Saturday, September 03, 2005

How Do We Respond to Disaster?

. . . a few random thoughts on what I'm seeing happen on the Gulf Coast, New Orleans, and what I'm seeing about to happen in Memphis....

  • I heard my clergy brother, the Rev'd Dr. Frank Thomas, pastor of Mississippi Blvd. Christian Church admonish the clergy gathered for a meeting yesterday that the words "refugee" and "evacuee" have got to go. And I heartily agree. So, you will no longer hear those words from me. We will speak of our "friends" and "neighbors" with whom we are sharing our lives.
  • Know when to criticize.
  • Kanye West, whose diatribe on the NBC telethon last night took everyone aback, missed the point. George Bush does not hate black people, as he asserted. I don't believe there was premeditated intent on anyone's part to keep support from anyone in need.
  • This isn't about race, at least overtly - it is part and parcel of what the sin of poverty does to the masses, regardless of race. Although, without question, most of the faces we see left behind are African American. So trapped are they by the principalities and powers under which they live, so trapped are they by the attitudes such poverty instills in the individuals as mechanisms simply to survive, that they cannot flee it, even if it's what they desired most, anymore than they could flee New Orleans before the flood, without someone to offer help.
  • The other side of poverty is what affluence does to those enslaved by the many and much of life. Without conscience and empathy, those of us who live in affluence are blinded by the plight of those who are trapped in poverty, or, we'll give it the old, "there but for the grace of God, go I," line, which is a load of crap.
  • Oh, and then there's this - for anyone who would dare call themselves a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth, with whom did he relate? To whom did he demand association of those who would follow? This distinction is the defining character of Christianity. Where criticism is appropriate, is for those who are charged with protection of the citizenry by their election to office whose negligence is not to recognize poverty's reality and then act surprised these people didn't evacuate and blame them for not doing it. I don't know Kanye West, I hear he's a hip-hop star - I'm too old to know that...but I'm betting he's not from New Orleans or the Gulf Coast. He's entitled to his opinion, I guess, but he was not licensed to divert the energies of so many who had rallied around this cause by breaking script. Just after he finished basically calling the President a murderer, and was yanked off the screen, Aaron Neville, pride of New Orleans, whose family was rescued and evacuated, sang "Amazing Grace." Kanye, go have your conversation with Aaron. And if you can't help the cause of support and relief, shut your dadgum mouth...

Congrats, Kanye, you have reached the threshold of "idiot" that I'm now bestowing on any who betray the responsibilities given them when they stand in front of me on camera, or behind a mic. You're in distinguished company - Pat and Rush. Well done.

  • Pace yourself. Trust me on this. I know what I'm talking about. After the initial flourish of support, the expected outpouring of folks who give and relieve the suffering of those in trouble, what happens next? Who will be there two weeks from now, two months from now? The answer? We will. There are no better outlets for immediate support in disaster than Red Cross and Salvation Army. That's what they do. When we see them, and other church groups rushing to do something right now sometimes we feel that if we're not among them, we're not doing anything. But we are. We are committing to the long haul. We are setting an infrastructure to support these folks who come to us for months if need be. I've learned this best from my experience with UMCOR in Jackson during the tornado I lived through. Don't compare our support with someone else - only compare it with our capacity to give support.


Jaime Winton said...

Amen to that! When I was in Mississippi earlier this week helping family, the most shocking thing that I saw wasn't the absence of power, water, communication, gas or ice. It was the depleted spirits of the people. Going days on end without air conditioning or a cold drink of water during a Mississippi summer seems to be pushing people to their physical limit and is bringing out an "every man for himself" attitude.

A man in Hattiesburg shot his sister in the head over A BAG OF ICE.

As impractical as some might believe it to be, I think our main prayer focus as a faith community should be on healing the hearts of the victims of Katrina, our new friends and neighbors.

Anonymous said...

"you have the right to say what people don't want to hear"

george orwell

Johnny Jeffords said...

yes, you do have the right to say what others don't want to hear, but you abuse that right when you misrepresent yourself in a moment of need to say something that diverts concentrated energy for the purposes to which you consented to appear in the first place. it's bush league. if he wanted to make his point, buy an ad in the paper, have someone interview him about his thoughts on what's going on. what he did was tacky.