News from the Home Front

The IRS is now announcing that local homeowners who receive grants from the LRA–those checks amounting to as much as $150,000–may have to pay taxes on it, particularly if they showed losses on their 2005 income taxes. The 2006 grants are meant to off-set those losses, therefore, this new money would be taxable. Our senators are quietly saying that in all the rush for legislation to assist Katrina victims, they overlooked this possibility.

Saturday’s Times-Picayune announced that the agency handling these large grants for the state fully intend to meet the governor’s goal of 10,000 residents receiving their checks by the end of this month. Some 80,000-plus have filed applications for the money, and nearly 9,000 have been approved. To date, however, only 44 people have received their money.

The snag in the process, we are told, has been the insurance companies. As the oversight agency considers a home-owner’s application, it deducts all insurance settlements that have been received. Problem is, the insurance companies have had no incentive whatever to come forth with information on how much money they paid to our citizens. Some have insisted, “That’s private stuff.” I have no idea how the agency is getting around this, particularly as the governor applies the screws.

Here and there throughout the metro area where new houses are going up, you see mounds of dirt–many truckloads–hauled in, dumped, and leveled off. A new home is going up across my back street in River Ridge, and even though we live on the highest ground around and have never had flooding, it looks like 20 loads of dirt have been unloaded. Now, Jefferson Parish is restricting the use of “fill dirt” under houses in certain areas. Recently, in Old Metairie–the oldest section of our parish and probably the highest-priced–neighbors watched as recent heavy rains washed dirt from under newly built homes into the streets and adjoining yards. Christie Perdigao, chair of the Old Metairie Commission says, “In addition to impeding drainingage, filling entire lots with new layers of dirt kills trees and creates an uneven landscape damaging to neighborhood aesthetics.”

Last week, the Jefferson Parish Council passed a motion which stops filling whole lots with dirt and calls for planners to study other ways of rebuilding neighborhoods.

In Friday’s Times-Picayune every letter to the editor was about St. Frances Cabrini Church, whether it should be demolished to make way for Holy Cross School or whether it is an architectural treasure. A few quotes….

“Each day in New Orleans is 24 hours long and 48 hours hard. Let’s not make it any more difficult. Allow progress and rebuilding to take hold.” “I am a 73-year-old widow. I lost my husband in February before the storm came and was displaced for 11 months. My home was under water for weeks. The only thing I held on to was coming home to my church, Cabrini.” “As students at Cabrini in the 60’s, we thought it was ugly then. We joked about the top of the church, which has the appearance of a metal drum. This image gave the nickname ‘Cabrini, Janitor in a Drum.'”

“My 13-year-old stepson was so upset Tuesday when his mom told him that (authorities) had pulled political strings and used technical loopholes to keep him from attending his new school in September 2008…. The sacrifice those poor kids are mkaing to satisfy the selfishness of two grown men and FEMA is an embarrassment. I guess old architects never die. They just meddle in other peoples’ business. Move on, New Orleans. Let’s rebuild this city. Let these kids go to school.”

Who’s right? My hunch is they all are. Holy Cross needs a new site for a school; parishioners love their Cabrini church; it has a certain architectural value; a new school would help reinvigorate the community.

For my own personal solution to the Catholics’ problem, refer to comments a few days ago on this website regarding the biblical teachings on submission. Just because you are right does not mean you should insist on your rights.

Incidentally, I’m an expert on solving the squabbling of other denominational groups in which I don’t know anyone and have no personal investment. Why they don’t call on me for advice is truly baffling. I have not, however, figured out what to do about some of my family’s challenges–the divorces, the in-law tensions, and the personality conflicts. I am, however, an authority on other people’s disputes. (Please see Matthew 7:1-5 and note that my tongue is planted firmly in cheek.)

After writing about the scam which Joshua and Delores Thompson ran on the Memphis church recently, I purposely did not write the editor of our paper with my comments, but confined myself to this blog. In Friday’s paper, the editor commented.

“A Memphis church earlier this year gave the Thompsons a $75,000 house for free, after the couple said Katrina destroyed their New Orleans home and business and that they wanted to resettle in Memphis. But according to the Associated Press, the Thompsons never moved in and instead sold the house for $88,000. ‘Take it up with God,’ Mr. Thompson reportedly told a Memphis TV station when asked about the matter. Mrs. Thompson told the AP that the church gave the house to her, paperwork and all.”

There’s a difference between what’s legal and what’s right, the editor notes, and adds, “We hope (the members of that Memphis church) and millions of other Americans who will read reports about the Thompsons make a distinction between this case and the majority of other Katrina victims.”

I would have hoped for a touch of anger in the editorial comments, and will be watching to see if any letters from local residents are printed on this subject. Surely others are upset, and hopefully someone local will be pursuing this matter to see what they can find out about our shameless citizens.

Local people are commenting on the Comic Relief program on national television a few nights ago, the one starring Whoopi Goldberg, Billy Crystal, and Robin Williams. I watched a little of it–the cleaned-up portion they ran on TBS–and soon turned it off. Far too raunchy, even after the bleeping. That seems to be the local consensus, which amounts to: “We’ll take the money they raised, if they want to send it this way, but don’t blame us for the bad taste, shameful language, and ugly jokes on that program. Most of us don’t talk that way and we don’t appreciate it being done in our name.”

I don’t know Joseph Loconte or Michael Cromartie. The former is listed as distinguished visiting professor at Pepperdine University’s School of Public Policy and the latter as vice chairman of the U.S. Commison on International Religious Freedom. In a column for the Washington Post, reprinted in the Times-Picayune Friday, they send out a plea to Americans: “Let’s stop stereotyping evangelicals.” Amen, amen, amen, I thought.

Listen to many political pundits and talking heads in this country, and you would think that Bible-believers are mean-spirited Ayatollahs, fundamental extremists bent on killing abortionists and torching synagogues and mosques. Not even close, say Loconte and Cromartie. They write, “Evangelicals led the grass-roots campaigns for passage of the abolition of slavery and women’s suffrage. Even the Moral Majority in its most belligerent form amounted to nothing more terrifying than churchgoers flocking peacefully to the polls on election day. The only people who want a biblical theocracy in America are completely outside the evangelical mainstream, their influence negligible.”

After listing the vast and positive accomplishments of such conservative Bible-believers as Chuck Colson (founder of Prison Fellowship), Rick Warren (leading a great network of churches to confront AIDS), and the founders of World Vision, they admit: “Of course it’s true that a handful of Christian figures reinforce the worst stereotypes of the movement. Their loopy and triumphalist claims are seized upon by lazy journalists and the direct-mail operatives of political opponents.”

“Yet it is dishonest to disparage the massive civic and democratic contribution of evangelicals by invoking the excesses of a tiny few. As we recall from the Gospels, even Jesus had a few disciples who, after encountering some critics, wanted to call down fire from heaven to dispose of them. Jesus disabused them of that impulse. The overwhelming majority of evangelicals have dispensed with it as well. Maybe it’s time more of their critics did the same.”

The teacher in me wants to add a couple of things. The passage referred to in that final paragraph is Luke 9:54. The word “evangelical” is often confused with “evangelistic,” although not in the above article of course.

Webster gets the distinction right in its first and primary definition. “Evangelical” refers to Protestant churches which hold to the doctrines of Christ’s teachings, salvation by faith and personal conversion, and the superiority of preaching over ritual.”

“Evangelistic,” on the other hand, refers to “seeking the conversion of sinners.”

So, “evangelical” refers to the doctrines you believe; “evangelistic” refers to your efforts to reach the lost. What you believe, what you do about it. Two entirely separate things.

All right, got that? Okay. Don’t let me hear you confuse the two again. (Ahem. Class dismissed.)

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