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 By way of history, we originally made this trip to New Orleans because of our long term connection with Mike and Christina from their days at Fuller Seminary, some 16 or so years ago.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.
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