Archives for posts with tag: New Orleans

Hey.  Here’s a story of how one city has fared after a terrible disaster.

I could be but am not referring to Joplin MO or 9/11 New York City.  It’s New Orleans in Gary Rivlin’s new book Katrina:  After the Flood reviewed earlier this month by the NY Times.

Lance Hill, a white political activist serving as a mole, tells Rivlin: “It was impossible not to pick up on this sentiment that this was our chance to take back control of the city. There was virtually a near consensus among whites that authorities should not do anything to make it easy for poor African-Americans to come back.”

It looks worth a read.

In my work in post-2011 tornado Joplin it’s become clear that developers are not interested in replacing lost housing with affordable low cost rental units.  This is creating some problems.  Where do low-income households go?  They have doubled and tripled up in housing to be able to afford it.  Moved away.  Become homeless.

Sometimes when a city gets a hard knock, opportunity knocks for urban socio-economic engineering that makes life harder for the poor.

Last month I was able to be in New Orleans for the Christian Community Development Association National Conference.  Gail and a few other Salvation Army people from our St Louis area enjoyed visiting the Big Easy.  Eating po-boys, luxuriating in the Big Easy’s languid warmth.

Captain Ronnie musing and Lieutenant AJ scrutinizes as Lieutenant Bryan makes a point.

Captain Ronnie muses and Lieutenant AJ scrutinizes as Lieutenant Bryan makes a point.

Most of all we were challenged by what we heard and learned.  About the way God’s people from a wide range of persuasions (Jesuit priest and Southern Baptist) are being used to bring about wholeness in some of the most challenging urban places in America.

I am of a theological bent.  So one of my personal highlights was the conference opening night address from Noel Castellanos, CEO of CCDA.  Noel got theological.  His recent blog post ‘Cultivating Unlikely Leaders’ incorporates some of the theological observations from that address.

Noel refers to ‘a new reality’.  It is a reality of merging the margins and mainstream of society.  That the most unlikely of people would come together in healing and helping ways.  Led by women and men from the most unlikely of places, working together in the most unlikely configurations.

Unlikely.  I like that.

Those of us from Salvation Army have our roots in the unlikely.  19th century Britain did not expect people of its urban slums to become agents of the gospel in their communities, and eventually around the world.  But that’s what happened.

... closer and closer

the most unlikely of places and people

Question:  is it still happening?

Yes.  In all our Army places?  no.

We confess that often we are tempted to be too much so mainstream.  Dallas Cowboys and much of corporate America love us.  Our temptation is to love the ways and means of our land, to adopt an American overlay of consumerism (what exactly do we accomplish at Christmas?), to allow a respectable religion to direct our paths.

Forgive us our trepasses.  Lead us not into temptation.

At our very best, Salvation Army merges margin and mainstream.  In the morning we are in the Governor’s office.  Later that same day we are praying with a family in the projects.  We are this way to bring people closer and closer together, to God.  The big theological idea is reconciliation, of all things.  That was a key theological claim made by George Scott Railton in 1878, the year we became The Salvation Army.

to be seen in all the most unlikely places

to be seen in all the most unlikely places

May God lead us into the most unlikely places to surprise this world that He so loves.  Amen.

I surprise the city.

Showing up in places and at times where and when I am not expected.

Like these mornings in New Orleans.

I run, wherever I may be when I wake each morning.

Traveling? A new city? Find a street, a trail.

My first mornings here in New Orleans led me down the fairly busy Magazine Street, then through the tourist French Quarter. Neither all that satisfying.

But today as the day before I headed south on Baronne from Poydras. Under the interstate. And then into a city I surprise.

Friday morning meant schoolchildren early rubbing their eyes accompanied by mothers and grandmothers. The sun hadn’t yet risen. Rubbing their eyes, blinking at a man running down the street.

But this morning, almost deserted streets. Past Brown Dairy just south of the Pontchartrain Expressway. A lone man on bicycle pedaling slowly the wrong direction on one way Baronne. He gave me a sidelong glance, just enough for me to catch. I tip my head in greeting and he makes a like movement, almost imperceptible. We are fellow intruders on the city’s new day.

No other running people. I am alone on Baronne which now turns into Dryades.

What a lovely name word. Tree nymphs. Mythology rendered in French. New Orleans is a city yet French, at least in memory. The French memory yet lingers just as in two other cities I’ve been part of, Detroit and St Louis. Cities with lovely street names. Belleterre. Soulard. oui.

The houses along Dryades, were they made from lovely trees? Now worn, raggedy, some ramshackle. Some deserted. Like bones visible underneath skin as the city lies sleeping. Dark windows in the dark morning.

I run past Second King Solomon Baptist Church which is almost immediately followed by Second Mt Carmel Baptist Church, close enough so that you wonder if they decided to share the distinction of not being first. But as far as the running man is concerned they are only like the church at Sardis which John the Divine wrote had no awareness of the hour of visitation. Unseen, unheard, I pass by.

Startled cats. More than one cat stares at me wide-eyed from the curb or crouches mid-street as I approach and pass. But where are the dogs? One or two, barely barking as I run past. Maybe they too are sleeping like their masters.

I was surprising a city. I was seeing it stripped of people, moving vehicles, light. At rest, quiet, a diminished cast of characters.

The skeleton of a city. Churches. Street names. Houses motionless. Utility poles and power lines with shoes tied together at the laces dangling from lines.

There’s a pair of baby shoes. What was that about?

Past Napoleon. Bordeaux. Soniat. Dufossat. Now I pause at Jefferson where the street is all tore up.

Yesterday I arrived there just as a crew of construction workers began their stretching exercises. It reminded me of a group of older Koreans I would run past early mornings along Lake Michigan from Waveland north to Montrose Harbor in Chicago. Greeting the sun and each other with their slow but ever deeper and higher stretches. Preparing for the day.

Today the construction workers are absent. It is Saturday. It’s just me, and now a few runners appearing along St Charles, headed north, headed south.

I turn, too, and head back north.

The sun now appears. A red ball above houses. More cars, bicyclists, people sitting on front steps of houses I passed earlier. I am beginning to be less of a surprise to this city’s life.

yesterday in New Orleans

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Dinner with a Captain and two Lieutenants, Bryan holding court. His hands say much. Ronnie and AJ deep in thought.

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After po-boys, cups of gumbo and fries we are on the way to hear Father Greg Boyle who will talk to us tonight about cultivating communities and leaders.

Father Boyle has a quiet way of making a person grin and laugh. In 1988 he established Homeboy Industries in East LA, providing economic development to young men who have been pushed to the margins by the system of the world.

This morning Michelle Alexander spoke to us about the new Jim Crow. The use of incarceration to institute a new version of racism. It tied in very well with Noel Castellanos Wednesday evening when he showed us a theological framework that includes ‘confronting injustice’.

Noel said the incarnation as a primary tenet of Christian community development can’t rely alone on proclamation and spiritual formation, or demonstrating compassion, or even restoring and developing our neighborhoods.

He has come to the conclusion, as many of us have, that injustice manifested in systems and structures needs to be confronted by the people of God.

Alexander described how she has discovered that the criminal justice system in America is “a massive system of racial and social control”. A new form of ‘Jim Crow’.

Interesting. Talking with Captain Ronnie on the way to our po-boy dinner he mentioned how he observed around him in the morning session many puzzled expressions, and then disinterest. Many seated around him seemed to have no idea what ‘Jim Crow’ is. Do we need to do some education? That we don’t lose the memory, the story of injustice in America?

Yesterday afternoon Ray Bakke and John Hayes presented a workshop on ‘spiritual history’. What has taken place in the past of the neighborhoods we live in, we work in?

What has happened in the past has had an effect on the spirit of individuals, families, neighborhoods, communities. And needs to be remembered and become part of the ministry we are called to in these places. The places where we are called to proclaim the gospel. Demonstrate compassion. Restore shalom. And confront injustice.

So, as the people of God who are called to live incarnate? Remember.

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In a few minutes tonight’s plenary session for CCDA 2013 Conference begins here at the Hyattt in New Orleans.

Roberto Guerrero (New York City) and Laura Truax (Chicago) are featured speakers. Here’s the band leading worship taking place right now

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Conferring, which workshops to attend this week

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Food is great here. People friendly and fun. Deliciously warm weather.

A brass band started off the conference tonight with a bang. Noel Castellanos talked to us about his conviction that confrontation with injustice completes the framework for us to work in neighborhoods and with people who are vulnerable, on margins.

Leroy Barber later spoke of our need to recognize that God is not going to use those of us who are transplanted, whether we are ‘incarnational’ or not, to bring renewal to our communities. Rather, that we are to be the cultivators of those living in underserved communities, who will be the ones God uses to set things right.

Great music and worship tonight with the CCDA musicians, too.

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