Thursday, for the First Time

We have internet in our associational offices, for the first time since Katrina. We are finally “in touch”. Connected with the rest of the world. At last.

Strange to think that for most of my forty-plus years in the ministry, we were computerless and had no internet at all and now it’s hard to live without them. In fact, if you wanna hear a horror story…

When I graduated from college and started working in an office–a production office of a large company–our electronics consisted of a telephone at each desk with two incoming lines, and a teletypewriter. That is it. No copier. No fax. Computers were giant mysterious machines occupying entire blocks of large distant cities, as far as we knew, and certainly nothing our company would ever own, nothing we would have at each desk and in our homes. Cell phones were only a daydream of some mystic somewhere. We’re talking primitive. And that was only in the early 1960’s, not exactly the 1800s. Later, same decade, when I began pastoring churches, our offices would have only one incoming phone line, no intercom, and nothing else except a mimeograph machine. And we thought we were uptown.

One more. In the early 1970s, when I served as minister of evangelism (some pronounced it ‘vandalism’) at the First Baptist Church of Jackson, Mississippi, largest church in the state, we had a copier in the work room. Oh yeah. Cutting edge technology. It made one copy at a time, which you peeled off the back of a “set” and threw the rest away. In 1973, when I was preparing my doctoral paper for the seminary, good friend Mary Hill Glass volunteered to type that monster for me. She worked for IBM and had what was known as a “mag card” typewriter. As she typed a page, the machine would cut an IBM card appropriately, making any corrections she inserted. Then, she would place the card in the machine and it would automatically type that page error-free. We had to submit six copies of our paper. Through the years, students had turned in several carbon copies of their papers because it was either that or type six entire papers by hand. I genuinely believe mine was the first the seminary faculty had ever seen that was all originals, no copies. High tech for the times; horse and buggy now.

Bob Vickers, at Wednesday’s pastoral seminar, asked, “Does anyone here own a typewriter?” Not one hand went up.

We have a new mayor. Sort of. C. Ray Nagin took the oath of office to begin his second term today. When the judge asked him to raise his right hand, Nagin raised his left with his right hand on the Bible being held by his small daughter. Perhaps the judge said, “Your other right hand,” (or perhaps not) because he caught himself and raised the correct hand. Then the judge said, “Repeat after me: ‘I, Clarence Ray Nagin, Junior…'” The mayor said, “I, Clarence Ray Nagin, Junior, otherwise known as C. Ray Nagin do solemnly swear….”

David Crosby of the FBC-NO attended the mayor’s prayer meeting early Thursday at the St. Louis Cathedral where various dignitaries spoke. The pastor of St. Peter Claver Roman Catholic Church, the Nagins’ congregation, was the featured speaker. David said the man was wonderful and had the people on their feet several times. Later in the early afternoon, while waiting for my tires to be rotated, I caught much of the inauguration on a local television channel and found several aspect interesting.

Governor Blanco and Senator Mary Landrieu were featured on the program, striking a blow for harmony among our elected leadership. Senator Mary’s brother Mitch, Lieutenant Governor, defeated by Nagin in the runoff, was in the crowd but did not speak. Most of the speakers thought C. Ray Nagin was the best thing ever to happen to New Orleans, and if some get their way, no doubt Pope Benedict will be beatifying him any day now. As they praised the mayor, calling him a hero of the storm, lauding his great courage and the wisdom of Solomon, occasionally we caught a glimpse of the man of the hour and to his credit, he seemed embarrassed. The Reverend Jesse Jackson was low-key, to my amazement, but he was one of the few. Finally, after the mayor took the oath, he spoke and did well.

Nagin called for unity in our leadership, and seemed to mean it. He spoke of the various new developments that will soon be occurring in the city, and occasionally–this was the scary part–laid his written script aside and ad-libbed. That practice has got him in trouble on more than one occasion, but he seems to have survived intact today. He drew laughs occasionally with comments like, “Lord, have mercy,” referring to the Saints winning a Super Bowl or the Hornets taking a championship.

Mr. Nagin’s supporters seemed to want to rub it in today, maybe a little gloating over winning the race against great odds, but the man himself was all charity and kindness. It actually could be a new day in this city. The one thing that everyone seems to be agreed on is that Nagin has grown as a result of this testing. He will need our prayers and I fully intend to give him mine.

The U.S.Corps of Engineers had open house today, Thursday, at several of the levees where they have done the hardest and most work. I dropped in on the 17th Street Canal where the bridge connects Robert E. Lee Blvd in New Orleans with the Old Hammond Highway of Metairie. A few people were milling around, Corps workers explaining the charts and photos as well as the sheet pilings and floodgates on display before us. There seems to be no agreement on how prepared we are for a hurricane at the moment or how well we’ll be come late August or early September.

Barry Keim, climatologist for the state of Louisiana, says, “We need to stop thinking of June 1 as the magical date after which storms just start suddenly appearing. It’s really more of a transitional period, where sea temperatures start warming to the pont where they support tropical storm activity.” A good and needed reminder.

Keim added, “The pinnacle of the season is September 10. Go three weeks on either side of that date. That’s when you can expect to see the biggest, baddest storms. All the signature storms for the Gulf Coast–Betsy, Camille, Gilbert, Andrew, Katrina–occurred during that time period.” The newspaper reports that over the past half century, sixty percent of the 656 recorded storms came in August or September. Add October and the percentage rises to 77. The most striking exception was Audrey in 1957 which fell on June 28 as a Category 4, hitting near the Louisiana-Texas border.

You’ve heard some of the bad news, that as a result of Katrina, we lost more of the wetlands that protect this city from storms in one week than we normally would lose in five years. Here’s some more. The paper reports that this city is sinking faster than previously thought. A local deejay used to introduce his program with a line that went: “From the world’s greatest sinking city….” Not funny any longer.

According to the journal Nature, satellite studies covering three years–all this before Katrina–show that some areas of New Orleans are sinking four or five times as fast as had been believed. The common belief was that on the average, the city was dropping about one-fifth of an inch a year, this based on 100 measurements of the region. However, as a result of calculations from 150,000 measurements taken from space, the fact is around one-fifth of this area is sinking at a rate of an inch a year.

Authorities are in disagreement on the causes. Some think it’s natural and bound to happen. Others credit overdevelopment and marshland draining. The one thing they all agree on is we need some smart planning for the future.

As the ground sinks, the levees become more unstable and the area more vulnerable to flooding. According to an engineering prof at Berkeley, the Corps of Engineers is not taking this reality into its planning as they rebuild the levees. So what looked impressive at the 17th Street Canal today, and it certainly did, may end up being several feet too low to provide the kind of security the city needs.

For a couple of miles on the highway today, I followed a company truck for a business calling itself “Sense of Security,” with the S.O.S. featured prominently. Evidently, they install home security systems. Being a literalist, sometimes but not always, I wondered if they were selling security or just the sense of security.

And I wonder which one the Corps of Engineers is purchasing for New Orleans with the billions being spent on repairing the levees down here.

I was asked today for my top three prayer requests, each in less than 10 words. I mentioned the pastors and churches of the city, our leadership team in the association, and the rebuilding of this city. I’m not one who believes that prayer takes the place of sound engineering, but I do believe we should ask the Father to lead our leaders to secure the best planners, the finest builders, and the wisest overseers.

This being June 1, I wonder if I should have added a request for prayer that this will be a hurricaneless season for the Gulf Coast.

2 thoughts on “Thursday, for the First Time

  1. Hey Brother Joe,

    Jim and I took a ride to Grand Isle and it was so scary the amount of coastal erosion. Driving the long highway there after passing Golden Meadow, in many places the water was near the highway, no marshes as before. May the Lord protect us this next hurricane season. By the way, Pastor Tony and I took the “Bald headed” picture on Sunday,like in the card you did for us. I will try to email you a copy if I can get Sarah to help me since you were the inspiration for the picture! Thanks for the political insight from our wise former pastor! Have a great week. Gail Smith

  2. Hi, Joe. Thanks for your column which I read every time you write it, and its keeps me informed as to your ministry and the conditions in NOLA. By the way, we just heard from Sarah Fenton, the lady I asked you to contact about her stressful situation, and she told us you did get in touch with her, and that she was able to tell you that he problem had been eased to some degree. Thanks for contacting her. If you happen to have pictures of Valence Street Baptist Church after Katrina, or know where I can get them on internet, please let me know. Thanks again. I am praying for you and Margaret by name, your children and grandchildren every day, and I appreciate your service to Jesus and His kingdom in these days. Hugh.

Comments are closed.