There are no Sirens for this Disaster

My Column for The Elgin Review 5.13.2020

I was fifteen when the tornado ripped through Omaha on May 6, 1975. The sky was an eerie green as I walked home from junior high. My mind that afternoon wasn’t on the sky but on my big plans for the evening. I’d been invited on a date with a high school boy to go to his end-of-the-year band banquet. It was my first “long-dress” date. Mother and I had been shopping and my dress was perfect for the occasion. I headed home to put pearly-pink Cutex polish on my fingernails and to use a curling iron on my long blonde hair.

I made it home but before the first coat of nail polish was dry, the restaurant where the banquet was to be held was demolished along with a swath of destruction right through the middle of the city. The tornado stopped just a couple miles south of our house. The miracle that day was despite it being one of the costliest tornados to strike anywhere in the United States, only three people died.

People paid heed to the sirens and took shelter and when the dust settled the community pulled together to help families and businesses rebuild their lives and livelihoods. Omaha, Nebraska made the national news while three families grieved their loved ones lost in the storm.

Our May skies this year have alternated between gun-metal gray and spirit-lifting blue. Perhaps if they were green or yellowish-brown or some other ominous, threatening shade, we would be doing a better job of preparing for disaster and heeding the warnings about Covid-19. Our warning sirens are not constantly sounding, and this disaster will not blow through and blow over in the course of one frightening afternoon. It’s one thing to take shelter for several hours when the sky is green and heavy.  It’s been entirely another to do so for two months in the spring. We’re itching for things to get back to normal. But this storm isn’t leaving only three casualties in its stealthy, silent wake.

Let’s talk about the death toll. As I write, ninety-six Nebraskans have died from this unfolding disaster. When this column goes to print, how many more will have died laboring to breathe in ICU beds far from their families? That’s ninety-six Huskers who are somebody’s father, somebody’s mother, somebody’s grandparent, somebody’s uncle, somebody’s daughter, somebody’s son. Gone.

It is up to each of us to protect one another from this storm. It is up to each of us to choose to heed the warnings, to stay away from each other, to miss the date we’ve dreamed of, to give up the big occasions, to pass on the parties and the gatherings for this season, and maybe longer. It’s up to each of us to maintain a minimum of six feet distance from one another. It’s up to each of us to choose to wear a mask, as ugly and uncomfortable as they are, every single time we’re out among others. My mask protects you and your mask protects me.

I know Nebraskans. I know we protect each other in a storm. I know we help each other take cover when ominous skies head our way. Think of Covid-19 like a big old, slow motion, EF-5 churning our way. This one isn’t going to be over any time soon, and it is going to leave an economic path of destruction. Let’s make sure it doesn’t take our loved ones with it, too.


Worship is one way to seek refuge during life’s storms. If you would like to worship with Park Congregational United Church of Christ, you are always welcome to join us at 9:15 on Sunday mornings. Right now we are worshipping via Zoom. Contact me for the connection information. 402. 540-5615.


My Column for The Elgin Review 5.6.2020

“I like your brother John.” Those five words are the words I remember most from High School.

Mr. Burns was one of many English teachers at Benson in Omaha. I was a junior in his honors level Humanities class. He taught us Melville and Hemingway in what he called our “Fishing Unit.” Along with The Old Man and The Sea and Moby Dick, the unit included the enormously popular book that year, Jaws, by Peter Benchley. Mr. Burns created the fishing unit because a boy in the class, Rodney, loved to fish. He was a boy who was constantly ridiculed and who I now assume lived with autism. Mr. Burns created a unit to include a boy who was otherwise excluded and in doing that taught twenty-eight 16, 17 and 18-year-olds more about being humane than any combination of books could have done alone.

My brother was a Senior that year. He should have graduated the year before but he had dropped out of school for a while. He ran away from home several times from the time he was 15 before leaving for good. His pot-stash in a tennis ball can had been the center-piece of our kitchen table one night during dinner. Stone cold silence while our family ate exploded into a yelling war between my father and John while my younger brother and I escaped outdoors as soon as dessert was done. John snuck out that night and didn’t ever return to live at home. He couch-surfed with friends and I worried he would over-dose and die somewhere and we wouldn’t even know he was dead.

I didn’t realize John was back in school that year until I saw his long blonde hair from behind in one of the crowded hallways during passing period. It had been a long time since I’d seen him.

I don’t remember the exact context in which Mr. Burns said, “I like your brother John.” It was after class, and somehow, I knew John was in one of Mr. Burn’s other English classes. I was always concerned someone might think I was like my brother. It caught me by surprise to hear Mr. Burns say he liked my brother.

My brother was troubled. All the adults I knew said comforting things to me about him. Things like, “Maybe someday he’ll come around” and “I know how hard it has to be to have your family shattered this way.”

Mr. Burns said he liked John. And I’ve never forgotten his words. Mr. Burns helped me begin to see John in a different light, a kinder light. Mr. Burns gave me permission to like my brother, too.

Often times what teachers teach is so much more than the curriculum. In high schools everywhere good people like Mr. Burns are helping young people grow to be more humane, more broad-minded, better equipped to see situations and people in more than one way, in a better, truer light.

As this weird school year draws to its close, let’s give God thanks for every hard working school teacher everywhere who teaches kids and reaches kids with lessons that go beyond the curriculum, lessons that make us all more humane and inclusive and loving.

Thanks, Mr. Burns. I’m a better person because you were my teacher.


Park Church is a place where no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome. We’re worshipping via Zoom right now. Contact me and I’ll let you know how to join us on Sundays at 9:15. 402.540.5615.


Running Amuck

While Covid-19 fills the news and disrupts our lives, we are reminded, sadly, it is not the only illness running amuck. Racism remains an illness to the core of our nation. While Mike and I were out walking the other night a truck with Nebraska plates drove past down Main Street. In the window was a confederate flag—a blatant dog-whistle for white supremacy.

I asked Mike, “Why? Why would anyone think that’s okay?”

When we got home, I scrolled through my Facebook feed and first learned the name Ahmaud Arbrey. He’s the unarmed young black man who was shot and killed by white men, a father and son, while he was out running in his neighborhood in Brunswick, Georgia in February. At first the case was swept under the rug by local officials, but now, after good investigative journalism by the New York Times and a video of the killing became public, the case will be taken to a grand jury. Time will tell if there will be justice for Ahmaud. But no matter what, Ahmaud’s mother will never get to hug her son again. And, every young black man in the nation wonders now if he’s safe when he goes out for a run.

I’ve been to Brunswick, Georgia on vacation. It’s a lovely seaside town. But, obviously under the surface seen by tourists, there’s an ugliness there. A confederate flag in the window of a truck in Antelope County, Nebraska makes me wonder what about us? How deep is the infection of racism here? What will we do to stop its spread?

The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Galatia saying, “There is no longer Jew nor Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, for all are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28 NRSV). Ahmaud Arbrey was one of us. He went out running and now he’s dead.