Clearing the Air

Recently, we quoted some of our pastors who feared an outbreak of some kind of respiratory epidemic due to the mold and mildew in the air. Wednesday’s newspaper reports that a check of 56,000 emergency room visits in local hospitals from October through March showed only a slight increase in this area. One percent increase for asthma and 7 percent increase for respiratory infections. Not nearly the drastic increase many had predicted and all had feared. That’s great news.

State leaders of emergency preparedness told a state senate committee in Baton Rouge this week that with the increase of deadly hurricanes predicted for the next few years, residents should be planning to evacuate coastal areas–including New Orleans–early and often. In particular, those living in FEMA trailers would be most vulnerable and should not hang around until the last minute.

Slidell police have arrested a couple of people for selling FEMA trailers. The only good news–and it’s not much–is that they are not local citizens, but from an adjoining state. One man was a contractor for FEMA who delivered the trailers, and the other was nabbed for receiving stolen property. They were selling these modular homes for $5,000 each, a bargain by any accounting since FEMA pays the supplier over $3,000 a month to provide and set up the trailers. These characters would have come out better if they’d gone into business as suppliers.

In a newspaper article listing persons arrested for insurance fraud–claiming to have suffered hurricane damage when they hadn’t–an unusual crime is listed. Carey Watis, 42, of the community of Convent, LA, was arrested for stealing flooded and abandoned vehicles off the streets of New Orleans, hauling them to his place of business and crushing them, then selling them for scrap. He would reap $150 per car. For this crime, he faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $3,000 per car. Meanwhile, the city is hiring a contractor to haul off those same cars and is paying to have it done, up to $1,000 per car. One wonders if there is any sanity left in this city.

On Wednesday night’s television, two stations were running programs aimed toward helping locals deal with the stress of post-Katrina life adjustment. It reads like the treatment they are presenting is simply getting people to tell their stories. We’ve found at our Wednesday pastors meeting there really is therapy in just hearing what someone else is going through or came through.

Tuesday night, I gave our out-of-town guests from a large Texas church two choices on where to have dinner. You can have high cuisine or good eatin’, I told them. The high cuisine, I said, is LaParvenu, a victorian home turned into a restaurant, owned by the chef who used to run a famous eatery in New Orleans. The good eatin’ is called Comeback Inn, where the po-boys are big, delicious, messy, and fried. They opted for LaParvenu. We ate on the front porch and the food was beautiful, delicious, and somewhat pricey. I noticed at the top of the menu in fine print this line: “Separate checks for $2 extra.” I love the restaurant but I was offended by that. Just one more way of squeezing a little more money from the consumer. I suppose they learned that art from the oil companies. Let OPEC sneeze and we pay another 10 cents per gallon. I keep reminding myself to ask Guidestone to invest my retirement account in oil stocks.


The other evening I caught the last half of a movie on television in which Kenneth Branagh and Cynthia Nixon portray Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt in the days after he contracted polio, as they discover the rehabilitative powers of the “warm springs” in the Georgia community by that name. He bought the small cluster of houses and pools that made up that facility, and then started looking for financial support. On learning that a convention of medical doctors and researchers was convening in Atlanta, Eleanor and Franklin drove up and invaded the meeting, interrupting a speaker who was delivering a paper. Flashing that famous FDR grin, the future president charmed the crowd, told of the powers of the waters at Warm Springs, and gave them a simple invitation. I was fully expecting to hear him tell them, “We need financial support.” Instead, he said, “If this interests you, we invite you to come and see for yourselves.”

A friend from Alabama emailed me the other day, asking, “How can our church help?” I said, “First, come and see. Drive around and see the condition of our city. Then, attend our Wednesday pastors meeting. Hear the ministers tell what God is doing and what they need. Let me take you to lunch. Then, go home and ask the Lord what He will have you do.” Come and see.

A friend came from Texas with two of his church members. They drove into the Lower 9th Ward and beyond into St. Bernard Parish. They came around through East New Orleans and saw the abandoned neighborhoods. That evening, we went to dinner. The next day, they sat in on the Wednesday pastors’ meeting. At one point, I said to my friend, “Please don’t let this burden you down. Give it to the Father. And know that we are not asking you to do anything. Just go home and pray for the Lord to show you what He would have you do.” He said, “Thank you. That is so liberating.”

You can understand how the burden of our situation is so great as to be oppressive to someone seeing it for the first time. I tell our visitors the same thing the Father said to me when I cried, “Lord, the problem is so great; I don’t know what to do about it.” He said to me, “This is not about you. It’s about me and what I am going to do.”

Just come and see. Then, go home and see what God wants you to do. If anything. Not everyone is to do everything. “Lord, what will you have me do?” is still the best prayer there is.

John’s disciples said to Jesus, “Where are you staying?” He said, “Come and see.” Philip found Nathanael and said, “We’ve found the Messiah. Jesus of Nazareth.” Nathanael said, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Philip had a great answer: “Come and see.” (Both instances are found in the 1st chapter of John.) In John 4, the infamous “woman at the well” urged Jesus to “stay right here; I have some friends I want you to meet.” She rushed into the city and told everyone she met, “I’ve met someone who told me everything I ever did. Isn’t this the Messiah? Come and see.”

No arguments, no debating. Just come and see. It’s still the best invitation to your church and the finest invitation to the Christian life there is.

It’s also our suggestion for those interested in helping to rebuild New Orleans. First, come and see what we have here. Go on-line and find a hotel, as far in advance as you can. Then, plan the trip for a Tuesday and Wednesday. See the city on Tuesday and come to our pastors meeting on Wednesday. You can fly or drive home Wednesday afternoon and be there in time for prayer meeting.

“I’ve seen all this on television. But there’s nothing like seeing it in person.”

If we have heard that once, we’ve heard it a hundred times. But it’s about more than just seeing the needs of this city. It’s about meeting pastors and church leaders, seeing where they stand in the renovation and restoration of their buildings, and picking up their hope and vision. It’s about making connections with the church God would have you to assist. And it’s about beginning a process for your people to reach out to some brothers and sisters who need their help and will be requiring it for a long time to come.

The Macedonian call to “come over and help us” is a good one. (That’s Acts 16:9.) But in our case, “come and see” may be the first step for many.

Send me an e-mail telling when you are coming. If I’m here, I’ll buy supper.

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