Christmas, Politics, and the Internet

1) Wednesday, I stood in line.

The line at Honeybaked Ham in Metairie stretched back and forth inside the store and half a block outside along the sidewalk. The line at the post office in Harahan was only 20 deep, but only two windows were open and each customer seemed to be doing their entire month’s mailing. The line at the bank was 20 deep. The line at Piccadilly Cafeteria at 3 o’clock, when everyone thought it would be cleared out, was lengthy.

The ‘rush and crush’ of the Christmas season is upon us, I suppose. Take a number.

2) The political season now shifts into high gear.

We have this celebrity here in New Orleans. In a city filled with characters, this guy is in a class by himself. I’ll not name him for reasons in 3) below, but if I did, many readers would recognize him.

He’s, let’s say, 60 years old and looks 30, thanks to the wonders of cosmetic surgery. In fact, it’s not exaggerating to say he is gorgeous. Broad shoulders, a Hollywood smile, jet black flowing locks, and apparently charm enough to make all the ladies line up and swoon. Several women have had a go with him. He throws weddings to make the queen of a small country envious, renting museums of art or a cathedral and endowing the word ‘lavish’ with new meaning. And when he and his current wife decide to go their separate ways, he sends her off with large alimony checks, although sometimes only because the judge orders it.

Everything the man does is outrageous. Now, got that?

Sitting across the table from a friend one day this week, I don’t know how the celebrity’s name came up. He said something that shocked me. “Did you know he has implants in his shoulders and biceps? To make himself look more impressive.” I did not know and was stunned that any human on the planet could be so vain as to pull such a stunt.

My friend said, “I’ve stood close to him and you are knocked over by those broad shoulders. I mean, he is something!”

The naive country boy in me is still trying to absorb this. Why would anyone do this? Why would anyone want this? Why would a medical doctor use his/her skills for such foolishness? What is the point? Why go to so much trouble to look good when there’s nothing but silicon behind it? Who does it impress and why would he want to impress such shallow people?

And then I read Jim Graham’s column on the current political situation as candidates for the two parties vie for their party’s 2008 presidential nomination. See if you don’t agree it all ties in together….

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Giving Thanks Again

I love the tale that comes out of Benjamin Franklin’s childhood. He noticed a daily routine that went on in their household. His mother would take meat from a barrel where it had been salted and stored, would cut off enough for that day, slice it, cook it and serve it to the family. Everyone would gather around the table, bow their heads, and Ben’s father would offer thanks to the Lord.

“Father,” the young future genius said, “I have a suggestion. Instead of giving thanks for the little portion of the meat we consume each day, why not give God thanks for the entire barrel of meat at one time?”

I heard that story from Dr. Wayne Dehoney of Louisville a generation ago. It came to mind this week as news arrived of his homegoing, only a few weeks after his beloved wife had died.

Dr. Dehoney told the story and added, “Isn’t this just like us. We want to cram all our thanksgiving into one day a year, when God would have us to be grateful every day.”

We generally think of giving thanks as a duty to other people who have served us or helped us in some way. It is that, but so much more.

Giving thanks is something I do for myself.

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So Many Gideon Bibles

Sunday at Port Sulphur Baptist Church, Pastor Lynn Rodrigue said, “Eighteen years ago, I was in a motel in Alabama more miserable than I had ever been. That night, I picked up the Gideon Bible and read it and gave my heart to Jesus Christ.”

He said, “I cannot tell you that everything changed for me immediately. The next morning, I got up and went on to work. But I found myself with a hunger to read that Bible and learn what it says. That hunger grew stronger and stronger and I got more and more into the Word.”

And that was how he knew Christ had heard his prayer and saved him: the new love he had for the Lord’s word.

Jesus said, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word….He who does not love me does not keep my words; and the word which you hear is not mine, but the Father’s who sent me.” (John 14:23-24)

One chapter later, He said, “Now you are clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.” (15:3)

In His great prayer of John 17, Jesus prayed, “Father, the words you gave me I have given to them, and they have received them….” (v. 8)

Among the fifty or sixty wonderful cards I received from friends and family members after our Dad’s homegoing, at least six said a certain number of Gideon Bibles are being given in honor of Carl J. McKeever. Mom says she has received several with the same message. Together, it probably means a hundred or more Gideon Bibles in Dad’s memory will be out there serving the Lord.

A family member who read one of those cards asked, “What do they do with the Bibles?”

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One Church Says ‘Thanks’

Port Sulphur is a little community thirty miles downriver–and we’re talking about straight downriver!–below Belle Chasse, which puts it some 40 miles from New Orleans and at the halfway point of the thinnest, skinniest parish in the state, Plaquemines. I said to my son Neil, “Think of having a county in Alabama that would be 10 miles wide and reach from Nauvoo to Birmingham.”

Sometimes one mile wide seems more like it. Driving down state highway 23, you see the Mississippi River on your left and the wetlands just off to your right. Orange farms pop up frequently along the uneventful drive, then once in a while a huge installation of some kind on your left sitting alongside, atop, inside the levee for quick loading onto the river, and dwellings of all kinds. A mansion here, a trailer park there. Names of little unknown towns appear only as road signs with nothing, and I mean nada, in between that and the next town. This used to be a thriving area, but Katrina is not to blame for all the absence of people; the oil bust of the 1980s gets credit for that.

Port Sulphur Baptist Church was one of five Southern Baptist churches in lower Plaquemines prior to Katrina. This church, Buras-Triumph, and City Price churches managed to maintain congregations large enough to carry on ministries. Riverview at Buras and Venice (at the end of the road) were drying up, down to only a handful of hardy souls.

Katrina put them all out of business. Between the hurricane-force winds and the storm surge, almost nothing in this part of the world survived. The churches were gutted and their beams twisted and everything they owned was ruined. Church members scattered along with another million residents of our part of the world in every direction across America. Many are still where they landed and will not be coming back.

The major difference I noticed between post-Katrina Plaquemines Parish and this morning was how clean and neat everything appears. All the destroyed houses have been removed, the litter is gone. A lot of rebuilding is going on and it will be another five years before any sort of normalcy is restored. But it’s so much better than it was.

Sunday morning, Pastor Lynn Rodrigue announced to the houseful of worshipers, “God has done a mighty thing for us.” We were seated in the newly rebuilt sanctuary, gathered for the formal dedication of this worship center. Behind us and to our left were new buildings which housed Sunday School classes, offices, bathrooms, a kitchen, and the weekday school. Lynn told me recently they’re up to sixty students (I think that was the number). He was delighted because, among other reasons, that is the break-even number financially.

Sam Porter, disaster relief director for Oklahoma Baptists, was on hand. He said, “People where I live ask, ‘Why would someone rebuild on ground that is below sea level?’ I answer, ‘Well, someone down there might ask why would you rebuild where you have 57 tornadoes a year? The answer is: it’s home!'” (He got a chorus of amens.)

Sam told the congregation, “There’s a map in the conference room at the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans with the metro area divided into zones. We Oklahoma Baptists have taken the zone which includes the Ninth Ward, the area around the French Quarter, and Franklin Avenue. Virginia Baptists took this area. But we have been glad to partner with them down here.”

Nichole Bulls was on hand from the Virginia Baptist State Convention to accept our appreciation and to offer up a prayer for the healing of this region and the empowering of the future ministries of this church.

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What the Voters Said Saturday

I don’t think I’ve ever seen an actual election with real candidates where one won with 91 percent of the vote. That happened Saturday when Newell Normand won election as sheriff of Jefferson Parish. He defeated Peter Dale, chief of Harahan’s force.

Normand actually ran the sheriff’s office through much of Harry Lee’s years as sheriff, we’re told, and Harry had groomed him to be his successor, sending him to the FBI schools and such. From all reports, he’s an able leader and we’re fortunate to have him. Apparently, the electorate agreed.

A political analyst on television last night was awed by the numbers, as were the rest of us. “Even Harry Lee himself would not have pulled 91 percent of the vote!”

In other elections….

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Smoke and Mirrors and a Little Honey


A federal judge has refused to stop the demolition of four public housing developments in New Orleans that have been the focus of pickets, prayers, lawsuits, and sit-ins in the two years since Katrina damaged them so heavily and expelled all their residents. Ever since, they have been boarded up, wired off and locked down.

These four projects–C. J. Peete, St. Bernard, Lafitte, and B. W. Cooper–are, to my mind, symptomatic of what was wrong in New Orleans for the last half-century. They were poverty centers, hot-beds of discontent, high-crime areas, and a paradise for drug pushers.

In their place, the city will be erecting mixed income developments to include subsidized housing for the poor at the market rate. The cost of renting living space in New Orleans is through the roof these days.

To be sure, the new developments will accommodate far fewer residents that the crowded tenements they replace. That fact is drawing criticism as well as promises from plaintiffs to appeal the decision of the judge. The next level for this matter would be the U. S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals which meets in our Hale Boggs Building downtown.

Friday’s Times-Picayune reports that demolition could begin as early as December.


The Corps of Engineers has announced plans to close MR-GO. This is the waterway that cooperated with Katrina to flood the Ninth Ward and take so many lives. Residents of that area and St. Bernard Parish have called for its closing ever since, and are celebrating the announcement.

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Honor Thy Parents; You Will Soon Wish You Could

Sometime in the early 1970s–before the technology revolution put a camera on everyone’s phone and a phone in everyone’s pocket–I had some extra money and called my sister Carolyn in Jasper, Alabama.

“I want you to find a photographer and send him up to see Mom and Dad. Tell him to follow them around and take lots of pictures. I’ll buy a lot of black and white 8 by 10s from him.”

The result is an album of photographs of Mom and Dad, with him on the tractor and her taking him water, her working in the kitchen, and so on. It was not the album I had envisioned, because they knew the guy was coming and dressed up too much for it. I wanted them in everyday clothes, acting normal, looking like they always do. Most of the photos seemed posed, but even so, I’m glad to have it.

That day the photographer said something to my sister I will never forget. “Your brother is so smart to do this. My father died recently and I don’t have one picture of him.”

And him a professional photographer. I confess to being shocked by that.

In 1979, I had some more extra money. (I get some about once every decade.) On an airplane with a lot of missionary-types–we’d been at some meeting of the International Mission Board–I approached a photographer on the staff and said, “I have $400 to buy a camera. I don’t know the first thing about them. What should I buy?”

He and a colleague conferred briefly, then said, “An Olympus OM-1.” And that’s what I bought.

Over the next 10 years, I took pictures at every family gathering, and every time I went home to see the folks. I shot pictures of our kids and grandchildren, and some of them really turned out well. I learned quickly something that serious photogs know: if you get one really great shot from a roll of film, you have beat the odds.

Anyway, that’s how I happen to have a lot of unposed, great photos of my parents and siblings and children and grands today. That camera disappeared in 1990 when someone stole my car from in front of First Baptist Church-Kenner. We recovered the car, but the camera was gone. State Farm more than compensated me for its loss, but by then Olympus was no longer manufacturing that camera. I went to a Canon EOS Rebel–the type with a little Japanese scientist inside. Problem is, I don’t speak Japanese. The point of that is I never got my rhythm back for shooting family pictures with this high-tech camera.

And don’t get me started on digital cameras. The battery runs down every day or two. I store the pictures, then don’t get them printed out and end up losing them.

Okay, enough of that. Then there is one more thing I wanted to mention to you about honoring your loved ones.

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Things That Remain

1. “Why do I keep coming to these conventions?” someone said in my hearing. The person next to him started enumerating the reasons. Business of the denomination, information from our agencies, that sort of thing. But I kept the question in my mind. After all, the first such meeting I attended was 40 years ago, and that was in Mississippi. Later, it was North Carolina, then Louisiana. There is indeed a sameness to them, and tons of good reasons for attending. However….

Monday evening as I was leaving the convention center, I bumped into a good friend who had just flown into Alexandria from Texas where he had been in an important meeting. He was bringing me up to speed when a second friend walked up. “I started not to interrupt,” he laughed, “until I saw who you were with!” We stood there for 5 minutes chatting, then decided to seek some coffee. The Holiday Inn had just closed their restaurant, someone said there was a cafe down the street and we took off walking. Six or ten blocks later–after doubling back on another street–we found it. The Diamond Grill was just the place.

We sat there for an hour, having dessert and coffee and catching up on each other’s lives. And I thought, “This is it for me. This is the reason I come to these things. The fellowship. I need this like a dying man needs his next breath.”

2. Here’s an idea for a sermon.

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Family Pictures

Bessie Lowry McKeever

This is Bessie Lowry McKeever, the mother of Carl J. McKeever.

Born 1895 and died 1982. Joe took this around 1980.

She was an incredible and godly woman.

Carl J. and Lois McKeever with their six children

This photo of Carl J. and Lois McKeever with their six children

was taken perhaps in 2005. Front row: Carolyn, Pop, Mom, and Patricia.

Back row: Joe, Charlie, Glenn, and Ronald. (You can see why Carl could
never deny any of these sons! They are all his clones, and

each one a character, as are the girls!)

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A Street Car Named Inspire

Yesterday, they kicked off the return of the famous street cars to St. Charles Avenue, doing it as New Orleans always does: with a parade. The cars have been running on Canal Street (from the river to the cemeteries) for perhaps a year now, but this is the first time we’ve had them back on St. Charles. The run is shorter than before, only to Napoleon, but that still gets Tulane and Loyola students to class, and gives tourists the best ride in town through the incredible mansions of Uptown.

We’re told the line will be extended on to Carrollton by next Spring. The ride is $1.25 and a trip down memory lane. To my knowledge–which is limited, of course–New Orleans and San Francisco are the only American cities that have retained these street cars.

I was born in 1940 and can still hear the street cars from Birmingham downtown streets in my mind, going back to the late forties. The sound was so distinctive–the creaking, metal-on-metal shrieking, it was beautiful. Later, Birmingham modernized and went to trolleys, those fore-runners of city buses that ran on electricity by means of overhead poles and hot wires. They were quieter, the rails were pulled up from the streets which made automobile travel easier, but something was lost. Whatever it was that was lost, we still have it, at least on Canal Street and St. Charles Avenue.

When you come to this city, you absolutely have to ride the street car. Admittedly, it’s not very comfortable–the seats are wooden planks–but you’re doing it for the experience.

I will confess to having sat at a sidewalk cafe’ having a late lunch and reading my newspaper while the tourists went by on street cars, taking in the sights of which I was a part. I felt so European.

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