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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