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Nothing like a storm to bring us together

Tornadoes ripping through the region last week didn’t discriminate in their destruction.

Lives at all stages were snuffed out and violently turned upside down by perhaps the most dreadful and devastating twisters in Kentucky’s history.

Yes “twisters” as in plural.

Weather experts now believe there were three tornadoes that touched down in Bowling Green alone and as many as 44 in nine states.

Found in the rubble left behind were young, middle-aged and elderly, those from different socioeconomic backgrounds, native citizens and hard-working immigrants.

A judge. Babies. Candle makers and factory workers.

Blue collar. White collar. Retired.

Neither did the communities’ sizes matter.

Larger urban and smaller rural areas trapped in the storms’ paths were equally pummeled.

And all just two weeks before Christmas.

How could a pastor – whose church building and congregation were both devastated – encourage members during such tragedy, and so close to a holy day known for its joy and celebration?

“I guess that depends on your perspective,” Dr. Milton West, senior minister of First Christian Church in Mayfield, told NBC’s Today show while standing amidst the rubble. “You know, our faith gives us reasons to experience joy.”

Not “happiness” but “joy.”

Happiness depends more on circumstances; joy, however, isn’t determined so much by what happens around us but a firm demonstration that faith is present within.

A demonstrative reminder of such firmness occurred when First Christian’s communion table featuring a carving of Michelangelo’s The Last Supper was found.

It was rescued, even as the structure around it weakened by the moment, intact and with the cross still standing on top.

Nothing like a cross to bring a diverse group of tax collectors, zealous politicians, religious Pharisees and hot-tempered fishermen together to save the world.

While these tornadoes were indiscriminate in their destruction, they received a strong response in their aftermath by a correspondingly determined and diverse citizenry.

I was privileged to work at New Life Church in Bowling Green alongside neighbors and fellow citizens as we unloaded the first semi tractor-trailers loaded down with food and supplies to arrive from wonderful disaster relief organizations, including Convoy of Hope and Operation Blessing.

Hours are being spent filling care packages with those supplies in a sanctuary where tables replaced pews and were filled with everything from Gatorade to grits in a volunteer-fueled effort rivaling Santa’s workshop.

Only this operation isn’t happening at the distant North Pole but rather a few short blocks from the devastation.

There we were – young, middle aged and old; those of means, others on fixed incomes. Native citizens. Immigrants. Different political views and various cultural backgrounds.

Nothing like a storm to bring us together and prevent neighbors and fellow citizens from surrendering to the despair which could easily occur in such times.

National pundits and politicians swear we’re – how many times have you heard it – “more divided than ever.”

Such a narrative may drive up ratings, but it’s no truer than claiming the flags surviving the storm and pulled from beneath Mayfield’s courthouse and fire station by #kentuckystrong citizens and National Guard members had lost stripes or stars.

Like all the rest, those flags are made from red and blue.

And while there will always be a place for political discourse and debate, how much more constructive could it all be with a renewed sense of our common concern for our fellow citizens?

“We may squabble and disagree, but this is what we do; we come together, and we work to build,” Mayfield Mayor Kathy Stewart O’Nan told reporters as recovery efforts began.

I don’t know the politics of most of the Good Samaritans alongside whom I was working.

Or, as Pastor West puts it, “those differences don’t matter when you’re trying to rebuild your lives.”

After all, when a forklift’s needed to get baby food from the semi to the sanctuary, what difference does the driver’s politics make?

It really does all depend on your perspective.

Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. He can be reached at

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