Reflections on the Gulf Coast

A year ago I got off a plane and looked beyond the security gate and recognized a friend I had never met before. She showed me her world and welcomed me into her family. I knew the day I left that I needed to go back again.

Last Friday I went with St. Casserole to Bay St. Louis. When I visited last year, it was part of the big disaster tour on which Mr. C drove me, a trip that also took us to Waveland and Pearlington. The immensity of the damage brought forth a bad word, for which I apologized, and Mr. C graciously assured me that some sights required strong words.


That’s what we were looking at, the remains of Beach Boulevard. I could only say it looked like a fireplacein’ bomb hit it. (Click on the images to see a bigger version at Flickr.)

Beach Blvd. Bay St. Louis

It looks better now. Thank God. I had to get out of the road to let cars go by. They are rebuilding the Highway 90 bridge.

How do we cope when life holds disaster, tragedy, or even big changes?

new McDonald's in Waveland

We look to the Golden Arches.

Mockingbird Cafe

We find our way to the new cafe for a cup of really good coffee and a beautiful sandwich.

We do whatever makes life feel, even for a minute, normal.

One of my church members lost everything in a house fire many years ago. What made it possible to go on? A friend offered up the home of a family member wintering in Florida. My church member, her husband and their three young children moved into it and lived there for three months. I asked her how she managed? She had to get up each day and take care of the children, she said, and the things she couldn’t do, she had to let other people do for her. The tasks were simply too immense to take on alone.

I look back on my trip of a year ago and feel I didn’t do very much. I preached a couple of sermons, something I do all the time. I walked some dogs, not exactly an infrequent occurrence in my life. I watched and listened.

On this second trip I watched and listened again. I saw the houses of the rich rebuilt quickly, and the houses of the less well off still waiting for owners who may never return. I saw the work done by church groups, tireless and constantly replenished. I saw emptiness where homes should be. I saw new businesses and old ones that will never return. I heard stories of the strain the storm caused, both in its initial trauma and in its aftermath of displacement and deprivation. Divorces, murders, quieter suffering remain part of the landscape along with broken fences and blue tarp roofs and FEMA trailers.

I reflected on how spoiled I am by good coffee and high speed Internet.

RevGals in the grotto

Mostly, I rejoiced in a friendship made possible by the mysterious power of the Internet, begun on a snowy day when I had nothing better to do than click, click, click and discover other clergywomen who blogged. I want to think God worked this out somehow, but then I find I am giving credit for the good while wanting to excuse God for the hurricane. However it works, I am thankful for St. Casserole.

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.