Editorial: Winter storm damage may reveal a deeper problem

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At the end of a trying week with millions of Texans freezing, hungry and thirsty, Dale Hansen, weeknight sports anchor for WFAA in Dallas, took the blame game head on.

“[The energy companies] weren’t prepared for the record cold, because we don’t pay them to be prepared,” Hansen said.

Hansen definitely has his critics. Not all do or will agree with his assessment of blame—which he levels primarily at us—but we will be hard-pressed to deny a core truth in his argument: We’re part of the problem.

We might not think that’s a nice thing to say. We may even think it’s impolite. It takes the sting of blaming someone else and sticks it right in our own arm. Yet, it sounds a lot like being more concerned with the plank in our own eye than the speck in someone else’s.

So, what’s our part in the problem? And are we still talking about electricity and water?

The immediate problem

Right now, the last thing we want is someone telling us we’re to blame for our homes or church buildings being flooded. What we want is sympathy and help. Gratefully, sympathy and help has been given and is being given still. Churches in Alice, Texas, and elsewhere provide just some examples of people coming together to address the immediate need.

Some of us may be licking the wound of knowing we had an opportunity to mend old plumbing but didn’t do it. Others are nursing the kick in the gut of wanting to update plumbing but not having the resources to do so, including homeowners’ insurance. For these, having blame leveled so directly is a further humiliation.

Immediate problems need to be addressed, especially with rain expected over the next few days. Churches and homeowners need help cleaning up and repairing damage as quickly as possible. Certain losses need to be recuperated. These physical problems need physical solutions, but not to the neglect of a deeper problem common to many of us.

The deeper ongoing problem

According to Hansen, our part in the power outages last week is our desire for more than we are willing to pay for. We want fajitas for the price of beans.

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He expanded his commentary to include teacher salaries and police pay. He lamented that so many teachers and police officers must work multiple jobs to make ends meet. It’s no secret that some of the most important occupations in our society—education and public safety among them—are not compensated equal to their importance or our expectations.

When this conversation moves into politics, it becomes a debate over public versus private, with at least one question arising. Should the public be taxed at higher rates to provide increased compensation, or should public services be privatized and made accountable to the markets?

Regardless of the merits or failings of public and private solutions, neither addresses our part of the problem, which is we want more than we are willing to pay for. To address the problem at the heart of so many other problems, we need to look deeper than political solutions.

The extent of the problem

Our wanting more than we are willing to pay for isn’t just a problem for our cities, states and nation. It’s also a problem for our churches and for us individually.

Our practice in the material world tends to carry over into the spiritual. We become so used to comfort on the cheap in the material world that we expect the same in the spiritual. When presented with the true cost, we flinch and go looking for a bargain. After all, don’t we believe in salvation by grace, not works, and don’t we believe grace is unmerited favor? Or something like that.

While it is true about Calvary—“Mercy there was great, and grace was free”—it didn’t come without a cost. Jesus didn’t purchase our pardon for a pittance; no, he paid it all. And all to him we owe.

Even though we know the extent of Jesus’ sacrifice for us, there often is a gap between our expectations of life in Christ and the life Christ expects. We want Jesus to be there when we need him, but where are we when he needs us?

The way back

Just as our practice in the material world often carries over into our spiritual life, the reverse also is true. When we are, as Paul called us to be, “transformed by the renewing of our minds,” we are no longer “[conformed] to the pattern of this world” (Romans 12:2).

One pattern of this world is seeking the biggest bang for our buck. We are thrilled with a bargain. Unfortunately, someone somewhere often absorbs the true cost.

When we understand that the life Christ expects includes the transformation of our minds, we begin to think about those who absorb the true cost of our expectations. We begin to wonder not only how we can avoid being taken advantage of, but also how we can avoid taking advantage of others.

The reality is, in this world, many are taken advantage of, and we are complicit. Many do not have the resources they need to head off flooded homes or church buildings, because they often have been the ones expected to absorb the true cost of our bargain comforts. A person transformed by Christ knows that’s not right.

Dale Hansen said he lived through a much worse winter in Minnesota than the week we endured. He said they had plenty of power, and none of the businesses or schools closed because of snow or temperatures well below zero. He also said he paid a lot for that.

Asking if we are “prepared to pay the energy companies to be prepared,” he concluded, “We’ll have to pay whatever they have to pay.”

That only seems right. And I’m not just talking about electricity and water.

Eric Black is the executive director, publisher and editor of the Baptist Standard. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @EricBlackBSP.

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