Sunday at the End of the Eighth Month

Everyone around here observes the 29th of each month as a Katrina anniversary. Not with parties, of course, but only marking one more month since life changed forever.

We’ve been under tornado watches since Saturday evening. Sunday morning, weathercasters were urging people in St. Bernard Parish to get into secure housing. I suppose that means leave your FEMA trailer and go into the gutted out, empty house next door for security from high winds or even tornadoes. We’re thankful for the needed rain.

Saturday, residents of Kenner ousted their mayor. Muniz won over Capitano, by something like 52% to 48%. Veteran police officer Steve Caraway was elected chief over P.J.Hahn, who was seen as an administrator. Everyone agrees the voters in this New Orleans suburb are tired of the constant bickering between council and mayor, chief and mayor, and other groups.

Next Sunday, May 7 and then Monday the 8th, I’ll be accomplishing a personal first: preaching in a Methodist Church. After the Saturday night high school reunion at Double Springs, Alabama, the next morning I’ll preach at the local Methodist church for their 11 am service, their 6 pm service that night, and the next evening at 6 pm. And later in the month, I’ll be preaching in a United Methodist church in another part of Alabama. So, this is my year, I guess.

My mom says, “How did this happen?” I tell her that our high school class team leader Sally Moody recommended me to the Pastor Albert Rivera of the Double Springs church. And my college roommate, George Gravitte, who lives across the county at Haleyville, now retired from pastoring UMC churches, added his recommendation. Presumably, what they said is that “Joe’s safe.” (We’ll see.)

Pastor Joseph Blanchard of the (New Orleans) First Haitian Baptist Church came by our associational offices one day this week. He’s bivocational and drives a taxi in the week. Anyway, that church is having a week of revival services the week of June 4 with a different preacher each night, and he invited me to preach that Sunday night. He said, “Our theme is Ezra 10:13.” I could not remember what that verse was and even after looking it up, had no clue how that suggested a revival theme. The first half of the verse reads: “But there are many people, and it is the rainy season. We don’t have the stamina to stay out in the open.” Joseph said, “Our theme is: ‘It’s Time to Come Inside.'” He smiled and added, “It’s bad outside. Time to come in to Christ.” I love it.

The annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention this June will be in Greensboro, North Carolina, a first for that medium-sized city. When attendance dropped back to manageable numbers a decade ago, our leaders decided it was time to gather in some places we haven’t been lately, if at all. Last year, Nashville. I was impressed to see that two of our local leaders will be on the program. Lonnie Wascom is the director of missions (my counterpart) on the Northshore, which includes everything from Slidell to Covington to Hammond. He will be speaking at the meeting of the SBC Associational Directors of Missions. Then, David Crosby of the FBC of New Orleans has been given a slot on the SBC program itself, to talk about the rebuilding of New Orleans with particular slant on the Cooperative Program, our denomination’s instrument for receiving and channeling offerings throughout the world. Both men are highly articulate and outstanding in every way and will represent us well. I’ve already begun praying for them.

In July, I’ll be speaking at the great Central Baptist Church-Bearden of Knoxville, down the street from the University of Tennessee, where my friend of nearly 4 decades Larry Fields has labored so faithfully for over 20 years. Larry and Sandy will be enjoying a sabbatical in Oxford (yes, England, not Mississippi. Or Alabama either, for that matter). I have to tell you what Larry did the other day.

April 8, Larry and Sandy’s son John married a lovely young lady named Allie in their church. They rave about their new daughter-in-law and are greatly impressed by their son’s choice of a life-mate. At the wedding, Larry told something that happened on their first date. As John and Allie drove down Deane Hill Parkway, he pointed out the imposing church structure on his right and said, “Have you ever been there?” Allie said, “I went once, but the pastor was boring.” John knew immediately he liked this girl. He smiled and said, “See the name on the sign?” Dr. Larry Fields, Senior Pastor. Something clicked in her and she got it. She said, “Oh, is he your grandfather?” And Larry told this in the middle of their wedding. The congregation is still laughing.

Today, April 30, I’m preaching in the 11 am service at the FBC of St. Rose, a residential community a few miles west of the New Orleans airport. My subject is prayer. I thought I would tell them about the four questions the Lord asked me once when I was doing my (then) nightly prayer walking. These came with such clarity, I wrote them down and have never doubted that they were directly from the Father. (One way you can be that certain is when they arrive with such relevancy to your particular situation.) The four questions were:

1. What would it take to stop you from praying? (Not much for many of us, apparently. But what if the government decreed–as they did in Daniel’s day–that no prayers toward the living God should be offered?)

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It’s Something Every Day

Today, Thursday, we’re having a long-awaited dedication for the widening of the infamous Huey P. Long Bridge. Built in the 1930s when cars must have been one-third the width they are today, this bridge has put the fear of the Lord into more people than hundreds of the best sermons.

Amazingly, this all began in 1892 with a proposal from the Southern Pacific Railroad that a bridge across the river be built. In 1916, the Public Belt Railroad Commission got the state constitution changed to allow New Orleans to erect such a bridge. In 1928, Governor Huey P. Long pushed through a constitutional amendment allowing bonds to be issued. Construction began in 1932. In 1935, the year Huey Long was murdered in our state capitol building, the bridge was finished and was named for him. It cost $13 million dollars, this in the middle of the Depression when a dollar was ten.

In 1988, they started studying widening the bridge. !989, voters approve $60 million to widen it. 1996, they found what it would really cost to fix this bridge and stopped. 1998, Governor Mike Foster signs a bill setting aside $220 million for the project. 2002, Mayor Marc Morial offers to sell the bridge to the state for at least $300 million. Hearing that the Brooklyn Bridge might be for sale, the state rejects the offer. Today, April 27, 2006, ground-breaking for the widening and reconfiguring.

Don’t hold your breath. It will take five years and will cost–you ready for this?–$600 million. Meanwhile, traffic problems will be the order of the day.

Phil Mickelson, in town to play in the Zurich Classic this weekend, announced last night that whatever winnings he receives from this golf tournament he will donate to some Katrina charity. The winner of the recent Masters tournament in Augusta says he will do this for the next 8 or 10 years, “however long it takes to rebuild this city.” I know who I’m pulling for.

For the first time since the hurricane, nearly 8 months ago, my Newsweek arrived. All third class mail has been shut out from the city’s 701 zip codes until now. So, last night, I flipped through to see what I’ve been missing. Bear in mind, I’ve been a Newsweek subscriber–never “Time”–since the 1960s when that publication offered great rates to seminary students. After I finished, the only thing that lingered from my reading was a correction Newsweek had made.

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The Sounds of Comfort All Around Us

Recently, in telling of my brother Charlie’s death, I told of the tragic death of our home pastor’s teenage son some years back. I had asked him if in the “comfort” of friends anyone said anything truly unusual. He told how a lady said to him, “I know exactly how you feel because when my son went off to college, I cried and cried.”

A friend who read that wrote me about the time her little daughter died. I’ve changed the names, but otherwise, this is the letter verbatim.

“When our three-year-old daughter died suddenly, I heard some strange comments. I know these friends meant well, but these comments were less than comforting.

“3. ‘You can have another baby.’ We didn’t WANT another baby–we wanted Kathy!

“2. ‘You still have Joan.’ (Referring to our six-year-old in first grade.) Wonderful! Of course we adored Joan and we were thankful–but Kathy died!

“1. ‘You are so brave. I couldn’t stand it if anything happened to my child.’ This number one, top of my list of horrors,is ‘You are so brave, Mary Lou.’ BRAVE???? Who, ME? With a wrinkled raisin where my heart used to be and a Humvee on my chest, I felt anything but brave! I just went through the motions of life, trying to help my husband and my mother who were devastated by Kathy’s death. So much for comforting comments. (signed) Mary Lou”

I am well aware that people often do not know what to say in a time of tragedy and great loss. That’s why many people avoid funerals and wakes. My pointing out mistakes that some people make could actually increase the tension and make some more determined to do even less. I hope not.

But I do have suggestions on what to do when your friend has a death in his/her family.

1. Your presence is the biggest gift; you don’t have to say anything. You’ll realize this when you experience the loss and you’re on the receiving end of the comfort. All someone has to do to touch your deep hurt is walk up and hug you. No words required. Just a hug. Human touch has such power to comfort. If you’re not a hugger or the recipient isn’t, a handshake, a hand on the shoulder, or some other touch will work equally fine.

2. If you want to say something comforting, whether in person or in a note, here are three simple suggestions.

“I’m so sorry.” (You don’t have to say ‘I’m sorry for your loss.’ Just ‘I’m so sorry’ works just fine.)

“I love you.” (That’s the best, so long as it’s real and appropriate.)

“I’m praying for you.” (If you are, say this. If you haven’t been praying already, perhaps you shouldn’t say it.)

That’s all. You thought this was going to be complex? In a typical situation, after you have given a hug and simply said, “I’m so sorry,” the grieving friend will want to talk. There is no way to predict what he or she will say. However, it’s crucial for you to remember that your assignment is to listen. Do not tell your friend of the time you lost your father or mother or brother or whoever. Do not give advice. Do not tell a story. This is not the time. Just listen, and ask the Holy Spirit to help you to respond appropriately.

Last August 29, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and the levees broke in our city, devastating much of New Orleans. Over a thousand people died here, and in a sense, the city as we had known it ceased to be.

And just as when a death occurs, people gather to comfort and mourn with you, we’ve received friends and visitors from all over the nation. Some have come to grieve, to weep, to see how it looks and decide how to help. Some have worn work clothes, rolled up their sleeves, and jumped right in. But, as with other deaths, some came to give advice.

I recall one visitor who stood at our weekly pastors’ gathering and preached us all a young sermon on Romans 8:28, how God was going to use this in our lives and that we should be thankful. He did not say one word that was wrong, as I recall. The problem is, he was not qualified to offer such counsel. He had just arrived. He had not shed a tear with us or ministered to a single person. He just came and preached and left.

You will remember that after Job’s incredible losses, his friends arrived and sat with him for 7 days and nights, speaking not a single word. “They saw that his pain was very great” (Job 2:13), and he felt comforted by their presence. Then they started talking and undid all the good they had accomplished. When they finished, Job said, “Miserable comforters are you all.” (Job 16:2)

I love you. I’m sorry. I’m praying for you. Great sounds of healing comfort.

Boogie Melerine said, “We had 61 Sunday, with three professions of faith and one rededication.” Lots of ‘amens’ went up. He said, “Pray for us. We’re still talking with the Presbyterian Church down there about purchasing their property.” They only have 5 or 6 members, and I think they’ve started coming over to Boogie’s church-in-the-carport. As I understand it, the members and the governing body of their denomination are disputing as to who owns the building and property.

Hong Fu Liu of the Chinese Church said, “We baptized fourteen Sunday. And have one who will be baptized soon.” Amens again. All of them saved during the recent Billy/Franklin Graham meeting.

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You Would Love To Be A Secretary Today

(This was written on national secretaries’ day in 2005, and we decided to hold it back for this year. The events mentioned are dated, but the points are timeless.)

Today is the one day every pastor in our city wants to be a church secretary. On this day each year, our association provides a luncheon for all secretaries of Baptist churches in metro New Orleans, and today’s will be held in Commander’s Palace, only one of the greatest restaurants in the world. To be exact, we pay half and the churches pay the other half of the cost of thirty dollars each, not bad for where we’re going. The room holds 85 people; we had no trouble with slackers not getting their reservations in.

Dr. Rhonda Kelley, professor, author of a number of books, and wife of the president of our beloved New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, will be the featured speaker. She is an ideal speaker but she will carry another positive when she stands up to speak today. Rhonda knows what it is to live in the shadow of big persons and to labor to make someone else successful–which of course, sounds like a church secretary’s job description. Her growing up years, she was known as the daughter of Bob Harrington, the chaplain of Bourbon Street. For almost all her adult life, she’s been known as the wife of Chuck Kelley, the president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Yet, she is really somebody, well worth knowing, an accomplished individual, a godly woman.

Great restaurant, excellent speaker, good food, impressive atmosphere. However, you might be surprised to know the star of these luncheons is the fellowship.

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Thinking About Things These Muggy Days

Sunday morning on my drive downriver to Port Sulphur, as I often do, I phoned my mom for a brief chat before she heads to church. To my surprise, Dad answered the phone. I said, “What are you doing up? You sleep til noon!” He said, “I’m getting ready for church. I feel fine. I even have my hearing aids in!” Then he said, “Here’s your mom.”

I know how privileged I am being able to have this conversation with my parents at my age (66) and at theirs (almost 90 and 94). Some of us Alabamians treasure a television commercial the legendary football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant made at the U of A campus over 20 years ago for a phone company. He was telling how he makes all the Bama players call their mamas on Sunday afternoon. At the end of the commercial, thinking the camera was off, he added something that just popped into his mind. “I sure wish I could call mine.” That comment was so poignant, they left it in.

Believe me, I know I’m blessed. And I’m grateful.

Mom said, “Last night, Pop was trying on some new clothes, and I told him, ‘You look so good, you ought to wear that to church tomorrow morning.’ So he is.” She described what he was wearing. Keep in mind, he’s 94 years old and has a shock of white hair and a white mustache. “A black shirt with a black leather vest, and a red bow tie.” I laughed and she said, “And a gold watch chain hanging from the vest.” I said, “All he needs now is a straw hat.” She said, “He has one.”

Monday she said he didn’t wear the straw hat. One of his great-grandsons told Pop and Mom they were the best-looking couple at church.

I related this to a couple of friends, and one of them, our distinguished president emeritus of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. Landrum Leavell, who also knows about shocks of white hair, said, “Your dad sounds like a dude!” Oh, he is that. Grandson Neil said, “All Pop needs with that outfit is a six-shooter and holster.”

They threw away the mold when they made him.

Talking to another dude the other day–Joe Williams, our FBI chaplain and NAMB counselor assigned to Katrinaland for an indefinite period–we were discussing the ministry fatigue that everyone down here is experiencing. Joe is leading daylong seminars for pastors and wives to help them combat that fatigue and showing them how to help their members through it. It’s not just the ministers; it’s everyone in this part of the world.

I said to Joe, “Over the years, I’ve given some thought to fatigue. You might be interested in this.” I drew it off on a post-it note and handed it to him for future reference.

We know what MINISTRY FATIGUE is: You’re tired from serving. And we know what COMPASSION FATIGUE is: You’re tired from caring. Everyone in this hurricane-ravaged part of the world is dealing with those on an everyday basis, and these are the targets for Joe and wife Linda Williams’ seminars.

But I’ve identified a couple of other kinds of fatigue. There is what I call CUMULATIVE FATIGUE. This kind just keeps on building up. You can walk away from it and take a vacation, but when you come back, it’s like it has been sitting there waiting on you. It’s still huge and heavy. You start to work again and immediately you’re tired and grow moreso by the moment.

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Sunday Morning Church and Jehovah-Jireh

Gentilly Baptist Church met Sunday morning. Pastor David Arceneaux has turned in his resignation and will be moving to Houston. He wanted to assemble as many of his people as possible to meet, worship, fellowship, and make some decisions about the property. They met in our associational office building and Freddie Arnold from our staff attended. Some 10 or 12 Gentilly members were present. Pastor Dave preached and the members formed a board of directors to make future decisions about their buildings, with Freddie and me as members.

Originally, I had planned to make that meeting, but when we discovered that Port Sulphur Baptist Church in Plaquemines Parish was meeting in a tent on their property, I wanted to be there. Pastor Lynn Rodrigue says this is their third Sunday for worship. “We packed out our tent the other Sundays,” he said, “but we lost some when the Catholic church down the street re-opened.” They had 35 or 40 for church this morning at ten o’clock.

It’s exactly 60 miles from my driveway to Port Sulphur Baptist Church. You cross the Mississippi River over the Huey P. Long Bridge, then on the West Bank Expressway take the LaFayette exit and drive south to the town of Belle Chasse. Keep going; drive another 40 miles or so downriver. On your atlas, you will see that state highway 23 mimics every turn of the Mississippi River downstream, all the way to the gulf. My map shows it as a scenic drive, which these days is a cruel joke.

The devastation from Katrina is still so evident beginning a few miles below Belle Chasse. Skeletons of houses and businesses still stand, gaunt, lifeless. Piles of trash, wrecked buildings, abandoned cars. Debris. Sadness. No stores open. Nothing but FEMA trailers.

Power company trucks and crews were out. The storm had wrecked the poles and lines, all of them leaning and twisted and useless, so crews have installed an entire new set of poles and lines on the other side of the road. Electrical power is gradually moving south.

“We are giving away food and water and materials here at the church,” Pastor Lynn Rodrigue said. “We’ve got the names of 3,000 people who’ve been by for help.” Where are they living? “In FEMA trailers.” On the drive south, I had noticed those little boxes in half the driveways, alongside mansions and shacks, and most incongruous of all, beside larger house trailers. “And we have a refrigerated trailer for the food we’re giving away.”

“We have a trailer now,” Lynn said, pointing to the little FEMA offspring in back of the ruined church buildings. “We stayed there last night for the first time.” Lynn and wife Nicole and their four small children, living in something like 240 square feet. “I’ve been commuting from where we’re living in Baton Rouge,” he said, “but now we’ll be down here so we can really minister to the people.”

The church at Port Sulphur was one of our two strongest Baptist churches in lower Plaquemines. They had nice buildings and a school which enrolled 95 students. Everything is ruined now. “A church in Virginia adopted us. They sent a team down to see our situation, including a structural engineer.” I’ll be surprised if anyone thinks these buildings are salvageable. The steel building’s girders are bent and twisted.

Looking over the congregation, I said, “Are all these your regular members?” “Yes,” he said, “except for two or three who were teachers in our school, they’re all ours.”

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The Results of Saturday’s Election

Voters piled into New Orleans from every direction. Buses brought displaced New Orleanians from as far away as Atlanta. Why did you ride the bus down here when you could have voted absentee? Anthony and Frances Tasker answered that the questions being asked in the ballot application were “too personal to risk anyone getting their hands on.” Neighbors who had not seen each other since August 29 were greeting and hugging. Tears were flowing, according to those who were there.

The headline of Sunday’s paper blares out: NAGIN and underneath LANDRIEU. Subtitle: “Forman runs distant third; runoff set for May 20.”

The returns began coming in soon after polls closed at 8 pm, and the lead seesawed for a while between the top three. Then Nagin and Landrieu pulled away and Forman was never close again.

Analysts use computers these days and can tell you almost instantly who is voting for each candidate. For instance, Mayor Nagin received almost all the votes of displaced voters who had lost their homes, and he and Landrieu split the votes of African-Americans in the city. Forman’s support came almost exclusively from the “white” precincts. Even with the population of the city being less than half its normal 450,000, the turnout of registered voters was 36%, compared with 45% in the last election when life was normal and everyone was at home.

As the paper reported, Nagin received 41,489 votes for 38%, Mitch Landrieu 31,499 (29%), Ron Forman 18,734 (17%), and Rob Couhig 10,287 (10%).

You have to be a little stunned at the small number of votes some of the candidates thought to be among the top tier received. When the media would select the top one-third of the twenty-something candidates, they brought together Rev. Tom Watson, Virginia Boulet, and Peggy Wilson. For all their trouble, the votes they garnered were: Watson 1,264 (1%), Boulet 2,367 (2%), and Wilson 772 (1%).

And Clerk of Criminal Court Kimberly Williamson Butler, she of “martyrdom” fame, how did she do? She received 793 votes, or 1%. James Arey is a familiar and pleasant voice on our NPR station in New Orleans, based at the University of New Orleans. He resigned his job to run for mayor. Poor guy. He shoulda kept his day job. Only 99 votes.

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WHAT WE’VE BEEN WAITING FOR

This week the New Orleans City Council voted 7-0 to set August 29 as the date when homeowners will have to have their ruined homes restored, otherwise face demolition. If not restored, they must be cleaned, gutted, and boarded up, or risk having the city seize and demolish them. Unless this is done, the council said, mold-infested homes can become environmental biohazards that will discourage others from returning and rebuilding, thus slowing the recovery of the city.

Councilmember Jay Batt, who introduced the motion, said, “It’s not fair to others to let these houses languish.” A website will be set up for those needing outside help. And a reviewing panel will make the final decision on special cases.

August 29 is one year from the date of Katrina and the flooding which followed. Councilmembers say that’s plenty of time. One day after the council passed this ordinance, Mayor Ray Nagin protested that it is not enough time, that many people, particularly older citizens, need more time. He threatened to veto that action of the council. Since it takes only 5 votes to override his veto, it appears to be a meaningless threat.

This week we heard of a youth group coming in the summer from a church in Georgia bringing lawn mowers and weed eaters. Great idea. On my daily drive up Elysian Fields Avenue to the lakefront, I notice waist high weeds in most yards. My impression is that weedeaters are more practical. I’d hate to push a lawnmower over those yards without a clue what kind of debris lurks underneath the thick grass. Many homes have not been touched in the eight months since the hurricane, and it could be dangerous.

I love the way the Lord works. Friday morning a pastor sat in my office and told of a Georgia church coming to help restore his buildings and his home. He said, “We had five churches to adopt us, but they’re the only one following through.” He said, “Soon we’re going to be needing pews.” I promised to keep my eye out for churches wishing to give away their old pews. Two hours later, a lady from a church in Ellijay, Georgia, called wondering if we needed 24 pews they had to give away. Saturday evening, Margaret and I bumped into the local pastor and I told him how the Lord was providing.

Today, Saturday, is the long-awaited election for the mayor and council of New Orleans, along with two sheriffs, seven tax assessors, and other offices. No one knows how the displaced citizens who voted absentee have voted, or how the citizens who are driving in from surrounding parishes will vote, or what role race will play in the election. Secretary of State Al Ater has set up headquarters in the Marriott Hotel with his entire staff to oversee this election. Normally, the clerk of Criminal Court would do that. But Kimberly Butler, the clerk, decided to run for mayor, and that put her in the position of overseeing the election in which she was a candidate. In addition, she engaged in such shenanigans with the judges that they jailed her for contempt. She came out claiming martyr status in the same league as Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr. So, Mr. Ater is in charge and everyone is glad he is. Normally, the secretary of state position is so obscure most people can’t even name its occupant. Look for Mr. Ater to run for higher office himself next time.

“Vote against the incumbents,” shouted one ad in Friday’s newspaper. Another ad, placed by “Citizens for Change,” urged everyone to vote for the incumbent mayor, Ray Nagin. How that would bring about change they didn’t say.

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NOW WE KNOW WHAT GOD HAD IN MIND

(We’ve just sent this message out to all our pastors and churches that make up the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans. We suggested they photocopy it and distribute to their members.)

In October of 2004 at our associational meeting, I began my message to you with a burden. The biggest surprise I’d had on becoming your director of missions six months earlier was the ISOLATION of our churches. Each congregation was doing its own ministry, its members complete strangers to members of the other churches. Even the pastors barely knew each other; we might count 15 at our monthly ministers’ meetings which lasted one hour.

One result of the isolation of our churches was the INSULATION of our members. We insulate a house to keep the world outside. We insulate our members from the outside community when we occupy their time with meetings inside the organization and jobs inside the building. Ask our people to go down the street and meet their neighbors and most will tell you they don’t have time.

If one of Satan’s methods is to divide God’s people, and it is, he can check that one off his list, I told you. Because we’ve done it to ourselves! We were not working together. The result of that was a complete ABDICATION of our assignment to be salt and light in this community. We were failing the Lord, the world, and one another.

Normally, when a preacher unburdens himself in a sermon, he ends with the remedy. He tells how the Lord wants to correct the bad situation. But at that meeting, I said, “I don’t know what the answer is. I do not know what God is going to do to get us into the community as salt and light.” And that’s where we left the matter.

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Clearing the Air

Recently, we quoted some of our pastors who feared an outbreak of some kind of respiratory epidemic due to the mold and mildew in the air. Wednesday’s newspaper reports that a check of 56,000 emergency room visits in local hospitals from October through March showed only a slight increase in this area. One percent increase for asthma and 7 percent increase for respiratory infections. Not nearly the drastic increase many had predicted and all had feared. That’s great news.

State leaders of emergency preparedness told a state senate committee in Baton Rouge this week that with the increase of deadly hurricanes predicted for the next few years, residents should be planning to evacuate coastal areas–including New Orleans–early and often. In particular, those living in FEMA trailers would be most vulnerable and should not hang around until the last minute.

Slidell police have arrested a couple of people for selling FEMA trailers. The only good news–and it’s not much–is that they are not local citizens, but from an adjoining state. One man was a contractor for FEMA who delivered the trailers, and the other was nabbed for receiving stolen property. They were selling these modular homes for $5,000 each, a bargain by any accounting since FEMA pays the supplier over $3,000 a month to provide and set up the trailers. These characters would have come out better if they’d gone into business as suppliers.

In a newspaper article listing persons arrested for insurance fraud–claiming to have suffered hurricane damage when they hadn’t–an unusual crime is listed. Carey Watis, 42, of the community of Convent, LA, was arrested for stealing flooded and abandoned vehicles off the streets of New Orleans, hauling them to his place of business and crushing them, then selling them for scrap. He would reap $150 per car. For this crime, he faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $3,000 per car. Meanwhile, the city is hiring a contractor to haul off those same cars and is paying to have it done, up to $1,000 per car. One wonders if there is any sanity left in this city.

On Wednesday night’s television, two stations were running programs aimed toward helping locals deal with the stress of post-Katrina life adjustment. It reads like the treatment they are presenting is simply getting people to tell their stories. We’ve found at our Wednesday pastors meeting there really is therapy in just hearing what someone else is going through or came through.

Tuesday night, I gave our out-of-town guests from a large Texas church two choices on where to have dinner. You can have high cuisine or good eatin’, I told them. The high cuisine, I said, is LaParvenu, a victorian home turned into a restaurant, owned by the chef who used to run a famous eatery in New Orleans. The good eatin’ is called Comeback Inn, where the po-boys are big, delicious, messy, and fried. They opted for LaParvenu. We ate on the front porch and the food was beautiful, delicious, and somewhat pricey. I noticed at the top of the menu in fine print this line: “Separate checks for $2 extra.” I love the restaurant but I was offended by that. Just one more way of squeezing a little more money from the consumer. I suppose they learned that art from the oil companies. Let OPEC sneeze and we pay another 10 cents per gallon. I keep reminding myself to ask Guidestone to invest my retirement account in oil stocks.

“COME AND SEE.”

The other evening I caught the last half of a movie on television in which Kenneth Branagh and Cynthia Nixon portray Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt in the days after he contracted polio, as they discover the rehabilitative powers of the “warm springs” in the Georgia community by that name. He bought the small cluster of houses and pools that made up that facility, and then started looking for financial support. On learning that a convention of medical doctors and researchers was convening in Atlanta, Eleanor and Franklin drove up and invaded the meeting, interrupting a speaker who was delivering a paper. Flashing that famous FDR grin, the future president charmed the crowd, told of the powers of the waters at Warm Springs, and gave them a simple invitation. I was fully expecting to hear him tell them, “We need financial support.” Instead, he said, “If this interests you, we invite you to come and see for yourselves.”

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