As far as I've read, nobody was killed in Virginia's 5.8 earthquake yesterday afternoon. Sounds like there weren't even serious injuries.
Now, the bad news.
Folks in America's northeast were shaken up, literally and figuratively; property damage is worse than officials first thought it was, and the 911 emergency system still can't handle a lot of calls at the same time.
Still, as we say here in Minnesota, it could be worse.
What's so Spiritual About an Earthquake?I suppose the obviously 'religious' angle on yesterday's earthquake is damage to places of worship. One of the high-profile buildings hit was the Washington National Cathedral.
There's a sane, reasonable way to look at a cracked cathedral. I'll get to that after the next heading. I can think of some not-so-sane ways to look at the earthquake, too.
Another 'religious' angle on the earthquake is to thank God - literally - that nobody got hurt. Between falling spires and scrambled schools, it's a wonder we're not looking at body counts. I took a little time out for a quick prayer of thanks - like I've said before, it can't hurt.
A not-so-obviously faith-related aspect of the quake is what it showed about the emergency response system. Seriously, folks, we can't keep hoping that:
- We won't really need 911 in an emergency
- Or, if we do
- Massive disasters will
- Pace themselves decently
- With plenty of time between each step
- Pace themselves decently
- Only one person will call 911 for each emergency
- Massive disasters will
Washington National Cathedral Closed for RepairsThe Washington National Cathedral says they'll be closed until August 27. The Martin Luther King prayer service will be at the National Shrine.
Just to make things more confusing, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, D.C. may be 'none of the above. It'd be best to check locally, if you plan to be there.
Cracks in the National CathedralThe Washington National Cathedral is still standing - but it's damaged. The Houston Chronicle says three of the tower's four spires broke off, and some of the flying buttresses have cracks.
It'll take millions of dollars to fix the damage. Despite the name, the Washington National Cathedral isn't part of the federal government. It's not supported by taxes. So, like they say on their website:
"Today, we need your help to restore this majestic landmark. Please give today to join the efforts of preserving this national treasure."I had to read the headlines twice before I got it clear which of Washington's "national" Catholic places of worship got hit badly. There are two with names that sound sort of alike. To me, anyway:
("Cathedral Shaken by Earthquake" - Help Repair the Cathedral - Washington National Cathedral)
- Washington National Cathedral
- Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, D.C.
No State ChurchI'm not criticizing the name, but "Washington National Cathedral" might sound like 'evidence' that there's some kinda plot to start a state religion.
Maybe it's my biases talking but I suspect that folks with either of two apparently-unlike attitudes might get the wrong idea about the National Cathedral. Think about it: both the rabidly anti-Catholic 'death cookie' preachers, and the folks who have conniptions each time they see "God" in print, want to protect America from 'those Catholics.' And, lately, from Christians in general.
In both cases, I suppose they think they're justified: the one lot apparently assumes that anything they don't like is Satanic; the other seems convinced that the Constitution's first amendment starts with "Congress shall make no law supporting an establishment of religion, or allowing the free exercise thereof...."1 And that's another topic. Topics.
Rules and the Catholic CitizenI'm a Catholic. I take my faith seriously. I live in a country where I'm allowed to vote, express my concerns about the government, and even criticize local, state, and national leaders. Most of the time, anyway: we're going through another interesting era just now. More topics.2
There's something to the notion that the Catholic Church has rules about everything:
"It is the duty of citizens to work with civil authority for building up society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom."Bottom line: I can't be 'above such mundane things' as how my country works. (Catechism: 1915, 2199, 2238-43, and more)
Which is why I don't think it's out of place to bring up the emergency response system in this blog.
911, Citizenship, and Being CatholicI think the '911' emergency system is a good idea: one number that's supposed to be useful for folks with just about any sort of emergency. I remember when it was getting introduced, starting almost a half-century ago.3
I also remember that the '911' system has never worked perfectly. Some accounts made me wonder if maybe equipping everyone with carrier pigeons might be a more swift and effective way of getting help to folks in trouble.
I think one problem the 911 system has is that it:
- Several government agencies
- Technology that hasn't stopped changing
After the September 11, 2001, attack on the east coast, folks in the northeast were not at all happy about 911 and telephone service in general. Particularly folks who lived and worked in south Manhattan: and weren't killed when quarter-mile-tall skyscrapers came crashing down.
The telephone system was adequate, I gather, pretty much most of the time in the area. Except when a lot of folks decided to use their phones at the same time, or some equipment was on the fritz.
Then airliners hit the New York World Trade Center. Thousands of folks started running out of the building. Others were trapped on floors above the fires. A whole lot more saw what was happening on the skyline: and the communications network got overloaded.
That wasn't supposed to happen again.
Yesterday's earthquake was, it a way, a good live drill for the northeast's emergency response system.
Like I said the good news is that nobody got killed.
Whether you call it luck or providence, I don't think we can count on coming away with a few broken buildings and millions of dollars in repair bills next time. I don't know enough about the situation to know what action makes sense - apart from drawing attention to an inadequate communications system.
God Smiting the Unbeliever??Then there's the 'religious wacko' thing.
I haven't heard some preacher saying that a vengeful God has wreaked terrible vengeance on an evil administration - leaving the White House and Congress untouched. Or maybe it'd be a judgment on those Catholics - and high school students in Louisa County, Virginia.
But I haven't been looking for the screwball end of religious expression in this country. A high-profile, expensive, disaster like this ought to be good for at least a few bombastically 'Biblical' bags of balderdash. Which, sadly, a few folks will earnestly believe. Yet again more topics.
- "Harold Camping, Family Radio, and Common Sense"
(May 21, 2011)
- "Japan, Catholic Relief Services, and Fraternal Sharing"
(March 20, 2011)
- "Providence, God's Tender Kindness, and Training a Mule"
(September 24, 2010)
- "Archbishop: "Let's Not Forget Haiti" - Works for Me"
(June 9, 2010)
- "Haiti: Voodoo, Pat Robertson, and the Catholic Church"
(January 16, 2010)
- "Officials tour earthquake epicenter"
Michael Sluss, The Roanoke Times (August 24, 2011)
- "Quake Exposes Post-9/11 Cracks in Cellphone Coverage, Emergency Response"
Judson Berger, FoxNews.com (August 24, 2011)
- "Catholic churches damaged in northeast US quake"
Kevin J. Jones, CNA (Catholic News Agency) (August 24, 2011)
- "Cathedral damage means King ceremony to relocate"
Sam Hananel, Associated Press, via Houston Chronicle (August 24, 2011)
- "Magnitude 5.8 - VIRGINIA"
Earthquake Hazards Program, USGS (2011 August 23 17:51:04 UTC)
- Washington National Cathedral
- "Washington National Cathedral"
1 The 'Bill of Rights,' as first ratified in 1791, starts this way:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."There's an interesting discussion of 'the establishment clause' on Cornell's Law School's website:
(Bill of Rights Transcript Text," archives.gov)
- "First Amendment"LII / Legal Information Institute, Cornell University Law School
These days another batch of zealots is over-represented (my opinion) in the federal government. I've harangued about that before:
- " 'Disagreement' is not 'Treason,' 'Protest' is not 'Terrorism' "
(April 19, 2011)
- "'Rush Limbaugh Shot Giffords!?' Opinion Polls, Tuscon, and Loughner's Mind"
Another War-on-Terror Blog (January 12, 2011)
- "Reason, Faith and 'What Folks Know, that Just Ain't So' "
(June 4, 2010)
- "Home Schooling: It May Not be What You Think"
(May 20, 2010)
- "Pro-Life People - 'Domestic Terrorists and Violent Racketeers:' Who Knew?"
(June 1, 2009)
- "The Right to Peaceful Assembly: As Long as the Government Approves"
(May 28, 2009)
- "History of 911"
Dispatch Magazine Online