Yes, I'm going to talk about evil today, but first I have to tell you that I had just the most wonderful weekend and it was a marvelous combination of people and ideas intertwined. Almost like God had planned it as a package.
One of my dear friends came for a good visit. Colleen O’Toole was my co-manager at the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance camp in New Orleans about this time last year. We only worked together about a month but we packed in a lot of fun and hard work in that short time. In the many camps and managers I’ve worked with, Colleen and my time in New Orleans was the best.
Colleen is from Michigan and had volunteered as an AmeriCorps volunteer between her junior and senior years of college. After graduation she worked as a Young Adult Volunteer for PDA. Then after PDA, she went back to AmeriCorps, this time as a team leader. Right now the team she is leading is in Bridge City working for Habitat for Humanity rebuilding from last year’s hurricane on the Texas Coast. Colleen has decided she can make a career out of public service and I love watching her life unfold.
Colleen and I made a good team. We had the same management style. We were earnest and responsible without getting all uptight about it all.
We were usually able to get the camp in shape and the groceries bought by lunch on most days. Then we visited the work sites in the Ninth Ward to make sure the volunteers had everything they needed. If we had an errand in our favorite parts of NOLA we could stop for lunch. Because Colleen had worked on Katrina previously she knew how to navigate the town. Her favorite neighborhood was Magazine Street with its collection of unique shops and intimate restaurants. Mona’s was our favorite restaurant and they served great mid-eastern food. Colleen was more into humus than I was and I was all about babaganouj, which she didn’t like so much. We could split an appetizer plate, eat cheap and go home happy.
Colleen called a couple of weeks ago to announce she was stationed in Bridge City, Texas for a few weeks working on Ike recovery and would be as close to my neck of the woods as she would ever be. I think she was also looking for a quiet place to just veg- out for a few days and unwind from the responsibility as a team leader. She came to the right place. Beaven and I are about as close to living as vegetables as you can get.
However, I was on my Back to Basics kick and recently had discovered a raw milk source where I could buy milk suitable for cheese and butter making. I wasn’t surprised to find her embrace this idea with gusto and we went to pick up some milk and cream then run over to the egg lady’s house. We ended up making butter and mozzarella cheese as well as having real farm fresh eggs for breakfast.
But that’s not at all what I wanted to talk about today. Shift gears now because I'm ready to talk about evil.
Colleen went to church with us on Sunday and the whole worship was on “evil.” The youth put on a drama on the topic of evil and the preacher preached on it. The kids were fantastic and the congregation was left in tears by their portrayal of what evil can do to people.
People don’t generally like to talk about evil. It makes us uncomfortable to even think about it. Oh, I believe in evil, alright. It’s a very powerful force. I believe it to the point that it scares me to death. I don’t think of evil as the devil in a red suit with a tail and pitchfork. It wears a disguise much more clever than that. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen it as much as I have felt it. I once sat in the hall at the county courthouse waiting to testify in a trial and I could feel the evil forces seeping from the walls, from the floor, drifting through the air.
Barbara Brown Taylor speaks of “prayer-soaked pews.” If we believe in those forces of good, logic tells us that the opposite forces exits. And the benches outside the court rooms have been soaked with “something” that made my skin crawl.
Just as God’s Holy Spirit flows through our lives wafting on the slightest breeze, I believe there are evil forces around us, watching us closely, waiting patiently. Evil waits, sits for a spell right beside us waiting for a time we are at our weakest. And I believe this happened with Hurricane Katrina. I don’t believe evil forces caused the hurricane as much as I am solidly convinced that it moved in and set up camp in the aftermath. In the chaos. And I think what stirred it up were the forces of good that were set in motion in the response to the storm. Presbyterian Disaster Assistance’s motto was “Out of Chaos, Hope.” I think there was enough Hope to draw out the forces of evil to push back. I could feel the pushing back and forth. Good versus Evil. Pushing against each other.
On Sunday night while we were putting together a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle at my kitchen table Colleen and I talked a bit about some of the things that happened to us while we were on the staff of the Katrina recovery effort in New Orleans. We both agreed that there was something amiss. As we worked to fit the pieces of the puzzle on my kitchen table we compared notes about how some of the pieces of the puzzle of the Katrina recovery didn’t fit.
I was there before Colleen got there and she was there after I left so, in addition to our shared experiences, we saw some things the other did not. And what we saw defied logic and could only be described as evil. I really can’t give it another word. I could tone it down a bit and just say some folks acted like typical corporate boobs, the kind that are found everywhere. But this was the church and you expect better. So I had to come up with a more generous word. Forces of evil.
Here we were at the highest level of our denomination:a place you might think of as “nearer my God to thee.” Yet we witnessed some of the best-intentioned people act in mean and petty ways. And I have to admit that includes myself at times, though I can assure you I didn’t possess enough power to affect people the way the higher-ups did. Colleen and I both sat in staff meetings where people yelled at each other and sometimes folks even ended up in tears. There were contentious and chaotic personnel moves that made no sense. Colleen and I couldn’t explain why those things happened, we just agreed that what we had seen really happened.
Ephesians 6:12 calls it, “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” The same scripture also tells us “to put on the whole armor of God” so we can resist evil.
Every day a camp manager wakes up in one of the several volunteer camps along the US Gulf Coast and gets dressed and goes out to do their best. They make sure the volunteers are well-fed and well-rested so they can work hard. They make sure the volunteers work safely and have the tools they need.
And every day people come from all over the United States to help. People take vacation time to travel across the country to help total strangers rebuild their homes. We haven’t left the recovery effort. We haven’t backed down. PDA may be imperfect but they are persistent. They came, they are still here. They are waiting for you.
Hurricane season is here. There will be destruction. There will be heroes and selfless actions. There will be a lot of good-intentioned people acting out of pure love. We will need the whole armor of God because we can be sure wherever God sends good people with good intentions there will be evil forces pushing back at us. Yes, put on the whole armor of God. Prepare for battle.
Our team from Garland will be going to Port Nueces, Texas the week of October 11-17. Let me know if you want to come with us. We’d love to have you.