Ten Things (3rd Anniversary Stuff)

These are mostly unrelated, but are matters you might be interested in.

10) Do other states have this problem?

Just inside Metairie, 30 feet from New Orleans on a tiny spit of land jutting out into Lake Pontchartrain, stood SidMar’s restaurant for as long as I’ve been in New Orleans. It was a place for fresh fish and great po-boys and was mostly a tavern, I suppose. I ate there once but it wasn’t my style. Katrina put them out of business with damage to the building, then the state came in and took over all that land so the Corps of Engineers could construct the most massive floodgates you’ve ever seen right where the lake and the 17th Street Canal intersect. I’ve heard one billion dollars mentioned as the cost of that one project.

Anyway, the owner of SidMar’s was in the news this week saying the state does not want to reimburse him for his property. Turns out the property was never his, the state says, due to an old law that established all the land along the lake and certain other places as belonging to the state. “Then why,” the owner asks, “have I been paying state taxes on that restaurant all these years if it wasn’t mine?”

In the last session of the state legislature, lawmakers addressed this and many wanted to do the right thing and give the man the money due him, but a majority felt it would open the state up to similar claims throughout the southern portion of the state where the same situation prevails.

In Jefferson Parish, if you drive River Road (which borders the Mississippi River) down to where you enter Orleans Parish, you’ll find a small driveway that crosses the levee. Signs warn you not to enter, but if you do, you find a half dozen ancient fishing camps alongside and even over the river. I’ve been told these were grandfathered in many years ago and that the people who live there do not officially live in Louisiana, but only in the United States.

If they are ever washed away, the residents can forget about the government paying for the property.

9) The vacant city?

The Times-Picayune for Friday, August 22, in a front page article reported that New Orleans has a far greater proportion of vacant homes than any other city in America. “One in three properties unoccupied, data shows.” That figures out to 71,000 properties or 34 percent of every house in the city. Detroit, by contrast, second on the list, shows 18 percent unoccupied.

The neighborhood slowest to recover from Katrina is West End, which, oddly enough, is just across the canal from SidMar’s restaurant, the section surrounding our Pontchartrain Baptist Church. Forty-five percent of the houses there lie empty. Milneburg–the area around UNO and our associational offices–are showing a 44 percent empty rate.

8) “The Omnipresent Storm.”

In his e-mail newsletter dated August 19, Pastor David Crosby of New Orleans’ First Baptist Church wrote about the ongoing struggle of life in this city. Excerpts….

“Not a day goes by–maybe even a waking hour–that I don’t somehow encounter (Katrina) in my memory. Driving through Lakeview I see a new home and think, ‘They didn’t elevate it much. I guess they’re betting on the levees.’ I see a vacant lot where a home used to sit and wonder, ‘Is that family living nearby or still displaced by the storm?'”

“If my surroundings don’t remind me of Katrina, the people around me are sure to do it. Every conversation about education, healthcare, housing, economic development, or criminal justice has its Katrina component. I visited the Orleans Parish House of Detention a few days ago and was reminded that hundreds of inmates still live in tents–remnants of the great storm.”

“Am I stuck in this fierce wind forever? Can my mind ever paddle out of this flood?”

“It’s too soon to tell, I guess, even after three years. As long as gaping caverns in our streets threaten to devour my vehicle, I will think of Katrina. Until the new hospitals are part of our skyline, until the inmates are eight to a cell instead of 14, I will think of Katrina. Until the schools, the levees, and the vast stretches of flood-blighted neighborhoods are rebuilt, I will always think of Katrina.”

7) Congressional race.

In the race to fill the seat presently occupied by embattled 9-term Congressman William Jefferson who has has been indicted on 16 criminal charges, we have a contest between six African-American men and one (warning: sexist/chauvinist comment coming up!) cute little blonde girl named Helena Morena for the Democratic nomination. Until a few months ago, Moreno was anchor of the Channel 6 News. The paper says this 30-year-old got tired of the corrupt politics of the area and decided to do something about it.

Each man is hoping he will make the runoff and she will be his opponent. In a city that is historically African-American, that should get them elected, they figure. However, the demographics of the city have shifted somewhat, so nothing is quite as certain as it was before.

Moreno, incidentally, was born in Mexico, the daughter of a Mexican businessman and a professor-mom from Wisconsin. The family moved to Houston when she was 7.

6) What award shall we give the mayor?

One of the funniest things we’ve read in a while concerns a banquet scheduled for Friday night, August 22, in which Mayor C. Ray Nagin was to receive something called “Award of Distinction for Recovery, Courage and Leadership.” Say what? Never heard of it? No one else has either.

Turns out that the mayor’s official photographer who goes by the single name of Bernardo put this dinner together to honor his boss. He lined up a stellar cast of local dignitaries to attend and give tributes. When the paper contacted them a few days ago, each claimed to have no idea who is putting the dinner on or that Nagin is the star recipient of the evening.

Columnist James Gill, never one to miss an opportunity to get in a dig when a politician leaves himself open, piled on. “Nagin’s award purports to come from an ‘Excellence in Recovery Host Committee,’ which appears to exist only in Bernardo’s mind.” “The idea was presumably to help Nagin recover from the bad ink that has dogged him ever since Katrina. But when he accepts the award tonight, he can only come across as delusional.”

I suppose if no one is honoring you, you can do it yourself or get a friend to pull it off. Preachers, sad to say, have been doing this for ages. You will recall how our Lord said the Pharisees loved titles and honors (Matthew 23:7). Well, their descendants are with us today. A generation ago, I noticed a movement in the independent churches across our land in which the pastors started their own colleges out of their churches. Now, colleges, we all know, award degrees. And who loves degrees more than pastors? Next thing you know, all those pastors were calling each other “doctor,” the result of awarding one another honorary doctorates.

Obviously, I ain’t against doctoral degrees so long as the individual does the academic work necessary to earn one. What I am against is the worthless kind of awards and the empty recognition for work one did not do. I shudder to think what this clamoring for titles and honors says about us.

Saturday morning’s paper carried photos of people protesting Nagin’s receiving the award. Asked about it inside the hotel, Nagin brushed it off. “That’s just New Orleans.”

5) Baptist Hospital.

Remember the old Baptist Hospital at Napoleon and South Claiborne? Closed ever since Katrina flooded the buildings (and a lot of people died), Ochsner Foundation bought the entire plant from Tenet in October 2006. This week, Ochsner announced that it will open the emergency room section by the end of 2008. A spokesman said, “The ER renovation will cost an estimated $4 million and we expect to see about 15,000 to 20,000 patient visits in the first year, which translates to about 40-50 visits per day.”

The new name of the medical center is Ochsner Baptist.

4) Charity Hospital.

This downtown medical center has also been shuttered since Katrina. The site of the poorest, neediest, awfulest medical situations (translation: shootings, cuttings, overdoses, etc) prior to the hurricane, Charity was part of the Louisiana State University Medical School’s doctor training program. The art deco building was constructed in 1938.

The state has been wanting to tear it down and build a new Charity Hospital (or maybe a new LSU hospital is more like it) a couple of miles out of the crowded downtown area on the site where the (also shuttered) Lindy Boggs Hospital now sits. However, a historical preservation outfit recently hired a Philadelphia architect to study the old Charity building to see if it could be preserved and rebuilt for less money. To no one’s surprise, it could.

Using the present building, the hospital could be rebuilt in 3 years at a cost of $484 million. The other plan would take 5 years and cost $620 million.

3) The poorest athlete?

The New Orleans Saints football team has this cornerback named Jason David whom the other teams picked on all last year. So far, in the two preseason games the Saints have played this year, nothing has changed. Evidently, Jason David is a sweet humble guy with much to be humble about. He appears to be the worst defender in the league as the other teams are always making big plays at his corner of the field.

This letter to the editor ran in Thursday’s Times-Picayune. “I wonder whether anyone else was struck by the sharp contrast between Jason David, our Saints cornerback, acknowledging and taking personal responsibility for his poor play in Saturday night’s preseason game and how Mayor Ray Nagin and his adminisration react in similar situations.”

“Many in our community would be more supportive of our mayor if he could learn from and follow in the future Jason’s example–not his play, but his response.”

2) Politics.

In Rick Warren’s fascinating double interview with Senators Obama and McCain last Saturday night, two bits of conversation stuck out and have lingered with me all week.

Senator McCain had trouble answering the question, “Define rich.” He teased, “Five million?” Now, if my wife had $100 million in the bank–and that’s the number we hear tossed around for Cindy McCain–I suppose five million would about qualify. I’d like to pass along to the senator a working definition I picked up somewhere and have used for years:

“If you can go to the grocery store and buy everything you need, then write a check without worrying whether there’s enough money in your account to cover it, you’re rich.”

In answer to Rick’s question about when the unborn becomes a person–I don’t recall precisely how he put it–Senator Obama answered, “That’s above my pay grade.” I was stunned. What an admission. How flippantly did he dismiss the question. And yet he continues to be pro-choice.

Think of it. Here you are saying it’s all right for a woman to end the life of the child inside her which may be a fully-functioning human being. Wouldn’t the prudent thing to do in that situation be to take care and protect the life just in case?

A fellow is out deer hunting. He hears a noise in the brushes and thinks to himself it could be a deer. So, he brings his gun to his shoulder and sights along the barrel and fires into the shrubbery. How smart was that?

If there is even a remote possibility that may be a human, you don’t run the risk of killing it.

This is such a no-brainer one wonders how pro-choice people can look themselves in the mirror in the morning.

1) Beijing witnessing.

Saturday, as the Olympics begin to wind down, reports are coming from China of Bibles being confiscated by customs officials. Some American Christians attempted to bring in Chinese Bibles to give to believers in that country where they (Scriptures) are in short supply. The law says tourists can bring in up to three copies of religious materials for their own personal use, but none to hand out. When the American embassy was asked to intervene, officials replied there is nothing they can do.

It’s the usual custom when large scale events of this kind are held for evangelicals to send in missionary teams to witness for the Lord Jesus Christ, hand out free water and scriptures, etc. We assumed this would not be allowed in China–it wasn’t–but now we get reports that a number of Americans went throughout the country spreading the gospel anyway.

I don’t fault their courage, and will leave the judgment on their wisdom to others. But I wish they had kept quiet about it, rather than telling the media. The Chinese government gets embarrassed and life for believers in that country gets harder.

Franklin Graham indicated that his organization did not participate since evangelism was illegal.

These reports make one wonder, “What is there about Christianity that the Chinese leaders fear?” The answer is clear: they do not want people to think for themselves, and nothing on earth frees a person to do that like a relationship with Christ.

I grant you, that’s not the image some Christians convey and not the image some slanderers have spread about our faith. They want you to believe that to follow Christ means closing your mind and shutting down your intelligence. The opposite is the case.

“You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free,” Jesus said in John 8:32.

It always does. That’s what tyrants fear.