Tag Archives: 1993

Motives and Example

So I continued, “What you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies?”
Nehemiah 5:9 (NIV)

In 1993, the state of Iowa experienced historic flooding. An army of volunteers sandbagged along the Des Moines River attempting to protect the Water Works plant, but it was eventually inundated, leaving a quarter of a million people without fresh water. My family and I had just moved back to Des Moines in the weeks before the floods peaked.

I was working for a non-profit organization at the time and was dispatched by my employer to assist in any way I could. I ended up working at an emergency shelter for victims whose homes were flooded.

My experiences as a volunteer during those days opened my eyes to a side of national emergencies that we will never see on the news. I overheard conversations as relief officials and corporations negotiated the amount of aid they were willing to “give” dependant on the publicity they would receive and the level of the government official who would be present to publicly accept the donation in front of the cameras. I witnessed relief officials act as casting directors, sizing up flood victims as to which news outlet they would be perfect for on camera. I watched news producers coaching victims how to sound and look more pitiful, and making the victim’s situation seem far worse than reality.

I realized during those days that national emergencies are big business. They tug at global heartstrings, earn lots of viewers (and ad dollars) for news organizations, earn publicity for donors, and generate millions of dollars in revenue for relief organizations. And it’s all done under the humanitarian guise of helping our neighbor.

In today’s chapter, Nehemiah is in the midst of his emergency construction project to shore up the walls of Jerusalem. He begins to witness things that open his eyes, as well. What becomes clear is that the dire situation among the people in and around Jerusalem is not just the lack of protective walls and gates around the city. The wealthy have been using the tough times and difficult circumstances as an excuse to extort interest from the poor and take people’s land and children away. Nehemiah calls an assembly and demands that they stop using their position to take advantage of others.

Nehemiah goes on to explain that, as Governor, he led by example in these matters. He didn’t accept all that was due him as Governor nor did he levy taxes on his people to line his own pockets as Governors usually did.

In the quiet this morning I am thinking about motives and example. When the people’s motives were out of whack they acted accordingly to the detriment of all. Nehemiah’s appeal was not just about changing their behavior but about changing their hearts. Nehemiah’s motives were to do what was right for the people which translated into behaviors that were consistent with those motives.

I find myself doing some soul searching today and a little personal cardiology examination. It’s easy for me to accept that my motives are right and my behaviors towards others are aligned, but how do those under my leadership see it? What do my actions and motives look like from their perspective? When I get uncomfortable with looking at it that way, then I’m pretty sure I’ve got some changes of my own to make.

Chapter-a-Day Numbers 20

There was no water there for the community, so they ganged up on Moses and Aaron. Numbers 20:2 (MSG)

I am so spoiled with the basic necessities of life. Water is a staple. Water is everywhere. I flush without thinking about the luxury of having running sewers. I wash my face, shower myself, and wash my dishes without even thinking about it. I can even water my lawn and have the luxury of spurning the water in the tap to drink a bottle of “better” water.

For ten days in 1993, the Des Moines area was without water as floods overtook the Water Works. I remember living in an apartment with two young children. Ten days without showering. Ten days without flushing. Ten days of filling jugs at water stations and hauling them back home to cook and bathe. Ten days is nothing. Ten Days is a blip on the time line. But, we still talk about it like we were martyrs. How quickly people grumble when you take away a basic necessity of life. Ask Moses and Aaron. They know.

Around the world, millions of people live without access to clean water every day. In fact, in Africa alone more people than the entire population of the U.S. are without this basic necessity. For the last several years, Wendy and I have supported Blood:Water Mission, whose goal is to help communities in Africa dig wells so that they can simply have clean water.

Today, when I shower, wash, and drink, I’m going to think of the people of Israel who grumbled as they ran out of water wandering in the wilderness of northeast Africa. I’m going to think of the millions of people in that continent and around the world who can still grumble these many thousands of years later.

Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 3

Taken for granted. [God's] withdrawing police and protection, judges and courts, pastors and teachers, captains and generals, doctors and nurses, and, yes, even the repairmen and jacks-of-all-trades. Isaiah 3:1b-2 (MSG)

In 1993, massive spring floods deluged downtown Des Moines. The Des Moines Water Works was under water and my family was among over 100,000 people who experienced life without the blessing and convenience of water. Life was radically different without fresh water right from tap with which to cook, clean, shower and use the toilet. Ten days without water, which I previously taken for granted, was an eye opener.

Think for a moment of all the things we take for granted. Contemplate all of the things that make up the unconscious infrastructure of our day. Clean water fresh from the tap. Clean bathrooms and toilet paper. Heat in the winter. Air Conditining in the summer. Access to transportation. Stocked grocery stores. Waste removal. Meditate on the unseen throng of professionals on whom you depend from civil utilities to business to law enforcement to health professionals. Imagine all of those daily support systems breaking down and disappearing.

The verse above reminds me today that one of the ways God brought judgment was the simple peeling away of societal support systems. I don't want to take for granted all that God has blessed me with. I'm mindful and grateful for the people and systems that support my daily existence. I don't even want to imagine what would my life would be like if they were suddenly stripped away.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and pinksherbet