Friday, August 27, 2010

The Idea Part 2: A Community Challenge

Regrets? Oh my Lord, yes! What I or Joan wouldn't give for one of us to go back 11 years just to have a short conversation with the younger version of us. Even though we thought differently at the time we were so naive, so unprepared.

The irony of the dates these two blog entries fell on is not lost upon us. CNN and just about every other news outlet is currently reminding Americans of what befell upon our Gulf coast neighbors 5 years ago this week. Even with the early warnings broadcast days, even weeks before Katrina made landfall, many folks didn't make quite enough provisions. They thought they were ready and for those first hours of the initial winds, rains, and tides most people were. It was the aftermath, dealing with the damage and unanticipated lifestyle changes that was so hard to comprehend, understand, and in some cases even impossible to live with.

This past January I traveled to New Orleans to visit my brother and nephew. Despite my team losing in the NFC Championship Game I had a marvelous time enjoying the sights and sounds of the French Quarter, the gluttonous visits to local eateries, and the warm love of family. Had I not been looking for them the scars of Hurricane Katrina would've been lost behind fresh paint and Mardis Gras decor. After breakfast Monday morning we had a few hours to waste before I had to be at the airport. Cameron asked, "Do you want to take a ferry ride...walk the French Quarter again?"
"How far is the Ninth Ward?"
"We have time but are you sure?"
Yes was the definitive answer because I thought I was prepared. I wasn't.

The next hour or so was fairly quiet except for the occasional question from the naive one.
"What are those numbers on the side of those houses?"
"The number of people who were supposed to be there."
"Why is there a mid-September date beside them?"
"That was when it was searched."
"Why did it take three weeks to search them?"
"Because until then they were all under water - most likely someone piloted a boat to get through here on that first search."

House after house, neighborhood after neighborhood. More numbers and more homes abandoned, still lying in ruin. This was almost five years later.

I thought of that winter car ride yesterday as I wrote. I thought of all the little things Joan and I used to take for granted. They seemed so important at the time, a necessary item on the checklist for the middle class couple. We had call-waiting so we wouldn't miss a business call...a parking pass right next to the stadium of our college football team...steaks on the grill every Saturday night...all the movie channels - not just American Express card because membership has its privileges. You know what I'm talking about! Those needs that all of us deserve which bring us comfort because we worked so hard for them.

The rule of thumb used to be to have enough savings to pay your bills for six months just in case you lost your job. Oh we did better than that! At the time we had over year's salary stashed away! We had planned for this because when Bennie Junior came along we were going to become a one-income family with Mom staying at home ready to cart the kiddies to soccer every afternoon. But something happened on our way to The American Dream. Little did we know that A Perfect Storm was brewing.

These things I tell you because to get to the Truth, the real nitty-gritty, we must be willing to confess our own sins before we begin pointing fingers at others for their lack of compassion, consideration, or even understanding. And even if you eventually feel you've achieved enough atonement to raise that finger you know the old saying? Three more are pointing back at you. Yes, we could've been much more frugal. We could have done without many of those "needs." We really could've closed our business sooner rather than keep throwing money (more precisely credit card debt) on that corporate funeral pyre. Of course you know what they say about hindsight. Yet that isn't the entire picture - knowing we could've done a little bit better job would not have restored the landscape we remember before our personal Katrina.

Recently one of our gubernatorial candidates for governor was questioned by a group of special needs advocates about her stance in regards to possible cuts to special needs programs in next year's budgeting process. This lady was one of six out of over one hundred representatives voting to cut special needs funding this year so my friends weren't expecting a positive reply. Even funnier to me is that she is running on a campaign to promote "family values." Her response? "Nothing is off the table. In fact I'm of the opinion that non-profits and faith-based organizations should take on more of the expense rather than tax-payers."

My initial reaction (and pardon my French) was, WHAT THE F**K? Miss Family Values and Sarah "I am a special needs grandma" Palin-endorsed candidate wants to deny public funding for the most vulnerable of society? We're already barely eking out an existence here on bare bones and the Christian Right/Tea Party-supported candidate wants to yank even more of the floor from under us? I don't think that's what Jesus would do! And while pondering that phrase recently it dawned on me that Nikki Haley is at least partially right (no pun intended).

The Big Idea? Faith-based organizations should take on more responsibility in providing for the needs of the most vulnerable of society. I do believe that is what Jesus would do and have us do for Him. I think if most rabbis, imams, gurus, or any other religious leader thought about it they look more closely at the Christian parable that answers the question, "who is my neighbor?" But where Ms. Haley is dreadfully wrong is in the expectation that those non-profits and organizations would indeed bear that cross.

Next time you are driving about town take a look at the size and grandeur of some of the houses of worship. If you are a part of one of those congregations take note sometime of how many handicapped, special needs, or exceptional families are in attendance. Most if not all public places to worship your understanding of God have the space and accessibility to host such persons. My guess is that there aren't many there. Think about why that is for just a moment.

Now consider the amount earmarked for mission work within the budgets of these Godly organizations. Even with the economic constraints I am aware of some absolutely incredible large amounts given to foreign missions and even specifically dedicated ones such as hurricane relief funds in the wake of Katrina. Here's another thought. I personally know of three different local churches who recently sent youth groups on summer trips to either build or remodel homes for the poor or elderly in other counties and states. Several churches here in the upstate of South Carolina even send folks annually to foreign countries to distribute and administer much needed medical supplies. Are these projects worthy? Are they things that Jesus would do? Of course they are!

My personal opinion though is that this is a bit of not seeing the trees for the forest. The question I have once again is who is your neighbor? The beautiful people of Haiti are our neighbors. So are the former inhabitants of the Ninth Ward down in NOLA. But if you look a little closer to home you will discover some families who live just around the block from your home desperately needing help too. They literally are your neighbor.

Next summer when your church is planning that annual youth trip why not contact the Department of Special Needs in your area or that special needs school. I would even venture to guess that there just might be somebody within your own congregation who knows of a family needing help. Send those kids across town to build a wheelchair ramp, paint a house, remodel a bathroom, or to just mow the grass. My guess is that those are also things Jesus might do.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Bennie~
5 years ago now I was in the hospital giving birth to my Luke. I remember sobbing uncontrollably at the devastation I saw on the news as a result of Katrina- and only made worse with what all happended at the Dome where people went for shelter from Katrina. I remember thinking that- here I am safely in Missouri having my c-section- but what is happening to other women in labor or having c-sections in New Orleans and the surrounding area? Or those who are in the hospital? Or in nursing homes. I just cried and cried helplessley for just what our fellow Americans were enduring.
Then we heard from the doctor that something was wrong with our son. He knew something was off, but he was wrong about his diagnosis. Took 15 months to get to PKS and only then because I found it! The geneticist was moving too slowing for me. And I was right to test Luke's tissue for PKS. Then 2 months later my husband and our children's dad was diagnoses with terminal cancer. So I totally get a "personal Katrina." In fact, I really "get" it. My heart goes out to you, my brother in special needs parenting. And just today the pastor's wife called me to aske how she could help us- humbling for sure. God bless.