I've written before about a long-ago late-afternoon news meeting, held in the editor's office, in which we gathered to discuss how the news of the day would be displayed on the next morning's front page. This was at a time, still, when many people confronted the news of the day first on paper in the morning, then gathered around a television to view end-of-the-day reports.
Anyhow, the waters in Iowa were calm at the time but thousands had died and millions were homeless as the result of flooding in Bangladesh. Someone suggested that a report on that would be appropriate. The editor of the time replied, "Iowans don't care about brown people." Which I guess was (and probably still is) true.
Most of us have been transfixed this week by reports of flooding along the Gulf Coast, mostly in one America's most glittering cities --- Houston. And our hearts go out to those who live there and who now are homeless, at least temporarily, under threat or have lost loved ones.
But, as this NPR report states, more than a thousand people --- most if not all brown-skinned, largely Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist --- have died in flooding during recent weeks in Nepal, Bangladesh and India, Currently, Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay) and its millions of people are threatened.
Even without Texas flooding to divert us, most of us most likely would not have been paying attention --- these are, after all, brown-skinned people who live halfway around the world, speak languages we don't understand and do not fit neatly into our Sunday-go-to-meeting version of spirituality.
You've got to be careful with empathy --- too much of it and you might decide to devote your life to feeding the hungry, making sure the thirsty have something to drink, ensuring that every Iowan has a winter coat and mittens and that every homeless person in Bangladesh has dry shelter, visiting the sick and engaging in other acts of mercy.
But there are little ways to practice empathy without interfering too much with comfort levels.
Just for the moment, instead of focusing on what Houston did wrong to facilitate this disaster, think about how you'd feel --- poor or rich --- if flood waters were rising into the ground floor of your home. That's hard to do when sitting on a hilltop in Chariton.
Next time you're in a check-out line at Hy-Vee and spot someone with an Iowa Electronic Benetits Transfer Card in hand, focus on how you'd feel if your family needed "food stamps" in order to eat rather than on the demeanor, physical characteristics and dress of your neighbor and what he or she has chosen to purchase using "your" money.
Or say you're feeling queasy after lunch and, hypochondriac that you are, decide you're experiencing the initial phase of a terminal illness. Think about how you'd react if you didn't have health insurance or Medicare, had been told there was some sort of stigma attached to Medicaid --- and just couldn't afford to go to the doctor if the symptoms worsened.
As the flood waters were rising in Texas, down in Tennessee the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood --- an outfit that leans Southern Baptist --- released what's being called the "Nashville Statement," described as a "Christian manifesto" on human sexuality --- from an evangelical perspective at least.
As might be expected, same-sex marriage was condemned and LGBTQ people put in their place --- outside the fold (unless we repent and go straight). The statement suggests that it's unchristian even to agree to disagree on matters involving gay, lesbian and transgender people. You can read the statement here, even sign your name to it if you like.
But here's where a little empathy can be a dangerous thing again. Before you sign, try to imagine how you'd feel if you were LGBTQ --- or what you'd do if one of your kids asked to talk to you some evening and during that conversation said, "Mom and Dad, I'm gay."
One of the worst things that can happen to a gay kid is to be born into a conservative Christian family --- but it does happen.