompanied by volunteers of all ages and backgrounds, work tirelessly through the night, sludging through mud and debris looking for those who were missing. We’ve seen workers of all types put in 48-hour days to get our roads open and enable people to rebuild. We’ve seen hundreds of thousands of citizens of different socio-economic, religious, political, and ethnic backgrounds come together to raise money for our neighbors who have lost everything.
These are all those glimmers of light that shine through and show us that our spirits will not be completely crushed, that humanity is still good, and in moments of tragedy people will come together and will love, and support, and cry, and pray, and share, and work, and rebuild, and lift up, and start to move forward.