Animals, Disaster

Four-Footed Friends

After Hurricane Katrina hit, I was worried about people, but my family can tell you I was also terribly worried about animals. When I came down here last year, I volunteered at the Humane Society of South Mississippi, where they were trying their best to care for the flood of stray animals and surrenders created by the storm, as well as a springtime-like number of post-storm puppies and kittens (because dogs will be dogs and cats will be cats when left to their own devices). 

St. Casserole’s younger pets are all storm babies who were looking for homes in the early fall. Here’s a picture of the sweet doggie brought home by Mr. C and their LS while the women of the family were still evacuated.

(I couldn’t get her to stand far enough away when we were on the same side of the door! Such a dear girl.)

She came from a shelter further north, as there was still no running water here for quite some time, and all animals at the Humane Society had been evacuated, too.

Thursday I visited the new facility belonging to the Humane Society of South Mississippi. It was already under construction before Hurricane Katrina hit, and generous donations after the storm, as well as the interest of the national Humane Society, allowed for its completion.

Last year I was walking dogs housed in its old and over-crowded headquarters, bemoaning the number of puppies and mama dogs and strays and surrenders and cats, cats, cats, all in need of homes. Puppies were being shipped north to find good homes. Both employees and volunteers from all over the country worked hard to keep things clean and safe for sweet dogs and cats and scary ones, too.

Now the animals looking for homes are all housed in a gorgeous and immaculate home in another part of town. They still need donations, of course, and if you are so moved, the link above will tell you how to make one. The HSSM is offering spaying/neutering for $10, to encourage people not to have unwanted puppies and kittens. Of course it costs them much more than $10 for the time and supplies needed for the surgeries. Meanwhile they continue to deal with many strays, because in a place where all the fences blew down, and a roof is a greater priority than a fence, it’s easy to take off on an adventure or a ramble if you are four-footed and so inclined. The Humane Society is micro-chipping every pet leaving its doors, but still there are unidentified animals who come to them and end up needing new homes.

My heart was captured by a young adult Rottweiler, Apollo, who barked a hearty and friendly "Hey!" when he saw me walking by.

I cannot take him home, but I inquired about what it would cost to adopt him and made a donation of about the same amount.

I wish there were more I could do for dogs and cats who are without homes. I know I can’t understand losing this friendly boy and not coming to look for him. But my life is settled and relatively non-chaotic, and that is not how it is here 16 months after Katrina. There is still a great deal of sorting out to do, of houses and neighborhoods and, most of all, lives.   

(Thanks to St. Casserole for getting me the pictures below, taken around the time the new facility  opened.)







On that Katrina Monday, I was relieved to know that my bloggy friend, St. Casserole was safely away from the hurricane. I had an eye on the coverage, but I was also back to work after vacation and a reading week, and I had a lot of other things on my mind, too.

By the next day, when we began to see pictures of a bared Mississippi coastline and a flooded New Orleans, other thoughts disappeared.

Two Sundays later, I told someone I felt my church had paid me for two weeks to think about how to think about the hurricane.

Theodicy and the Idiotic Interpretations of Certain Right Wing Religious Groups
Global Warming and the Impact of Higher Water Temperatures in the Gulf
The Apparent Lack of Caring on the Part of our Executive Branch
The Amazing Inability of an Entire Government to Air-Drop Bottles of Water in Our Own Country
The Socio-Economic Factors in the Building and the Breaching of the Levees
The Broken Hearts of People Who Lost Family, Homes, Everything Familiar
The Animals Left Behind
The People Who Died Rather Than Leave Their Animals Behind
The Callous Comments of People Who Assume Everyone Has a Vehicle and a Credit Card
Oh, God, It’s Not Just About Race. It’s About Poverty.

I was just getting started.

Why, Oh Why, Isn’t God a Micromanager Who Stops This Kind of Thing From Happening?

I didn’t start to feel my thoughts gather in a meaningful way until I asked a question later in the week.

Where Would Jesus Be?

I wrote:

We’re limited. We’re limited. I am, certainly. I can sit and watch
the coverage and contemplate the deaths and the social injustice and
talk about and read about it and even blog about it, but, oh my God, I
go to bed and lie there like a stone because the God I have come to
believe in is so detached from us, too much a scientist looking down on
a lab full of rats, too much a big boy with an ant farm, too much and
too little and I know I am limited in my understanding.

Then, thank God, I remember Jesus. I can talk to Jesus. When I look
at the looters and wonder why they took so many sneakers, I stop and
think of Jesus. Would he be sitting down to dinner with the governors
and senators and cabinet secretaries? Would he be looking out the
window of Air Force One at overflowing New Orleans and storm-shredded
Biloxi? God, no. Oh, my God, no.

Jesus would be on the balconies with the families waving their
pillowcases, or at the Superdome with the frightened old folks and the
hungry children. Jesus would be walking the debris-strewn roads with
wives looking for their husbands, comforting the man who saw his
neighbors drowned bodies in the water as he hung on for dear life.
Jesus would be in a neighboring state with the people who were smart
enough and well-resourced enough to get away, but who are suffering now
as they hear of the destruction back home and wondering how they can
help when their homes and workplaces are gone, too.

Jesus is in all those places. And believing that, I can pray.

People who were quicker or better equipped than I figured out how to get there early and help. It took me a few months, but I went, too. A lot of my readers probably self-identify as Christians, but some of them do not. They may think of religious people as being like the nutcases who published statements about the radar picture of Katrina looking like a fetus. But I want to say  people of faith did an incredible amount to help in the aftermath of the storm. That’s not to say that people of good heart weren’t there, too. But people of faith were there sooner and longer and deeper and wider than agencies and armies and principalities and powers. They’re still there, going and making plans to go. I’m proud of my people, the people who understand where Jesus would be.

I’m not proud of my government. I hear excuses and excuses and excuses. I hear justifications. I hear absolute crap, and I hear it over and over and over again. I’m sorry, but the prevention of levee breaches needs more than Faith-Based Initiatives. It needs the attention of smart brains to unique problems, and the application of human muscle and complex machinery to prevent disaster. The reversal, if that is even remotely possible, of our descent into drastic climate change needs a ruthless honesty and commitment to the common good unthinkable to the selfish occupants of the Executive Branch. Waking up to the economic and racial reality of our USA caste system requires humility unimaginable to the ruling class. And altering it? Requires those of us who care to be part of a revolution.


Power Points


Today I used Power Point at church for the first time. It seemed like the best way to express the fullness of my trip to the Gulf Coast, to show the pictures and talk about them. I didn’t write anything ahead of time (daring!! scary!!), but ordered the pictures in a way I hoped would help express my sense of how devastated the area still is, how important faith and faith communities have been in recovering, and also how much a sense of humor can help in times of difficulty. The presentation ended with the last verses of Psalm 29, a plea that God might grant us peace.

The weather here was questionable this morning. It was raining last night, and turned to ice then snow in the early hours. Attendance at church was low, which was frankly disappointing, although the combination of bad weather and a three day weekend predicts such an outcome. Those who came were eager to know more and asked if we could have another opportunity for a further presentation. An informal group gathered at Coffee Hour and schemed a dinner in February with more pictures and talking and questions and answers, an invitation to the congregation that meets in our church on Sunday afternoons, and a fundraising component for Hurricane Katrina relief. We have a date, a cook, a person in charge of desserts, all in five minutes.

I’m thankful to these good people for sending me on the trip. When I came to be their pastor, I was worried that they were too inward-turned, that they were unlikely to ever take an interest in people far away. That proved to be untrue, as we have discovered in expanding our Prayer Shawl Ministry to include the local hospital, our work with UCC missionaries to South Africa and the HIV+ beadworkers, and now in their compassion for people far away on the Gulf Coast.

We tried to picture our sanctuary full of water, up to its high, high ceiling. The mind resists the notion. The mind resists the notion of drowning. I was asked what I thought about people in New Orleans celebrating New Year’s Eve when there are still bodies unfound. I said I think it’s human nature to celebrate being alive. It doesn’t have to mean we don’t care about those who are gone.

We prayed for the people whose lives are in disarray, and I especially prayed for pastors. Some feel forgotten by their denominational authorities. This makes me sad and angry. Thursday night I attended a meeting with my Conference Minister. He heard me tell this story and shook his head. I know where he would be if disaster struck City By the Sea.

I told of meeting pastors in denominations that would not ordain a woman and how I wondered if they would accept me. I was pleased to find that no one batted an eye. I explained that help has been given and accepted across lines of race and theology that would never normally be breached in this polarized society.

After church I am asked by a surprised parishioner, a woman in her fifties, “Who wouldn’t ordain a woman?”

Even people far away have the power to help. A man tells me how surprised he is to hear his boss is going to the Gulf Coast on a second work trip, at his own expense. I understand how his boss feels. I want to do more. Church World Service is still assembling recovery kits. Work teams are still forming to travel to the stricken areas. Each act may seem small. Each plane ticket may seem expensive. But in each act of caring, the power of God resides.


Severe Damage

Severe is a word that comes to mind a great deal in visiting the Gulf Coast. The damage is severe. I want to try and express to you just how severe, but I fear my word pictures will not be extreme or severe enough themselves. I’ve driven along pieces of Highway 90 in Mississippi and into New Orleans on I-10, and the only thing that reminds me of home would be the broken trees along the latter. Up in Snow Country we had a severe ice storm eight years ago, and there are places where the damage to the trees will never be restored. But the ice storm did not take away the homes in which people lived, the businesses in which they worked, the churches in which they worshipped.

Severe damage–

Some people are broken just like the trees that snap in two. They are severed. Others bend but do not break. What is the difference between the two? The trees that broke were hit so hard they didn’t have a chance. They are like the people who died that day. The uprooted trees will not survive. They are like the people who have moved away to make a new life somewhere else. But there are trees still standing, trees that somehow withstood the storm, trees that put out green leaves again in a second spring. They are like the people who look carefully through the debris, let go of what cannot be reclaimed and somehow find the strength to rake their yards clean. They are like the people who have set up their FEMA trailer on what is now their lot with a water view, fenced off a little bit of their earth and planted winter grass. They are as strong as the storm was severe.

Severe damage–

Severe can mean “adamantine”– a stone (as a diamond) formerly believed to be of impenetrable hardness. That’s how the insurance companies have been. We spoke to a man whose family business worth 3/4s of a million dollars had been recompensed $197. You are probably thinking, Songbird must mean $197,000, right? No. $197. How do people begin again when the damage and the response are both severe?

Severe damage–

Businesses are trying to re-open. Most of them have signs out front that say “hiring.” Are there enough people here to staff them? The gas station we go to has two tanks standing. When asked what kind of gas he put in the tank, the attendant replies, “We only have regular.”

Severe damage–

In New Orleans, there is no line at the Café du Monde. I’m told this would never have been the case before Katrina. St. Louis Cathedral is closed, when it used always to be open. The green trolleys that belong on St. Charles Street are running along the levee; the tracks were damaged on the other route, and although I think it’s a good thing there are tracks elsewhere, Sorority Sister points out that it is heart wrenching to contemplate the places where the green trolley ought to be.

Severe damage–

A lady came into church last Sunday. Her sister died that very morning. Her other sister died in the hurricane. Her brother died about a month later. Her losses are punishing. Her losses are severe.

One woman says, “It’s as if Mother Nature is angry with us.”

I feel relieved that she doesn’t attribute this anger to God.

Severe damage–

The only severe thing at St. Casserole’s house is the blackness of the coffee. There is so much room to be one’s self. The children are being raised in an atmosphere of loving forbearance. Animals receive the same (Songbirds, too). There is a lot of prayer, any time of the day, any place we go. I love the way St. Casserole prays: honestly, lovingly, beseechingly, releasingly.

My prayer for this region is a country that will continue to provide the open-handed love that comes from the workers who are here rebuilding, rather than the severity of the insurance companies and the government. My prayer for the people here is belief in a loving God who wants us to do better and the strength to live into that belief.


Jesus is Walking in Mississippi

If you haven’t connected with this wonderful blog, please go and visit Hurricane Katrina–Mississippi Response. A pastor and a lawyer from Gulfport are posting stories and some pictures that will give you a sense of what is really happening in that city, devastated materially but not spiritually. I borrowed one of their stories for my sermon this morning and have been looking eagerly for their updates the past few days.

God bless the people on the ground, acting as the hands and feet of Christ.

“Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours, yours are the eyes through which to look at Christ’s compassion to the world, yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good, and yours are the hands with which he is to bless us now.” St. Teresa of Avila


Cloths for Katrina

I’ve been looking for a way to do something for Katrina evacuees that will have my hand on it, rather than just my money in it. Here in City By the Sea, we are far far away from the action. Yes, we’re raising money for our denominational effort. We’re also collecting gift cards to send to Houston evacuees, to be distributed through one of the RevGalBlogPals, Quotidian Grace. Too far away to cook a meal (and frankly not good at that anyway!), I wondered what I could do that would be even more personal.

Then, in making the rounds of the few knitting blogs I read, I discovered Cloths for Katrina. The descripton at the Yahoo Groups page reads:
Calling all knitters, crocheters and weavers! We are making facecloths for Hurricane Katrina survivors. A small way to help those who have been displaced by this horrific tragedy. All cloths will be distributed directly to the shelters throughout the Gulf region. Please join us in this endeavor!

Yesterday I managed to get to A.C. Moore, which is conveniently located in the same shopping plaza as Supercuts (for #2 Son, whose eyes were at risk of being lost in his hair) and Old Navy (where we acquired some items for the ever-growing Princess, all from the sale racks). I picked up two colors of Sugar ‘n Cream, a 100% cotton yarn that is very inexpensive, and last night I sat down to knit. Here’s the result.

This is very easy knitting, technically speaking. But it is hard knitting, too, as I contemplate the circumstances being met by so many who have lost their homes and aren’t sure what to do next in their lives. When I’ve been displaced by life’s events, the storms that came in pregnancy loss and postpartum depresion and divorce, it was the caring shown by another person that reminded me God was still in the neighborhood, even when I couldn’t quite see Her. It’s my prayer that these little facecloths may show such love.