The original Orleans is located in the northern Loire region of France, in the heart of chateaux country, and a few train stops from Nantes, where Jeff and I will be this fall. The chateaux were jewels in the French Bourgois crown, extravagant displays of brick and masonry, with sprawling gardens. I do look forward to visitng a few while we’re there, but my thoughts and eyes are heavy with thoughts of the New Orleans. The scenes you and I are seeing are a far cry from the chateaux playgrounds the French elite found around Orleans. We are seeing suffering on a magnitude we could not have imagined inside these borders, and those who cry for help, are the poor.
It seems so lopsided that when such a tragedy would befall our land of plenty, that those with the least would suffer most. Be it that they did not want to leave, or simply did not have the money, the desperation speaks of a lifetime of being underfed, underserviced and disappointed. As I laid in bed tonight and prayed for God knows what, I felt so helpless, and frustrated, in part by the thoughts that have crossed my mind in the past few days: “oh, we’re still rich America..this suffering doesn’t compare with decimated Sri Lankan villages”, “maybe if they would have left when they were told to this wouldn’t have happened”, “all the news shows people are the fantastic stories, the shock-value pictures, its not really as bad as the evening news makes it sound..”
Is my heart so hard? Sometimes it is. Even if those assumptions held a fraction of truth, there is still suffering happening that breaks the Creator’s heart. That people are hungry, children who should be playing and active are listless from lack of food, homes are decimated. This is no small thing. And as with any such disaster, I face the tension of not wanting to overwhelm myself with the unfolding drama, of choosing “lighter” programming so the images won’t stick in my head too long…how much should we, from afar, dive into this story?
My problem, and I think it is an American or even a Western problem, is that I don’t allow myself time to engage with this tragedy, to let the images, sound-bytes, testimonies, truly sink in. I thought tonight about my road-trip to New Orleans one sweltering weekend several springtimes ago. Our purpose was the famous Jazz-fest. However we also trod those famous New Orleans streets, had Beinets at Café DuMonde and window-shopped the works of local artists while live music lilted through the sticky air. I think about that kitsch shop we found on a quaint side street in the French quarter and wonder if looters have stolen the Jesus Action Figure we saw in the front window.
What do I expect as a Christian observing all of this? I expect there will be some that claim God’s wrath on riverboat gamblers or Mardi Gras lasciviousness. Some may experience crises of faith, wondering where God could be in this helplessness. I also expect and hope that there will be, and probably already are, thousands of churches, and relief agencies moblising to assist in the effort to do as Jesus instructed us: feed the poor, house the refugee, care for the widow. One such group is Mercy Works, headed by a friend, Debbie Lascelles. Her heart for mercy and service is contagious, and I hope to see her teams on the scene in New Orleans soon.