Sunday, April 30, 2006

A Sunny Day, A Quiet Afternoon, An Empty Chair

This is the view of our front porch just now. So normal. So American. It was a brilliantly sunny afternoon, after almost a week of rather typical Southern California spring coastal gloom. The sun is still streaming in the back porch french doors just now, as I write this.

It has been a quiet afternoon on our street. The jack-hammering of construction work at the neighbors house yesterday has been broken by the calm of this still semi-sacred day in a secular culture. Everything around here has begun to burst with spring green. It was a good day for lunch with a friend on a sunny patio, a walk with the dog, or even a brief nap.

But in our town, beneath the veneer of a calm spring Sunday afternoon, something very sudden, scary, and painfully dark has happened. Like the thud of a 1,000 pound weight, or the shock of a violent traffic accident that no one expects; leaving a hole in our emotions that words cannot describe or fill back up. Its like the black of night.

There will be an empty chair tomorrow at the Middle School in our town. An 8th grade girl, who was in the joyous chorus of the school play just last night, has suddenly died. As we broke this tragic news to our own 6th grader this afternoon, our kitchen was hushed with shock, then grief, of loss, and weeping. Tomorrow, there will be special counseling for kids at school.

And there will be an empty chair.

The details of how she died are not important really, but it was a sudden, unexpected seizure. I find that I always want to know what happened. Its a way to cope with my own mortality. Its also a form of selfishness. What is important is the deep, dark, piercing, almost bottomless grief the family of this girl will feel. As a parent, this must be a pain inexpressible, seemingly unquenchable, almost limitless. And it never really goes completely away. It is always there, like a shadow companion.

I have nothing to offer but my prayers for a family I do not know, but whom my wife has met on several occasions. Nothing to say that will alleviate the searing pain. Nothing here, on this earth, that will calm so many troubled hearts.

But, I am reminded of a similar story full of pain. From Rossini's "Stabat Mater":

Her grieving heart,

anguished and lamenting,

was pierced by a sword.

Oh how sad and afflicted

was that blessed mother

of an Only Son.

She mourned and grieved,

and trembled as she saw

the suffering of her glorious Son.

And if you will, particularly parents who read this, take a moment to offer prayers of peace and healing for this family.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

A Bible on the Dashboard

Earlier this month, our family had the unique opportunity to spend time in New Orleans. We did a bit of helping, a lot of eating, and spent time with old friends.

The photo to the right is the sanctuary of
Canal Street Presbyterian Church in New Orleans. This photo was taken this past Easter Sunday, which was only the second time that the sanctuary has been used (the first was Palm Sunday) in the seven months since Katrina. When Pastor Mike emailed me this photo, earlier this week, upon my return from Alaska, I could not help but smile, and give a brief prayer of thanks for this small act of restoration, and for the determination and persistence of this congregation.

I also had to take a minute to also smile and give thanks for my friend Pastor Mike. Mike is an amazing manifestation of pastoral care. Mike came to know Christ through the ministry of of a rather weird, old Cadillac driving fellow in Philadelphia, who loved kids for Jesus, and would not give up on relationships. Through him, Mike's life was changed forever. And now, in turn, many lives in New Orleans are given hope, humor and great love.

The pastor's I know lead sometimes quite cerebral lives. They think thoughts, they lead committees, they prepare sermons, and some write books. Several of them have rather pithy Blogs. They may even spend time with people. They have orderly offices in quiet settings. Classical music often plays in the background. Life is sedate and ordered. Many different bible translations dot the shelves of calm temperature controlled offices. People speak in hushed tones, the receptionists are very polite.

Pastor Mike does not have his office back yet. It is packed in boxes still. There is no receptionist. His office is his truck, where his battered bible is always on the dashboard. His ministry these days is a very unquiet and uncommon blur of constant movement, relentless caring, and a passion for bringing the care of Christ to a congregation still in transition. During our stay in one week, Mike was helping me empty water out of a still-flooded clothes washer as we
gutted a home, visiting a sick church member in the hospital, meeting with other pastors, preparing a sermon, helping church members move, leading a small group with other men in the church, driving his kids (there are five of them - from ages 9 to 16)to and from school, and leading a Wednesday Lenten service. This is a man always moving from one place in town to another. His cell phone battery is typically dead by 2:00 PM everyday; talking to people all over town and all over the country about ways that they can help in New Orleans. In all he says and does, a joke and a laugh are not far away. Mike is one of the funniest guys I have ever met.

A bible on the dashboard, and a heart for the Kingdom. Never still. Always moving. I love my friend, Pastor Mike. I am thankful.

Would you pray for my friend, Pastor Mike?

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Brother Dietrich and “Unidad En Comunidad"

Lets Go Bowling Together for Jesus
The gentleman to the left is
Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

For Some Odd Reason, I have been asked to help lead a young married couples class at my church. The people who asked me to do this are dear friends, but I also think they may be nuts. Either way, the thoughts below are excerpted from our time together this morning.

We are going on a journey. Will you come along? A journey toward discovering how we can grow closer together in Christ, and perhaps build a genuine community of fellow Believers.

I would like to think that I am somewhat the exemplary Christian fellow. I would like to think that I model all that is best in a life spent following Jesus. I would like to think that I have the best of Christian friends, and that our relationships, our Christian community, show in myriad ways the love of Christ. I would like to think that other, non-believing folk in my life see these traits and are lead directly to wonder about what following Jesus is about, and that they might even considered visiting or becoming a part of my church. My church, because it is a place where all the best things of the Christian life are modeled.

I'd like to think this, but it is just not so. Not now at least. And yet, we serve a God of hope.

Over the past several years, the life of our church has been quite painful, confusing, and disconnected. Relationships have splintered, accusations have been made, sides taken. We Christian people know how to pick a really good fight, and then, how to carry it out. To the end. Recently, Christian song writer
Sara Groves offered this hauntingly ironic glimpse of the darker side of the church:

Taking Our Church to the Moon
To the Moonby Sara Groves

It was there in the bulletin
We're leaving soon
After the bake sale to raise funds for fuel
The rocket is ready and we're going to
Take our church to the moon

There'll be no one there to tell us we're odd
No one to change our opinions of God
Just lots of rocks and this dusty sod
Here at our church on the moon

We know our liberties we know our rights
We know how to fight a very good fight
Just get that last bag there and turn out the light
We're taking our church to the moon
We're taking our church to the moon
We'll be leaving soon

I would like to think that I, and my Christian friends, have it all together. But its not so. My life is, in many ways broken and disconnected. I struggle with finding time to meditate on God's Word. I am distracted by all kinds of "white noise" and static in my life; television, radio, satellite radio, the internet, emails, the busy-ness of work, family, and kid activities. I long to find God in more abundance in each day, but so many times, I fall short. Where is the Still, Small Voice, and where are my brothers and sisters in Christ. Oh, I forgot, they are busy too. I am modern man, information saturated, yet soul starved.

And so, this journey we begin is as much about all of us, as it is about my own longing.

The Disconnection
In a groundbreaking book, "Bowling Alone", based on vast new data, Robert Putnam of The Kennedy School at Harvard shows how we have become increasingly disconnected from family, friends, neighbors, and our democratic structures-- and how we may reconnect.

Putnam warns that our stock of social capital - the very fabric of our connections with each other, has plummeted, impoverishing our lives and communities. Putnam draws on evidence including nearly 500,000 interviews over the last quarter century to show that we sign fewer petitions, belong to fewer organizations that meet, know our neighbors less, meet with friends less frequently, and even socialize with our families less often. We're even bowling alone. More Americans are bowling than ever before, but they are not bowling in leagues. Putnam shows how changes in work, family structure, age, suburban life, television, computers, women's roles and other factors have contributed to this decline.

America has civicly reinvented itself before -- approximately 100 years ago at the turn of the last century. And America can civicly reinvent itself again - find out how and help make it happen at our companion site,, an initiative of the Saguaro Seminar on Civic Engagement at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.

Getting Reconnected
In a life span of 39 years, pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, lead, taught, and modeled a new kind of Christian community - one that is still relevant 60 years amartyrdomartyredom in a Nazi death camp. His book
Life Together is an exploration of what Christian community can be. Our couples class is going through this book together.

Our lives are disconnected. We need reconnection to what is really important. Thoughts from Bonhoeffer:

"It is not simply to be taken for granted that the Christian has the privilege of living among other Christians."
"It is by the grace of God that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly in this world to share God's Word and sacrament."

God cares about gathering his people together. We are not created to live in isolation. Zech 10:8-9 God is gathering together. And guess what? Jesus talked about gathering together in John 11:52. Matt 24:31 gathering in the end times.

Gotta have a Body - The Body of Christ
What the heck does the Body of Christ mean? Well, according to Brother Dietrich:

"Man was created a body, the Son of God appeared on earth in the body, he was raised in the body, in the sacrament the believer receives the Lord Christ in the body, and the resurrection of the dead will bring about the perfected fellowship of God's spiritual-physical creatures."

"The prisoner, the sick person, the Christian in exile see in the companionship of a fellow Christian a physical sign of the gracious presence of the triune God."

1 Corinthians 12:26-28 (New International Version)
26If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
27Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues.

We are "a physical sign of the gracious presence" of God. In all we do. In the fellowship we keep.

Would not a life spent together, enjoying one another, coming beside each other in places of pain and celebration, learning together, seeking Christ, listening for his call; a Life Together perhaps not be something well worth considering?

In listening to the thoughts of this gentle German theologian of almost 70 years ago, we can find ways to begin to build a community graced by God's love, acceptance, and grace. A home. A place wherewe can begin, in the words of Christianity Today Editor, Andy Crouch, rebuild "the hilarious high calling that is the birthright of every Christian; to be an agent of improbable, impossible life in the midst of the world".

Finally, for a wonderful touch of what community in Christ can be,
go read this, from my buddy KC.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Overwhelmed by Creation

I have returned from my adventure in Alaska. While the work reasons I was there are more mundane, some of the things I learned and sights I saw will not soon leave me.

To be brief, Alaska is a land that overwhelms you. The land mass of Alaska is larger than California, Texas, and Montana put together. When one visits Alaska, one is nearly always on the edge of civilization; on the very verge of being overwhelmed by Creation itself.

We think we are the masters of our fate, that we can control life, that we are smart, in command, confident. We live in well-ordered cities where most of life is regulated and controlled.

Not so in Alaska. Nature is very close, very present, and very, very large. Each year from November to March the night ski (almost 23 hours of it in December) is alight nearly each night with the Northern Lights. This is a place that naturally makes one feel small, insignificant, and very much NOT in control.

I liked this feeling, this feeling of being on the edge of something far greater than me, of being nearly out of control. I was reminded in a new way of Who is really in control, and of how little I acknowledge my lack of control in the daily, civilized pace of my life.

Go to Alaska some day. You will be confronted with your smallness.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

North to Alaska

In an effort to revive my pathetic blog hit statitistics, I have decided to travel the world in order to bring you pithy and thoughtful observations. At least I think they're pithy, sorry if you do not. Remember, pithiness is a virtue.

Last week, New Orleans, Louisiana. Today stop, Fairbanks, Alaska. In a span of days we go from wrestling aligators to wrestling bears.

Now I ask you, what other blog can do all this? And its a stain remover and a breath freshener too!

The view from my hotel.....

Friday, April 14, 2006

Commercial: Positive Coaching Alliance

Just a moment for a commercial, before I continue on with a review of our New Orleans family trip.

Wednesday night was a tough one for me. I was the stand-in coach for my daughter Heather's 11-12 year old softball team. It was a pretty close game until the middle innings, when we extended our lead to 10-5 over our worthy opponents. Looking good. But, alas, we then had a bad inning, and ended up loosing 12-10. Tough loss. But the thing that made me so proud was the character that our girls displayed in a tough loss. Heads held high, and enthusiastically congratulating the other team on their win. This is what sports should be all about - building character, not kicking butt, or winning at all costs, or behaving like a jerk.

Then today, while doing nothing (as my daughter's constantly allege) at the office, I came upon two web sites that I love. The first is one that belong to the
Thrive Foundation for Youth, which is run by a great family from the Bay Area that I know a bit about. I want my family to be like this family when we all grow up! I would love someday to be part of a Foundation like this.

Anyway, one of the organizations that Thrive Foundation supports is the
Positive Coaching Alliance. This is what all youth, high school, and college coaching should be about. Shout it from the mountain, this is wonderful stuff.

Please, before you go, go view this. You will then understand why I was so proud of our girls, even in their loss this Wednesday.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Captain Jim, Jimmy Buffet, and Redemption

I have a secret to share. Sometimes, in the midst of my middle-aged life, I actually yearn to become completely irresponsible, to run away from the drudgery of everyday life, to sail off to some lightly populated tropical paradise island. I would burn my loafers in a fire on the beach whilst sipping a mai tai at sunset, and spend the rest of my days in flip flops. A castaway from society and civilization. Maybe this is why I like Hawaiian shirts, and I have an irreverent attraction (for a relatively well-behaved Christian fellow) to Jimmy Buffet.

One of my favorite Buffet tunes: From "Take Another Road"
Take another road to a hiding place
Disappear without a trace
Take another road in another time
Like a novel from the five and dime
Take another road in another time

Last Wednesday night, I met a real life Jimmy Buffet. His name was even Jim. Jim (pictured here piloting his house boat on Lake Ponchartrain) has had quite a life. He was born and raised in St. Louis, and left home to make his way in the maritime insurance business in New Orleans about forty years ago or so. He formed his own company, and even had a partner in London. Life was good, and so was business. Very good. Three kids, a wife, a house in a great neighborhood, and a nice bank account. After a time, he and his London partner had a parting in ways, and Jim left the insurance business. He then started a printing business in New Orleans, confident that he could start over with something new and challenging in mid-career. However, after a while, this new business was bleeding red ink, and draining Jim’s saving account.

His children had left home and started on lives of their own, and his relationship with his wife of 33 years ended; she left Jim, telling him it was time to move on. Jim was adrift. He soon met another woman, married, and thought life might repair itself, sort of like open wounds do, sometimes. But, after a short time, Wife Number Two told Jim she could not “stay in this married condition, I need to be on my own”. This is where the Jimmy Buffet part begins.

As a means of coping, Jim decided to sail away, literally. He took his sailboat (a residual from his better financial days, and about all he had left) and sailed around the Caribbean and up the East Coast of the US for more than a year. He had a stint as a pleasure boat captain in Florida. Another road, in another time.

We sat in Deenies Seafood (yum!) restaurant last Wednesday in New Orleans and listened to Jim’s story. I then asked Jim (the comfortable suburbanite that I am) “So do you regret at all this “Jimmy Buffet” phase of your life, this time of running away”. I thought I knew the answer. But Jim looked me square in the eye and said, “Not a bit! I needed that time to run away, my life was cratering all around me, and I needed to get away for my own mental health.” “So why did you ever come back home?” I asked. Jim’s reply still rings in my ears. “I came home here to New Orleans because I missed my friends, my children, my grandchildren, and my church”. His church?

It seems that over the years, Jesus has been doing a redemptive work in Jim’s life. His job now, in his late 60s, is as a staff member of a church in New Orleans. His job: to help transform the old model of committees in the church, in order to create a team environment that will effective care for people in the years to come. I love this.

From Jimmy Buffet to Almost Reverend Jim, all by the grace of Christ.

I will not sell my Hawaiian shirts, and my flip flops remain ready for summer. Redemption still occurs, often in unusual ways.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Broken People in A Broken City

Last Wednesday

There are many words that describe New Orleans today. The first word that comes to mind is broken. Seven months post Katrina this city seems to be operating on about 25% of its potential. Estimates are that about 50% of the populous has returned, seven most post hurricane. Red search logos still remain, everywhere. Natural gas service is spotty; Canal Street church still does not have gas service. Phone service is only slightly more reliable in many places; the church is scheduled to get its phones back up next week. Word is that New Orleans will become a thoroughly modern telecommunications city when the cleanup and repairs are completed. The jury is still out on this.

Other words to describe this city - reviving, crippled, struggling, coping, defiant, determined, hopeful, depressed, restoring, renewing. A mixture of feelings, conditions, and emotions. But again, the word broken comes to mind. Besieged.

Last Wednesday at noon, Canal Street church is offering a Lenten Communion Service. This past Wednesday our family and about 10 others attended. It seemed a fitting thing to do, in the midst of a week of presence in such a hurting community. I loved this small, humble service of just 15 folks, including pastors and participants. This was not your Saddleback Church service, no Claude Osteen meeting here. Not The First Church of What's Hip and Happening Now. No huge victories for Jesus, no shiny buildings full of happy people. No national telethon.

Just a small band of believers, sharing the peace of Christ, the bread and the cup. Broken people, in a broken city, remembering a broken Savior.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Cleaning and Dinner and Dancing

Tuesday was another day spent with further cleaning and polishing the sanctuary of Canal Street church. This was a special privilege, as this Sunday is Palm Sunday; marking Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Being able to have a small hand in the restoration of normalcy and hope to the faithful of Canal Street for this special Sunday was an honor.

Imagine, seven months of wondering, suffering, seven months of confusion, uncertainty, coping. Living with not really knowing what the future looks like. Trash persistently piled at the curb, the faint smell of mold everywhere. Those high water lines on the buildings, ever present signs of a public shame and a civic failure. Longing for just a few things in life to return to normal. And finally, Palm Sunday – back in the sanctuary, at last, maybe for some a place with a sense of home, celebration, remembering, and hope.

Tuesday night was a time for the adults to go out to dinner, while the kids stayed behind. Nancy and I joined our good friends John and Shelly Wierick for dinner with Pastor Mike and his wife Christina. By way of history, we originally made this trip to New Orleans because of our long term connection with Mike and Christina from their days at Fuller Seminary, some 16 or so years ago. It was a wonderful time of reconnection with dear friends.

That You Might Not Dance Alone
Mike spoke to us of his church, his hope for the future, and of the comedy and tragedy of coping through each day in New Orleans. He also spoke of some of the “unique” folks in his congregation. His stories were for me a wonderful metaphor of what the church can be. One story in particular stands out:

Canal Street Presbyterian had a rather unique worship service some months ago, before Katrina. The Praise Band was playing some rather “bouncy” music, when one of the worshippers decided it was time to get up in the isles and…. dance. Now, mind you, in some church circles, this dancing would be perfectly fine. But (gasp!) in a Presbyterian Church? Egads! Rather uncommon, this dancing! It seems the person who decided it was time to dance had a bit of a history of choosing to do interesting things during worships services, but all from a heart filled with gratitude for God’s grace. Again, perfectly fine behavior, given the proper setting, particular for us Presbyterians.

By Providence, sitting behind this lone dancer at this service was a retired pastor of perhaps 75 years. You would think that this man, as an exemplary Presbyterian, would know when to behave himself. But, when he noticed the dancing celebrant in front of him, he decided…… he would get up and dance too. Not that he felt lead to dance or even a particularly good liturgical dancer; as he later explained to Pastor Mike, “I just did not want our friend to have to dance alone.”

Last Sunday at the Canal Street worship service we sang a song:

Put on the garments of praise for the spirit of heaviness.
Let the oil of gladness flow down from Your throne.
Make these broken weary bones rise to dance again.

Our culture, our work, our very lives often demand that we dance alone. That is the American way you know – self determination and all that. “If you want a job done right, do it yourself”. Ben Franklin once said, “I am lord of myself, accountable to none.” Can we ever learn to buck this trend, and to be really different as Christ’s people? Can we come out of our comfy little boxes, and learn to dance, and to dance with others. To share the joy, to feel the music. To dance with even the unlovely or those who make us feel uncomfortable, so that they might not dance alone? With Christ as our model, I would hope we can learn a new dance.

And I know this; people will be watching.

Waxing Pews and Learning About Levees

Monday Afternoon

The condition of Canal Street Church, seven months after Katrina still leaves much to be desired, and yet, much has been accomplished. The church sanctuary took on about 6 inches of water for several weeks last September. New carpet has been installed, and the pews refinished. At the point of our arrival, the carpeting work was just completed, and our family was able to wax the pews and swab the wooden floors.

However, many of the other rooms in the first floor of the church remain in essentially shell condition, and it may be months before a number of Sunday school rooms, the kitchen area and other classrooms can be used. There remains a faint smell of mold. Walls on the first floor have been re-dry walled up to about the four foot level, as mold had been discovered in the walls. There is more work for others, for some time to come. Stay tuned on this topic.

Monday Night

For those of you who care, the UCLA Bruins were in the NCAA basketball final game last Monday. Alright, they lost. Next topic. Pastor Mike had arranged a viewing venue for the big game at the home of his good buddy Jon Khachaturian, who as it turns out is the founder of Versabar Inc. Jon is an engineer by training, an avid golfer, and has some definite opinions about the large scale engineering issues associated with the levee failures during Katrina, the role of the Corp of Engineers, and the acumen of New Orleans political leaders. Jon's company has removed a significant amount of heavy ships in the New Orleans area, and is involved in the heavy lifting required to rehab a number of off shore oils rigs in the Gulf Coast.

After the Bruins started to look rather hopeless, some of us retired to Jon’s home office (littered with golf clubs and a wonderful picture of Bobby Jones) to view a presentation he would be giving the next day to an engineering school about the general condition of things in New Orleans. In a word, what we learned was fascinating.

For more of a bit of local history from an ethics professor on the conditions in New Orleans see Boyd Blundell, a member of Canal Street Church.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Officer Oscar's Story

It has been a very busy week. Piling, cleaning, sawing, nailing, sweeping, vacuuming (sort of...using a defective vacuum), listening, exploring, eating, cheering (on Monday for the UCLA Bruins in their failed attempt at the NCAA basketball crown) laughing, and learning. Sorry for the lack of news, but I will try to catch up a bit today and tomorrow.

Monday Morning

This is the home of "Officer Oscar", as he became known to us on Monday of this week. Our job on Monday morning was to assist another work crew from the Philadelphia area in "gutting" Oscar's home in the Lakeview District of New Orleans. If you look closely, you might see the standing watermark on the house at about the 8 foot level. Pretty much everything Oscar's family of three (wife and 2 year old son) owned in the world was piled up on the curb, after only about three hours of our work cleaning out. Everything in the house was left essentially as it was on August 28, 2006, the day before Katrina hit. Childrens toys on the floor, a refrigerator full of very toxic food, a washing machine still full of brackish flood water. Mold to the ceiling. The smell of mold everywhere.

Then, imagine this. A crew of strangers you don't know shows up at your home SEVEN months after Katrina, and in a matter of hours, has piled everything you ever had on the curb, and is already busy tearing the walls down to the bear studs when you show up around lunch time.

After a couple of hours of our work, Oscar showed up and (pictured here in the yellow shirt, surrounded by our demo team) spent some time with us on the back porch. His story of the storm is amazing. The initial surge from the 17th Street canal breach topped the roof of his home. Soon after, the flood waters settled in at about the 8 foot level for three weeks, until water could be pumped out of the neighborhood. The frist time Oscar saw his home after the flood was several days afterward, with one of his fellow officers, in a boat.

Oscar has not been emotionally able to return to his home for very long, and is basically coping with life, living in a rented home outside of New Orleans. He is still on the police force, and is working 14 to 16 hour days in order to make as much overtime money as possible. Before Katrina, the New Orleans police force consisted of 1,600 officers. Today, its 1,200 officers, all stretched to the limit. I was impressed with the few minutes we had to spend with Oscar. He did not leave. He loves his work, and his family. He intends to stay and make a go of it here in New Orleans, in spite of the uncertain future of his home. His days consist of a foot beat in the downtown area of New Orleans, a beat that he enjoys, because, as he puts it, "I know who all the bad guys are in my patrol area".

My prayer is that Oscar might find Hope, purpose, and a reason to keep on.

More later, I am working off of a City of New Orleans wireless connection that is pretty spotty.


Sunday, April 02, 2006

Joy Amidst Devastation

Greetings from the Crescent City. The Home of Jazz. New Orleans. (for enlargements of any photo, merely click on the photo)

A city of contrasts almost unimaginable. Devastation on a scale that confounds belief. Our first impression, in the downtown area, near the French Quarter, was that not much had happened. Then as you move north, you can see the water line marks on buildings rising slowly higher. Destruction and desolation, literally for miles.

And strangely, almost beyond comprehension, today we also found hope, singing, smiles, people laughing and crying, embracing and encouraging. Today, in the middle of hopeless and loss, suffering and very slow recovery, we found joy. It has been almost seven months to the day since the land fall of Katrina. Seven months. Remember this.

The Faithful
Today, we joined the faithful of Canal Street Presbyterian Church in New Orleans for morning worship. I have had only a handful of moment in my life where I new that I was standing in a very Holy place, where perhaps I might be seeing just a glimpse of something beyond my reach, a peek at what heaven just might be like. Today was one of those times. Signing, praying, confession, rejoicing, weeping, and laughing. Children, youth and their parents, and seniors, all in one room with one voice, one heart. Giving thanks, offering petitions, lifting praise, admitting sadness and frustration, and asking God that they might have humble spirits as they recover and assist others. What a wonderful swirl of feelings, emotions, and the gentle and mysterious Spirit of God, present in our midst.

The Devastation
This afternoon, after church, our friends (Pastor) Mike and Christina Hogg took us on an extended tour of New Orleans. We traveled north from the church first to the Lakeview District, an attractive upscale suburban neighborhood. This area is very close to a levee breech/failure that occurred during Katrina. Imagine a comfortable neighborhood stretching for blocks and blocks, with home after home after home vacant, abandoned, some gutted, some not. Every single door painted with the signal markings of search and rescue teams from the early days of last September. Most homes are standing, save for those in the one-half mile radius of the levee breech, many of which were moved from their foundations by the breaching water. The highest water mark we saw was about 12 feet deep. Nearly beyond understanding.

From there, we traveled to the storied 9th Ward. This are was clearly one of the most economically impacted and neglected areas of New Orleans prior to Katrina. Today, the 9th Ward is utterly devastated. From the little I know of real estate issues, I can only guess that the area of near complete devastation is at least 3 or 4 square miles. No utilities, no residents, homes knocked off their foundations and literally flattened by the power of a breached levee (hit by a loose barge during the hurricane). The challenges here are enormous, nearly beyond the ability to comprehend. When I have more time, I will link to sites that explain more of this, for those who are interested.

Christina told us today that about one-half of the faithful present today at Canal Street church have lost everything. Everything. Their homes, their possessions, maybe even their future. Gone.

But wait. Ask the people of Canal Street, have they lost it all? Is it really ALL gone? Today, Pastor Mike read a portion of the morning Scripture:

Isaiah 58:
11The LORD will guide you always;

he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.

12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

Today, this ancient scripture became real to me. Today, we saw devastation. But today, we saw hope. Today, we saw joy.
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