Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Why New Orleans Needs Saving

Of the 455,000 people who once lived in New Orleans, only 144,000 have returned. In biblical terms, a great exile of the people has occurred with residents of the city scattered all across the United States. I've been thinking about this challenge for many weeks now, as I work with fellow Presbyterians here in Omaha to send our first mission team to the New Orleans area in May for a service project. Why should we care about New Orleans here in Omaha? First of all, we have a call as people of faith to reach out to our neighbors in their time of crisis. What we are learning six months after Hurricane Katrina is that caring support for those in need can begin to challenge us after a period of time. In the news this week, reports from Houston, Texas indicate a level of compassion fatigue has begun to develop. The people of Houston, its public officials and churches, deserve our highest admiration. But it isn't surprising that fatigue has begun to set in. In many ways, our national character is being tested by this experience and as the story unfolds there will be much courage and hope to celebrate, as well as failures of imagination and love to honestly confess. Love and compassionate sharing aren't easy.

In the last few days I bought the benefit cd album "Our New Orleans" which offers a wide range of the best of New Orleans musical talent, from Allen Toussaint to Dr. John, Buckwheat Zydeco, Beausoleil and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. It's fantastic.

"Our New Orleans" opens with a rocking number by Allen Toussaint titled "Yes We Can".
It calls on the spirit of hope and mutual love to overcome tragedy and loss. Toussaint spoke with remarkable calm after the storm: "My Steinway, my records, my arrangements, my studio- it's all gone. I had eight feet of water in my house near Bayou St. John" He escaped from his drowning city with little more than the clothes he had on. In the production of this benefit cd, Toussaint added, "But the spirit didn't drown. I still have my music. Give me a hammer. I'm ready to do my part." What a courageous man!

Are we all "ready to do our part?" That's the question people of faith need to struggle with. That's what we as Americans need to wrestle with together.

One of the great lyrics on this album reminds of what it would mean to give up on New Orleans. It's played by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band....

Do you know what it means
To miss New Orleans
And miss it each night and day
Well I know I'm not wrong
The feeling's getting stronger
The longer I stay away
Miss those moss-covered vines
The tall sugar-pines
Where mockingbirds used to sing
And I'd like to see the lazy Mississippi
A hurrying about to spring
The moonlight on the Bayous*
Those Creole tunes that fill the air
You know I dream about magnolias in bloom
And soon I'm wishing that I were there
Do you know what it means
To miss those Red Beans
When that's where you left your heart
And there's one thing more
I miss the one I care for
More than I miss New Orleans


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