Sunday, February 28, 2010

John Oliver: Topical Comedy, With A Crisp Accent

I listen to NPR a lot, but very infrequently during weekdays. A while back, I did happen to catch “Fresh Air” when Terry Gross interviewed John Oliver, a correspondent for the Daily Show. I rarely watch the television program, but when I do, it makes me laugh. John Oliver is not someone I remember from the show, but his interview with Terry Gross was interesting.

Oliver is British and in his role on the Daily Show he has occasion to do faux press coverage of American political events. In the “Fresh Air” interview, he talked about attending the recent Tea Party rallies and how he was struck by the intensity of the conviction of the attendees. He laughingly rejected the attendees’ characterization of the Obama administration as “tyrannical.” He comically warned that that really diminished what his country had done to its colonies and what other truly tyrannical governments had inflicted on their people. Oliver also shared that in speaking to Tea Party attendees, it was apparent that many were ardently convinced that President Obama was a Muslim. Oliver expressed concern not only that so many embraced this falsehood, but that those who embraced it were extremely fearful because they believed the president’s Muslim faith was evidence that he would allow our country to be overrun and taken over by nefarious forces. Some reading this post might think that Oliver was exaggerating what was said at the Tea Parties or simply making things up. I’ve never attended a Tea Party, but I have heard a number of other people in other contexts make similar statements in complete earnestness. Such statements leave me incredulous. I’m not sure how to even respond.

Terry Gross also asked Oliver about his reaction to American politics as a Englishman who has only come to this country in the last few years. He said he was most struck by the influence of religion; that was something very different from Europe. He noted that Tony Blair was a very devout Catholic, but was careful to not talk about his faith or be photographed going to church. Oliver indicated that in Britain the public would react with immediate suspicion if he had flaunted his religion. I thought that was a fascinating statement. President George W. Bush spoke in religious terms frequently during his administration. Such references always made me suspicious. It always seemed calculated, a ploy. Perhaps this is just the reaction of someone who was raised in D.C., but I always wondered why more of my fellow citizens weren’t similarly suspicious.

Terry Gross’s interview with Terry Gross is available below.

Matthew 5:33-37 (The Message)

"And don't say anything you don't mean. This counsel is embedded deep in our traditions. You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk, saying, 'I'll pray for you,' and never doing it, or saying, 'God be with you,' and not meaning it. You don't make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true. Just say 'yes' and 'no.' When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong."

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Jane Fonda

Following up the prior post about Reds and the inclination of many on the left to be receptive to the Gospel message, I wanted to blog on the topic of Jane Fonda’s conversion to Christianity. This conversion may be a surprise to many because it did not get a lot of attention in the mainstream media as far as I am aware. It was something I first heard about on Christian radio many years ago, but it is certainly not something many of us—secular or religious—were anticipating. After all, Ms. Fonda is the woman who epitomized for many years the image of a secular, far left Hollywood elite. She is famous (or infamous) for her embrace of the Vietcong, feminism and spandex leotards. She was married for many years to Tom Hayden (a member of the “Chicago Seven”) and bankrolled his political career with the success of her exercise empire.

But apparently early in the twenty-first century, Ms. Fonda embraced Jesus Christ as Lord. Despite many efforts, I have had great difficulty finding much information about the circumstances of her conversion, but have heard on Christian radio that she apparently was greatly influenced by her chauffeur in Atlanta (during her marriage to Ted Turner). I understand he was an older African American man, for whom Ms. Fonda had already had a great deal of respect. Apparently at one point in their relationship he shared his testimony with her and asked why she had not accepted Christ. As I understand, this led to some soul-searching and her eventual embrace of Christianity. Ms. Fonda has indicated that her conversion had a role in the break-up of her marriage to Ted Turner, but not much else has been reported on the subject.

Ms. Fonda’s conversion did not prompt an embrace of right wing politics. She is still politically active, and her sympathies extend to an array of feminist and anti-war issues.

Luke 9:49-50

John answered and said, "Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name; and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow along with us."
But Jesus said to him, "Do not hinder him; for he who is not against you is for you."

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Reds (1981)

I was an adolescent when Warren Beatty made Reds. At the time, a three hour drama about American communists somehow did not grab my attention. I never got around to watching the film until recently when my husband and I rented the DVD. It is a romantic epic, and I can understand why Beatty won an Oscar for his direction.

The film focuses on the relationship between journalists/activists John Reed and Louise Bryant. They meet in Portland when Bryant is married to a dentist. She leaves her husband for Reed, and the two live a Bohemian life in Greenwich Village with other radicals of the day including Eugene O’Neill and Emma Goldman. They are concerned with the exploitation of laborers, and are opposed to World War I.

In the film, Reed and Bryant’s relationship is shown to be tumultuous. Bucking the radical social norms of their contemporaries, they are reactionary enough to actually marry one another (in secret). They are then estranged several times. The pair eventually go to Russia together as journalists to cover the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, and fall in love again amidst the utopian optimism of the revolution. When they return to the United States, Reed becomes involved in American communism. During this time, American authorities become concerned that a Bolshevik-style revolution might take place in the United States. Reed and Bryant are watched closely and harassed. In the context of that part of the film, there is a really fascinating scene when Bryant has been called to testify before a congressional committee. There is a dialogue between Bryant and an unnamed senator with a Southern drawl who is grilling her about the Bolshevik Revolution and her own beliefs:

Senator: “Do you believe in God?”

LB: “...Well, I have no way of knowing.”

Senator: “Are you a Christian?”

LB: “I was christened in the Catholic Church.”

Senator: “Well, are you a Christian now?”

LB: “I suppose I am.”

Senator: “Do you believe in our Lord, Jesus Christ?”

LB: “I believe in the teachings of Christ. Am I being tried for witchcraft?”

Senator: “Ms. Bryant, tell me, are there no decent, God-fearing Christians among the Bolsheviks?”

LB: “Does one have to be God-fearing and Christian to be decent? Senator, the Bolsheviks believe it is religion—particularly Christianity—that’s kept the Russian people back for so many centuries. If any of you had ever been to Russia and seen the peasants, you might think they had a point. On the subject of decency, Senator, the Bolsheviks took power with the slogan ‘an end to the war.’ Within six months they had made good their promise to the Russian people. Now the present president of the United States of America went to this country in 1916 on a no-war ticket. Within six months, he had taken us into the war and 115,000 young Americans didn’t come back. If that is how decent, God-fearing Christians behave, give me atheists any time.”

I think this scene in the film is intriguing for a number of reasons. Whether the words are actually Louise Bryant’s or those of a Hollywood screenwriter, the words clearly express a great deal of bitterness harbored by the author. I think it is helpful for Christ followers to think about the possible sources of such bitterness.

I’ve long believed that left-wing activists are potentially more receptive to Christianity, than many other people might be. Many on the left have a passionate love and empathy for other people, particularly for the vulnerable in society. Even a quick perusing of the Gospels makes it clear that our Lord shared such a love and empathy. Those on the left also tend to be more vocally opposed to wars and other uses of violence than other segments of society. To me, these tendencies bespeak a great respect for the preciousness of human life, which is a fundamental value of Christ followers.

Dorothy Day was a contemporary of John Reed and Louise Bryant. Like Reed and Bryant, she embraced left wing causes of the day. But unlike Reed and Bryant, Day eventually embraced Christianity. Obviously Day is not the only leftie to take that path. But I think that people on the left too often are repulsed from Christianity and end up following paths that are not grounded in truth, paths which ultimately lead to disappointment and disillusionment. Such people are often attracted on some level to the teachings of Christ, but tend to be repulsed by (vocal) people who hold themselves out as Christians but fall short of Christ’s teachings and/or by imperfect human institutions composed of Christians. As a result, such people get hurt by the imperfections of Christ followers and reject Christianity. This is not just some abstract theory. I’ve witnessed this pattern a number of times in my own life; I’ve known many people who fit this description.

In recent years in the United States, Christianity in many quadrants has become so closely aligned with conservative right wing politics that the teachings of Christ have been misrepresented and misunderstood within the secular society. This situation hardly does anything to attract adherents of left wing politics to the church. It breaks my heart that there would be such a tragic impediment to so many coming to know and feel God’s unconditional, unending love for each of his sons and daughters.

Now in 2010, about two decades after the fall of the Soviet bloc, it is clear to most (if not all) that a religion like Communism that is based on the idolatry of imperfect human beings and/or imperfect human institutions is misplaced and bound to fail over time. In the modern era when Communism has failed so colossally, I’m not sure what then remains for radical left-wingers to believe in if they reject God.

Luke 11:42 (New American Standard Bible)

But woe to you Pharisees! For you pay tithe of mint and rue and every kind of garden herb, and yet disregard justice and the love of God; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Children’s Books about St. Francis

OK, ok. I realize that if 3 out of 60+ blog posts to date have been about St. Francis of Assisi, I am probably at risk for sounding a little obsessed about the guy. I’m not obsessed, but I did want to mention two children’s books about the saint that I’ve recently found. I’ve been encouraging my kids to read biographies and we found two about St. Francis at our local library. They were both by famous authors, so we gave them a try.

One book is by Tommie de Paola, the celebrated children’s author. Our family has enjoyed other books by Mr. de Paola like The Legend of the Bluebonnet and Strega Nona. Having taught elementary school prior to attending law school, I was pretty familiar with Mr. de Paola’s work, but never realized he had written a book about St. Francis. The other book our family borrowed is by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Beyond being the son and namesake of the late senator, Professor Kennedy is also a law professor and environmental activist.

I was impressed by the words both authors used to express their motivation for writing a children’s book about Francis and what the saint meant to each of them personally. St. Francis was pretty radical, he isn’t a role model for Christ followers who just want to play it safe and easy. He renounced his birthright, wore rags, and ministered to lepers when others wouldn’t go near them. He took very seriously his role in the Body of Christ and his responsibility to witness God's love to others. It was really encouraging to read about the vital role faith played in the lives of both Mr. de Paola and Professor Kennedy, and how the example of Francis was particularly meaningful to each of them. I recommend both books—to adults as well as to children.

Deuteronomy 18:18 (New American Standard Bible)

I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Collapse of Civilization

The last night I was in New Orleans, I watched a program on the History Channel about what would happen in a catastrophic pandemic. The program alternated between documentary style interviews of experts from various backgrounds (e.g., sociologists, epidemiologists, military survival trainers, etc.), and a dramatization of a couple and their teenage son living in Los Angeles when a fictionalized deadly pandemic hits. The program described and dramatized what each step of a catastrophic pandemic would be like from the initial days and weeks, until months and years later. The program was horrifying and upsetting. Perhaps like passing a wreck on the highway, I couldn’t help but watch.

The program’s experts described the chaos and lawlessness that would take hold, and the desperate plight for survival of those who didn’t succumb to the pandemic itself. Essentially government as we now know it would completely collapse. Violent people would break into homes and residents would be at their mercy. People might want to escape urban centers where the violence would be worse, but the major transportation arteries would be clogged and controlled by people with weapons looking for easy prey. Rural communities would block access and threaten violence to outsiders in efforts to preserve their own scant resources, and to protect the local residents from the sickness and violence that outsiders might bring. Roving armed gangs would be looking for opportunities to secure basic necessities, and those who controlled such basic necessities would use violence to enforce a new social order. Orphaned and abandoned children would savagely protect what few resources they had, and kill without remorse if threatened. There would also be a rise in religious fundamentalism, and scapegoating of “sinners” who are viewed to have brought upon mankind the catastrophic plague.

The program lasted a couple of hours, and when it was over, I felt thoroughly depressed. Over the next few days, however, I began to think about the irony of the program. It seemed to appeal primarily to the fears of fairly affluent, comfortable folks who have enough disposable income to subscribe to cable television. Particularly after American tragedies like 9/11 and Katrina, and international ones like the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and the recent Haitian earthquake, the program played on the concerns that many of us have that our social order might one day collapse and we’ll be left vulnerable, unable to satisfy our basic needs and to keep our families safe. But to me, the irony is that without a deadly pandemic the doomsday scenario described and portrayed in the program is already occurring in various communities. I think many of us realize that the program’s depiction of chaos and violence is not that different from what life is currently like in places like Darfur, Somalia and Sierra Leone. But even across our own country, there are countless communities in inner cities and in neglected rural areas where lawlessness and violence already reign. Doomsday programs like the one I watched play on our fears that eventually something cataclysmic will happen and that same chaos will come to our more privileged communities. We overlook that it is already happening to our neighbors.

Psalm 82:3-4

Vindicate the weak and fatherless;Do justice to the afflicted and destitute. Rescue the weak and needy;Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Conference Themes—the Religious Right as Antagonist to the LGBT Community

One session I attended at the conference was organized by a group of professors concerned about LGBT legal issues. I am not L, G, B or T, but have loved ones who are. And I am supportive of human rights generally, so the LGBT legal issues are of great interest to me. Because the LGBT experience is not one I know first hand, I also learn a lot by listening to the experiences and concerns of others.

This year’s session featured a relatively large number of scholars essentially brainstorming ideas of LGBT topics to be developed in future scholarship, and discussing more generally the direction that LGBT scholarship should evolve. I was struck that many of the speakers’ scholarship ideas involved the “Religious Right” or “Christian Right.” Indeed, one of the last speakers half-jokingly observed that the two phrases he had heard most in the session were “undertheorized” and “Christian Right.” Indeed, I began to get a little uncomfortable at the pervasive invocation of the “Christian Right”-as-enemies theme. I remember looking down self-consciously at one point to see if I was wearing my cross necklace that day. (Turns out I was not.)

My discomfort arose because I was concerned that as a Christian I might be viewed as part of the problem if my beliefs were known. As a straight woman to boot, I guess I was a bit worried that I might be held up as an unwelcome fraud and asked to leave the room in disgrace. This was a silly reaction, which makes me laugh now as I think back on it. Though I am a “Christian,” I don’t think that anyone who knows me well would think I fall within the scope of the term “Right.” Moreover, during the session, I was very impressed that each speaker was cautious to refer narrowly to the “Religious Right” or the “Christian Right” as the antagonist to LGBT rights. There was never a broader brush approach that attempted to vilify all Christians or all people of religious faith. I took this as an enlightened sensitivity to the fact that not all Christians and not all religious folks are homophobic. I very much appreciated that sensitivity, and it was encouraging to me.

I think that this theme of antagonism towards the LGBT community is something that more Christ followers need to be aware of and to try to rectify. It is not limited to this one session of law professors in New Orleans. I have witnessed it in many other contexts. When some of the most vocal Christians in society are publicly condemning homosexuals for their “choice” or “lifestyle,” and spending millions of dollars in tough economic times to foreclose any possibility of marriage equality in secular law, it is not surprising that the LGBT community feels under attack by the “Christian Right.” Moreover, that reaction is even more predictable when less vocal Christians acquiesce to the stance of our more outspoken brethren without really studying what God’s Word says (or doesn’t say) about homosexuality, and when we fail to follow our Lord’s teaching to love all of our brothers and sisters compassionately and without judgment. We in the church have failed our LGBT brothers and sisters horribly by our words and by our failures to speak. As the body of Christ, we must do better.

Luke 6:41 (New American Standard Bible)

"Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?

Matthew 12:17-21 (New American Standard Bible)


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Conference Themes—the Foster System in Times of Crisis

The conference I attended in New Orleans was an annual gathering of law professors. For several days, an impressive array of speakers told audiences about a wide variety of intriguing legal and quasi-legal subjects.

I attended one session that focused on children in times of natural or man-made disaster. I was really struck by the insights shared by a lawyer who represents kids in foster care. The point of his talk was that the foster care system functions poorly under the best of times, even worse in times of crisis. He began by telling of his own personal experience living in Florida during a hurricane—not knowing where you will sleep next, not knowing where your belongings are, carrying what you can from place to place in a big garbage bag, not knowing where your relatives and friends are. He pointed out that that disorienting, scary experience after a major hurricane is essentially the on-going life of kids in foster care. It was a sobering, heart-breaking analogy.

The speaker also noted that at such times of crisis, what really becomes important to people is our families. To illustrate, he talked about his own experiences on 9/11. It was a terrifying day for the nation. Everyone wanted to be with their family, and make sure their loved ones were ok. That was our immediate reaction, our biggest concern. The schools in his town were closing early, and the speaker said he wanted to go pick up his kids and be with them. But he had a previously scheduled commitment to go with one of his clients (a teenager in foster care) to attend a routine meeting with a representative of CPS. It was one of a large number of meetings he attends with such clients. The CPS representative had a number of such meetings that day, but the other kids with meetings did not have a lawyer. The speaker mentioned to the CPS representative that he’d prefer it if his client’s meeting went first because he needed to go get his kids at school due to the 9/11 tragedy. The speaker’s client spoke up and said bluntly that she wasn’t in a hurry. It occurred to him that because this teenager had no family and no permanent circle of people who cared for her, 9/11 was really not that big a deal to her. There was no one other than the speaker (her lawyer) to be worried about her in the face of horrific national tragedy, and she had no one to worry about. It was a humbling reminder of the harsh plight of foster kids. An unparalleled national tragedy is relatively insignificant to a child who lives the on-going personal tragedy of not having a permanent, loving home.

Matthew 12:46-50 (New American Standard)

While He was still speaking to the crowds, behold, His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him.
Someone said to Him, "Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You."
But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, "Who is My mother and who are My brothers?"
And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, "Behold My mother and My brothers!
"For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother."

Friday, February 5, 2010

Trouble the Water (2008)

One night during the conference I attended, there was a screening of the documentary, Trouble the Water. It was directed by the producers of Fahrenheit 9/11, received a great deal of critical acclaim, was nominated for numerous awards, but had only limited release in the United States. I had never had the chance to watch the film previously, so I attended the conference screening. It was very powerful and well-made.

The film follows the experiences before and after Katrina of a twenty-four year old New Orleans woman, Kimberly Rivers Roberts, as well as her friends and family. She and her husband, Scott, lived in a modest but comfortable house in the Lower Ninth Ward with their large dogs. They didn’t have the means to evacuate ahead of the storm. Just before the storm approached, Kimberly began to shoot footage on her camcorder and to interview those in her neighborhood. She kept shooting footage through out the ordeal of the storm, including their escape with neighbors of varied ages to their attic to avoid drowning in the flood waters in their home. A number of neighbors who survived the storm and flood banded together to try to escape to higher ground. They were on their own. No one from the government or any other group helped them in any way. They had sought refuge at a largely empty military base near-by, but despite their desperate plight they were forced at gun point by the soldiers to leave the base entrance.

The film follows Kimberly and Scott after they eventually escaped New Orleans, and went to stay with relatives in small town Louisiana and then in Memphis. Through their migration, they adamantly vowed before the camera that they would never return to their hometown. However, the eventually had a change of heart. Towards the end of the film, Kimberly and Scott did return to New Orleans. It was just too hard to start over some place new. Scott got a construction job in New Orleans to help with rebuilding efforts.

There are a number of things one could say about this film, but for purposes of this blog, I just want to focus on a couple. First, it is clear in the film how important Kimberly’s faith is to her and how it enabled her to get through Katrina as well as a lot of other ordeals in her young life. (Indeed, the same can be said of many of the people featured in the film.) Before the storm approached, she repeatedly expresses her faith that God is in control of the situation. Through out the storm and the flood, she never lost her cool, she continued to rely on him. When the authorities refused to help them escape, Kimberly and her husband didn’t curse them, but spoke words of love and blessing over them. While being tossed about in an emergency shelter and at the homes of various relatives, Kimberly continued to be a model of calm and faith. She ministered to the elderly ladies at the shelter with her, and helped keep up their spirits through out the insanity of the situation. Through their evacuation journey, Kimberly and Scott somehow adopted a grown man without any apparent family or friends. He was a recovering drug addict who had lived in a church-run group home in New Orleans before the storm. As a result, in the post-Katrina chaos, he had trouble establishing his New Orleans residence and FEMA would not help him. Kimberly ministered to him to keep up his spirits despite the seemingly insurmountable odds against him. Towards the end of the film, Kimberly expressed her simple desire to just get settled permanently and find a church home to put down roots.

Some viewers of the film may gloss over Kimberly’s faith. She is a streetwise woman who has had a tough life, uses a good deal of profanity, and expresses herself artistically via rap music. Her mother did drugs and died of AIDS when she was a child. Her grandmother kept the family together, but Kimberly had to take care of herself a lot of the time. She reveals in the film that she stole as a child and later she sold drugs. Some Christians might discount the sincerity of her professed faith because she has broken the law and curses. Some non-religious folks might discount the importance of her faith and see it as an ancillary matter. To me, I think both would be wrong. I was very touched by the strength of Kimberly’s faith. If I were ever to endure the sorts of crushing obstacles and heartbreak that she has, I hope that my faith would be as steadfast.

Beyond the role of Kimberly’s faith, the importance of family and community is also evident in the film. When they get out of New Orleans, Kimberly, Scott and others are taken in with love by Kimberly’s relatives, who themselves don’t have a lot to offer in terms of material support. The first time Kimberly and Scott return to see what is left of their home in the Lower Ninth Ward, Kimberly becomes thrilled to find a worn picture of her deceased mother despite the fact that the rest of her belongings are ruined. Despite their initial determination to make a better life for themselves elsewhere, months later Kimberly and Scott return to New Orleans for good. Kimberly talks about the comfort of living where she knows people and people care for one another. It is an amazing statement because it is made as she stands outside on her street, which has been demolished by the levee breach. To Kimberly, the familiarity of her community is a lot more important than the fact that the neighborhood is in ruins.

Shortly after Katrina, former First Lady Barbara Bush famously was quoted as saying that so many of the evacuees who ended up in Houston “were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them.” I don’t think Mrs. Bush is a cold-hearted person, and I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt, so I write off that comment as an unfortunate, insensitive choice of words. We’ve all been guilty of that at times, but the cameras were rolling when she made this statement so it got a lot more attention. Very honestly, I think many Americans were thinking the same thing. Many people who have never been poor and who have never had prolonged involvement with an “underprivileged” community would likely discount the value of any such community to its inhabitants. As a result, more privileged people might think that it would be a blessing in disguise to be ripped from an impoverished, drug invested community without accessible educational or economic opportunities, and transplanted into a more prosperous community even if everything and everyone is unfamiliar.

Matthew 28:20 (Young’s Literal Translation)

“...I am with you all the days -- till the full end of the age.”

Thursday, February 4, 2010

New Orleans

New Orleans was the destination of my recent business trip. I lived for a long time in Houston, so I’ve been to New Orleans more times than I can count. My husband and I used to go over to the Big Easy for long weekends a few times each year. I’m not much for Bourbon Street or the casino, but beyond that I always really enjoy New Orleans. It has a unique blend of cultures and an amazing history.

In the summer and early fall of 2005, I was on family leave with my second child. In between bottles, walks in the stroller, and tummy time, I was glued to the TV footage of Katrina and its aftermath. We still had cable and I probably overdosed on CNN. Like many Americans, I was heartbroken and traumatized by the images and the scale of the catastrophe. During that time, Houston was scrambling to accommodate and assist the shell-shock survivors who hadn’t been able to get out of New Orleans before the storm. It is still emotional just thinking of what happened.

And just a month after Katrina, Hurricane Rita initially seemed to be even stronger and headed for Houston. Like many in Houston who had been terrified by the plight of our New Orleans neighbors, our own family evacuated. My husband, our kids, and other relatives huddled for days in Grandma’s little condo in San Antonio not knowing if we’d have anything to go back to and worried sick about our friends who could not or chose not to leave Houston in time. As a distraction and to get out of the small condo, we took our kids to the San Antonio Children’s Museum. I remember tearing up when I realized we qualified for a discount for hurricane evacuees. Our family had given to those who had come to Houston to escape Katrina; I never thought we might be on the recipient end and it was demoralizing.

In the end, Rita mainly hit Louisiana, just as they were trying to make sense of the post-Katrina chaos. Our Houston home was fine, just a lot of rotten food due to prolonged electrical outages. Over the next few years, the recovery of New Orleans was incredibly slow and obviously is far from complete. In many ways, I think NOLA’s experience with Katrina is not that different from Haiti’s with the recent earthquake. Haiti has been the poorest country in the western hemisphere for some time. On a good day, infrastructure and basic services are lacking, and life is very tough. New Orleans too has long been a city of stark contrasts. Though there are pockets of great wealth, there has also long been horrible poverty. The educational system has been a monumental disgrace, condemning the poor to future generations of poverty and creating disincentives to business and job growth in the region. The local and regional governments have been plagued by corruption, adding to the local problems instead of alleviating them. Though to differing degrees, both Haiti and New Orleans show us the painful human toll when a dysfunctional government and economy are further crippled by a natural disaster.

With two very young kids, our family did not ever make it back to New Orleans before we moved from Houston. This recent business trip was my first time back in New Orleans since Katrina. It was eerie and sad being there—even in the parts of town that have completely recovered. I landed in Louis Armstrong Airport, which was full of travelers. But I kept thinking of the desperate post-storm triage at the airport and how so many had died there. Being in the airport a few weeks ago, it did not seem like anything out of the ordinary had ever happened. I don’t know what I was expecting exactly, but not the regular hussle-bussle you see at all major airports. Maybe I was somehow expecting something like the respectful silence when you visit a historic battlefield where many lost their lives.

During my business trip, I stayed at a hotel along the Mississippi River, just outside the French Quarter and adjacent to the River Walk Mall (which is next to the Convention Center). The mall had been heavily looted during the desperation and chaos after the levees broke. People had made their way to the Convention Center but then languished as they waited for rescue workers who did not materialize for days. But walking in the mall, like in the French Quarter, things didn’t seem any different than before the storm.

At the end of my stay, as I headed back to the airport, the taxi went past the Convention Center. Again, you would not have known anything out of the extraordinary had happened there just a few years ago. There were plenty of conventioneers around, and there was a Starbucks in the lobby of the Convention Center. Everything looked clean and restored. There was this granite memorial across the street to remember those who suffered and had died in the wake of Katrina. But it seemed so little and insignificant compared to the gravity of what took place at that site in 2005. The poverty in New Orleans continues to be such a huge problem. So, I guess it would not be an appropriate use of resources to have some bigger, more elaborate memorial like those erected in Oklahoma City to remember the victims of the Murrah Federal Building bombing or in Manhattan to remember the victims of 9/11. And in those other tragedies, the death and destruction was concentrated in one place while after Katrina the suffering in New Orleans was all over the city. It just seems stunning though that in the places where most out-of-towners go, there is so little physical evidence of all the horrific suffering that took place. The post-Katrina debacle was one of the worst human disasters and one of the greatest failures of government in our nation’s history. Yet, the city does not seem to want tourists to remember.

John 11:32-41 (New American Standard)

Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died."
When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled,
and said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to Him, "Lord, come and see."
Jesus wept.
So the Jews were saying, "See how He loved him!"
But some of them said, "Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man also from dying?"
So Jesus, again being deeply moved within, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.
Jesus said, "Remove the stone." Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, "Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days."
Jesus said to her, "Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?"
So they removed the stone Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, "Father, I thank You that You have heard Me.