Dear Members and Friends of First Reformed Church of Bethlehem:
Last Sunday morning I shared with the congregation one of my favorite stories, a Garrison Keillor classic from twenty or so years ago. Out on the prairies, storms were known to come up quickly. Bright sun was chased by blinding walls of snow and ice quickly freezing everything in its path. So Garrison tells of each child in school being assigned a storm home, a place to go from school when it was too dangerous for the school bus to deliver children to their own homes.
Garrison fancied visiting his storm home one day on his way home from school. He was assigned to an elderly couple who had a modest home on the shore of Lake Wobegon. He dreamed of knocking on the door, which quickly opened. There stood Mrs.Torvelsen, shouting back into the house, “Honey, come quick, our storm child is here.” He envisioned them serving milk and cookies, and even having a surprise electric train for him to enjoy. There were apprehensions; they were Catholics and he Protestant. What if, in the middle of the night, they crept into his room, whispered some words, and turned him into a Catholic?
There seems always a need for storm homes. I’m reading The Children’s Blizzard, by David Laskin. He cites the records of the 1888 surprise storm that killed hundreds, many of them children on their way home from school. The storm lasted for days and the temperature often fell to 55 and 60 below zero. Laskin gives the picture a few decades prior to the storm as Norwegian and Swedish immigrants left their homes for the promise of land in the United States. The climate was not what they expected. Weather conditions and grasshoppers decimated crops. Families starved to death. There was no adequate weather forecasting. There was, in that blizzard, no safe haven.
In the last months, this “storm home” image has come to mind again and again as we learn of school shootings. Thankfully there are plenty of moving images of people creating safe spaces as a gunman raced through hallway corridors. We learn of school teachers risking their lives to crowd students into classrooms and closets. But the truth is, even as in 1888, we are vulnerable.
I have sympathy with those impassioned speakers who demand that we have to do something so “this tragedy will never happen again.” In this complex society, that is a wish that cannot come true. What can come true is that in each community we build relationships and offer support to one another. Over the years, I’ve known children who had to escape the nightmare of violence in their own home, families burned out, experiencing storms of many kinds.
The dialogue, in days such as these, often turns to violent solutions. Stricter laws, more powerful weapons, and stronger displays of force seem compelling when we are frightened. But prior to the shootings, many of these individuals evaded laws already on the books. They slipped through nets designed to catch persons with criminal intent. I am grateful for those law enforcement agents who risked their lives to apprehend these individuals. But what is needed on the quiet days is the creation of storm homes, safe places, some places even for those who, had they had a safe place to hide from their own storms, might never have had to pick up a gun.
Perhaps in this Lenten season, instead of giving up something, we seek out friends and neighbors, and ask what it would look like to create storm homes right here, right now.
The peace of Christ be with you,
Harlan E. Ratmeyer, Pastor