This is a blog that captures the varied musings and leadership ideas of Joe Sellepack, the Executive Director of the Broome County Council of Churches.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Cain and Abel Remix

Our God,
We read the newspaper and it seems that Cain and Abel are at it again. They just can’t seem to get along. Cain was here first. But Abel’s is the best. Cain’s fruit is too crunchy. Abel, we like our meat a little better done, far less raw.
Cain hits Abel and all Hell breaks loose. Stop touching me. You are sitting on my side of the seat. No I’m not. You don’t need as much space, you’re smaller than me. Get your dirty feet off of my clean, spotless shoes. Stop hitting me. Mom, Dad – did you see what he did?
If only it would stop before it escalates. If only we could begin at the start before the first act of cruelty, the first nasty word spoken, or the first drop of blood. If only tears and tenderness would move in our hearts before fists get thrown and deadly things happen. If only we could remember that peace makers are to be blessed and that each one is a brother’s keepers. If only, if only…
But now, today, we have the chance to stop it before it begins. We can show mercy and generosity and forgiveness before our shame, guilt, and hatred strangle us.
Show us by your great big love how we should love each other. Show us by your amazing generosity how we should give to each other. Show us by your unclenched fist, by your open hand, by your widespread arms how we should greet each other.
Today, may Cain and Abel’s story be different. Today, help Cain to not strike down his brother. Today may his countenance be lifted to new possibilities and greetings of warmth and tenderness be offered. Today may we learn the art of peacemaking and how to spread friendship to all we meet. Be with us today, and help peace to reign in our hearts. Amen.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Closing the Gap

19 "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.
20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,
21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.
22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried.
23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.
24 He called out, "Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.'
25 But Abraham said, "Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony.
26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.'
27 He said, "Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father's house—
28 for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.'
29 Abraham replied, "They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.'
30 He said, "No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.'
31 He said to him, "If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"

This passage from Luke 16 is tough for folks to read and even tougher for us to hear well. In the case of Albert Schweitzer – when he heard this parable – really heard it – the result was that he left the safety and ease of Germany and went to attend the medical needs of people living in the African plains. Others when they hear it – just assume that they are neither the Rich Man in the story or Lazarus. Because they are neither poor nor rich they just go on assuming that the story is about someone else and just go on with life as if it never happened. I would call that not hearing the story well.
To hear the story is to see where you fit into it and make a decision who we will be from now on. While I have never been in abject poverty like Lazarus, there were times when I needed the generosity and the care of others to have my basic necessities met. I have had to go to a food pantry. I have worn clothing that was donated to me by others. While thankfully that was only for a short period of time, I know what it is like to be helped.
And I also know what it’s like to help others. I have reached out to Lazarus when I have noticed him or her in my life. In many ways, the work that we do at the Council of Churches is an invitation to close the gap that exist between the Rich Man and Lazarus – for the Rich Man to see the needs of his neighbors and to allow compassion and generosity to grow in his heart and respond in loving ways. We empower people to build bridges between folks who care and the Lazarus who needs their help.
This summer we completed our 50th Wheelchair Ramp and our 100th House in flood recovery. While these are Ramps and Houses, I would say that they are bridges. They close the gap between the Rich Man and Lazarus.
We gleaned produce from our grow Broome Boxes and harvested produce from our CHOW Farm. We collected over 500 pounds of produce that was grown, tended and loved by volunteers. When we serve this to the Hungry at Community Food programs around our area, that gap between Lazarus and the Rich Man closes just a little bit more.
When we visit the sick or the imprisoned, when we bring cds of parents reading books that they know their children will hear, when we anoint people with oil and offer them healing words, the gap between Lazarus and the Rich Man closes even more.
But that gap between them is wafer thin anyway – it only appears large and cavernous. While we think that we go through a life of relative ease and safety – every once in a while the illusion of where we are slips away and we know that each one of us is only a hardship away from being Lazarus ourselves. What will we do when we need help and we have closed our hearts to the needs and the hardships of others – stepping over them on the street – avoiding the person who sleeps in his car – thinking that we are immune to life’s downturns and difficulties? What do you do when the unthinkable happens and you find yourself with Lazarus by the door, looking for some healing, some food, a visit, a bridge to be built?
In many ways this last summer I found myself with Lazarus. Sitting helplessly at the bedside of my nephew in an ICU ward waiting to find out if he was going to live or die. Living out of hotel rooms – getting kicked out of one because they were booked and I needed to stay an extra night beyond my father’s funeral to take care of my mother who owns and loves cats, but causes my eyes to swell shut and causes me to have asthma attacks. I know the frustration and the anger of needing a visit, wanting a shoulder to cry on, and feeling the gaping chasm that exists between us. Friends who wanted to help me, but me with the inability to tell them what I needed.
At moments like that I thank God that we are who we are. We exist as the Broome County Council of Churches to help neighbors reach out to other neighbors – to take the risk, to show love, to ask questions, to respond graciously. We lead others to serve even when they don’t know how – and we train them and equip them and move them to respond with compassion and care.
• Anthony Sciolino author of The Holocaust, The Church, and the Law of Unintended Consequences will be speaking at the Library Lounge of the United Presbyterian Church on Oct. 7 at 7:00. This event is cosponsored by the Broome County Council of Churches and the Jewish Federation.
• Tuesday, October 15 the Council of Churches and South Central New York Executive Director’s Group will be holding a mayoral candidate meet and greet at the Council of Churches at 8:00. It will include a continental breakfast and coffee. Meet Teri Rennia and Rich David and have an opportunity to question them concerning issues you feel are important.
• The CHOW Hunger Walk is October 20
• The Holidays will be upon us the next time we meet the week before Thanksgiving.
• Trudeau Architects out of Latham, NY has been hired to help us develop a facilities plan that will help us plan for capital expenditures. The facilities committee under Chet Schultz recruited Larry Roma to serve on the committee. Larry is VP of facilities for Binghamton University. He approached the architects who they were working with to develop the campus and they agreed to cut their rate and give us a great deal on helping us to make a facilities plan that better incorporates the needs of our building as it ages. It will also help us to better budget for these expenditures.
In many ways we are working hard to bridge the gap between Lazarus and the Rich Man. Thank you for playing your part in making our community a little more closer.

Joe Sellepack

Thursday, March 28, 2013

I am committed to reducing violence in our world.

For Christians this is Holy Week, the week we honor the events that surround the death of Christ on Good Friday. Whatever spiritual significance is attached to that day, the physical act of crucifixion, itself, in the case of Good Friday is the result of violence perpetrated against an innocent man. And I as a Christian stand today with “Mayors against Illegal Guns,” in wanting to reduce the amount of fatalities by violent gun death of innocent people by regulating the sale and availability of guns for those who would do horrific acts like what happened recently in Aurora, CO and Newtown, CN.
April 3, 2009 for us in Binghamton was our own Good Friday. On that day a gunman shot off 99 rounds of ammunition in a little over a minute killing 13 people. We must make sure that these events do not repeat themselves.

Further we know from statistics that every day many people are killed by weapons because certain dealers do not require background checks and, consequently, the sale and use of these guns is not able to be monitored by police.We must give law enforcement officials the tools that are necessary to enforce existing gun laws and ensure that guns are used legally. For these reasons I fully support “Mayors Against Illegal Gun Use.” Furthermore, I would like for the level of discourse in our country to reflect the necessity to reduce violence in our communities. I hope that one day we will enter a time when no one will ever experience another Good Friday.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Ash Wednesday Sermon

“Lessons From a Barren Place”
Matthew 14: 13 – 21

Several years ago I was asked by the Greater Binghamton Chamber of Commerce to deliver their annual Thanksgiving address. For the uninitiated, this involves delivering a speech to about 500 people in our community that includes politicians, business leaders and executives from many non-profits in our area. It’s quite an intimidating idea to try to put together something meaningful for all of those people.

On top of that, the first Thanksgiving luncheon I attended was when Eliot Spitzer’s wife Silda came to speak in 2007. Then within a month after she spoke all of Elliott’s infidelities came out.

So when I was asked to speak, not only did I have to have some outstanding content to give them, I also had to make sure that I didn’t have anything buried in my closet that would come out to bite me. So I talked it over with my wife and she assured me that we didn’t have anything too embarrassing. She said there was that time at a Seder meal when I set my jacket on fire, but that was just clumsiness and just a little embarrassment. So from her perspective I was good to go.

But as I was thinking about it, there was something that I want to confess to those people. And being as we again have people from all over the county gathered here at Nativity Lutheran Church, I thought it might be a good idea to come clean here with you too. Just get it over and done with in one fell swoop. Yes, it’s kind of embarrassing, but don’t be too hard on me.

It pains me to say it, but yes, I do really enjoy the occasional chick flick.

It seems that after nearly 24 years of marriage my wife has worn off on me and I do now succumb to watching movies that do not involve blowing things up, kick boxing, underwater espionage and martial arts. I do enjoy those movies mind you. But there’s something sentimental in me that just loves the story line of a good love story.

Sleepless in Seatle. You’ve Got Mail. Philadelphia Story. Benny and June. When Harry met Sally. Yes, I’ve seen those and more.

One of my wife’s favorite movies is “Return to Me” starring David Duchovny and Minnie Driver. Those of you that have seen that movie know that the main character’s wife Elizabeth dies and her heart is used to save someone else’s life. The person who is the recipient of the heart transplant named Grace falls madly in love with the husband of the person who gave the heart. One of my favorite lines comes at the point where the whole story comes together the leading man played by David Duchovny says to his soon to be father in law, “I will always miss Elizabeth, but my heart aches for Grace.”

And that is the moment where I start to bawl like a little baby. I guess deep down inside I’m just a sentimental ball of mush and I have been getting much more so as I get older.

In some ways that aching for grace is kind of a parable for where I see our culture today. We are judged and put on the spot more today than at any time in the history of our planet. We have resumes we put out and with so many people out of work we put them through the gauntlet – inspecting them so closely and looking for any imperfection or weakness that we nearly choke the life out of it.

Mercy, Peace, Love, Forgiveness, Long Suffering, these all require a type of grace that we hunger for and yet is lacking in our dog eat dog, first one to the top wins culture that we live in. Weakness is seen by those with this lens as a place where a person can be exploited and used as others scratch and claw their way to the top of the pile.

People in Jesus’ day were hungry for grace too. In Matthew 14 Jesus had gotten some rather unsettling news. His cousin John the Baptist had been killed in a rather gruesome way by King Herod. It was Herod’s birthday, and when Kings had birthdays, it was always a cause to invite all of the nobles and the powerful people of the kingdom to a party. And it was quite the party filled with much feasting and debauchery that only a king could command. After the people were well fed and watered, Herod sent for his young step daughter – or if you will his niece – because the text tells us that Herod had married his brother Philip’s wife Herodias and the girl is only named as Herodias’ daughter – and has her dance and be leered at by his company.
And Herod the king gets amorous and aroused. So enamored is he with his niece, that he promises to grant whatever she wants. The text says, “Prompted by her mother, she said, ‘Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” And Herod does exactly as he said he would.
All around Herod on his birthday were those whose main purpose in life was to posture and preen, looking for the connections and networks that would help these nobles assume more power and prestige, increasing their social capital, climbing the ladder of success and privilege. They were hungry like a wolf and they were willing to do whatever it takes to get to the proverbial top of the mound.
In contrast to the wheeling and dealing that was going on in Herod’s party, Jesus withdrew to a lonely place to be by himself. But a crowd assembled around Jesus in that barren place. They were the sick and hurting mass of humanity that Herod’s crowd would have ignored . And Jesus ministers to them there in that barren, deserted place, curing their diseases and ministering to their souls.
Herod would never have been found in that deserted place. If he were left with a few solitary moments to reflect on the patterns of his life, the violence and murders he perpetrated, the debauchery and incest, the way that he casually used his relationships for his own selfish purposes, the practice would drive him mad. And if there were no politically expedient reason for his withdrawal, Herod would never spare the time to retreat and be alone.
But Jesus withdrew to a lonely, barren, deserted place and there a crowd gathers and in that barren, deserted place they are loved, healed and fed. In short, they are provided for by the hand of a generous King. There in that deserted place, away from the Herods of the world, away from those who exist only to grasp power and prestige, these hurting, wounded folks are fed by the grace, the love, the mercy and the food of a generous King. Unlike Herod who was a king appointed by Rome, the genealogy of Jesus is recounted earlier in Matthew back through Josiah, Solomon and David. This King would listen to the prophets and fulfill what they said about good, benevolent kings. And King Jesus would provide for his people, by lovingly blessing, breaking and giving of the food until all are satisfied.
Today we exist in a world dominated by Herods. The rich seem to get richer and the poor poorer and the middle is shrinking rapidly. In the face of this situation, it seems that many are riding high on the hog while most of us find it hard to get by. Gas prices are up. Food prices are up. The stock market has more down days than up days and many of us are anxious about what this all means.
Barrenness is all around us and we seem to be floundering wondering what direction we should take. And in the face of these anxieties comes the command of Jesus to feed these people. And we think, “What do you mean? Feed these people. There’s got to be at least 5,000 men in that crowd, let along all the women and children!” And we throw up our hands in despair with the disciples and say with exasperation in our voice: “With what? We have hardly enough to feed ourselves let alone feed this mob.”
But Jesus won’t let us off the hook that easily. He knows that in that barren place that God’s grace thrives. God provides and five loaves and two fish, when they are blessed, broken and given are enough to feed that crowd. God wants us to become more dependent upon him and not to react in fear that this crowd is too big, the demand too great, and the hurt too deep.
In the face of the need God wants us to trust him. And as the body of Christ, we realize that it is our place to be blessed, broken and given. And that when all these little pieces are added up there is enough to feed the world with leftovers. The first step is to begin to see the world differently.
Every week we come to a lonely place, to this sanctuary, to worship and commune with God. We come together with other disciples to sit and hear the sacred texts and find perspective on our lives. Around us are the hungry masses, waiting to see if we really do strive to feed people and meet real human needs or are we just looking at them as Herod would – merely as people to be avoided.
Friends, the church always exists in barren places where we have nothing to depend upon but God. There in the barren places the hungry gather around looking to be fed. They are waiting to see if we will embody the Christ we profess to know and reach out with what we have to meet their needs.
It is our job to be blessed, broken and given to the world – and sometimes that will require us to move beyond our comfort zones and reach out to the hungry world. And while the pull of Herod is strong, the pull of Christ is stronger. He will always love and serve the broken, brittle, wounded parts in us and will ensure that even in barren places there is enough to feed the poor, the broken and the lonely. All we need do is be open to the call of God and his providence.
The Apostle Paul puts it this way in his letter to the Philippians, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death. Not that I have already attained this or have reached the goal, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own, but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Let’s continue to speak new life and resurrections into places and people who many had given up on. Let’s learn to be people characterized by second, third and fourth chances and not on the way things have always been. Let’s risk getting hurt. Let’s love like there’s no tomorrow. Let’s show mercy and grace and learn to be Christ’s people in this barren place. In short, let’s be blessed, broken and given to the world, and let’s press on to become more like our King and be amazed at all the things we can do by trusting in the providence and care of our God.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Thanks for Saying YES!

A couple of weeks ago, I went to an open house that was being held at the Events Center on Binghamton University's campus. Unlike most open houses, this one was not set up so that we could see the inside of the Events Center, rather we were showcasing agencies that were active in flood relief and trying to connect these agencies with people whose houses and lives had been turned upside down by the floods. As a partner in Faith Partners in Recovery, The Broome County Council of Churches has committed to journey with many of these families as they try to rebuild their lives.

The stories of the people who came by our booth were both heart warming and wrenching at the same time. People, especially in Owego and Appalachian were visibly shaken by the experience, but who had amazing stories of how the community, especially the faith community, came to help them in their time of need. It was a roller coaster ride of devastation and hope, rising and falling, amazing heroism coupled with frustration over the slowness of long term response. It was exhausting trying to keep up.

One story that stood out to me was a woman who had bought a house in Johnson City. She and her husband were married just six years and together they had a five year old. They saved and scrimped,and between that and the VA Loan they were able to get, this couple was able to put together the closing costs and a low down payment on a small house in the Westover area. Then came the floods.

They had water that went up six feet into their first floor. This means that the walls and ceilings needed to be torn out, the basement was gutted, furnace and hot water heater replaced, electrical system and gas needed to be updated and moved. It was not long before the emergency funds they received from FEMA were used up and they began to dip into savings. Meanwhile, they still need to live. So they had to move into a small apartment and try to pinch money out of the air in order for them to get by. Debts began to pile up. Soon they were getting notices that they were about to be evicted out of the house that they could not afford to fully renovate. All the materials are bought, but they needed bodies to help install it - so they could get back in their house and get out from under the two housing related payments.

She walked up to me, visibly shaken and not sure what to say. Through the tears and sighs and hunched shoulders, this story came pouring out of her. Looking up at me with tears in her eyes, she asked, "Can you help us?"

You should have been there to hear her scream when I said, "Yes." She cried and laughed and looked like a huge burden had been lifted off of her shoulders. She actually smiled. That Yes was all that she needed to hear.

Yes, she matters. Yes, someone hears her story. Yes, someone cares about her. Yes,someone will be there to help install the sheet rock and work with her and her husband to put together their broken house. Yes, we can help. Yes, you are loved.

It's amazing to me to think about how powerful that Yes can be. But it's humbling to think that even though that Yes came at the right moment for her, that there are so many more who need to hear that Yes spoken forcefully and convincingly to them - not just by words, but words combined with faithful service. That is where the rubber hits the road and faith becomes something lived and powerfully present to others.

And so today as I think about the yes that I gave to that young family, I am in awe of you and your commitment to making sure that that yes becomes more than just words. We rely upon folks like you to volunteer and touch another person. We need folks like you to give and be generous so that families like hers will be helped to recover. Thanks for all that you do to make yeses mean something in the lives of our neighbors. Thanks for saying Yes!

Peace and towels,

Rev. Dr. Joseph Sellepack

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Rainbows and Faith

700 people attended Rock the Flood - a concert of many musical genres that Jeff and Patti Moat, Christine Evans and Steve Gal and a host of other volunteers put together to benefit both the flood relief efforts of The Broome County Council of Churches and the Owego Revitalization and Betterment Corporation. In all we were able to raise $25,000 to help people recover. If you're interested you might want to check them out on facebook at Binghamton Rocks for Flood Relief. There you will get a sampling of the music on the compilation albums and find links to the t-shirt order forms. Of course you can get these things from me too, if you ask nicely.

But that's really not the point to this blog entry. On the Sunday before the day of concerts was to begin, I had to meet the crew at Country Pines to get some posters, so I could distribute them to a few places. The weather up until that Sunday had been terrible. So much rain had fallen that the rivers were again near flood stage in some areas and we were all getting rather nervous that more relief shelters would be needed.

As I was driving down the road, I found myself slipping into a funk. On the previous day I had spent most of the day helping a person gut out her house. Dry wall dust and I have never had a good relationship, but when you add black mold the cocktail can be quite a problem for me, so I had a sore throat, coughing, wheezing, and a bad sinus head ache to boot. So funk is probably the best word to describe how I felt.

But there I was on Rt 17 at the Endwell exit for 17c and what should I see, but a rainbow. A full rainbow appeared with it's end right in front of my 2002 Ford Focus Station Wagon and the other end stretching across the area where flood waters only two weeks before had washed away homes and businesses. All I could think was, "Well the end of the rainbow (where the pot of gold belongs) is either a stretch of Road or the hood of a Focus. Imagine that!

As I've reflected on that event, I've become a little more aware on how Broome County with all of its flaws and floods, is indeed a land of promise. Rainbows after all are a sign of a covenant between God and this world that God will never again destroy the entire earth with flooding. In a spiritual sense the rainbow is used as a symbol for our baptism - it is a sign of the covenant between God and us that God will be with us through all the course of our life: for better or worse. God is predisposed toward us and God says Yes, this one is mine.

Here a rainbow is set stretching across the land of valleys created by the confluence of the Chenango and Susquehanna Rivers. A land that is prone to flooding, and to hunger, and to disease, but this land is the land of promise. It is also home to a place that when the sun comes out in October can take your breath away and where trout raise up out of the river catching the morning sun, showing the onlooker a gift of grace that can best be described as symbol of God's love. Climb the Hill behind Binghamton University sometime and watch the sun rise in the morning and you will know exactly what I am talking about. This is a land of promise - and for those of us who have decided to dwell here, we know of this land as home.

And that Rainbow stands as a promise that in life, in death, in flooding, in famine, in good times and in bad times, God is with us. God marks us and nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. And it compels us to rise up out of the filth and the dust of this flood and to again create life and community in this place and to treat others with tenderness and care. It causes us to step out of the funk, to breath the fresh air and sense the Spirit move us to care for each other.

So what began as a simple Rock Concert, has become for me a symbol of what can be done when we try to do something that is larger than ourselves. Rainbows are raised, people's lives are touched, and God's promises are kept. God is with us. Thanks be to God.

Peace and towels,

Joe Sellepack

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Musings From the Flood

The red truck that I drive may not be new, but it has never been as dirty as it is now. Dust covers it’s exterior: dust from Conklin, dust from Westover, dust from our street in South Binghamton, dust from downtown, dust from Westover, dust from Castle Gardens, dust from Twin Orchards. While this dust is the result of water and silt escaping the confines of the banks and flood levies designed to keep the river at bay, there is nothing clean about it. Pathogens, chemicals, and other nasty stuff permeate this dust creating an environment that Betty Pomeroy, our Hospital Chaplain, says is rife for pneumonia and other diseases. However bad most of us have it, there are people who are far worse.
Traveling through areas of Conklin, Westover and Castle Gardens is like a war zone, watching the remnants of lives lived, piled by the side of the road like one great big moving sale. The old life is washed away and an uncertain and scary future emerges to replace it. Many of these people were severely affected by the flood in 2006 are at it again, the last five years erased by two days.
The tragedy is that many of the people who have been affected by this tragedy are living on fixed incomes or have seen savings and jobs erased during the recent recession. Some of these people received FEMA money in 2006 and may have exhausted FEMA’s support, and were forced, due to economic hardship, to forgo payments to their flood insurance. How often, after all, does a five hundred year flood come? And when the dice is rolled, do you pay for flood insurance or buy medication or food or make the mortgage payment? Sadly, much like the financial institutions that banked on the housing bubble to continue, these folks gambled on the wrong outcome, but there is no one who will come along to bail them out. It’s very sad and discouraging for those people as they look at the piles of dust gathering around them.
Then there is the dust that permeates our own parking lot. Yes, it has dispersed a little bit in the two weeks since the flood, but it’s still there. Instead of that dust bringing remembrances of the devastation that it does to other folks in our neighborhood, our dust is evidence of our narrow escape from the tragic undertow of the flood. Five feet is all that spared us from having water come into our warehouse. The flood water went all the way up our parking lot, leaving fine silt all over the surface.
If you were anything like me, when I got the news that we had been spared, I let out tears of joy and relief because my worst fears had not been confirmed. The CHOW trucks were safe; the Ramp it up trailers, dry; and our pickup truck that we park with its back to the flood levy was high and dry. Miraculously we were given a gift of mercy and grace and we remained safe when everyone else in our neighborhood was devastated.
On Saturday when the flood waters had finally receded to the point where we could get into the building, the first thing Ed and I did was get some volunteers and staff together so we could load some things into the CHOW trucks. We took paper products, milk and juice to the emergency shelters and tried to get into Owego. We were successful in getting to the local emergency shelters, but Owego was a far different story. After two unsuccessful hours, my son and I turned back, cut off from Tioga county by a mere fifteen miles. Collecting dust on the outside of the truck, splashing flood water as we drove, breathing diesel fumes all the way.
Then there were the meetings and the confusion and the old relationships being picked up that were developed in the flood only five years ago. When long term relief is taken into account, we did not close down our long term recovery effort until June, 2008 – two years after the initial flood. So here we are three years later at the same table, trying to make sense of what happened. Five hundred year floods are not what we think they are anymore. In my sick mind, I can construe this as what inflation means.
Meanwhile we have other problems. HPNP funding was cut off from us due to a technicality for how the form was filled out. Bureaucrats making decisions in a sterile board room that not only keeps hungry people from receiving much needed food, but will keep us receiving $35,000 in much needed funds this year, and $70,000 next. So not only do we have a flood, but we have less resources to draw on in order to do the work that our friends and neighbors require of us. It doesn’t seem fair. The dust is getting thicker.
So we cancelled the press conference for the HPNP issue in deference for the lives of folks that were devastated by this flood. All the while we have been trying to figure out what is next for us and our community. So next week, Tuesday at 5:00 at Sarah Jane Johnson UM Church, we have rescheduled the press conference. At that meeting we will be talking about the importance of Broome Bounty for our area and letting our stakeholders know how to contact elected officials and bureaucrats who make these decisions. Hopefully we will flood Albany with letters, letting them know that we will not allow some technicality keep hungry people from getting fed.
So here we are, the ash of the flood still clinging to foliage and the outside of buildings, covering relief workers and CHOW trucks and our volunteers. In many ways we have begun to respond to the emerging needs, keeping relief centers supplied with the materials that make recovery possible. We have begun to collect money in a flood relief fund, and have several fundraisers scheduled to help raise funds and food for the relief effort.
Last Saturday as I stood by the banks of the Susquehanna River which at that time was Thompkins Street, I thought long and hard about what we would do if we had four feet of water in our building. It became clear to me that we would draw from the strength of the faith and the love of people of faith in Broome County and we would move forward to help people, because that is what we do. It might have been a different building and there would have been difficult decisions to make, but we would have done it and moved forward.
But thankfully that did not happen, and today we are poised to play our part in helping our area recover. Yes our area is covered with the fine silt of the flood, and many today are dusty and tired, but we will play our part. We have been gifted by the grace, the faith, and the mercy of thousands of people in our area, and we will do our best to clean people off, help them dust off their dreams and memories, and help them put their lives back together: dust and all.