Thursday, October 27, 2005

Listening to Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks, 1913-2005, civil rights hero and catalyst for the Mongomery Bus Boycott, died Monday at age 92. I began my day listening to an archived interview with Rosa Parks from 1956. You can find a link to the recording here.

In the interview Ms. Parks says in a clear, soft voice, "The time had just come when I had been pushed as far as I could stand to be pushed, I suppose. They placed me under arrest. And I wasn't afraid. I don't know why I wasn't, but I didn't feel afraid. I had decided that I would have to know once and for all what rights I had as a human being and a citizen, even in Montgomery, Alabama."

A rousing gospel version of This Little Light of Mine concludes the interview. A black gospel choir singing "Jesus gave me the light, I'm gonna let it shine..." is blaring from my speakers right now. :-)

Isn't it interesting to think about just how many ways the "light" can shine? One of my favorite contemporary choruses is "Shine Jesus Shine." "Lord the light of your love is shining, in the midst of the darkness shining...Jesus, light of the world, shine upon us, set us free by the truth you now bring us..."

Rosa Parks had, according to those who knew her, "deep religious conviction." Perhaps it was her faith, the "light of Jesus," that gave this woman and many other people the strength to stand in a turbulent and violent time.

I am a person who tends to try to find the middle ground, to discover consensus, to compromise for the sake of peace. When I can't do so without being untrue to my convictions -- well, then it is time to stand. In Rosa Parks case it was time to sit. I'm not being flippant. I'm just pondering the nature of...finally having enough and refusing to budge.

More later...busy day ahead.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Apple Trees and the Fruit of the Spirit

MMmmmmm. I love apples in the fall of the year. I don't eat apples in the summertime, but when autumn comes, I love them. Funny.

I've been talking about the fruit of the Spirit in my sermons all summer long. Now when I look out the church windows from the platform, what I see is a big apple tree in the neighbor's yard. Not crabapples. I have those. I used it as an illustration this a.m. (fruit should be seen)! These are nice, pinky green apples. Last week I picked one up off the ground (it had rolled over next to the church) and took a chomp. WOW! It was tart and sweet at the same time, and crisp and juicy! And they are just letting those wonderful apples fall to the ground. It is all I can do not to take over a paper bag and swipe them. No one is ever home for me to ask if I can pick some of their wonderful apples. It is beyond me why they don't pick them themselves.

But it does make me consider...what fruit is visible as others look at my "tree?" My spiritual tree, that is. When I looked at the neighbor's apple tree, I badly wanted to pick an apple, to sniff it's fragrance, to take a bite and see if it tasted as good as it looked.

Since scripture tells us to "...taste, and see that the Lord is good!" it seems to me that a Christian life should tempt the passerby to do just find out just where the character traits of love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, and so on, come from!

How often has someone, in a spiritual sense, wanted to see if the Lord was indeed "good" because of the reflection of the Lord they saw in my life?

I'm mixing my metaphors, but it is a question worth pondering, I think.

The various fruit pictures I've used in this blog are from

More on Church

In August, before I started posting about Katrina issues, I ranted a bit about the supposed feminization of the church.

Here is something
on the subject from my friend, Galina. I especially like the last part. I'll quote it for you, but remember that it's not in response to every man on the planet. It's in response to one of those articles (like the one's I read that had me steaming) that tell us how boring and "girly" church is because there is not enough "adventure" and "risk." on:

Biblically speaking, the church exists to provide a place for connection, friendship and relationships for people who love Christ. It is there for Christians to gather together, experience God as a community, and go out to serve the world. Is that too boring for you? Yeah, my heart is bleeding (not!).

Adventure, risk, or danger, are not needs, they are self-centered and arrogant demands of the spoiled middle-to-upper class north-american christian males, who are forgetting how to be grateful for the "boring" safety of their society. What they need isn't churches who will organize hunting trips or mountain-climbing tours. They need to pack their bags, and go to Sri Lanka, Indonesia, or Malawi- or inner city areas - and serve the communities for whom danger isn't luxury or entertainment, it's a way of life.

The Christian life isn't about risk for the sake of risk, or having one's fill of adventure. It's about having a life that is meaningful, and dedicated to service. If it's too "girly" or too "boring", whiners don't need to join. The path of Christianity is narrow. Jesus said so. If you are not man enough to accept that challenge and carry your cross, please do everyone a favor, and find another hobby.

Thankfully, I know many such men. And women too. Thank God for people who are willing to have a meaningful, faithful life of service on a narrow path. May their tribe increase!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Is This Guy a Nutcase?

This is just one more, hopefully short, entry about "Camp Katrina" in Waveland, Mississippi.

The Katrina victims are very much on my mind because later today I will be shipping about 35 gift boxes for kids to Debra Callahan, my partner in face painting. Her church in Tennessee is sending some people down to Waveland to the K-Mart parking lot, aka Camp Katrina.

There is going to be a "Trunk or Treat" party at the distrubution center where kids will go to car trunks, apparently, for various treats. There will be lots of fun stuff for them to do. I wish I could be there, but Deb promises to give me lots of details. The Convoy of Hope has left Waveland and gone on to Picayune and elsewhere, but the Waveland Store and the New Waveland Cafe continue unabated, largely through the efforts of Christian Life Church. What this church and staff have been able to accomplish is nothing short of totally amazing.

Anyway, this morning as I got ready to go pack up our boxes (Thank you, church family at Jubilee) I remembered the crazy guy. I admit that the title of this blog entry is just what I thought when I first saw him.

He came up to the face painting table in the middle of a hot and steaming day. I was alone at the table for the moment, feeling depressed and drained. About 55 years old, with a white beard and a big smile, he was dressed in hiking boots, filthy shorts and a T shirt that was once white. He was about to enter the distrubution center for some supplies. His eyes crinkled as he grinned at me, waved his arms, and said gleefully, "Isn't this wonderful?" His speech sounded...well...sounded cultured. I guessed that he was perhaps a business person. Had been, anyway.

I was literally speechless, so said nothing. Again he gazed about and then grinned and said, "This is fabulous." I looked around too. I saw a long line of exhausted and shocked people, mostly silent (including the children). I saw bare, twisted trees, broken buildings, the filthy pavement, piles of trash, a demolished McDonalds, National Guard troops. Finally I manged to smile and say, "What, sir, is wonderful?" He waved his arms like a windmill and crowed happily, "This! Just look! Look! Look at this line of people, look at this wonderful 'cafe' and 'store.' And look at all you wonderful people coming here from all over the place to help us. Aren't people wonderful?" (I had just heard about some hoarding going on, and I was none too sure that people are wonderful.)

He went on, "You are wonderful, doing face painthing for our children. And people are giving us things for FREE! And my neighbors, who have not spoken to me for years, crawl out of their tent in the morning as I crawl out of my tent...and they say, 'Hey neighbor, are you all right over there? Are you doing okay?' People are sharing and caring and loving and talking and this is WONDERFUL!" He nodded and smiled at me once more as he headed into the distrubution tent, pushing a K-Mart cart.

He made my day!

Pehaps now I can start thinking and blogging about something else.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

And a last photo...or two

This is perhaps my favorite photograph!

And good bye to my new little Mississippi friends. My friend, Debra, and I quickly made connections with so many of these precious children. God, be with them.

Katrina Report--Last one!

At least that's the plan.

These first pictures are from a Waveland street right on the gulf. If one had looked out the front door of one of these homes, there would have been nothing to hinder the view. Just your lawn and then a narrow street and then a beautiful, white beach and the gulf waters beyond. I'm told that some of the most beautiful homes of the gulf coast were located here. In most cases, nothing, and I mean nothing, but foundations are left. I can only assume that the disintegrated houses were swept into the gulf as the storm surge receded. But this home was a strange sight to see, with the bottom floor completely gone but at least part of the second floor, including nice windows, intact. Notice again, the beautiful oak trees are stripped of foliage and the grass is "burnt" brown.

Notice these large steps. It must have been a very big house. All that is left are steps to nowhere.

Ken took these pictures of the railroad tracks. They are twisted totally out of shape. And part of the top of a house is flung onto the tracks.

These pictures are not far from the Assembly of God Church of Waveland. Perhaps we will take a team there early next year. We stopped by to see how they were doing, having been told that the church was a total loss. It was standing, but completely destroyed by mold and will have to be torn down. The pastor and his family are living in a little camper. The Presbyterian pastor was there too, and his lovely wife. The two families are good friends. The Presbyterian pastor's wife was the only woman I saw all week who had a "full face" of makeup on. Her hair was neatly combed, and she was casually but impeccably dressed. It was so unusual as to be striking.

I remember her sad eyes as she showed us her only remaining possessions, five decorative plates that had been a present from her grandmother. She was trying to remove the remains of Katrina's mud, a sticky smelly substance that stuck fast. The AG church had some running water, so she was there using the garden hose. It was a very sad sight. Tears filled her eyes as she told us they had lost everything, but she smiled when she told us that the Presbyterian church had, miraculously, been totally spared--an amazing story. A man who was not part of their church, in fact had not darkened the door of a church for many years, was riding out the storm from somewhere near the church. He told the pastor and his wife that he watched the storm surge coming in, watched it part and go around the Presbyterian Church, and come together again as it passed! He was in church the following Sunday! Wow!

I also remember the faces of many people. The beautiful young black girl who asked me to paint AK 2B on her face (Alicia Keyes to be). I did so, but I told her she just needed to be herself. That was great enough. If I see her on American Idol some day, I will recognize her. I told her so.

I remember Stephen, a sweet-faced, chubby little boy who his sisters called "Bubba." I learned that "Bubba" is not, contrary to what we northerners think, a derogatory name, but simply an affectionate term for "brother." I painted a football on his face one day, and a heart the next day (a return customer)! He waved cheerily to me as he left. He said he'd see me again the next day. I was sad to tell him that I would be on my way back home to Wisconsin. I wish I could start a sidewalk Sunday school at the K Mart parking lot, or at the Taco Bell lot where many of the children seemed to be "living."

I remember one of those children from the Taco Bell lot (if I am remembering rightly)a boy who opened his "gift box" (a shoebox full of toys from an Alliance Church in NJ) and shouted with glee because he'd received a "Woody" puppet. Think Disney's "Toy Story". His mama told us, with something like joy on her face, that Woody was "his favorite, his very favorite character!"

I remember the strikingly beautiful elderly woman who sat down under our canopy and gratefully accepted a cold bottle of Aquafina, telling us that she was 91. And had lost everything.

I remember the day we heard that some of our colleagues had helped a woman who had lost her two children during Katrina. She didn't know if they were alive, and if they were...where they were. They were in a Red Cross shelter in Utah, along with their babysitter. We all rejoiced.

I remember the children, sad-eyed and a bit fearful, most keeping a watchful eye out for the grownup with them. My mind could not comprehend the losses they have suffered. They lost their homes (in most cases), their belongings, their school, their McDonald's, their K-Mart, their entire town. I left Camp Katrina with a feeling of relief that I could return to my clean little home in my clean little town in nice, cool Wisconsin. But I can't stop thinking of those faces, those eyes, those stories. I pray for Waveland, and all along the gulf coast, every day. I don't think my life will ever be quite the same.

Thank you, Gulfport AG church, for allowing us to sleep in your rooms and rinse off in your showers and attend Sunday worship service with you. In retrospect, I see God's plan in it all.

I hope I will see these once-beautiful towns again, in better days.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Katrina Report Part Six: In the K Mart Parking Lot

You can click on any of these blog photos to see them in a larger format.

The heavily damaged K Mart stood closed and dark. Out front of our site we could see a perpetual long line of Katrina victims, most with borrowed K Mart shopping carts, waiting to enter our store for food and supplies. The heat and humidity were intense. We watched for those who needed water or a place to sit down. To the right of the store, we handed out tents, blankets, pillows and sleeping bags. That is, we handed them out when we had them. There was a limited supply, and some always stood in a long line only to be disappointed. As you can see in the photo, the line extends as far as we could see.

Notice the trees. They are battered and mostly bare. Few leaves uncanny sight in the summer heat. Every sign in Waveland is torn and broken, every business but one was closed, we saw one home in a habitable condition. But the line of people come from Waveland, Pas Christian, Picayune, Bay St. Louis, and other towns. The enormity of the devastation is hard to grasp.

The K-Mart parking lot became "Camp Katrina," home to about 40 Waveland people living in nylon tents. Additionally there was a medical tent, our Convoy of Hope store and restaurant, a large tent to house the volunteers, an Aging Services tent, and several others. Just to the side of our disbursement "store" was a shattered McDonald's and a large pile of debris. You can see in the picture that a nylon tent is located behind the restaurant. To the rear of our tent was the vacant lot full of garbage. Trash and debris were everywhere, and the stench of mold rose from the parking lot when it got wet (as it did when I poured water over my hot feet one afternoon).

Just next door to the store stood "The Waveland Cafe." A board outside held messages, pictures of missing loved ones, phone numbers, and other information.

Inside, people from many denominations cooked and served food to over 5,000 people each day.

Here, some weary people share lunch and conversation.

Behind The Waveland Store and The Waveland Cafe, a flurry of activity took place--semis arrived and forklifts offloaded the trucks and moved supplies to the makeshift warehouse tent. Then the supplies were moved, as we needed them, to the store. Here, Ken and I stand beside the bright Convoy of Hope simi trailer. It's our last night in Waveland, and we have mixed feelings as we head towards our vehicle and "home" to First Assembly in Gulfport for the last night.

Katrina Report Part Five: Outside the Door of "The Waveland Store"

The National Guard was evident. And appreciated. These two posed outside "The Waveland Store" (our disbursement center) with a Waveland resident. Afterward, he ran into the big tent to gleefully inform a buddy, "I got my picture taken with th' Army men!"

Debra and me (in the hat) with two little customers.

On our third day in Waveland, Misty, our wonderful "boss" announced that she actually had enough volunteers inside the tent so that Deb and I could go outside and talk with people, set up our little face paint table and give both the parents and the children a much-needed break. We painted hundreds of little faces. All colors: beautiful dark brown faces surrounded by black braids, white faces with blonde hair blowing into the paint, many cute freckled faces, mostly little faces, but an occasional grownup sat still and allowed us to paint a frog, pumpkin, basketball, flower or what have you on their sunburned and sweaty faces. Here are some pictures of our little canopy. We sat in the humidity and heat and passed out bottles of water, and decorated little faces with bright paints. And we smiled, and offered senior citizens a chair-- and mostly we listened to people as they cried and talked and smiled as they watched us with the children, and they told their stories as if they'd known us a long time.

These two are the firefighters, turned temporary FEMA guys, that I mentioned below. J.J. is on the left. If you can't read the sign, click on the picture and you will see that it says "Rest Area for Seniors." We had struck up an acquaintance with these two earlier in the day, and when they came by I asked if they'd sit for a photo. They somehow knew we were setting them up (I do NOT have a poker face) and they sat down rather reluctantly. After I snapped the picture, Deb showed them the sign....joke on FEMA...maybe not so funny, all things considered. But they groaned dramatically...and took it well.

Later, a woman stopped to sit. She did not look well and she was confused and argumentative. She overheard me say something to Ken about his blood sugar and she rather casually mentioned that she had not had a glucometer since Katrina came to town. Ken (also a diabetic) took her blood sugar--it was around 600! If you don't know about blood sugars, Ken says to tell you that if his was that high he'd be in a coma. He's not kidding.

J.J. then walked by, exactly at the right time to escort her to the nearby medical tent. She was quite reluctant, but it helped that he was in a sort of uniform. Later he reported to us that she had been sent to a hospital immediately.

We wondered aloud, "What if she hadn't overheard that Ken was a diabetic? What if Ken had not been around (he usually would have been inside the distribution tent)? What if we hadn't just received a shipment of glucometers to Convoy of Hope (the first we had seen)? What if J.J. hadn't walked by just at the right time to be "a government authority?" God was good to that lady, I think.

Blogspot's photo download is not working again. More later.