Taming the flood waters of sectarianism

Here in Northern California, on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada, flow the clear, sparkling waters of the Feather River.  Once as prized for its gold deposits as it was feared for its floods, the river was tamed by the building of the Oroville Dam. The reservoir that resulted remains the primary storage facility for the California State Water Project.

Exceptionally heavy rains damaged the spillway of the nation’s highest dam this winter, threatening the surrounding area with flooding and causing a mass evacuation. Although people were allowed to return home within a few days, the crisis was a source of great anxiety and drama.

Governor Jerry Brown now wants millions of dollars for beefing up safety inspections of the state’s vulnerable dams. Someone has fallen behind on dam safety inspection :-).

As an act of service and a source of encouragement, I offered my apartment to a co-worker and his family who had been evacuated and needed shelter. My church community prayed and offered assistance to other evacuated families.

I reflected on these factors — rising water levels, the damaged spillway, fractured landscapes, prayer, the fragility of the nation’s dams, neglectful safety inspection — and asked the Lord for insight. He gave me three themes:   

Encouragement. Energy. Reconciliation.

Rising rivers have boundless amounts of movement and energy. Some contain gold.

Our energy for prayer needs to rise like the recent water levels.  Steve Holt, a former pastor of mine in Colorado Springs, wrote recently,  “In the latter days, as in Acts, there will be a correlation between Great Prayer and Great Power. Greater Prayer. Greater Power! When the water level of prayer rises in the Church, the water level of the power of the Holy Spirit rises in the community; where the water level of the power of the Holy Spirit rises in the community, the water level of the works of the Kingdom is manifested throughout a city.”

For a couple of years I’ve spent considerable energy helping create the world’s first vertically integrated clean energy company. It’s now a Tesla-operated business. I was part of a movement that encouraged homeowners to convert to clean sustainable energy.

Throughout this pioneering process, I realized that everyone needs encouragement to try something new. Anyone can be a source of encouragement, too. Encouragement brings sunshine into our lives. It’s a powerful source of sustainable energy for our friends, family and communities and it’s free.

Americans are incredibly encouraging and endlessly optimistic, particularly when faced with crisis and natural disasters. This is so inspiring to me.

The pastors at my Church (Bayside) are also a rich and deep source of encouragement. John Ortberg describes the founding pastor (and author of the book, “Jesus Called And Wants His Church Back”) like this: “If you were to look in a dictionary … between the words encouragement and energy, what you would find is a picture of Ray Johnson.” It’s true, too. Giving encouragement is a mark of a good prophet. Not only do they challenge God’s people to live up to God’s calling, but they also share in themselves the humility and repentance of falling short.

As I prepare to head back to Northern Ireland in April, I will enjoy some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. I’ll also be on the lookout for the beautiful energy and marks of a sustainable peace process.

The political peace that was negotiating in 1996 was good. Delivering a lasting peace on the grassroots level is a much slower process, especially when there are complex, long-standing issues that still need to be resolved. It’s even more complicated when fragility (like a weakened dam structure) exists in the political institutions, north and south of Ireland.

I remember the dark days of consternation, mass evacuation and murder spilling out onto the streets. I remember the religiously divided communities ravaged by violence and destruction. I lived through the huge social deprivation in the ‘70s and ‘80s. So I’m incredibly grateful for the economic opportunities I’ve had in the U.S. As an immigrant, no less, and now a naturalized citizen, I’m incredibly grateful for the outstanding support of the United States, financially and politically, and their strategic role in facilitating parts of the reconciliation process in Northern Ireland.

Sen. George Mitchell was deeply involved in the peace process in Northern Ireland and he said, “What people feel, think and believe matters more than non-human entities.”

I look forward to seeing new visually powerful symbols of reconciliation, and new iconic locations that create a sense of normalcy. But the prize of gold in peacemaking and a sustainable peace process rests in the degree to which the floodwaters of sectarianism have been tamed. I’ll be pondering the following three points as I go there ;

Is there a full, genuine, meaningful reconciliation taking hold in Northern Ireland, among the people?
Are there changed attitudes?
Are people still suffering from trauma and open wounds?

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