As Hurricane Irene headed towards the Eastern seaboard of the United States, President Obama cut down on his customary symbolic delivery of his message to the people facing the storm. It was a time of practical action ahead of religious observations
I was listening to a radio interview three thousand miles from the action, a few hours before the anticipated arrival of Hurricane Irene on America’s eastern seaboard. President Obama had spoken gravely of the historic dangers facing some 55 million Americans. His instructions were urgent and precise. Prepare. Evacuate vulnerable low-lying areas. Treat the instructions from local and State officials as mandatory.
An Obama speech is typically crafted to contain a rational message and a style or signature which signals his emotional commitments. The imagery implies his religion, love of country, and his cultural roots. In this speech, the rational substantially outweighed the symbolic.
Meanwhile on Coney Island
I would not have noticed the way the speech addressed the situational rather than the emotional factors in play, if I had not then heard the words of the Pastor of a Coney Island church. The name brought memories of a rattling train ride out to Brooklyn, NY for its famous Atlantic beach and amusement centers, and later a minor league Baseball team appropriately enough known as the Brooklyn Cyclones. Now I was listening to the words of a community leader preoccupied with the practical. Yes, Coney Island faced particular problems being geographically and socially vulnerable. People were preparing themselves, clearing out their cellars, boarding up, leaving their homes if necessary.
But what about prayer?
There was a pause which was filled when the reporter asked “what about prayer?” The question caught me by surprise. Maybe it caught the pastor by surprise as well. His hesitation was palpable. Yes of course. God answers our prayers.
What I heard got me thinking. President and pastor were focused on the immediate and practical needs of their people. You could say that it was a nice example of situational leadership. Thanksgiving and spiritual nurturing comes afterwards.
And I also wondered, if God sends a hurricane, just what should you pray for?
Image from internet reporting site Cleveland.com shows NBC reporter Peter Alexander attempting to broadcast from Coney Island boardwalk as Hurricane Irene passes close by