Archive for the ‘“A Day of Presence”’ Category

Do They Play Jazz in Heaven?

Friday, August 31st, 2007

Back home this morning from New Orleans where I went down earlier in the week to join thousands of others in commemorating the second anniversary of Katrina. It’s a wonder I was able to post the things I did here on this blog on gender, marriage, and the church this week. My heart was on the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region. But I wasn’t sure if those who read my blog had a choice between talking about New Orleans and talking about male-female relationships –well, let’s just say that I decided to stick with the story that’s been on the tongues of everyone in the church for the last couple of weeks. God forgive me.

“Enough is enough!” said Susan Taylor at the Essence Music Festival back in July. “It’s the shame of the nation that the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast have been abandoned and are suffering without the most basic necessary supports while our tax dollars are directed toward war.”

I follow my heart today by urging everyone to let’s put aside the gossip of this week and be about what we’re supposed to be about as people of faith: seeing to the needs of the needy, the naked, and the despondent. Two years later, thousands of Gulfport residents remain displaced. The city of New Orleans remains in limbo, the Lower Ninth War where the city’s black population once resided is a ghost town. The money to rebuild has been slow in coming from the government despite the president’s grand promises of two years ago.

Remember the citizens of New Orleans and the Gulfport region in our prayers and in our protests. Pray. And when you finish praying, phone your legislators urging them to release the funds needed to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulfport region.

Let us not forget the victims of Katrina. Let us not forget what we witnessed two years ago: the throngs outside the SuperDome, people camped out on their rooftops and bodies floating through the streets. Remember the tears we cried. Remember the music we lost.

Tell your churches: Yes, God sent the rain; but the nation failed its citizens.

And now for Friday’s quote:

How lonely sits the city that was once filled with people.
How like a widow she has become,
She who was once great among the nations,
And a princess among the provinces has become a slave.

She weeps bitterly in the night,
with tears on her cheeks;
among all her lovers
she has none to comfort her;
All her friends have dealt unjustly with her;
and have become her enemies…
(Lamentations 1:1-2)

Only because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.

They are new every morning.
Great is Your Faithfulness.
(Lamentations 3:22-23)

God, Where Were You?

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007

As a minister I’m expected to know what God is up to.

Is God punishing me?

How do you know when God is speaking?

Why did God let this happen?

If I don’t have the answers to these questions what use am I as a minister? I used to wonder when I was younger and demanded answers to everything. Which probably explains why I chose to become a scholar instead of a pastor.

“This is not a course on what God said,” is how I’d open my lecture the first day of class when I taught the Old Testament survey class. “This is a course on what Israel said God said.” Always good to start off with a disclaimer. Whether God actually commanded Joshua and his followers to annihilate the Canaanites and to seize their land, I don’t know. But I can come up with a few pretty plausible reasons why Joshua and his followers would say that God told them that.

I understand what makes people appeal to God to explain why they do the things they do and why things turn out the way they do. I’ve done it a few times myself. But I always do so looking back over my shoulders. I’ve been known to be wrong.

When you’re reared Christian (of a particular sort) and raised believing in a sacramental universe, it’s natural to want to point to God to explain stuff you don’t understand. In a sacramental world in everything that happens, God is trying to communicate something. Especially helpful is the trove of proverbs hurting people pass along to comfort other hurting people beginning with, “God never puts more on you than you can bear.” No one talks about the times God has miscalculated.

Did God cause the bridge in Minneapolis to collapse sending 13 people to plunge to their death in the Mississippi River?

Did God cause the levees to break two years ago in New Orleans causing thousands of people to lose lives, home, and nearly their sanity?

Why didn’t God bring those Utah miners out alive?

Why did God allow the Virginia Tech massacre to happen?

If God didn’t ordain slavery, why didn’t God prevent it?

It’s hard giving up on this way of thinking even when you know better. Listening to the rationalizations folks in pulpits, on CNN, and across the dinner table come up with to explain everything from the 9/11 terrorist attacks to the unexpected death of a child makes you shake your head and wonder if we’ve all gone mad from trying to make sense of our world. Humans demand an accounting. Tragedy is easier to survive if it can be explained, we think. The book of Job was supposed to be a masterpiece. But folks couldn’t resist asking Jesus centuries later, “Who sinned, the mother or the father, that this boy was born blind?” (John 9:1-3).

Why, oh why, must it be always about divine punishment –especially when the “punishment” is obscenely excessive given the crime, and especially since so many innocent lives end up perishing along with the guilty? It’s easier to blame God than it is genetics, capitalism, racism, violence, fate, human error, etc.?

Here’s what I believe, or think I believe, until the next time I’m knocked to my knees with grief.

  • Life is hard. It’s a miracle that we believe in God and goodness.
  • Unlearning old habits is tough. I try to resist asking “Why God?…” when bad things happen. If the words come out (because it’s hard unlearning old habits), I don’t expect an answer, not really. What I mean to ask is, “What should I do?” “What can I do to make things better?”
  • Where was God in it all? Probably standing nearby crying as well.
  • I’ll take an empathetic God over a punitive God, for now.
  • "A Day of Presence" in New Orleans

    Tuesday, August 7th, 2007

    “It’s the shame of the nation,” my friend Susan Taylor said last month in New Orleans while there celebrating the Essence Musical Festival, “that the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast have been abandoned and are suffering without the most basic necessary supports while our tax dollars are directed toward war.” Some 250,000 people are yet displaced throughout the nation, unable to return because they have no homes, no jobs nor the financial means to rebuild.

    Essence magazine along with prominent business people, civic and entertainment organizations, and ordinary citizens are joining forces to mobilize Americans to converge upon New Orleans on August 29, the 2nd anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The event billed as, “8/29, A Day of Presence,” will take place on August 29 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Conventional Center and is intended to put pressure on the government to act swiftly to create a Marshall Plan to restore New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region.

    “A Day of Presence” is a national outcry, a day of outrage, a day of protest and prayer which the the media will not be able to ignore; a day on which we demand that our national decision makers redirect our tax dollars away from war and war profiteering and restore New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. $165 million a day is being spent on the war in Iraq. For less than the amount spent in one month in Iraq, all of New Orleans could have been completely rebuilt. It is our way of saying, “Enough is enough!”

    It’s time for action. Let’s take a stand.

    Those who can not attend are urged to participate by contacting your national and state representatives to demand the immediate restoration and betterment of the entire Gulf Coast region and by rallying 10 family members, friends and colleagues to do the same.

    The rest of us will be in New Orleans.


    “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you.” Isaiah 43:2