Ms. Geltman’s Wish for New Orleans

Patti Geltman of Wayne, Pennsylvania, wrote this to our editor Tuesday: “Two weeks ago, I visited New Orleans. I could not imagine the condition until my sister gave me the tour of the city from levee breach to levee breach to levee breach. My heart broke as I saw the massive devastation of all the neighborhoods and thought of the displaced families who call New Orleans home. Yesterday, I felt guilty after visiting the new public middle school that my child will attend this year…. Why not rebuild New Orleans as the model city for the 21st century? I hope that the nation and our government will stand behind New Orleans as it struggles to rebuild the lives of those who lost so much.”

Ms. Geltman, I’m assuming no one will answer your good letter, so I will. There will be no “model city for the 21st century” built here for the simple reason that it takes strong, courageous leadership to make that kind of thing happen. We have non-leaders in our city government who want to occupy the office and to be treated as celebrities. We do not have leaders. A non-leader takes a poll to see what will make people happy, then rushes to the front of their parade and declares himself their champion. A leader sees what must be done for the good of everyone in the long run and stands courageously, alone if necessary, to get that done.

To turn even one neighborhood into a modern, well-planned, orderly site would require tough decisions by the mayor’s office and the city council as well as the leaders of that neighborhood. After all, not everyone is going to like the plans. People would holler to high heaven. “You’re violating my rights. That was my home you are demolishing.” Or taking by eminent domain. Whatever.

But not to worry. It’s not going to happen.

Drive down any street and see for yourself. Any homeowner who wishes may decide to stay and rebuild or leave. But there is no grand plan. In the early days after we returned from evacuation, wise men and women cautioned our city leadership that without a plan, you will end up with a “jack-o’lantern” effect: a neighborhood spotted with lighted, rebuilt homes which are surrounded by vast expanses of darkness where nothing is being done.

A perfect description of what we have now.

USA Today issued an invitation recently for people in our part of the world to write their Katrina stories. I sent mine and received a note Tuesday night that it will be used soon. They didn’t say when. I think it shows up on the editorial page as a letter to the editor. They condensed it beautifully, but retained the essence. I had no story of personal tragedy–for which I give thanks!–but told the story of the transformation of our pastors’ relationships with each other as a result of the storm’s devastation.

Next Tuesday, August 29, the one-year-anniversary of Katrina, I’m to be interviewed at 7:05 am (I think) on FamilyNet Radio. That day, the Times-Picayune is running a full-page ad which we wrote, and the (Louisiana) Baptist Message is reproducing that page in its issue next week. Managing editor Karen Willoughby plans to bring 2,000 copies of that “all-Katrina” issue with her to the Tuesday night “Prayer Rally” at the First Baptist Church of New Orleans. She and editor Kelly Boggs invited me to write the editorial and today (Tuesday) I dropped off a color cartoon which they plan to run. My mama will want several copies.

Just giving you the “heads-up” so you can watch for these.

When I was a kid, I saw that my dad had written a letter to the editor. I was mightily impressed. There was his name in black print: “Carl J. McKeever.” Well, Pop’s still writing at age 94. Except now he writes it to me, knowing that as the “editor” (ahem) of this blog, I’ll post it. He wrote last Wednesday, August 16. Here ’tis.

“71 years ago today my oldest son was born. 71 years ago this year I lost my teeth because of a drunk. That whole family is now dead. Today, I’m past 94 years. The Lord’s still in the blessing business. I’m proof. To Him I give the honor.”

Thanks, Pop. I’m not sure who was drunk, the other fellow or you or both. And between us, I don’t think I’ll pursue that question too closely. Anyway, that’s all in the distant past (along with your teeth). You’re the best. I thank God for you. Thanks for buying me my first Bible at Christmastime, 1948, in Sophia, West Virginia. If I do say so, it was the best $2.98 you ever spent!

Here’s an update on one of our churches, Suburban in East New Orleans. Pastor Jeff Box has opened the door to Pastor Jeffery Friend of Saint Bernard’s (devastated) Hopeview Church, inviting him to join him in the pulpit and his people to worship with them. The auditorium is being completely redone. “It will be a totally transformed building. The building was quite dated. I cannot wait to see the finished product.”

Jeff Box goes on, “We continue to see new faces each week. Yesterday we had about 60 in worship. We had a men’s choir from Bethel Colony…. I preached from Acts 16, “Obedience in the Desolate Place.” I have always been intrigued at Paul and Silas’ response. Not only did they worship God in prison, but when their chains fell off and the doors were opened, they chose to stay. It’s a good thing they did because they got to see God do an amazing work in the life of the Philippian jailer and his family. I told our people that our calling is quite the same. Many of us have been given the perfect circumstances to flee this place, but I believe by choosing to stay (until God shows us otherwise), we will contine to see God move in ways our minds cannot conceive.”

That is the kind of pastors we have here, Ms. Geltman. Staying, loving, working, serving.