What’s new in the neighborhood? Disaster edition

August 29, 2007, 11:48 am | Posted by

Boulevard of Broken Dreams with Hurricane Katrina footage

JSpot celebrates Katrina’s second birthday with some whithering posts. One the rhetoric vs. the reality and also on the role of women in the recovery.

And so does Pam’s House Blend, drawing attention to indicting video of the still-broken Gulf Coast: To get a true sense of what it is like two years later, go to Voices from the Gulf from ColorofChange.org — unvarnished video perspectives from the region.

On the Gulf Coast, one of the sharpest men in show biz, Harry Shearer has been on the hurricane recovery beat for two years now. At the HuffPo, he writes: “Along with other New Orleanians, I’ve been amazed at the lack of alacrity with which both Republicans and Democrats have approached the problem of a federally caused flood that destroyed or damaged hundreds of thousands of homes, wrecking whole neighborhoods and communities, and spinning half a city’s population into involuntary, semi-permanent exile. Now the answer becomes clear: the post-Katrina flooding just didn’t destroy enough houses.”

Faithfully Liberal interviews Rev. Tim Ahrens, senior pastor at First Church in Columbus, Ohio and the leader of We Believe Ohio, which played a significant role in balancing out the religious voice in 2006 and mitigating the effect of the right-wing Patriot Pastors network. If you’re interested in the futures of faith in American public life, check out his words here:

First, I would say, the term “liberal” is over used and outdated. We are sometimes referred to as progressive people of faith. But, like Thomas Paine over 200 years ago, I feel like we are people of faith and conscience with “Common Sense.” It is common sense to care for the common good of all your state’s citizens.

We have been silent too long in the mainline traditions of Protestantism, Catholicism, Islam, and Judaism. We are folks who believe in the goodness of humanity and quietly go about living in the pathway of faith. However, we have given away the media and various mediums of communications to those who are hi-jacking our faith and abusing it in the process. We need to stand up, speak out, and be a prophetic witness for Christ – and our various traditions of faith in a growing and diverse religious America.

Mother Jones‘ recent article “Hillary’s Prayer” on Sen. Clinton’s “Fellowship faith” has stirred up some controversy. Pastor Dan sees her at best a “useful idiot” and wonders why she is hanging around “creeps.” But over at Faithful Democrats, Eric Sapp writes, “This article demonstrates how the fear of the unknown can lead to accusations that are nothing short of surreal. It shows how completely clueless some on the left are about people of faith…and it shows how badly damaged we have allowed the witness of the Church to become where the mere mention of Christ’s name can generate such fear.”

I usually enjoy a Jeff Sharlet article and appreciate the nuance he brings to reporting on the often-strange cultures of religion. But this piece came across as reaching too hard for a hook and ended up hinting at a vast bible study conspiracy. Faith in Public Life’s Dan critiqued the article pessimism toward “common ground issues” and Sharlet defended his skepticism, stating: “There have been instances where liberals have maintained their liberalism, and instances where conservatives who were also bigots have abandoned certain bigotries, but none where conservatives have moved leftward on any philosophical or political issue.”

My contention is that the article stirs up worries that by praying with “those people,” Sen. Clinton is compromising. That above all else she is a true believer in her own ability to triangulate. And while there’s little doubt about her not being the most liberal senator and candidate for president, the article would prove stronger not by pulling a half “Colson” and hinting at her compromises with the Hill faithful, but rather by showing that this mixing has led to significant (i.e., beyond flag burning) policy moves rightward. I guess that I’m less worried about whispers about how, and who with, a politico prays and I am more interested in what my representative does, and for whom. As a believer, I actually compare what a politician does, to my moral convictions, not who they sometimes pray around.

The Rev. Deb Haffner shares her sex and religion perspective regarding Sen. Craig’s closeted homosexuality:

Because in the world that I am working for he would be able to affirm his sexual orientation whatever it is, have meaningful intimate relationships, and engage in moral, ethical sexual behavior. The values he espoused about sexuality would be the values he lived.

God’s Politics has a back-to-school reading list.

Islamicate on Bush and torture.

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Thank you notes from New Orleans

August 29, 2007, 11:31 am | Posted by

A series of benefactors

Posted by Johnny Jackson, Jr. August 29, 2007 2:16AM

My first encounter with an angel who happen to be members of a fishing club from the Baton Rouge area. I was caught in the flood waters of hurricane Katrine with my 81 years old mother, my mentally and physically challenged brother and my fragile nephew at my mothers two story home in the Press Park community of the upper 9th ward.

They rescued us in the dark of early morning and risk their lives trying to get her and my brother in the small boat. Even after two failed efforts, they stayed until all of us were safe in the small boat. After two day of not seeing anyone coming to provide any assistance, truly they were Angels to us.

When works bring faith

Posted by Barbara Evans August 29, 2007 2:14AM

I am a single mom with 2 children. My house was badly damaged by Katrina. It got flooded and had significant roof damage which caused major destruction upstairs and down. Super Bowl Sunday I was introduced to a guy, interested in seeing my house.

After seeing the devastation, he said he wanted to help me, calling himself a real “handy man.”

I thought his offer would only last a short time. He lived 1 1/2 hours away from my house. He worked on my house approximately 4-5 days a week for 9 months. He repaired my whole house; construction, electrical, plumbing,and painting.He did all this in his spare time; he had a full time job 8:00 to 5:00.

He would work long hours, sometimes till 2 a.m. and then still have to drive home.

He was determined to get us out of the FEMA trailer as soon as possible. He never accepted money; he just wanted to do his part to help. I don’t know why I was chosen, but I don’t think I could have done it without him. This man was my guardian angel and I will forever be grateful.

A gathering of angels

Posted by Bill Sanchez August 29, 2007 1:54AM

Touched by an angel? How about touched by 15 Angels? The capitalization on the term Angels was no accident. The group of teenagers that sacrificed not only their summer, but exposed themselves to untold hazards to come here and gut houses after Hurricane Katrina restored my faith in the future of this country.

One,in fact, had to be taken to the hospital with a severe infection of a minor cut. These heaven sent young volunteers not only gutted our house, they did it with grace and dignity, asking that one of us be present to preserve whatever of value (monetarily or sentimentally) they uncovered. There were more sentimental items than valuables left, I assure you.

Perhaps the most moving jesture they made was a purely personal one. As they cleaned out my office, they noted the loss of several Bibles and study references I had. These wonderful kids autographed and anotated a Bible they had been given to use for group devotions and presented it to my wife. I will never forget this act because it hepled me reach deep down inside and open up the door of my own faith that had almost closed. They provided me with the slogan that brought me through this mess, “I lost everything but my faith”.

Therefore, shamelessly do I solicit everyone to contribute to “Samaritan’s Purse”, the organization that sponsored these Angels on their mission of mercy. They themselves would accept nothing in return, not even a warm home cooked meal my wife offered.

I have no affiliation with that organization other than a warm spot in my heart that not even the Artic Circle could freeze over. I will cherish that Bible the rest of my life.

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Poverty in America

August 28, 2007, 4:13 pm | Posted by

The Census Bureau’s annual social and economic data report on income, poverty and health insurance came out today, bringing mixed news about Americans’ unmet needs. On the plus side, the poverty rate fell from 12.6 percent to 12.3 percent — 490,000 fewer people living in poverty. On the minus side, the poverty rate was still 12.3 percent, or 36,460,000 people.

One thing that often gets lost when we talk about poverty is the human face of it. Poverty is not a percentage. It’s a little girl who goes to school when she’s sick because she needs the free lunch. It’s a father who knocks on a neighbor’s door to ask for food for his children. It’s a family of four living in a tiny, noxious FEMA trailer that bakes in the sun and trembles in the wind. It’s a daily state of privation and insecurity endured by 36.5 million Americans, and the fact that we accept it is a serious moral issue. The decline in poverty is good news for 490,000 people, but that is dwarfed by the bad news of 36.5 million people still unable to meet their needs. We need to remember that when we order our political priorities.

PS, the adequacy of the Census Bureau’s poverty threshold isn’t something to be taken as valid on its face, but that’s a topic for another post.

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Re-remembering the Gulf Coast: After two visits this summer

August 28, 2007, 1:36 pm | Posted by

By Kristine G

In June I traveled to New Orleans and Long Beach, Miss., with The Beatitudes Society as a part of the annual Service Learning Trip. I had read that the trip’s purpose was to make prophetic witnesses of those who chose to participate. I read that a prophetic witness is one who “sees what’s wrong in society and dares to speak up and act for change, dares to dream God’s dream of justice on earth.” I also read that it would be a life transforming opportunity, but I had no idea just how life transforming it would be.

What I saw and heard that week outraged me. I could not believe that two years after the hurricane, piles of debris still sat on the side of the road. I could not believe that insurance companies could tell people that they wouldn’t be able to rebuild their homes because their policies only had wind coverage and flooding had destroyed their homes. I could not believe that hospitals were closed and strip malls were open. I could not believe that people were still living in trailers. And what shocked me the most was that I had no idea any of this was still going on.

My ignorance embarrassed me. I knew what was going on in Iraq, and Africa, and Israel/Palestine. I knew about global warming and fair trade and immigration. And yet somehow the Gulf Coast went unnoticed and unrecognized. Two years after the storm, the Gulf Coast holds barely any resemblance to what it was pre-Katrina. Life is not back to normal. Children that went to schools that were destroyed attend now-overcrowded schools that survived; families of four live in tiny, cramped trailers; affordable housing has disappeared; homes are still gutted and empty; and people have yet to rebuild their lives. When you look into the faces of the people who are suffering, you realize that you cannot forget them any longer.

I resolved that week not to forget. I left promising to tell the stories, to tell of what I saw and heard and felt. But I also left with a distinct calling to go back. So I did.


In August I returned to Camp Coast Care in Mississippi to help rebuild houses for another week. And when I came back home, I knew that I would return again. The Gulf Coast changed my life, just as my reading predicted. I now plan on doing mental health disaster relief work — I’ve just started a master’s program in mental health counseling in order to do so, because I want to help people rebuild their lives after disasters like Katrina and I want to be a part of making sure they are not overlooked or forgotten.

As we approach the two year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, we must again resolve not to forget. We must dare to speak up and act for change. We must become prophetic witnesses of God’s dream for justice on earth, and in the Gulf Coast.

Kristine Galli is a graduate student at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California.

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“The question that simply won’t go away”

August 27, 2007, 2:43 pm | Posted by

Yesterday I appeared on Air America’s State of Belief with Welton Gaddy to discuss the news media’s handling of questions about presidential candidates’ religious faiths, which I blogged about last week.

Rev. Gaddy did a good job of pushing me to explain why I was glad last week’s Iowa debate featured a question on the candidates’ beliefs about the power of prayer. In defense of the validity of asking personal questions about candidates’ faiths, I said

People aren’t electing platforms, they’re electing other human beings, and they really want to get a sense of who these human beings are. Identity is a very significant component of political campaigns, and this is one manifestation of that.

I stand by that, but at this early stage of the presidential campaign, the media and the electorate haven’t quite defined the role of religion and the proper way in which to discuss it, and you don’t have to look very hard for divergent opinions.

In Saturday’s Boston Herald, Scripps Howard columnist Bonnie Erbe said

If the Democrats are going to make “running against Bush” a hallmark of the ’08 campaign, they must promise to rebuild the now-wrecked wall between church and state. They must also pledge to keep their own religious beliefs out of government policy-making.

Dismayingly, Sunday’s debate showed some Democratic front-runners still feel the need to cater to the religious right.[emphasis added]

Erbe then critiques the candidates’ responses to the question about whether they believed prayer could prevent natural disasters. She had kind words only for Edwards and Richardson, calling Edwards “a deeply religious man, so confident in the power of his convictions that he can separate them from his role as a government official,” and Richardson courageous and “surprisingly impressive.”

But Richardson said his sense of social justice is rooted in his Roman Catholic faith. So does Erbe not believe Richardson should allow his sense of social justice to influence his policy positions? I’d think not and hope not. She probably didn’t mean to say that, but it’s a clear implication.

Erbe’s column is important because it’s a great example of the consequences of the religious right’s polarization of America. After seven years of an administration guided by a messianic foreign policy and a fundamentalist-influenced domestic agenda, she says that “a national leader’s belief that his (or her) policies are underwritten by God should be viewed in the same ominous light as a cross on fire.” The problem is her unspoken assumption that because religious motivation lay behind the Bush administration’s destructive policies, religiously motivated policies are inherently bad.

The negative results of Bush’s conservative religious convictions does not preclude the possibility that a future president’s progressive religious beliefs could inspire him or her to advance an agenda for the common good that leaves our nation and our world a better place. It’s tragic that Erbe sees “running against Bush” not as running against war, division, and pollution, but as running away from faith. It doesn’t have to be that way, and we need to talk about faith in order to reclaim it.

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