A man visited the local Episcopal church during stewardship season, and after the Eucharist he waited in line to speak to the priest. “Father,” the man said in a halting voice as tears welled in his eyes, “I wish to draw your attention to the terrible plight of a poor family in my neighborhood. The father has died, the mother is too ill to work, and the nine children are starving. They are all about to be turned out into the cold, empty streets unless someone pays their rent, which amounts to $900.” With that, the stranger broke down and buried his head in the priest’s shoulder.
“How terrible!” exclaimed the priest, saddened by the story but heartened by the concern of this stranger. “And you?” the priest asked the visitor, “Are you a relative or a neighbor?” The man dabbed his handkerchief to his eyes. “Oh no,” he sobbed, “I’m the landlord.”[i]
I grew up in tornado alley. Weather systems that coalesce over Dallas move in a northeasterly direction, and by the time they reach Texarkana they’ve often become unstable and pack a mighty punch. Moving northeast of Little Rock, tornadoes become common—very common. My mother’s high school in Jonesboro, Arkansas, was destroyed by a tornado over thirty years ago. St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Jackson, Tennessee, just two hours from my hometown and the parish that sent me to seminary, was leveled by a tornado less than a decade ago. The schools I attended growing up had tornado drills as frequently as fire drills. On a regular basis as a youth, we’d look outside my parents’ house to see the sky turn a heavy and still, eerie shade of green. Without pausing to turn on the television and check the weather report, we’d head to the basement to wait out the coming storm. Once, early in our marriage, Jill and I were driving across the boot heel of Missouri (that little portion that dips into the notch of Arkansas) and looked to the north of us only to see an ugly twister. “What should we do?” Jill asked. “Just keep driving,” I replied, “and hope it moves in the other direction.” It did. Tornadoes are so ubiquitous in northeast Arkansas that a one-hit-wonder country music band from Jonesboro actually assumed the name “Twister Alley.” You can still see their video on YouTube: