Thursday, September 08, 2005

Sunday thoughts. Click here for the Readings
The readings this week seem difficult in light of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and on this anniversary of September 11 destruction of the Trade Towers and the Pentagon. The reading from the Hebrew scriptures is the drowning of the Egyptians so that the Israelite people can be free. The Epistle is on judgment and religious laws and the Gospel is on forgiveness.
There are several ways to approach the Exodus story. One is that we are both the Egyptians and the Israelites. Our care for the poor as a country, in health care, education, and steady employment has been shown in this tragedy to be far short of the standard of the prophets and Jesus. They have been trapped in this event by the lack of choices available. Without funds, transportation, a place to go, and/or a plan for keeping up the levees or for disaster, people were doomed. A 2004 article in National Geographic sketches a scenario of a hurricane hitting New Orleans that is eerily similar to what happened. Like the Israelites asked to make bricks without straw - the Gulf Coast was asked to protect itself without funds.
Another idea that comes to mind is that all journeys begin with birth. The crossing of water is symbolic of new life. We have to leave the womb that protects and feeds us to enter into the wilderness that is our life. With family and community gathered around us - we can launch into life and make the journey. Death of the old and birth of the new are a part of each other. If we can take the disaster that has occurred and turn it to a new life and a new spirit for our country we can in some small way redeem a terrible event.
When Jesus talks about forgiving he shares a story of the one who owes so much and is forgiven but when it comes to others he is hard hearted. This not a story of letting people off from abusing others or forgiving and forgetting. It is one that calls for accountability.
This is the point Paul is making in his letter to the Romans. He is discussing religious laws on diet and worship and our judgments about who is acceptable in the community and who is not. Paul says that we are all brothers and sisters and need to work for one another instead of against each other. Accountability but also compassion for our human failures and our human abilities.
I have heard that "we should just stop talking about who is at fault and get on with the work" after Hurricane Katrina. But it is in the learning and accountability that true forgiveness can happen. Mistakes in judgment, greed, things done and not done are all apart of what happened and we need to bring these things into the light. It is only then that true repentance can occur. This does not mean we get so bogged down that we don't act. Mother Jones said "Pray for the dead and work like hell for the living." I hope for us there is a quality of "working like heaven" - working as Jesus would have us care for our neighbor as we would care for ourselves.
The Psalmist sings of earthquakes and floods - natural disasters. They are the reality of our life on earth. There are many things that can be done to mitigate the effect on life but they will occur. We are God's hands and heart here in this time and this place, we are called to share our gifts and talents in whatever way we can. Some are working on the front lines, some are offering homes to those displaced, some are sending money through relief agencies. Episcopalians are giving through Episcopal Relief and Development where you can be assured that most of your gift goes to help and not for overhead. We have the structures in place to make it happen.
At the end of the day, though, it is only in God that we really "move and live and have our being," who will be with us through fire and flood, bearing us up on eagle's wings when the journey is too difficult. We need only ask for that strength and peace that passes understanding.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Mary Thomas Watts
September 6, 2005

It’s time to pull over and let some people out.
We’ll need a disembarkation manifest, so here’s mine.

Earning the top spot on the list of chuckleheads we gotta lose is Michael Chertoff, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, swiftly followed out the tailgate by FEMA Director Michael Brown.
The magnitude of Katrina’s destruction was surpassed only by the blundering incompetence of these two Bush-crony bureaucrats who were supposed to know how to respond to a national disaster.
Maureen Dowd, of the New York Times, understated the case when she called Brown, of FEMA, “a blithering idiot,” and Chertoff deserves to go down in historic infamy alongside Nero, who fiddled while Rome burned, and President George W. Bush, who was photographed gaily strumming a guitar on Tuesday, August 30, while the deadly waters rose in New Orleans.
Attention! Will the following high-profile persons please step up and take your exit pass as your name is called:
Vice-president Dick Cheney, who, as of Labor Day, hadn’t uttered the first peep about the cataclysm in the Coastal Southeast.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who took in a Broadway musical comedy and shopped for designer shoes, in Manhattan, while thousands perished.
Rush Limbaugh, who is running lower on the milk of human kindness than the Hattiesburg BP is on regular unleaded.
Karl Rove, who stayed behind in Crawford so he could party with the anti-Cindy Sheehan people.
Next off, any-dadgum-body who ducks, dodges and makes lame excuses for the shameless performance of Homeland Security, FEMA and the White House. We all saw what happened that shouldn’t have and what didn’t happen that should have, and we’re not about to forget it.
The duck, dodge, lame excuse rule goes double for Bush 41 and Bill Clinton, who need to stick to fundraising for the relief effort and leave defending the administration to Karl Rove, who hasn’t met a human tragedy he couldn’t exploit to boost his president’s approval ratings.
I’m also particularly anxious to deposit on the roadside members of the press--print and electronic--who commit the following offenses against our collective sensibilities:
1. Professing shock at the poverty they see in New Orleans and on the Mississippi and Alabama Gulf Coasts. Matt Lauer, et al., are way too sheltered for their--and our--own good.
2. Telling us how great President Bush is one-on-one. The president hugging hurricane victims is to this unfathomable disaster what his turning up in Baghdad with a plastic Thanksgiving turkey was to the War in Iraq. Save your film.
3. Anointing a super hero prematurely. As inspiring as it is to hear Lt. Gen. Russell Honore cuss in a Cajun accent, barking at the National Guard to put down their blankety-blank weapons, “You’re not in Baghdad,” we’ve just begun to see the faces of true courage, and heroes will be legion.
You gotta hand it to Lt. Gen. Honore, though, he’s already given us some great sound bites, like, “We’re not stuck on stupid,” which somebody ought to put on a bumper sticker. (Or maybe they already have, and that’s where he got it.)
We’ve made a pretty thorough sweep here, so re-assigning the vacated seats is the next order of business.
Everybody responding to the immediate crisis with sacrifices of time, talent and money, come aboard.
Politicians and disaster management experts with the will and expertise to fix what’s so obviously broken at FEMA and Homeland Security, hop on.
It’ll be a squeeze, given how many countries have offered help (Canada, Cuba, Iran, Germany, Kuwait, Great Britain and Afghanistan, to name just some), but nations traveling together is the world’s best hope.
Journalist and author William Greider said, “Everyone’s values are defined by what they will tolerate when it is done to others.”
I don’t know about you, but my hair is still on fire over what my fellow Americans suffered in their darkest hour.
Enough, already, from the White House about “an army of comfort” and “the armies of compassion.”
As Wilmington High School Hurricane Editor Michael DiBiasio asked, “Why does everything always have to be an ARMY with him?” Why, indeed.
We’re way short on competent leadership in this country, and it’s our own fault. It’s also up to us to change the situation.
I guess you might say we’ve got openings for drivers.
How about we give the wheel to somebody with the spirit of that 14-year-old boy, in New Orleans, who sized up the situation, found himself a school bus and drove people to Houston?

Mary Thomas Watts lives in Wilmington and writes for “The Gary Burbank Show,” 700 WLW-AM, Cincinnati.