The Day of Small Things

The other morning, a TV news show featured the author of a book about transitioning from college life to the workaday world of a career person. The woman said, “One thing you should do is clean up your internet image.” That was a new thought for me. She continued, “You want people to think of you as a professional person now, not the carefree kid of messy dorm rooms and frat parties.”

I thought of one of our pastors. His e-mail address begins “tennizbum.” On the other hand, another of our pastors has an address that begins with “Godsman.” Knowing nothing of the two except their internet handles, which would you choose as your spiritual leader? (Tennizbum is a good guy. Just making a point.)

Sometimes these little details are clues to who we are in greater ways. I keep thinking about a staff member I used to know who was extremely lazy. One of his former pastors said to me, “I should have picked up on that quality about him from the beginning. The first time he walked into our church offices, he spotted a couch near the receptionist’s desk and said, ‘Oh boy–a couch! This is my kind of church!'”

Robert Cerasoli is a name we expect to hear more in the future. He’s the new inspector general for the City of New Orleans. We’ve never had one of those before, but the office was created in 1995 when voters approved a number of revisions to the City Charter. An ethics board was called for, one that would hire an inspector general to study the workings of city government and root out corruption. Only recently did we get the ethics board and they’ve just now hired Cerasoli as the IG from a list of 21 applicants.

The assignment doesn’t begin until August, but Cerasoli, a Massachusetts native, has been in town this week–at his own expense, he said on the radio; he’s serious about this–meeting with officials and trying to get a handle on the exact powers, directions, and limitations of his job.

The newspaper says his salary is $150,718 and the budget for his office is $250,000 for the rest of this year, which doesn’t sound like a lot. When you consider that U. S. Attorney Jim Letten’s office has netted 28 convictions, guilty pleas, or indictments in an ongoing probe into city government just in the last year or so, it’s obvious the inspector general has his work cut out for him.


Nothing has brought that home more than the guilty plea of former school board member Ellenese Brooks-Simms, which we’ve covered previously on these pages. The paper says she’s expected to go to prison for at least five years. The implication is that she will be blowing the whistle on other local under-the-table dealings. I imagine some people are having trouble sleeping at night, and if they aren’t, they ought to be.

Cerasoli’s office is mandated to be politically neutral, and won’t that be a first in New Orleans.

His first morning in town this week, Cerasoli rolled over in bed in his French Quarter hotel, turned on the radio and heard a voice call out into the room, “The poll results are in on the new inspector general in New Orleans: 80 percent of the people think there’s not going to be any change.” Cerasoli says, “I looked around the room, and I went, ‘Is there somebody here?…Is there somebody in the room talking to me?” And then realized it was the radio. Welcome to New Orleans, Bob.

Whatever else that little point conveyed to Cerasoli, he quickly saw how the pervasive corruption in local government has eroded the people’s trust. (Earlier this week, my blog was headed “Why they don’t trust us,” referring to the corruption. Another effect of such shenanigans is that we don’t trust us either. Not a good situation.)

Without being unduly pessimistic, human nature would indicate that Robert Cerasoli is going to have rough sledding in his new job. Ask any cop. The internal affairs division is the most unpopular branch of any police force. Cerasoli sounds like he’s aware what he’s stepping into. With New Orleans’ reputation for corruption and now the complication of Katrina-and-her-aftermath, the task at hand has become gigantic, he says. “This is going to be like…(a) heavyweight championship bout. I’ve been preparing myself all my life for this.”

Bless him, Lord. Protect him from the vicissitudes of public opinion, the barbs of official jealousies, the tundra of departmental hostilities, and the cowardice and fears of the ethics board which is able to send him packing by a two-thirds vote.

Likewise, bless all who truly serve this city. May they do right, do it well and do it honestly.

They released maps this week, showing the flooding probability for every neighborhood throughout metro New Orleans. Residents can type in their address at nola-risk.usace.army.mil to find the flood potential for their homes. Versions of the maps can be seen at www.nola.com.

We’re told that a team of more than 150 scientists worked for 18 months to produce these maps, and that they drew from records of every hurricane that ever hit this part of the world. They vastly improved the model which the Corps of Engineers uses to predict future disasters and their effects and to build levees to withstand them. The maps show the strongest levees in the area are those lining both sides of the Mississippi River (which were not breached following Katrina). Also, they show the area alongside Lake Pontchartrain where the University of New Orleans and also our associational offices to remain high and dry throughout the future.

We appreciate the work of these experts. And speaking of experts, the meteorological society of England–whatever it calls itself–has released its own predictions of the hurricane season we’re now in, and they are expecting fewer storms than their counterparts in the USA have announced. They say the water temperature in the Atlantic is a little cooler than normal. (Maybe all those melting glaciers? Global warming and all.) Personally, I hope both groups are wrong and this ends up as the quietest year in a century.

A little crime report here.

The other morning–something like 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning–a mother and teenage son had gone to the drive-through at Arby’s on Veterans in Metairie. While they were waiting for their order, a fellow approaches the car and pokes a gun into the window at the woman behind the wheel. He orders them out of the car, which he is hi-jacking. The teen grabs the gun and proceeds to fire it into the bad guy several times at point-blank range, leaving him alive but seriously wounded. Police rushed him to the hospital and we’re told he’s not expected to live. Now it turns out there’s another layer to the story.

This fellow, Carl Chestnut, 44, was living at the Dixieland Trailer Park just west of the airport on Airline Highway where he got to know Odrey Bordelon, who collected rent for the owner. Police say Chestnut and Wayne Hayden shot and killed Bordelon a week or so ago and stole his money. They had been searching for these two birds. They put Chestnut under guard at the hospital and, after he heard they were looking for him, Wayne Hayden turned himself in.

This little trailer park was the site of our ministry there under the leadership of Mitch and Traci Mares, and was ended when Katrina laid a huge tree across our double-wide trailer. Then, the ownership decided that with all the construction people coming to town, he could make some big bucks by renting trailers at higher rates and that he would not be wanting a church on the grounds. The Mareses are in Columbus, Georgia, and Dixieland has become a crime scene.

St. Bernard Parish, which was entirely devastated by Katrina and her floodwaters, and which has been on life support ever since, is in the news. The parish council is serving notice to the FEMA trailer parks there that they want them closed down and the trailers gone. The first 3 parks were given August 15 as their deadline and the other 8 sites have to be gone by March 30. Officials said they are trying to motivate people to move from the temporary accommodations into houses and rebuilding neighborhoods, adding that the trailers give the appearance that the parish is still in a crisis mode. Residents are not happy about this, and insist they need more time.

They’ve shut down much of Lakeshore Drive, our scenic five-mile thoroughfare bordering Pontchartrain, in order to repair the sea walls and pavement from the Katrina damage. People who visit New Orleans for conventions and see only the Quarter and the business district, and maybe take a drive down St. Charles Avenue, miss out on one of the best attractions of this city. Alongside Lakeshore Drive and inside the levees is a wide grassy swath devoted to picnic and park areas. Collegians from UNO take over the place at night and on weekends. Families fly kites and watch sailboats on the lake.

Now if they would just air-condition the place.

Friday night, the Shiloh Baptist Church held an installation service for Michael Raymond as their new pastor. He led a church in the Lower 9th Ward that was put out of business by Katrina. When Shiloh’s pastor, Edward Scott, moved from the city, Michael was invited to preach for the returning members of that church and now they’ve made it official. Freddie Arnold represented our office there, while I attended a disaster relief training session at Camp Living Waters in Loranger, Louisiana. Gibbie McMillan, who heads disaster relief for the Louisiana Baptist Convention, trained about 25 or 30 from several parishes in basic DR work.

Those attending Friday night’s training will become “yellow hats” at future sites where Southern Baptists set up their DR trailers following some disaster somewhere. The “yellow hats” are the drones, the paeans, the worker-bees. They are overseen and directed by the “blue hats,” the equivalent of middle managers. Overseeing the entire project would be a “white hat.”

Little signs that may be meaningless to an outsider, but worlds to those on the job.

I wonder sometimes who the instigator of our disaster relief ministry was. At some point perhaps 25 years ago, some denominational leader or pastor or other servant of God had an idea: “What if we trained our people to respond to disasters? What if they had trailers equipped and on stand-by so they can move quickly to the scene of tornadoes or fires or earthquakes and minister to the hurting?”

I also wonder if the Lord had given the same idea to thirteen or thirty people previously, but they did nothing about it. Then He let the idea for this DR mobilization pop into the mind and heart of that individual who suddenly sat up in bed or stood up from his desk and said, “Hey, we can do this!”

Good for him, I say. It was just an idea, but a good one. And no doubt they started small, but today this work of God’s people called Southern Baptists is one of the three largest disaster response forces in the country, alongside the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army. Like the mustard seed, it began small and went from there.

I love that little line from the Old Testament book of Zechariah. “Who has despised the day of small things?” (4:10)

I’ll tell you someone who has learned never to despise small things–anyone who has followed the Lord Jesus Christ for any length of time. It’s how He loves to work.

That’s why he uses people like you and me, friend. And why He can’t use the big shots. And why He’ll quit using us if we become one. (See I Corinthians 1:26ff.)

Have a great day, little one.

1 thought on “The Day of Small Things

  1. Joe:

    I read your post of June 23, 2007 entitled “The Day of Small Things.” I sincerely appreciate your sentiments and I am particularly comforted by your request for the Lord’s blessing in my new venture. I consider myself a man of God for I have truly accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour. I am presently a member of Messiah Baptist Church in Brockton, Ma. This church is part of the American Baptist Convention. When I come to New Orleans, I will be looking for a new House of worship. In Chapter 7 of the book of Matthew, the Lord says “Enter through the narrow gate: for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” I certainly have entered New Orleans through the narrow gate. I will give the citizens the best that I have with God’s blessing.

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