Saturday, December 30, 2006
One slight correction for the print version. There's an error in the last sentence of the photo caption on Page 7, upper right hand corner. It reads, "Piles of debris were supposed to be hauled away by the Corps of Engineers but often the piles sat for months." The problem: the Corps has never, to my knowledge, taken "months" to haul away piles of debris. A week or two way back when, and a day or two now, but never "months." 'Twas probably a communication error between me and the guy who handled the photos, likely my fault, that caused that error.
Thursday, December 28, 2006
As I've done almost every year since 2000, I went to church this Christmas Eve at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. Father Jack, an all around great-guy and retired priest who doesn't really act retired, gave the sermon. He usually speaks on church history or symbolism, but this week he spoke about theology (albeit flavored with history - just the way I like it!).
Father Jack is much more conservative than I, but I really enjoyed his Christmas Eve sermon. It's my favorite Father Jack sermon. In a nutshell: The shepherds, by visiting the newborn Christ, risked all that was important to them. A shepherd's job is to guard his sheep no matter what, less a few get picked off by wolves or lions. Nothing is more important to a shepherd than the sheep - and yet, the shepherds Luke writes about abandoned these all-important charges to go and look at a baby. In doing this, they risked their jobs, their livliehoods, their reputations, and their families. This was the most irresponsible thing they could do (though it occurs to me that ignoring a host of angels above you might be a tad more irresponsible), but they did it anyway. I notice a parallel to Jesus' later call to his future disciples to abandon their lives to follow him - leave your father in the fishing boat alone, and let the dead bury their dead.
That said, Father Jack asked us if, in the spirit of the sheperds, we too would come and visit the manger.
For whatever reason, this holiday season seemed abbreviated to me, and it's somewhat shocking (and, as always, sad) that it's now over. Was it because I listened to less holiday music than normal? Because I was in New Orleans for the first part of the season, whereas I've become accustomed to wintery Decembers? Because I (shame on me) never put out the nativity scenes, and didn't read as much Scripture as I should have? Because I didn't read A Christmas Carol like usual? Because I crammed all my movie watching into a couple of days, rather than spreading it out? Because I didn't up the outside lights? Because we didn't get our tree up until the 22nd? (I doubt it was the last four reasons - I think these are more the result than the cause of things feeling abbreviated.) I don't think it's just me. My acolyte brother overheard the rector, Father Pat, on Christmas Eve saying it didn't feel like Christmas.
Sad. I'll just have to try harder next year, and do my best to remember to stay more connected to Scripture. And Dickens.
Saturday, December 23, 2006
While I'm glad to be back in North Idaho with my family for the holidays, I wish I was returning to Louisiana on January 2, rather than school in New Hampshire. Several reasons:
1. In New Orleans, I may not have been important or high-ranking, there were many people above me in the chain of command, but I did have my own role and my own responsibilities. I was me, doing my thing, and people knew me. At school, I will go back to being just one more student out of 4,000.
2. What I was doing in New Orleans was direct service. At Dartmouth, the only opportunity for direct service is a limited program on Saturday mornings. Sure, I can do activism and paperwork service, but that’s not direct service. For the most part, it’s back to self-indulgent activities and academia.
3. It felt good to get to know my way around New Orleans, and learn about the city, the storm aside. There’s just something about that place that hooks you once you drink the water. It happens to so many people – they come for a week and never leave. New Orleans feels more like home to me than Hanover, NH, and I’ve spent three times as much time in Hanover!
4. In Louisiana, most of my late afternoons and evenings were free, so I got lots of reading and personal reflection accomplished. At Dartmouth, as in high school, I’m often 24/7 busy with activities, groups, and studies. I would like to continue enhancing my prayer life and finding time to stop, breathe, think, and reflect, but I’m worried that I’ll get sucked right back into the busy vortex.
The readjustment will be tough, but I’m sure I’ll get through it without too much trouble. It’s something I have to do. As much as I may want to go back to New Orleans, it’s just not an option – I need to finish my degree. This may not be direct service now, but it’s preparation for direct service later.
I said my goodbyes to some of our regular customers at the mobile unit. One sweet older lady I got to know got very sad and said, “Why you leavin’ us, baby?” When I told her I had to go back to school, she was very understanding, and said yes, I need to finish my degree. Then she gave me a kiss on the cheek! Another lady, also sad to see me leave, was even more insistent that school was the right path for me to follow. How about that! I don’t mean to make a racial thing of this, but black mamas are always so wise! Even in the midst of their own struggles, when they need all the outside help they can get, they’d still kick my butt if I didn’t help myself by going to school!
Saturday, December 16, 2006
Father Dabney is the second priest from the Diocese of Louisiana to be elected as a bishop this year. The Rev. John Bauerschmidt, rector of Christ Church in Covington (on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain), was elected Bishop of Tennessee in October. Having two of its priests elected bishops speaks well of the Diocese of Louisiana, and I would imagine that having experienced Katrina and its aftermath as a pastor is a unique qualification that will help these men make excellent bishops. However, my heart goes out to Bishop Jenkins, who has already lost a number of clergy in the storm's aftermath. Two more departing rectors is yet another cross for the Diocese to bear.
As most news junkies are now aware, Rep. Bill Jefferson (D-LA) won his runoff election for Congress last Saturday. Jefferson is under an FBI investigation for taking bribes; an informant caught him taking $100,000, $90k of which was later found in his freezer. He was also roundly criticized for his actions following Katrina: while other residents were slogging through toxic, waist-deep water and other politicians were fighting bureaucracy to speed up the rescue process, Jefferson had a helicopter rescue him and a few possessions from his house. He defeated state Rep. Karen Carter, another Democrat, by about a 15 point margin, and that's a real shame for Louisiana. Most folks expected Carter to win in a landslide, not the other way around; endorsements from two key West Bank figures, Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee and state Sen. Derrick Shepherd, the third place finisher in the original Nov. 7 election, put him over the edge.
The popular character Lee was ticked because Carter criticized him and other Jefferson Parish officials for not allowing Orleans Parish residents to evacuate during Katrina (gee, Sheriff Lee, did you really expect that to win you more friends?). The speculation about Shepherd is that he expects Jefferson to go to jail, and wants to run again in the special election to replace him - something he couldn't do if Carter were elected. Voters also chose to ignore the FBI investigation, saying innocent until proven guilty (never mind that that only applies to the court of law, not the court of opinion), and that if the FBI were going to indict Jefferson, they would have done it by now (never mind the notoriously sluggish pace of Justice Dept. investigations, and the history of indicting politicians AFTER re-elections). Other voters said corrupt or not, Jefferson has seniority in Washington that helps New Orleans - which may have been true two years ago, but not anymore. A freshman Carter would have had more clout than the disgraced Jefferson - Speaker-to-be Pelosi kicked him off Ways and Means, the powerful money committee he sat on, and announced earlier this week that he won't be allowed back on, at least until the investigation is over. Any clout his seniority won him has been lost, and the folks with real influence and power no longer respect him.
Listen to me, Louisiana: The rest of the country is looking at this election and is wondering what the hell's wrong with you. Your politics are seen as corrupt, and you are seen as clueless - maybe that's true, maybe it isn't, but you sure didn't help the perception. What you did do is re-elect a corrupt oaf with no clout or influence in DC. He'll never be able to rebuild the influence he once had; if you'd elected Carter, at least she could have started saving up chits for later, something Jefferson can't do. This man is going to be indicted, he's going to be arrested, and he is going to go to jail - just look at the facts surrounding his case. When he does, you'll have to have a costly special election to replace him, and that's money you should have spent on recovery.
I hate to get upset with voters, because democracy is important, and I'll never blame someone for electing or reelecting a person of a certain party or philosophy. But corruption isn't a philosophy, Jefferson's reelection harms the NOLA recovery effort, and I don't want him in my Congress. Shame on you, Louisiana. (Full disclosure: I volunteered on Carter's campaign, and met her a couple of times.)
Saturday, December 09, 2006
In the immediate aftermath of the storm, parishioners were very relieved to see this picture:
This Rite Aid is next door to St. Andrew's Episcopal School, about a block away from the parish house. What parishioners saw when they looked at this picture was not an attack on their local neighborhood drugstore, but rather, A DRY SIDEWALK! This depressing picture of neighborhood chaos had a silver lining: it showed that Katrina had spared St. Andrew's! And indeed, the storm whipped away one school building roof and drenched the contents, but the rest of the property was safe. (As you may know, 80% of the city was underwater. The remaining 20% was a narrow strip along the Mississippi River, where the ground was a bit higher - like in the French Quarter, or the Carrollton neighborhood. This is why wealthy neighborhoods tended to get off easier - riverfront property costs a pretty penny anywhere. The safety was an added fringe benefit, NOT an evil plot by the government to ruin poor or black neighborhoods to save the rich or white ones.)
Mother Gaumer, the rector, told us interns about finding this photo. It circulated very quickly through the e-mail inboxes of St. Andrew's parishioners. Shortly thereafter, she and her husband (a Dartmouth alum) drove into the city to get the church silver and some vestments and save them from looting. The most direct route to St. Andrew's was blocked by big tanks, but they finally arrived via an indirect side street route (going the wrong way on one-ways, as there was no other way to get around). What should they find but several hundred very polite, kind, and professional members of the Oklahoma National Guard, camped out on the church property! That silver wasn't going anywhere!
Thursday, December 07, 2006
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
Three thoughts on Mr. Crow's comments:
1) There are two sides to every story, and I imagine the FBI and ATF might say he's under investigation for different reasons - but I'm not going to spend any time digging around for further articles on the subject. You can if you wish.
2) 5,000 volunteers seems a little high, but given what I've seen/heard about CG, I'm willing to believe it. But while CG might have had more volunteers on the ground than anyone else, he's wrong to say "NO ONE" else was around whatsoever; I'm familiar with several church groups that started rolling here immediately after the storm - there are numerous clergy members who used their clergy credentials to get in through military checkpoints.
3) Perhaps white vigilantes were the vigilantes who shot at Mr. Crow, but they weren't the only vigilantes in the area shooting at people. Violence does not know race boundaries.
But any little quibbles aside, this city is very lucky Crow and Malik Rahim founded Common Ground. Like many other organizations, it's done some amazing relief and recovery work. The ninth ward, Algiers, and other parts of the city wouldn't be where they are today without CG.
Monday, December 04, 2006
1) ROAD HOME IMPROVEMENT: The “Road Home” program is the official federally funded, state administered program for distributing rebuilding money to homeowners. Allegedly, anyone whose home was received 100% damage (which is just about everyone) is eligible to receive a $150,000 grant. The program is Governor Blanco’s baby. However, any money you received from your insurance or FEMA is deducted from the total, and if you didn’t have insurance, you’re penalized for that, too. In the end, the average grant has been between $30-$40,000. That's enough for many families to pay off their mortgages, but while it's better to be broke than in debt, it still leaves you with nothing to start with. Furthermore, the Road Home program is a bureaucratic mess – 123,000 homeowners are eligible for the aid, but as of November 14, of 77,000 applicants, 23,500 had been interviewed, 2,500 notified as to how much money they're eligible for, and 27 actually given their cash. Not 2700, not 270. Twenty-seven.
The good news: the program is still a mess, but it may be getting better. Gov. Blanco demanded that 10,000 award notification letters be sent out by the end of November, and the Road Home staff was tripled. The results are mixed, but better than before: the 10,000 letters were indeed mailed out (though 25% contained some degree of error), and the average award is now $64,992.
2) JUDGE PUTS HOMEOWNERS AHEAD OF INSURERS: In the first of our happy court rulings, a Louisiana federal judge ruled in favor of homeowners and against sneaky insurance executives trying to cover their own butts at the expense of hurricane victims.
November 29: “NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - A Louisiana federal judge has ruled many New Orleans homeowners whose houses sustained water damage after Hurricane Katrina are not excluded from coverage under their insurance policies, a judgment that represents a loss for the insurance industry.
In an 85-page judgment, U.S. District Court Judge Stanwood Duval denied motions by some insurers seeking to stop policyholders from receiving claims they said were prevented by exclusion language spelled out in the policies. The insurance companies argued the industry standard wording for what constitutes a flood covers any inundation of dry land by water. But in his decision, which insurers are expected to appeal, Duval drew a distinction between flooding that occurs naturally and the destructive force of the water that rushed into the city when the levees gave way.”
3) 2ND JUDGE PUTS HOMEOWNERS AHEAD OF FEMA: In our second happy court ruling, a second federal judge ruled that FEMA screwed many homeowners in not fully explaining the rules before cutting their aid, ordering FEMA to restore the aid.
Nov. 30: “WASHINGTON — Condemning the bureaucracy at the Federal Emergency Management Agency as "Kafkaesque," a federal judge yesterday ordered the government to immediately resume housing payments to Gulf Coast residents who lost their homes to Hurricane Katrina. Barely six months after Katrina ravaged the region, FEMA began ending payments to several thousand families still in temporary housing and unable to return to their homes. U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon said the agency had violated the evacuees' rights by not adequately explaining why it was ending the benefits, making it difficult for storm victims to appeal the decisions.”
But like I say, it’s not all good news. Take me seriously when I say FEMA is screwing up as badly now as it was before the storm.
Friday, December 01, 2006
The best part of my job is giving stuffed animals to little kids. Twice this week I got bigger smiles than usual, it was great! Sometimes the kids seem confused, like they’re not sure why I’m giving them a toy, or if they get to keep it. (A friend suggested they may not be used to getting gifts at all.) This week, I gave a little girl a Santa bear, and she broke out in the biggest smile I’d seen all month. I gave a little boy a stuffed gator the same day, and though he didn’t really smile or laugh or play with it, he cried each time he dropped it. Then there was the little boy who got the blue and purple hippo. He pushed it away, brought it close, pushed it away, brought it close, pushed it away, all the while with big eyes and a bubbly smile. He was too small for words, but I think words might have ruined it anyways. Oftentimes I’ll give particularly needy folks blankets – a cold snap hit last night, and many folks in the lower ninth ward still don’t have gas or heat – and they’re always appreciative. It feels good to know I made a direct impact, but nothing compares with a toddler’s smile!
The Spanish Truck
Earlier this week, a man stopped by our mobile unit looking for information. He was a white guy, originally from Alabama. He follows big storms to clean up after them, and has been here for awhile. Part of his construction crew, he said, is a group of Latinos from Beaumont – several adults and a few kids. They were living in a brand new truck, but unfortunately, the truck burned down – it was all these Latino folks had in the world and had all their belongings in it, and it wasn’t insured. :-(
The Alabama guy was hoping we could point him in the direction of help for his workers. I’ve been getting requests for help with the rent money more and more often lately. These requests are generally legit, but I can never give money – just information. I usually give the number for the Office of Disaster Response (which just hired a bunch of social case workers) and advice to see either NENA (a Lower Ninth ward neighborhood association) or Common Ground. If they need help gutting their house or rebuilding, I also give them a list of other programs that gut. I gave this Alabama stormchaser the typical numbers, and we got to chatting a little bit. He was feeling really bad about the tragedy, and said that everyone on the crew had chipped in $50 to help buy the Latinos new clothes. That gave me an idea: we have a handful of Wal-Mart gift cards in the SUV, so I grabbed two (I think they’re $25 each). The guy was flabbergasted – he was just asking for info, not an actual handout – but overjoyed. And that felt good.
The next day, I helped out “Ms. Yolanda.” She flagged me down in the SUV a few blocks from our warehouse. She was wondering my “Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana Hurricane Recovery” trucks meant we had an operation in the area. (Not really – the warehouse doesn’t have much to offer on its own.) She was a bit distraught because her car had broken down earlier in the day. Her roadside service wouldn’t help her out because the account was registered to her husband’s cell phone, and the account cell has to be with the car to get a response. She’d been stranded for a few hours (she lives a couple hours away), and was dirty and starving. I wasn’t able to offer much – just paper towels, bleach, a candy bar, and a fresh shirt. Quinn couldn’t think of anyone to call to help her with the car, so I brought her the few supplies we had, thinking I’d hand them over and wish her luck. She was grateful, but still needed a shower and some food – and just as I was saying goodbye, I remembered Cat, my friend from Dartmouth, was only a few blocks away at a women’s shelter! I called Cat, who said yeah, we can give her a bath and some pork and beans. (She was also able to give Ms. Yolanda some clean pants, I later found out). I had lunch with Cat the next day, and she said they met Ms. Yolanda’s basic needs and helped her feel better, but she didn’t really calm down. Apparently her husband told her to drive the car until the part clear fell off – not the safest plan, but what can you do. Anyways, I was lucky to remember about Cat at the last minute, and it felt good to walk Ms. Yolanda some clothes and walk her over to the shelter.
Monday, November 27, 2006
Also, this article from a Kentucky newspaper does a pretty good job listing much of the progress that still needs to be made in New Orleans. It's a quick read, and is sort of a laundry list. Please click and check it out, thanks!
I’ve got a number of short post ideas, so over the next couple days I’ll post a couple blurbs at a time. I’ve seen so much here, met so many wonderful people, and felt quite a bit of growth these past three months! It’s going to be tough to leave next week. If it were up to me, I’d stay another 3-6 months after the holidays, but it’s not up to me. That said, away we go:
Burnett was one of NPR’s two Katrina correspondents. You could pretty much say he’s the reason DHS Secretary Chertoff finally learned of the Convention Center disaster. Burnett’s also covered Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Waco, and more. He wrote a book on his travels, and was at a local landmark bookstore a month or so ago to read, answer questions, and jam on his harmonica. I get to see events like that at Dartmouth all the time, so it was nice to have a touch of it here. I got a chuckle out of one of his stories – he was embedded in Iraq, and spent one firefight trying to make his 6’ 7” frame as tiny as possible in the back of a Humvee when an M16 slammed into his lap. “You’re from Texas!” screamed a Marine. “Use that thing!!” Burnett said he wanted to yell back, “Yeah, but I’m from AUSTIN!” I’ve got to remember that one! :-D Burnett has many personal memories of New Orleans, one of his favorite places in the world. Despite living in South America and covering Iraq and Waco, he called Katrina “the culminating horror” of his career as a journalist. Following the book reading (I’m reading the book now, and thoroughly recommend it), he played his harmonica with the guitar player hired to play before he spoke. There were only a few of us left, so it was almost like a private show! He was amazing – he takes three harmonicas with him everywhere he goes, and his whole body got into the playing. His official NPR.com biography describes it as “bad-ass harmonica.” He was a fun guy.
Common Ground Relief
I’ve mentioned Common Ground a time or two, but I haven’t really explained it yet. They’re an amazing group headquartered in the upper ninth ward. Though they were founded amidst some controversy – one founder is a former Black Panther, and the other is under FBI investigation – they do amazing work. I visited their lower ninth ward distribution center once to learn about them. They have an extensive gutting program, focusing solely on the ninth ward. They also run a tool library, where residents can check out any tools necessary for gutting and rebuilding just like library books! They provide an Internet café for working on government forms or contacting relatives, give away lots of donated clothing, and have some limited food distribution (four cans per visit, but they were big cans of meal items). CG is mostly known for its medical work – they have a free clinic in Algiers and helped to open one in the lower ninth. Their street medics (think nurses and EMTs on bikes) were among the first medical responders after the storm. You can imagine the shock residents felt when, after no sign of the government, a young white guy pulls up on a bike asking if they feel ok! CG also runs a small women’s shelter in the upper ninth ward. I’m not sure who the donation/volunteer base for Common Ground is, exactly. Most of their volunteers seem to be college-aged free spirit types. My guess is much of their support comes from people who want to donate to a secular Katrina group but are disillusioned with the Red Cross – but that’s just me running my mouth.
More to come!
Friday, November 24, 2006
AGGIES WIN!!! AGGIES WIN!!!
ASTROS SIGN CARLOS LEE!!!
And, I got most of the courses I wanted for the winter term. So, um - good day. :-)
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
The guy in the middle saw Bob's camera, and just about squealed "Oooo! Take a picture of meee!!!" and started dancing around. Silly goose. You can see me off to the side in the shadow against the RV with my U.S. Army cap and Phillipians 4:13 shirt on.
Our tent. Me on the left. That's Jane in the straw hat and yellow shirt. She's from London by way of Missouri, and drives the RV twice a week. Wonderful volunteer, lovely lady. Her husband is the Diocesan chaplain, Ben Helmer. I told you about him; he's a friend of my Idaho rector's.
Saturday, November 11, 2006
Yet despite those downsides, I'd call it a good week. Dems won House, Dems won Senate, Dems won every possible thing they could win in New Hampshire, Dems increased their seats in the Idaho legislature, and Rumsfeld quit. Huzzah! My friends Bob and Marty are coming from Idaho later today; I'm picking them up from the airport in about 45 minutes. And, a great team of volunteers from Texas took all us interns out to a nice dinner at Pascal's Manale, a classic and fancy New Orleans resteraunt. I had a great discussion with two of the volunteers, including the rector of League City, Texas who talked to me about discernment.
Working in the warehouse yesterday for a couple hours, I thought to myself that an apt job description for what I do is Pointy-Haired-Boss meets manual labor. In any event, here are some pictures of our lower ninth operation. Pictures of devestation to come, y'know, whenever. This first picture is of the medical RV that sets up with us in the Walgreen's parking lot twice a week.
Our intersection also has a Long John's Silver, a minimart, a KFC, and a Popeye's, all abandoned, of course. You can see the Popeye's in the background, behind our sign.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
We store many of our supplies at a warehouse in the upper ninth. It's a big complex - there's a cabinet store, a wholesale store and its storage, storage for parade float-pulling tractors, loading bays, etc. We rent one lane at the edge of the warehouse to keep our toilet paper, paper towels, water, bleach, t-shirts, toys, blankets, tea, and other stuff for the lower ninth, as well as gutting wheelbarrows (most other gutting tools are at St. Paul's), hospital mattresses and cots for our volunteers, and some other random odds and ends.
I'm in charge of arranging/supervising the supplies and the daily loading this month - I'm warehouse guy. Usually, Deacon Mike runs the warehouse end of things, but he's in Alabama for the month of November. We're almost out of paper goods and bleach, and he'll come back to help put away the new shipment of all that when it comes in. When he's here, he loves his forklift! It's the worst case of boys and their toys I've ever seen! If there's a job two people can do by hand for five minutes, Mike would rather take ten to do it with the forklift - he'd rather move an empty pallet ten feet than let someone carry it! It's hilarious!
Mike's actually in this last picture, too, but you can't really tell. Look up, though - you can see the forklift arm putting stuff up above.
One other thing we have in warehouse is the belongings of a homeowner who's house we gutted. She's decided not to return to the area, so we need to finish going through her documents and belongings to see what's relevant and usable - we'll mail that to her in time and junk the rest. I had some pictures of the outside of the warehouse and of our Penske truck all loaded with supplies, but for whatever reason, they didn't develop - and they should have been all bright and sunny, too! Phoo.
I'll be working part of tomorrow at the warehouse, rearranging water pallets and other supplies. Of course, that all depends on if I can get out of the driveway - Brad Pitt is filming a movie on my street tomorrow. All parking on the street has been banned, so I don't know about actual driving. I have more pictures to post, too - some of St. Paul's (a beautiful sanctuary), but they came out even darker. I've got some of our operation in the lower ninth, and a few of the city and the remaining devastation. None of me yet, but I'd probably break the camera anyway! :-P
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
Brief political word before I get to my regular New Orleans musings: As you can imagine, I’m euphoric right now. The Democrats have taken the House and the Senate, and Donald Rumsfeld has resigned – I can’t imagine a rosier picture for the country right now. And I’m chuckling at the latest episode of HotlineTV, one of my favorite analyst sources – the episode was shot at 10AM today, and the hosts had been up for around 30 hours. BUT, on a New Orleans note: Karen Carter earned 21% in her Congressional election, and Rep. Bill money-in-the-freezer Jefferson won 30%. There will be a runoff election, which Carter is likely to win. I watched election results at the Karen Carter victory party at a downtown hotel ballroom, which was a lot of fun! Also, I’ve almost used up my disposable camera, and will probably take it to Rite Aid tomorrow afternoon to be developed. So pictures in the next day or two. Now, on to today’s blog:
Remember my earlier post about how small a world it is? Well, it continues to shrink!
5. Today, we had a group of volunteers from Denver. Turns out their rector was Father Henry’s immediate predecessor at St. Thomas, my NH church!
6. Similarly, Bishop Cederholm, who visited us from Massachusetts, used to be the rector in White River Junction, VT, about 15 minutes (or less) from Hanover, NH.
7. One of the bishops’ wives who came was Mrs. High, whose husband Rayford is Suffragan Bishops in the Diocese of Texas. She was also at Dena Harrison’s consecration (Bishop Harrison being my old rector). She knew all the people I miss from my days at St. James – my assistant rector/role model there, my old Sunday school teacher, my parents’ friends the Kennards, everyone!
8. That same day we had a lady named Linda who is, I believe, a deacon in formation, and who is working as a chaplain at a Houston hospital – so she also knows my asst. rector/role model!
9. One day, I was driving with Deacon Mike to Gonzalez, LA to pick up about 60 donated mattresses. He asked me what part of ID I’m from, and when I told him, he said, “Oh! So you must know Heather Voss pretty well!” Heather Voss is a priest in Illinois now, but used to attend my church in ID – St. Luke’s sponsored her through the process, and she was the popular youth director right before we arrived.
10. I have a new friend here, Jenny. Jenny and I have a mutual friend, a girl named Donna who is now in Alabama. Donna and I attended St. Luke’s together, as well as the same Jr/Sr high school. Our mothers were both in EFM, and her dad helped lead our youth group for a time. In Florida, Jenny and Donna went to elementary school together and attended the same church, as well!
11. In my last small world post, I mentioned Father Ben, the Diocesan Chaplain. Well, about a month ago, we had two volunteers from Kansas who knew Father Ben and his wife, perennial and wonderful volunteer Jane, quite well - he was their old rector, and they had no clue they would be bumping into him while volunteering with us!
12. One of these days I’ll have to tell you about Common Ground Relief. I stopped by their lower ninth ward distribution center once to hear about what all they do. The fellow who talked to me, Alexi or something like that, went to high school with Emily, one of our gutting staff.
Sometimes, this world’s tiny size seems scary, but other times it can be quite comforting!
Sunday, November 05, 2006
Virtually all the volunteers we get at the mobile unit are Episcopalian (although there are other groups as well, such as the Messianic Jews). Certainly all the regular, local volunteers who come in for a day or two each week are Episcopalian. This means I get to hear about Episcopal churches all over the country - you may recall my post about Bishop Cederholm. We also, at one point, had volunteers from Truro Church in Fairfax, VA, which has dealt with recent controversy. It was interesting to hear about it firsthand. The gutting program deals mostly with Episcopalians, but they also get college crews and other assorted groups.
Every Thursday, Father Joe Rhodes comes in from Baton Rouge to hold a short Eucharist with us at noon. Quinn reads the Gospel and Father Rhodes races through a Eucharstic Prayer, and it takes us 15 minutes, tops. We stop distribution for those short 15 minutes, and sometimes waiting residents will join us in worship. There's one lady who makes a point of coming each Thursday for the Eucharist. And even on days when we don't have the Eucharist, we have deacons running the program (which reminds me to tell you, Mike has gone to Alabama for the month, and left me in charge of supply duty at the warehouse!).
Finally, working with the mobile unit means I get to see our churches all over the city. Sometimes we leave from Grace Episcopal Church, sometimes from St. Paul's (my favorite). And since Mike uses me to help with various errands, I get to see places like St. Augustine's in Metairie and St. Anna's in the French Quarter. (I've also been to Annunciation and St. Andrew's, though that would be true even if I were routinely gutting.) Through in the Episcopal shields looming over us from the side of the RV each day, and you can see that I'm definitely with my church!
And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to watch a Jodie Foster movie. Yay for Jodie Foster! :-)
Monday, October 30, 2006
A friend of mine recently said, “It's the state of Louisiana's job to fix up their city, not the federal government’s.” A relative has often asked me why so many volunteers are needed, telling me the residents need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.
Those who say the people of the Gulf Coast must help themselves are correct, but the hurricane victims can’t do it alone. The challenge is too immense for such a small band of residents. If your house burned down, you would turn to your neighbors for help, no? Whether for emotional support, financial assistance, or help with manual labor, you would turn to your family, your church, to someone. There’s no way you could do everything, step by step, by yourself.
But what if everyone at church had also had their house burn down? And your neighbors, your friends, your family, too? Because that’s what happened here. You can’t help me rebuild my house, because you’re busy rebuilding yours.
So it is not the individual residents, but the city that must turn to its neighbors for help. Except the next city is in the same rut; it’s not just New Orleans. Slidell was hit hard, Biloxi was hit hard, Gulfport, Waveland, Bay St. Louis, Lake Charles, Port Arthur, etc. And the Mississippi and Louisiana state governments can only do so much, because they still have to pay for infrastructure and other governmental functions. This why we have a strong national government – it is a way for the larger community to step forward when the smaller ones can’t. (Nonprofit volunteer groups and private sector donations are also part of the larger community stepping forward.)
And remember, there’s so much more to life in New Orleans than rebuilding – you still have to work, get the kids to school, spend time paying the bills, and take care of your ailing mother. None of that went away, gutting, rebuilding, and waiting through 15-hour lines at parish offices joined them, they didn’t replace them. You can’t do it alone – you need the nation to remember your plight.
But this is not to say the locals aren’t trying. I’ve only gutted one house so far this trip, but at that one house, the homeowner’s son rolled up his sleeves, grabbed a hammer and a mask, and pitched right in. This is harder than it sounds – he had to get time off work to join us, something many bosses aren’t very good about. Then he had to smash away his memories. He spoke of the many wonderful Italian meals his mother made in that kitchen. When his friend came by and saw a small pile of pots and pans we had salvaged, he sadly asked if that was all that was left of Mama Bella’s kitchen. That’s hard for a person to face, but there he was. And he’s not the only one – I hear lower ninth ward stories every day about people rebuilding their homes, about struggling through obtuse government documents and protocol, and about keeping hope despite the overwhelming tasks ahead. One lady asked the other day if we knew where she could get sheetrock. I spoke today to a man who had just finished installing sheetrock in his house. We had one fellow who fell off his roof and was feeling a bit woozy (he’s ok now). Trust me, these folks aren't goofing off all day.
But they can’t do it alone, which is where we come in. And trust me, they are grateful for it. While we do see the occasional ingrate in the lower ninth, it’s rare. We see far more smiles, far more thank yous, far more bless yous, far more keep it ups. There are some wonderful thank you notes from community members taped to the RV wall. We’ve had many people tell us our presence reminds them they’re not forgotten, and it gives them hope. One lady said last week we can never know just how much we’ve really done for them. Another man, two weeks ago, gratefully told us we’ve given out more food in the ninth ward than anyone else (I bet that distinction goes to Common Ground, but the point was his gratitude). If you can come down here on a spring break trip, a winter break trip, or a vacation from work, I encourage you to do so. As you can see, our presence here is needed and must continue to be felt.
Let me conclude with these remarks from Bishop Jenkins’s blog: “If the Church does not raise a cry for justice, no one will. If the Church does not continue to feed the poor, house the homeless, heal the sick and give hope where it has been washed away, no one will. I think our efforts in Louisiana are exemplary as are those good works done in Christ's name in Mississippi. I think the work of the Church in Mississippi and Louisiana is a work of which Episcopalians can be proud. I think our stewardship of all that is entrusted to us, most of which is for relief work, is exemplary.
Friday, October 27, 2006
- The Mobile Respite Unit. You know about this one; it’s what I’m working on. We served over 40,000 people between December and August.
- The St. Anna’s Mobile Medical Mission: St. Anna’s Episcopal Church on Esplanade sends an RV to various neighborhoods with a medical team. Volunteer nurses check blood pressure, blood sugar, mental health, etc., and can point patients in the direction of other resources. They sometimes have a doctor, and join us in the lower ninth Walgreen’s parking lot twice a week. The unit has helped over 3,000 people.
- Mobile Loaves and Fishes is a program from Austin, TX that sends trucks to poor neighborhoods with free meals. Trinity Episcopal Church in New Orleans started running a Loaves and Fishes truck in January, and they join us in the ninth a couple times a week with sandwiches, chips, lemonade, and tea.
- As of Sep. 1, the gutting program had gutted 380 homes, a plurality of them in the Gentilly neighborhood. We’ve finished many more homes since then. There are nine other young folks devoted to it (I would have made ten): 8 interns (though some do more than just leading crews), one office person (who also leads crews), and Katie, who runs the whole show. They do a great job working with homeowners, scouting houses, and leading crews of short-term volunteers from all over.
- St. George’s Episcopal Church runs a free community café uptown on Thursday and Friday nights. They call it the Dragon Café, and it attracts homeless people, parishioners, and recovery volunteers. They usually get a jazz band or something to come in and play, and then have a service afterwards. I’ve been once; it was nice. Together with the Mobile Loaves and Fishes, St. George’s has served over 24,000 meals.
- The Church of the Annunciation, in the Broadmoore neighborhood, has secularized its sanctuary and now holds services in a trailer. The church has been converted into a large distribution center, with clothes, shoes, water, stoves, and Lord knows what else. It’s a wonderful operation, one that attracts its own volunteers and has done a world of good. Annunciation, along with the Cathedral and Holy Comforter, has served over 40,000 people.
- Perhaps the most important element of the Diocese of Louisiana’s hurricane response is the Jericho Road program. The Jericho Road builds low-income housing in the Central City area to help displaced families return to New Orleans.
- The national Katrina response program is called Darkness into Day. It's mostly a financial campaign that helps the Dioceses of Louisana and Mississippi rebuild churches and finance ministries until they can get back on their own two feet.
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
-Good News: Voodoo Fest is coming back! Yeah, don't worry, I'd never heard of it either, but apparently it's a pretty big thing around here. It's an annual concert held in City Park each year, but last year's was canceled. This year's festivities will feature Duran Duran, Shooter Jennings (Waylon and Jessi's kid), and a host of famous bands I don't listen to (not that I listen to Duran Duran, either). On a similar note, the city's fairgrounds (horse racing track) are also reopening.
-Bad News: The AP reports today that white residents are three times more likely to get everything they need from their insurance companies than black residents.
-Bad News: There's no recycling around here. No curbside pickup, no bins at schools, nothing. It drives me nuts to throw away my newspapers and aluminum cans each day, but I have no choice. Fortunately, a regular volunteer of ours who lives in Baton Rouge takes all our cardboard boxes with her when she drives home, but that's small consolation for an ardent environmentalist like me. Brad Pitt is trying hard to convince people to rebuild green, but the environment just isn't a top priority around here. I can understand why, but quite frankly, global warming is one reason Katrina was so strong in the first place, and we should do everything we can across the country to fight it.
Friday, October 20, 2006
- BAD NEWS: The New York Times and the New Orleans Times Picayune have both run recent front page stories on the fact that recovery is tough for renters. The Louisiana Recovery Authority has set aside $7.5 billion for homeowners in recovery money, and $859 million for landlords, but nothing for the actual renters - even though roughly half the city's pre-K population rented rather than owned. Things are only getting tougher, as post-storm rent has gone up 70%. Renters are tax-paying citizens, too: they are subject to sales and income taxes, and property taxes do affect the rent they pay.
- GOOD NEWS: The return of City Park is an interesting one. It's a large, pretty park in the middle of the city, and I'm told the crime there isn't terrible. I've driven past, but I've yet to actually walk around it. It's nice for a city park, but the city has largely ignored it's recovery. The golf courses there are uncut and unused, and many trees are still down. However, local residents, I'm told, have pulled out their own lawn mowers and tools to cut the sports fields so they can use them again. Hooray!
- BAD NEWS: If you talked to me after my trip down here in March, you probably heard me rant about the difference between FEMA trailers and "Katrina cottages". The trailers cost taxpayers $75,000 each to build and install, they're small and cramped (especially if you work from home), and they're terribly dangerous during storms. There is a better way: FEMA could buy cottages for about $60,000. These buildings can easily fit a family of four, they're safer than trailers during inclement weather, they can be expanded and remodeled, and you can build them almost as quickly as you can transport a trailer here. I can't see any advantage to the trailers. So why isn't FEMA building these cottages? Because its federal mandate says it can only build temporary structures, and the cottages are permanent. Congress needs to get on the ball and change that. It will save the taxpayers money AND benefit the citizens of Louisiana Mississippi.
- GOOD NEWS: Although many neighborhoods are still without electricity, as evidenced by the four-way stops that have replaced traffic lights in the lower ninth, New Orleans East, and St. Bernard Parish, power is still available. I learned the other day that many recovery groups and FEMA trailers are powered by temp polls the city sets up for them in front of their property.
- GOOD NEWS: While many other cost-of-living elements (like rent) have skyrocketed, gas is relatively cheap, as it always is in this part of the city. The average price seems to hover around $2.15, though I've seen it everywhere from $2.10 to $2.30. You can even get it for a mere $2.01 on the West Bank.
- BAD NEWS: The side streets, and even some of the main streets, are bumpy and flood easily, though I'm told this was a problem before the storm. I would imagine many of those massive potholes around the levee breach in the Ninth Ward are new. It would be nice for the Chevy if those were fixed. I do see crews working on ninth ward infrastructure fairly routinely, but I doubt they're focused on potholes. That's ok; there are bigger fish to fry- like rent control/assistance and FEMA trailers!!!
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
One good sign is the increased traffic at our distribution site. We used to hand out around 200 bags of supplies from 10-2; the past couple weeks have seen us handing out around 250 bags and running out as early as 1. Today, we were actually out around 12:30, which shocked me! (Admittedly, we set up an hour early.) All in all, it’s a good thing: this means more people are returning to the neighborhood, and to the city, to work on their homes. This doesn’t surprise me; in March, many people told me they were waiting for hurricane season to end.
The news the Mayor likes to tout is the water: officially, the entire city of New Orleans now has running water, safe for consumption, and water pressure is at pre-storm levels. This is true as far as it goes, I suppose. The last neighborhood without water, a section of the lower ninth, had it turned on this month, but many of those residents tell us they still don’t have water, or roll their eyes and say sure, but it’s disgusting. You don’t see their comments in the news, do you? Either reporters don’t think to talk to them, or they’re largely ignored given everyone’s desire for a good story. My guess is that the city pipes are back up (albeit leaking horribly and wasting lots of water underground), but that local connections are still in bad shape. There’s water, and it’s fit for consumption by deer, but still tastes too awful for any human with dignity.
The rest of the city is pretty much the same as the ninth ward – devastated, but coming along, albeit slowly. The mayor has FINALLY established a central city office for recovery. I told you about the wonderful shot in the arm the Saints have provided. Restaurants are reopening in droves. Sadly, however, over half the city remains without electricity, an eerie site if you drive or fly by at night. A recent population study shows not too many more people have moved back in the last couple months. Many homes remain ungutted, whether in Orleans or St. Bernard Parish (county), even as the parishes start demolishing these untouched homes. Some people are still waiting on their FEMA trailers. I talked to one man yesterday who’s trying to rectify his situation out in Chalmette, but doesn’t understand all the FEMA paperwork he has to slog through (I pointed him towards Common Ground Relief, which helps with such things).
My friends Bob and Marty are coming down from St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho next month. My guess is that Bob, having seen Pass Christian, MS last year, will be excited by the progress, but that Marty, having not seen any of K’s destruction, will be horrified and saddened by overall conditions.
But on the flip side, I mailed off my absentee New Hampshire ballot today! It was kind of exciting, recieving and fill out my first ever candidate/November ballot (I voted for a school bond once). I voted John Lynch for Governor, Paul Hodes for Congress, Marc Blotner for Executive Council, Peter Burling for State Senate, and whoever that Republican is for Sheriff - he's the incumbent, and seems to have done a good job. Plus, his opponent has no website I can find, so must not want my vote that badly!
Then I took a two hour nap. Yay for sleep.
Bishop Bud Cederholm, Bishop Suffragan of the Diocese of Massachusetts, and his wife joined us today. He’ll be with another outfit tomorrow, and will come back after Thanksgiving to gut homes with the other bishops from Province One. He and I handed out water for most of the day. We chatted for a bit about climate change, New Orleans, and reconciliation in the church, when I realized we were having a dialogue. Not good! Usually, a 50-50 give-and-take conversation is great, but for Pete’s sake, I’m a 19 year old kid! This man’s a wise bishop! I should ask questions, shut up, listen, and internally digest! So I did, and it was very rewarding. As a preacher, Bishop Cederholm has always focused on the importance of God’s love – God loves us all, every one of us no matter what and no matter when, and sometimes we lose sight of that love. The bishop illustrated that point with a parable he called “Old Turtle,” about townspeople who forgot, but later remembered, to love one another equally, despite their divisions.
Bishop Cederholm said he’s realized in the past year or two that such reconciliation has always been a central part of his mission, something he hadn’t realized before. All too often, he said, people think of “reconciliation” as just another church word, theological jargon, another example of Episcop-ese. This is unfortunate, as reconciliation was a major part of Christ’s mission. And yet there are those in our church leadership who generally seem uninterested in any sort of reconciliation! Rather than focusing on theology, many are using the issue of homosexuality in the church to gain power – and using people is never a good thing. The bishop didn’t name names, but I will: Robert Duncan and Jack Iker. (Fortunately, not all conservatives are like that – huzzah for Louisiana’s Charles Jenkins, and others willing to talk to those who they disagree with!)
Bishop Cederholm also told me about his views on the homosexual issue itself (he supports Bishop Robinson, and told me how he talks to conservatives about it), the ordination process in his diocese and about Barbara Harris, the first female bishop, while I told him about New Orleans. From this conversation, I learned a thing or two that I’m sure will help me along my own discernment path, and I am very grateful to the Bishop.
Saturday, October 14, 2006
Prayer for Witness
We have been the church gathered.
We now become the church scattered.
Remember: Wherever you go, Christ goes.
Whatever you do, Christ does.
If someone asks you what the church is like tell them,"I am what the church is like."
If someone asks you what the church does, tell them,"My church does what I do."
Remember, you may well be the only authentic contact someone has with Jesus Christ because they will not come to church but you can bring the church to them.
(A benediction often used by the Rev. Dick Halverson, former chaplain to the U. S. Senate)
While I'm on the subject of Louisiana politics, let me say that if I were a Louisiana voter - which I'm not - I'd probably vote Republican for Governor in '07. And if I lived in Metairie, Slidell, or the North Shore, I'd probably vote Republican for Congress this year. First-term Congressman Bobby Jindal (R-LA) has done a heckuva job for Louisiana. When I asked Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL) in a Dartmouth Free Press interview who the best Republicans to work with are, he immediately mentioned Jindal. When the 35-year old and former Rhodes Scholar Jindal ran for Governor in 2003 (he lost to Democrat Kathleen Blanco, 52-48, and is considered a leading candidate for the '07 race), he was endorsed by New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, a Democrat. He's been the most active member of the Louisiana Congressional delegation in helping residents deal with FEMA claims and other constituent services, often picking up the slack for other offices (Jefferson's office refers such FEMA problems to Jindal's). I disagree with Jindal on a number of issues - he received an unfortunate American Conservatives Union rating of 100 in 2005 - but many of those issues would matter less if he were a Governor. I won't say Blanco's done a terrible job, but Jindal is exactly the kind of person we need more of in American politics, especially in Louisiana.
You can read about Jindal's proposed revisions for FEMA here, or about his bio here and here.
Friday, October 13, 2006
Thursday, October 12, 2006
I will keep my promise and post blogs soon about city conditions, the people I’m meeting, and maybe the warehouse, but tonight, I want to take a brief theological rabbit trail first. Please indulge me! :-P
“WE are the church!”
It is a phrase often heard in the Episcopal Church, one emphasizing our democratic nature. As most readers of this blog will know, congregations choose their own priests, and come together with other congregations to elect bishops. The Presiding Bishop is elected by the other bishops, and the real governing body of the church, General Convention, is made up of elected representatives. Given this bottom-up hierarchy, when you want something done, you mustn’t sit back and think, “Man, I wish the church would get in gear!,” and you needn’t worry about who to call to make it happen. You yourself can start a group at your parish, or introduce legislation at the next Diocesan Convention. Who is it that will weigh in on this legislation? Who will vote at the next parish annual meeting? Look around next Sunday morning – that’s who. WE are the church.
We are very fortunate to belong to such an inclusive body: few other churches operate under such a system. Most other Anglican churches don’t, the Orthodox Church doesn’t, and the Roman Catholics certainly don’t. Personally, I like it this way: God calls some of us to be clergy, some of us to be doctors, and others to be car mechanics. All of these are vital missions, equal to one another in worth – I sure can’t fix my engine when it breaks down, but I’m gonna need someone to do it! So, if we are all equal in importance and value, why should some have a louder say in the governance of the church than others? We are all God’s children, all subject to the same Gospel instructions, so let’s do it together, as a community.
This all came up in conversation with another volunteer in the Ninth the other day. She’s new to the Episcopal fold, having been raised Catholic. We were talking about the importance of a smile and a good attitude, and I mentioned that part of the importance is so that we may leave ninth ward residents with a good impression of the Episcopal Church. The volunteer said yes, that’s right, we are representatives of the church, aren’t we – but no, Deacon Dick and I replied, we are not representatives of the church, WE ARE the church. (She laughed, and said she’s still working on the Episcopal lingo.)
It’s a true statement. It might be a bit more obvious who they are when they have that big Episcopal shield looming behind them than when they are walking alone down the sidewalk, but everywhere a church member goes, the church goes. The church is not sitting on some distant throne, appointing people to go forth and represent her in the ninth while she watches from afar. No, the church itself is getting up from that throne and walking over to the ninth to hand out staples. The church itself is rolling up its sleeves, getting its hands dirty, and gutting homes. When you see that RV or those wheelbarrows, they are not tools sent by the church; they are the actual church in action. It’s an important mission: we are, I am, the Episcopal Church in the lower ninth ward of New Orleans, Louisiana, ordained by God to feed his sheep.
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
The process is pretty basic – locals walk up to our tables to get their supplies. We start them off with a bag with a roll of paper towels and two rolls of toilet paper. They walk down our two tables and we drop snacks into their bags: Vienna sausage OR instant soup, peanut butter crackers, a Nutri-Grain bar, chips, maybe a Moon Pie or some other sweet. Then we give you a couple bottles of cold water (my hands just about froze off today, reaching in to that cold cooler ice water again and again!). Some days we have more snacks than others – it all depends on what’s donated when. My birthdad, Kerry, donated 20 boxes of fruit cups, and we went through most of it yesterday. A couple from Kansas brought novels, laundry soap, and toothbrushes. The toothbrushes went quickly yesterday, the laundry soap was a huge hit today, and the books seemed to go over well – we’ll give out the bulk of them tomorrow.
The bleach distribution is a little more complex; we don’t just give it out willy-nilly like the snacks and paper goods. The Diocese used to, but the powers that be said no more bleach: it’s costing us too much money and isn’t that effective against mold anyway. Deacon Quinn said now hold on a minute; it is a popular item, people do appreciate it, so rather than cutting it out entirely let’s just be more careful about it. So, under the current system, the first time you ask for you bleach, we won’t give you any, but we’ll look at your ID (if you have ID) and put your name on a list. If you come back, we’ll know you’re serious, and we’ll give you bleach. People can have one can a week.
My role in all this is evolving. As I help more and more, my knowledge will be helpful – Deacon Quinn won’t have to constantly teach new week-long volunteers how to set up the tent and tables or run the bleach book. I can do it myself, or I can show the volunteers how. I also help Deacon Mike, manual-labor style, at the warehouse where we store supplies.
Our ministry is an important one. Quinn says we’re there more to help people with their spiritual needs than anything else – so a willingness to listen, to give hugs, and to smile are all very important. Today, he talked to a woman who needed help getting to her next payday, but wasn’t even asking for a cash loan – food would be something. In the ninth ward, we are the church. And indeed, people are very grateful, even if all they want is two bottles of water. The smiles and thank-yous we always get are quite genuine, even from the tough guys! I’ll tell you about some of these people (as well as about our warehouse and the state of the city) in my next couple posts. This past has gone on long enough. Allow me to finish by saying it’s a blessing to witness the fruits of your labor: at a time when more churches are leaving the Ninth Ward than are opening, the Church of the Annunciation, a local Episcopal church, has managed to start a missionary church in the ninth, the Church of All Souls. This is in part thanks to the seeds Quinn’s ministry has sewn. Isn’t it wonderful to see the Lord working through His people?
Sunday, October 08, 2006
As you can tell, I haven't posted in over a week. I've been on vacation from the Diocese - I thought I would make a post or two while on the road about some of the people I've met here in New Orleans, but hey, when you're on vacation from work, you're on vacation from all aspects of it, including blogging!
But I'm back now. It was a good, refreshing week, and my health is substantially improved, so I think these next few weeks should be good ones. (Personal Info Removed) The week topped off yesterday morning at Camp Allen, my old home away from home, where Dena Harrison, my old priest, was ordained as a bishop. It was a beautiful ceremony, and I saw a number of folks I've missed from St. James TX, including some family friends and Father Bill, an old role model.
So, as I say, it was a good week. And as I proceed with my ministry here in New Orleans, I promise you, I'll have some actual, substantive blog posts about the city and its people! This week! I promise!
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
You meet lots of local people in grumbly moods when things are so hot, or who have just learned of an extra $250 bill they have to pay, but they’re always thankful for the free water, food, tissue, etc. They’ll say it’s hot, I’m sweaty, I’m tired, there’s so much work to be done, can you believe that insurance man but THANK YOU for this bleach!!! I hear a similar line from Emily, who often handles intake phone calls (talking to homeowners about gutting). Everyone, Emily says, has some other problem in addition to the storm, which makes sense: life goes on. If you were going to have that stroke before, you’re going to have it now. Your kids still get bad grades or get suspended, you’ve still got to pay the taxman, you have to get to work on time, you have to deal with the unruly neighbors. It doesn’t make rebuilding your home any easier, so usually when people call Emily, they’re in an upset mood, and they’re sick of making unproductive call after unproductive call. But then, all of a sudden, here’s someone who’s able to help them, and even knowing that yes, your home will be gutted and we’ll do it in two weeks takes a load off their shoulders. They call grumpy, but they hang up thrilled. That excites Emily: she says if you have 99 other problems, but you can now sleep at night because this one worry is taken care of, the pain-in-the-neck she has to deal with in making all these calls is worth it.
Thankfully, today wasn’t a grumpy day for most people. Everybody wanted to talk about last night’s football game. You may have heard about it: the Saints’ return to New Orleans had more reporters than the Superbowl! Thankfully, the Saints crushed the Atlanta Falcons, 23-3, but given the city’s energy around the game I don’t think any visiting team could have won. The Times-Picayune was screaming about it all week, and today’s headlines were bigger than those of 9-11. U2 and Green Day opened the show; Green Day put a new twist on an old song, “There is a house in New Orleans, they call the Superdome!” A number of celebrities were there, and for the first time ever, all of the Saints’ season tickets have sold out. Traffic was cut off for ten blocks around the Dome yesterday for concerts and parties, but that wasn’t enough; revelers poured out on to downtown’s Poydras St., gumming up traffic and getting the police involved. In fact, traffic was horrible all over town all day. The Dome was super-loud all through the game, and many beer vendors ran out of alcohol 45 minutes before kickoff. It was a huge event, it was a headache event, but it was a good event. I think it’s safe to say that this is really the first time the city’s been energized since the storm. Yes, Jazzfest and Mardi Gras were important, but they were small events, played up by the press. This really was the big deal ESPN made it out to be. I met one many today who’s 82 year old mother needed to go to bed at 8, but she wanted to see those Saints, and pushed herself all the way to the end of the game before sleeping (kickoff was 7:45). It was just that important!
I myself missed the festivities; I went to Cooter Brown’s, a local sports bar, to watch the game with the other interns, but they were checking IDs at the door. I haven’t been to Cooter’s before, but I’m under the impression they usually don’t check your ID at the door. I guess they figured they’d be packed for the game, and if you’re packed it’s better to be packed with people buying $4 beer rather than $2 Coke. We have no TV at the house, so I happily ate my soup and put the Astros game on the MLB.com radio service instead (can you believe they’re actually back in playoff contention???).
I’ll try to remember to post about sleeping arrangements and the possibility of a car tomorrow. Maybe I’ll write about some of the individuals I’ve met, as well. I’d tell you about them now, but this has turned out to be a much longer post than I had intended, and I don’t wish to burden you. Take care, my friends, and keep praying for my family, this city, and me! God bless!
Saturday, September 23, 2006
But if it gets worse, which I doubt it will, that's ok too. I sent Holly, the volunteer coordinator at the office, an e-mail asking if she or anyone else at the office could use my assistance there. Since I've missed so much gutting time already and am headed to Texas for a few days soon, there's no way I'll have the experience necessary to lead gutting teams by next month. And they really won't need me to anyway - we have plenty of other interns who can do that. I might actually be of more use in the office than in the field; furthermore, just as all the short-term volunteers in October create more work for us (a good thing), they create more paperwork at the office. And office work is where my experience lies. I'm told that Holly's been a little stressed lately and might very well need the help, so this could potentially be a win-win situation for everyone. There's also a Diocesan RV that goes out delivering supplies, and they're often short of volunteers. Maybe I could be of help there.
I did manage to do something productive today - I spent about an hour washing out old coolers. Sam gave me a bunch of papers and brochures to look through for him and Katie in the next couple of days, too. Tomorrow I'll try to go to church, and Monday will hopefully be spent gutting or maybe working with Holly.
Other good news that helps my outlook: my mommy sent me my slippers, Josi and Oliver sent a lovely thank-you note, Mrs. Bierne sent me a wonderful care package, I finally got my own package home mailed, I bought my tickets to Houston for next week (I'm missing the Dartmouth homecoming, so I'll just have one of my own!), some friends from St. Luke's bought their own tickets here for November, and best of all, MY DADDY'S FINALLY HOME!!! W00TW00T!!!
That last line there, the one about Dad, is what really makes this a good day.
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
1. Mary Beth is a friend of mine from St. Luke's in Idaho, and was my supervisor at the Diocesan office this summer. Holly is the volunteer coordinator here for the Office of Disaster Response. They know each other from way back when; Mary Beth worked at a seminary while Holly's husband was a student there.
2. I talked to Father Ben, the Diocesan chaplain, on the phone today. He was asking about my stress levels, and asked if my Dad's getting good pastoral care. When I mentioned Father Pat, he said, "Oh, I know Pat!" Turns out they're friends who go way back to some old committee of sorts.
3. While in DC - I think I mentioned this in my first blog - I met a Dartmouth alum involved with a non-profit working with a church here in town. He's actually in town tonight, though I missed seeing him. Anyways, he knows Holly and Katie, my direct supervisor, as well as all the names I've read about but not met.
4. I believe St. Andrew's, where I'm staying, is the closest Episcopal church to Tulane University, which is within walking distance. Fall term last year at Dartmouth, I had a few conversations with a displaced Tulane student at Dartmouth while his school was closed; he's Episcopalian. I'd love to know if he attended/attends St. Andrew's. I sent him an e-mail today.
I would mention Bishop Waggoner (Spokane) and Bishop Jenkins (Louisiana) are friends, but I suppose that's to be expected. Anyways, it is indeed a small world! It will be fascinating to see if anymore such connections turn up during the rest of my stay here.
Also, so you know, I'm planning to visit my best friend Jon and my birthmom in Texas next weekend, and hopefully some friends will come down from church in November. Throw in a visit with/to my birthdad somewhere in there, and there's lots to look forward to. Yes, Mom, I know, I just ended a sentence with a preposition. ;-)
Sunday, September 17, 2006
Anyways, I finally got out and saw the neighborhood last night. I stayed at home all day again, and by about 6:15 was feeling utterly worthless, unproductive, and restless. So I went for a walk! I headed down the street, and wound up at the Mississippi Rive fairly quickly, so I walked along top of a levee for awhile, watching boats and trains and bikes, then came back. It's a nice enough neighborhood, I suppose. It's mostly residential, but there are plenty of restaurants, and fortunately a Super Cuts. The homes are all typical New Orleans architecture like you see in the movies, even though this isn't the French Quarter, and the area is very shady, except for a few yucky parking lots. Most businesses in this part of town are open, though a few are still closed and the Methodist Church only reopened last week; areas along the river like this weren't very hard hit.When I got back, I talked to my birthmom for about two hours. Hopefully I'll be able to see her and my friend Jon in about two weeks, and my birthdad a few weeks after that. A couple friends from church are also giving seriously consideration to coming and volunteering for a bit, which would be wonderful - this all gives me something to look forward to, and helps break up the monotony of isolation. Whoopee!
Once I start working and gutting, when this health stuff is cleared up, I hope this blog can take a slightly more serious tone - I can start telling you what I'm seeing, how the people are, things like that. Keep your fingers crossed!
Friday, September 15, 2006
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
For the next month or so, it will be just a handful of us gutting homes, but in October we'll have many, many short-term volunteers coming in. By that point we'll all hopefully be up to leading gut crews, and we can take care of 20 houses a week rather than 3 or so. On that note, I'd like to invite anyone who thinks they can get a group together to do so! For my student friends, I know that's tough during the year, but perhaps some adults from St. Luke's could come down, or whatever your situation might be. The city needs your help, and I need your company - I'm feeling somewhat isolated and lonely, and some friends coming down in October would brighen my outlook. :-)
Anyways, I thought I'd briefly describe the folks I'm working with:
Sam, from Detroit, has been here since the beginning of summer, and will likely stay until January. He graduated from college in the spring. He seems like a nicy guy. He lives in the same house as me, and I guess is sort of second in command.
Beck lives in the house, too. He's been here two weeks, and will be here through the month. We're sharing a room, at least for now, but I haven't talked to him much yet. He's splitting his time between the Diocese and a project for helping people under represented legally get good legal help. He's been working 12 hours a day on it. Good work ethic.
Neelie (probably spelled wrong) got here three days before me, and is the one other person living in the house. Like me, he's taking the fall off from his school. Seems like a nice guy - looks a bit like my friend Chris M. back at Dartmouth.
Emily also graduated in the spring. She's from Albany, and said there was no question where she'd be headed after school. She lives in an apartment in a transitional neighborhood. "It's the perfect apartment, by which I mean it has four concrete walls and it's MINE!" The neighborhood she lives in "used to have a crackbust a week; now it's just one every other week." (Don't worry, Mom, that's not the neighborhood I'm in!)
Finally, Dan is a carpenter, and graduated not too long ago. He grew up on Long Island, and remebmers watching hundreds of out-of-state vehicles poring into Lower Manhattan on 9-14-01, when the city was repopened. He feels a debt of gratitude, and wants to pay it forward. He came down after Christmas and stayed until April; he came down again a month or two ago and will be here until next April. He's the only other Episcopalian in the group.
Katie is in charge, but I haven't really met her yet. We talked briefly this morning. Two more long-term volunteers are coming in soon.
That's it for now. The house wireless is weird today, so I'm at the coffeeshop. I't s a nice place, a good spot to get lunch. Love you much, and I ask again, please stay in touch! My favorite part of the day comes post-work when I get to curl up with my computer and read notes from my friends, or even chat with them online. It makes me oh-so-happy. :-)