Or, A Mantrip Ride Might Be Just the Thing

Cherry Blackwell asked me to get word to all pastors’ wives in the New Orleans area, that a retreat/conference has been scheduled for you this Thursday and Friday, May 18 and 19, at Williams Boulevard Baptist Church in Kenner. Call Cherry for information: 504/451-9333.

We’re also trying to get word to every pastor, every minister, every church leader in this area whose church was severely hurt by Katrina and who wants some of the Bush-Clinton-Katrina money to assist in your rebuilding. On Wednesday, May 31, Donna Long, a professional advisor on grant-writing, will be leading a free conference at Oak Park Baptist Church for you, beginning at 10 am. Normally, she charges $125 to attend these day long conferences, but between her generous contribution of her time and talent and the Louisiana Baptist Convention picking up her expenses, there will be no charge. On the 31st, registration starts at 9:30 am in the church sanctuary, the conference starts at 10, lunch is provided, and in the afternoon, she will assist each one in writing their application. We understand the Bush-Clinton folks are giving $20 million to assist churches damaged by the hurricane.

Today over lunch in the cafeteria of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. Dennis Cole told of his pastor, David Arceneaux of Gentilly, coming down with cancer. Like Brother Dave needed some other stress in his life. Lost his home and his church, relocated to Houston, and now this. Pray for him, please. And while you’re at it, others of our pastors would love to be on your prayer list. Pastor Benny Jones of Destrehan’s First Baptist Church is ill. Pastor Wayne Scholle of Jean Lafitte’s Barataria Baptist Church resigned last Sunday. He and Lara have a new baby, their second daughter. Thank you for lifting to the Lord David, Benny, and Wayne.

You wonder about some people. First, I read in the paper that the two mayoral candidates had meekly caved in to All Congregations Together and signed their pledge, agreeing to a retreat with them within 45 days of being elected, to meet with them bi-monthly, and to run all major appointments by them. I wrote a letter to the editor of our paper commenting on the lack of backbone they exhibited and wondered who else they may be caving in to. Couple of days later, some writer picked up on the theme, said I was on target and he wonders who the ACT people think they are? A bunch of ayatollahs in Iran? So, today’s newspaper ran an answer, of sorts.

Shelia Fonseca of River Ridge, my neighborhood, wrote, “For too long, God-fearing folks have had to take a back seat to those who represent the interests of big business, real estate, and just plain old political intrigue. In the meantime, our government leaders have become less and less aware of the issues that affect the ‘folks in the pews.’ You know, folks who raise their children in church, live peaceful lives and just plain are the backbone of our city. In the past, these folks have been relatively invisible because of their lack of an organization to bring them together to effect change. All Congregations Together is a vehicle whereby anyone from any congregation can have a voice. If someone is upset about this, I am a bit confused. Perhaps his motives need a second glance.”

Since the editor does not run answers to answers ad infinitum, I’ll respond to Ms. Fonseca here. No one is upset about congregations having a voice, ma’am. That’s nothing but good. What the second writer was upset about is ACT’s pressuring the candidates to sign the pledge to do things their way. That sounds like more than just “having a voice.” What concerned me was the candidate’s not resisting this kind of pressure.

The one thing I wonder about Ms. Fonseca is why she did not address the issues we raised. Anyone who has ever been a party to a good argument knows the process. You hear something that makes you angry and respond to your anger, not to what the other person said. Soon, you’re both raising your voices and no one is listening. (Sounds a lot like “Crossfire” on television, doesn’t it. Which explains why I don’t watch it.)

The paper today conducted what they call a “60 second” interview with Mayor Nagin and Lt. Governor Landrieu. Fairly routine stuff, but I was glad to see they asked my question. Columnist Chris Rose asked, “You both signed an agreement with All Congregations Together that you would consult them for any major hiring decisions in your administration. Do you regret that?”

Landrieu: “No. That’s not what it said. What it said was that we would include them in the advisory team when we are putting our administrations together. My commitment was to include the community in decisions that are made.”

Nagin: “No.”

Would someone please tell me what they did sign?? Anyone got a copy of the ACT pledge?

Sitting in on the mayoral debate last Thursday at the First Baptist Church of New Orleans–I think the candidates are having a debate every day; seriously–I believe I have figured out who is going to win.

Now, the paper and all the television experts say it’s a tossup, too close to call. They say it depends on whether Nagin can entice a lot of whites to vote for him. He got very few in the primary. And Landrieu needs the whites to vote for him. A small percentage did in the primary. They both are spending lots of money. The election is Saturday.

I have commented previously here that local voters are notorious for voting heavily in primaries and not showing up for the runoffs. Which sort of defeats the purpose, if you catch my meaning. In the first election, some 20,000 voters cast their votes early, which you are allowed to do. This time for the runoff, only 12,000 have voted. No one knows who they voted for or what that means.

Here’s what I decided. Sitting there listening to them, there’s hardly a dime’s worth of difference between what they say. But Nagin comes across as cooler. More confident. Sharper. He works out, wears these expensive suits, and speaks up. He looks and acts mayorally. It may not make him an effective mayor but it should get him re-elected.

I am not saying that any of that determines how I would vote, even if I could vote in New Orleans, which I can’t. I’m saying this is how a large number of people vote. Any people, in any city, not just in this one. So, for better or for worse, I’m predicting that the winner of Saturday’s mayoral election will be the incumbent, Ray Nagin. Four more years.

I wrote a poem for my father.

A few years ago, we were preparing some kind of booklet for Dad, perhaps for his 90th birthday. We put in some clippings and photos and remembrances, and I decided to write a poem for him. If you are knowledgeable about poetry, you will want to skip this because you are not going to like it. There are few things worse in this world than bad poetry written by amateurs who don’t have a clue what they are doing. I’ve just described myself.

Keep in mind, my dad is a coal miner, as his father and uncles and brothers all were. Dad started inside the mines when he was 14 in 1926 and worked steadily until 1961. It’s the only real job he ever had. Here’s the poem.


Down in the mines at the close of the day

When miners all place their shovels away,

They walk through the dark and meet at the place

Where they’ll ride to the top–the mantrip awaits.

The darkness subsides;

The labor is done.

The family awaits,

They’re headed for home.

Finally on top, the mantrip arrives;

The light of the day bedazzles their eyes.

They don their clean clothes–

All just the right size–

And spot their loved ones,

Their spirit revives.

Was it worth it–all the troubles,

Risks taken and shifts doubled?

See earth’s riches turned to rubble,

Gone in an instant, as a bubble.

Is life’s hardship worth the pain?

What’s to lose, what’s to gain?

Comes the answer clear and plain

From one stepping off that train:

“No more pain; no more sorrow;

Joy and hope for all tomorrow.”

A mantrip is the low shuttle train that ferries the workers into and out of the mines at the start and end of their shifts. At the top, they enter the bathhouse and take their showers, don their clean clothes, and leave their blackened workclothes behind. Walking outside, after being in the dark all day, their eyes take time to adjust. Their family is waiting; they go home.

It’s a metaphor for ending earth’s labors and going to Heaven. At the end of the poem, Dad penciled in this line: “Only the dead have ridden the last mantrip.”

My sister Carolyn had the poem copied, enlarged, and framed, then decided to submit it to the United Mine Workers Journal, the publication of Dad’s beloved union. They ran it in this month’s issue.