It would have been funny, had it not been rather pathetic. As the sheriff’s deputies were evicting the tent-dwellers from the flatland alongside the Mississippi River Monday, one of the dispossessed called out for the television camera, “But that’s my home! It’s my home.”
Well, I thought, it shouldn’t be your home. It’s government land, it’s subject to flooding, and no one is allowed to live on the batture. If you think New Orleans is not a safe place due to its low elevation, this is a hundred times worse.
The batture is the narrow strip of dry ground between the river and the levee, sometimes no more than 50 yards, sometimes wider. As to exactly who owns that land, that has been in dispute almost since the levees began to be built. The quickest answer is the federal government. And yet, I can take you over the levee in Orleans Parish and show you four or five houses on stilts that were grandfathered in, the result being that the people own their own homes and, the way it came to me, residents do not live in the state of Louisiana, but in the USA only. Those homes get passed down from generation to generation, because to sell to an outsider would take an act of Congress. Literally.
Where I walk up on the levee each morning, where Florida Street intersects with the levee and the river, you’ll find a number of private businesses alongside the river–companies that trade with barges and towboats–and a sign advertising a lot for lease. I asked the levee policeman this morning who owns that land. “Some private individual,” he said. “They have squatters’ rights.” I take that to mean a form of being grandfathered in. They owned that parcel at the time the federal government decided it was taking possession of the batture.
Neighbors told the television reporter that they had recently seen as many as a dozen tents on the batture at that spot. Monday, there were only three, but they were full size, able to accommodate an entire family. Litter was everywhere; these were not neat people, even though they have this giant bayou (okay, Mississippi River) flowing past their back door.
“What bothers me about that,” the levee policeman said to me, “is they were camping just inside Orleans Parish. Now, all they’ll have to do is walk upriver a mile and they’ll be our problem.” “Our” meaning, Jefferson Parish.
Now, I’m aware those folks may be otherwise homeless and may feel they have no other alternative but to erect a tent on forbidden property. Aside from that, it’s worth our making a couple of spiritual parallels and observations.
It’s interesting where people choose to build their homes. Like the old fellow named Harry Truman who insisted on remaining on Mount St. Helens just before she blew in 1980. Nothing was ever found of his remains.
Or take the people whose homes sit astride a fault-line. What could be scarier than that? (I once preached a sermon titled, “Building on the San Andreas and Other Faults.”)
Recently, driving back from Missouri, I found myself at the heart of the earthquake faultline that impacts our part of the world, the New Madrid line where the Mississippi tries to double back upon itself and Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri intersect. I believe I’d move from there.
We can safely assume the residents of New Madrid, MO, read about Hurricane Katrina and shook their heads and said, “I think I’d move from New Orleans.”
But living in a tent on land that is not yours in a spot sure to wash away the next big flood, as bad as that is, may be an apt metaphor for the human situation.
This body may well be thought of as a tent, according to Scripture. Tents are humble, movable, temporary, and fragile. We are all tent-dwellers. Dress it up, indulge in expensive cosmetic surgery, it’s still just a tent.
These tents are erected on sites that are not ours lying in disaster-prone areas. Planet earth belongs to the Lord (Psalm 24:1). Satan is the unwelcome trouble-maker on this orb (Revelation 12:9). This is not a safe place to live.
In a very real sense, all of God’s children are homeless wanderers. “Here we have no continuing city” (Hebrews 13:14). We’re called “aliens” or “exiles” (I Peter 1:1).
The day is coming when the Authorities will evict each of us from our tents. We would do well to take care of these temporary dwellings as much as possible–they have to last for the duration–but not overdo it. These tents are going down.
But there’s good news to tent-dwellers. It’s found in Second Corinthians 5:1.
“For we know that if the earthly tent which is our body is taken down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the Heavens.”
Here is how Eugene Peterson phrased that passage and the next verse in “The Message.” “For instance, we know that when these bodies of ours are taken down like tents and folded away, they will be replaced by resurrection bodies in heaven–God-made, not handmade–and we’ll never have to relocate our ‘tents’ again. Sometimes we can hardly wait to move–and so we cry out in frustration.”
My wonderful mom and terrific dad have lived in their tents so long the fabric is threadbare and lets the cold in. As painful as this is for them, we rejoice in knowing they will soon be moving into a permanent dwelling, and the rest of us will not be long behind them.
There will be no tents in Heaven. The zoning laws don’t allow them, it being far too classy for FEMA trailers in the driveway, too.
Jesus foresaw a day when He would announce these incredible words to the faithful: “Come ye blessed of the Father. Inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 25:34)
No forbidden land. No endangered squatter’s strip. No tents. And definitely, no evictions.
A kingdom! Our very own kingdom! A kingdom prepared for us, with our name on it–and God has been planning it from the very beginning! It’s not an after-thought, but it has always been His intention.
For those serving the Lord Jesus Christ in this world, the news is all good and just keeps getting better.