Bleak Theology A post-punk counterweight to joy.

Disaster, “Bad Stars,” and Occupy Sandy


Today is the second anniversary of Hurricane Sandy’s landfall in New York. We continue to suffer the consequences, both materially and immaterially. Sandy lives with us. For a Brooklynite, this is significant. When St. Lydia’s was looking for a new space, one real concern was water. “This is the New New York,” one of us said. We are closer to the superfunded Gowanus Canal than we were in our last space. The next time the Gowanus, that River Styx of Brooklyn, floods, we will lose.

But many have lost so much more. People still live in hotels, are waiting for financial aid, are trying to rebuild their lives. People died. In the aftermath, Occupy Sandy rose up in resistance. Occupy Wall Street and various churches worked together to provide support and aid. They were not the only ones, but they were visible, especially when FEMA failed.

It is not that the Church must sustain a defensive posture for trauma. It must sustain a responsive, loving posture. A place and space and movement of grace and aid and comfort. The Church lives and exists in disaster. It is convenient when disaster is abrupt, irruptive, and plainly evident. But the disasters of climate change and institutionalized prejudice and economic exploitation are slow and seeping.

Disaster has one of my favorite etymologies. It is Greek for “bad star,” when comets and other unexpected lights in the night sky unsettled the people and spread dis/ease. A bad star appears and remains for a season and then leaves. Perhaps to return in regular intervals. Bad stars are prophets. Bad stars are uncontrollable. We are at the whim of bad stars. They are harbingers. They are our disasters.

Biblically, the most famous bad star is Revelation‘s Wormwood, which falls from the sky and poisons one third of the water. But who needs Wormwood when we are our own bad star, when we have poisoned our own water, not in a moment, but over the course of a single industrial century? The new super-hurricanes are from our decades of pollution. The disaster has been slow and creeping.

This is why we love disaster and dystopian films. The crisis is quick and observable. And we can identify the rise of heroes. And resistance resolves and reorients the world in ninety minutes. Phew. That was exciting. Let’s go to our safe homes.

Sandy did not occur over night. Sandy was years in the making. We wrought her. And she wrought back. How often do we punt causation to theodicy, when the origins are from within ourselves, when we create the conditions of our own judgments? Perhaps, it is better to lament to God for our own actions, rather than the actions we press upon God like some sticky mess. Perhaps, it is the kindness of others, in pursuit of justice, who act as what could be God’s hands, that can help us clean up from the messes we inflict upon ourselves.

Gowanus Canal after Sandy
Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal after Hurricane Sandy


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By Burke
Bleak Theology A post-punk counterweight to joy.


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