Wednesday, January 30, 2008

From Bishop Charles Jenkins of Louisiana

Bishop Jenkins of Louisiana seeks our prayers, in support of people and families affected and displaced by Katrina. I've met some of the case managers he refers to. They do good, and necessary work. Please pray for them, and for the bishop, and for the Diocese of Louisiana's relief efforts.

Here is the text of Bishop Jenkins'

Please pray with me. I seek your prayer and support on several pending issues.

Some may know that Case Management across the Gulf Coast will cease in March unless a bill pending in Congress allows FEMA to fund our efforts. Case Management has been heretofore carried on by a coalition of national relief organizations under the stewardship and leadership of the United Methodist Council on Relief (UMCOR). Our coalition is called Katrina Aid Today. Other church groups have included Lutheran World Services, Catholic Social Services and Episcopal Relief and Development. The original funding for Case Management came not from tax dollars but from a gift to the United States from the government of Qatar. We who have been involved in Case Management more than matched this gift. A bill in Congress (S2335) would enable FEMA to continue to fund Case Management. No new taxes are needed because the funding is in the FEMA budget.

Case Management is teaching one to fish. You know the old story of giving a person a fish today and they will be hungry tomorrow. Teach them to fish . . . Case Management is a professional means to enable people to construct a recovery plan, to provide some resources to make the plan feasible, and then for people to stand on their own. The Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana alone graduated 325 families in December of last year. So please, pray for a miracle here. I do not want to see this important ministry stop nor do I want to see it sputter to a temporary halt and then try to start up again. We have proven our capacity to do Case Management.

I ask also that you pray about my capacity to continue funding a relationship with a law firm in Washington, Krivit and Krivit. This is a complicated issue (Church and State). The fact is that we would not be so far along in seeking funding for the continuation of Case Management were it not for the hard work and professional knowledge of the good people in this firm. I am out of money to pay them. They are working on faith now. I have many requests “out” for funding but so far, no action. There is more, much more, for us to do with Krivit and Krivit.

Thank you for your prayers and support.

Bishop Jenkins

h/t Ormonde Plater.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

I'm safely back in California

Wide-eyed and wide awake, though my body thinks it's after midnight.

There's so much I need and want to do—for school, self, and ODR. I'm not even going to share my to-do list; it's frightfully long. I have to hit the ground running tomorrow.

Thank you all for your prayers for me. Please keep them up, for New Orleans. Pray for all forsaken and forgotten people. Pray for resurrection, wherever it be found.

And thank you to all the people of New Orleans—people who became my friends, and strangers on the streetcar—who told your stories, answered my (sometimes achingly naive) questions, took care of me, and shared your love of your city with me. Thank you for your generosity, and for your sacred trust. Thank you for everything you do, to bring justice, peace, and reconciliation to your home. Your work will always inspire me.

Peace be with all of you, and healing, with your city. I will do the best I can, to help you.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Thy people shall be my people

...and thy God shall be my God.

I am in love, and in hope, with this city. I’ve never been so exhausted, and so energized, at one time in all my life.

Yes, there is devastation. I walked yesterday from the end of the Canal streetcar line (at the cemeteries), about two miles to the homecoming center at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, in the Lakeview neighborhood. I passed houses that still had floodlines on them, higher than my head. Empty houses, and empty lots. Torn screens. Weathered wood, and rusted metal. Spray-paint codes, fading with time.

There was also new construction. Signs in windows, reading, “We’re Home.” Fresh paint. Scrubbed brick. New framing, bones of houses, not gutted and weary but rising from the mud.

There is hope here. I heard it yesterday in the voice of a woman who had organized a neighborhood renewal, since spread throughout the city, based on cooperation and sharing resources. I saw her love for her home, and this city, shining in her eyes, as she talked about how she has been blessed in the gifts she’s been able to give.

I hear it over and over, in the stories people tell me of their lives in this city since the storm. They tell me why they love it here, why they came home, why they stayed. They stayed because it is their home. Because Houston or Mobile or wherever, just wasn’t. Because this is New Orleans. There is a vivacity here that is unique to this place. So much in the culture is about relationships, and about acceptance. You can be whoever you are—not only in the Mardi Gras, crazy way portrayed in the media (though there is that), but in your dailiness as well. The violence, and crime, are of course awful. But life is celebrated here, too.

I am in love with the spirit of resurrection I see and feel all around me. I’d give anything to be able to stay, longer than I can. I’m hoping and praying to come back. The spiritual rebirth is as apparent as the physical, and everything in me wants to be part of it.

I’ve been given so many gifts here. Of course there are the stories. The trust people place in me, while I’m listening to them tell about the most difficult time in their lives, is sacred. It floors me, not only that they’ve been so willing, but that they say that the telling is a gift also to them. I’ve gotten better at listening, and at asking, and I’ve seen my own skills grow. I wish, with all my soul, that I could keep doing this.

I’ve also been well cared for. Two people in particular have taken me under their wings, helped me get going, taught me something, mentored me—they know who they are, and I thank them. These relationships, I won’t have to work to hold onto—they are connections that will abide. And a few days after my car accident, the bishop of Louisiana dropped in on me at the Urban Ministry Center. He just wanted to be sure I was okay, and to join the chorus of people (playfully) chiding me for walking all the way from here to St. Anna’s. (What? It’s only about four or five miles.) And then he went outside, to talk to a community organizer in the street. It’s all just part of the day for him.

I can’t say enough about St. Anna’s. It has been, and will be, an anchor for me—both on Wednesdays when I’m here, and into the soul and spirit of this city, wherever I am. I only know the Wednesday community, which changes because that’s when volunteers go. But the mix of people that show up there, and the free, competent health care, and the music—which sometimes is great, and sometimes is the weirdest damn stuff in the world—you just need to experience it. You never know who you’re going to eat with, or what you’re going to listen to, or what conversations you’re going to strike up. This is more than church. This is life, in this city. It’s resurrection, in the middle of the week.

There’s also the healing aspect of the Eucharist. In San Francisco, I go to the healing station whenever I feel like it, either to ask for healing or to say thank you. It’s always available. But it’s about me, my need, my desire. Here, the connection between holy oil on each of our heads, and the healing of this city, is so strong it doesn’t need to be discussed. It’s just… obvious. We are rising with this city, as we come to witness or rebuild. We are living in the resurrection.

And the need for resurrection is so great. I talk about hope, and I feel it. I see reasons for rejoicing, everywhere. But there is also such anger, still. People were forgotten—and they don’t just suspect or feel it, they know it. The national and local response has come from faith-based groups, not from government. The rebuild is being done by residents and volunteers. This city is being remade by the people who live in it, who love it, who will go through fire and flood to call it home. They need help and support—one told me, “We don’t expect it (in the sense of hand-outs)—but we need it.” Please come. Bear witness. Get your hands dirty. Come and love these people.

I had a conversation with a priest the other day; it was the first time I’d met him. We talked about mission, and he asked if I see myself working long-term in DioCal. I had to answer him, my process is there but I’d be shocked if I stay there. It’s such a wealthy area. There is poverty everywhere in this world. Violence, everywhere. Need, everywhere. Inside every soul, there is suffering; there is need for God. I know that everywhere I go, I will find the people who need to find me. I also know that my place is with the exiled, the forgotten, the struggling. My skills may be nascent, at best, but I am learning. This is who I am. These are the people God is calling me to serve. Being here, doing this work, has confirmed that a thousand times over.

I keep having to remind myself, I’m not a New Orleanian. I lived most of my life in the Northwest. I live in Berkeley; I worship in San Francisco. I’m from a different world. But I feel a kinship here, that I’ve not felt in other places. Whether or not I live here again, a piece of me will call this home.

There’s something else that makes it hard to think about re-entry into California. I have loved the work here, so much. Friends elsewhere have called me a saint for doing it, and for witnessing on behalf of New Orleans. I don’t feel that way at all. This is the work I asked for; the work I choose, the work that's in front of me. I’m not special because I’m doing this; I’m privileged because I’m getting to discover the depth of my passion for mission, for this work, for these people. The work has grown me, as I’ve done it, and as I’ve discovered how much I love it. I know I’m living into my call. And I also know that the first thing I have to do when I get back to Berkeley, is get out of trouble with my advisor. Then I have to finish my academics. And that is absolutely not where my head is. I want to be in the world, getting dirty with the people of God.

I don’t know how to take the self that has grown so much in NOLA, and live into that growth in California, in an environment in which I struggle, and where I have more work to do just to hold my head up and look people in the eyes. I feel bigger—not in the sense of no longer a child, but like enough of a human being. I’m wearing the clothes of a competent soul, and they fit me.

I stand in solidarity with the people of this city. It is so clear to me that my work is here--though I also know that this is a learning ground for me, to work competently with and for all of God's exiled and forgotten children. I'm going, as I am, back to California. I will learn how to take this integrity with me.

I have to go and eat; I'm still on monster Motrin for the whiplash, and it's past time to take it. And right now I'm close to crying, I love this city so much.

Pray for the world.

I didn’t write these prayers. My best friend did, and I am the friend she mentions.

Pray for New Orleans. Pray for the world. Pray for all who are suffering from violence, war, sickness, and oppression. Pray for the exiled; pray for the forgotten. And pray that you may know how to serve the people God puts in your path.

Pray for all who are where God has sent them, and who know it and rejoice in it. Pray for all who are doing the work of God where they are, unawares. Pray for all who would go where they are sent, if they only knew where, or how. And pray for all of us, that we may do the work of God everywhere we find it, and that we may minister to each other when we’re worn out and exhausted. Pray for the love of the world, and pray in thanksgiving for the love of God, which sustains and feeds us all.

New prayers appear weekly, on Thursdays, at the World in Prayer website. You may also subscribe by e-mail.


I, the Lord of sea and sky,
I have heard my people cry.
All who dwell in dark and sin
my hand will save.
I who made the stars of night,
I will make their darkness bright
Who will bear my light to them
Whom shall I send?

You've probably heard this wonderful hymn by Dan Schutte.

As I write this, a friend is just about to return home after spending a month helping with the recovery in New Orleans. She would give anything to be able to stay there instead, and is hoping and praying to be able to go back. And I—I am an Episcopalian, whose diocese voted last month to leave the Episcopal Church. Where congregations left, new congregations are springing up, and I wish with all my heart that I could walk away from my secular job in order to serve them.

Sometimes when we pray, we hear...we think we hear...the voice of God.

Some 45,000 people die each month in Congo because the ongoing fighting there has led to rampant disease and food shortages, according to an International Rescue Committee study released this week. The death rate is nearly 60 percent higher than the average for sub-Saharan Africa. Two days after the study was released, Congo's government signed a peace pact with the armed militias in Eastern Congo.

Whom shall I send to bring light to their darkness? Whom shall I send with succor, with food and medicine, with safety, with peace?

Gaza's only power plant shut down, saying it had run out of fuel because of increasing Israeli restrictions. Israel promised to allow some diesel fuel and medicines into Gaza, but Gaza residents sought their own solution instead, breaking through the Gaza-Egypt border, buying up goods unavailable in Gaza. Thousands--possibly as many a half a million--crossed into Egypt, with one BBC correspondent saying there are so many Palestinians in Rafah that it is almost as if the town has been annexed by Gaza. Supporters of Hamas clashed with Egyptian riot police and hurled insults at Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Whom shall I send, to tell them that I love them all? To bind them together, in times of plenty and times of poverty, to set them free from an inheritance of hatred? Whom shall I send?

There has been a sharp rise in the number of Afghan children forced out of school because of violence, President Hamid Karzai has said. About 300,000 children in the south--where the Taliban-led insurgency is at its strongest--now stay at home, compared to 200,000 a year ago. Yet despite the number staying home out of fear, about six million Afghan children attend school--some six times the number during the years of rule of the Taliban, when girls' education was completely outlawed.

Whom shall I send to cherish the children, to give courage to the parents, to build out of this generation the wisdom of the future? Whom shall I send as teachers, as learners, as friends?

Flood waters continue to force hundreds of thousands of people out of their homes and livelihoods in Mozambique, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland and Zambia. Heavy rains are expected to continue at least through February and possibly into April. Authorities say the damage could be worse than catastrophic floods seven years ago, although they expect the death toll to be lower. The Zambezi river now seems to burst its banks with monotonous and terrifying regularity, but most of those displaced returned to their farms, preferring to risk another flood than surrender their dignity and independence.
"Where else can we go?" one Mozambique resident asked a reporter. "This place is our home. It gives us crops and fish. We don't know anywhere else."

Whom shall I send to learn the ways of the waters? To find the rhythm of the seasons, and the nurturing of the land? Whom shall I send to find the homeless? Whom shall I send to rebuild and replace, replant and strive?

Reported rapes have doubled in Kenya since December's disputed elections. Many are gang rapes, carried out by groups of armed men. Almost half the cases at Nairobi Women's Hospital are girls under the age of 18. One case was a two-year-old baby girl. An estimated quarter of a million people have fled their homes to escape the unrest and some 85% of these are women and children. Many of these are in unsafe temporary shelters. Kathleen Cravero, Director of the United Nations Displaced Person's Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery said, "Battles are fought on women's bodies as much as on battlefields. It is not so much that women are targeted in some deliberate way but their vulnerability makes them easy targets for anger, for frustration, and for people wanting to cripple or paralyze other segments of the community in which they live."

Whom shall I send to protect the most vulnerable? Whom shall I send to bind up their wounds? Whom shall I send to the angry and insulted? Whom shall I send to bring wholeness to their hearts?

I, the Lord of wind and flame.
I will tend the poor and lame
I will set a feast for them.
My hand will save
Finest bread I will provide
till their hearts are satisfied
I will give My life to them.
Whom shall I send?

Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go Lord, if you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart.


Monday, January 21, 2008


Wow, I am so overdue for an update. I keep trying. I’m so busy and involved here, and having so many incredible experiences. When I’ve had down time, I’ve been exhausted.

I’m taking today to rest, write, and catch up, so let’s see what I can do.

I’m doing research for EDOLA staff who’s writing a book, one aspect of which is graces in the storm. There have been so many graces in my own life, here. I’ve been given so many unexpected gifts: all at some cost, but which have grown me in ways I won’t understand for a long time.

One of these graces is the work itself. I’m interviewing survivors of Katrina. The first week or so I was here, I was really shy about asking people to talk to me. One afternoon with a vivacious deacon cured that. More on her, later. Since that day, it’s been easy. People have been so willing to talk to me. All but one were directly hurricane-affected; most are caregivers in some way (clergy, rebuild coordinator, volunteers). As I’ve done this, I’ve gotten better at it: listening more closely, able to ask better questions and still be sensitive. Their trust in me is sacred, and amazing. Yesterday, I asked at church if anyone had transcription software, as I have several hours of these interviews. No one did. But the rector spoke about how sharing her story with me had been a gift to her, as well. I believe she’d been the first, and I really didn’t know what I was doing then. She had offered me 45 minutes, and given an hour and a half. She was so eloquent, composed and articulate; I’d had no idea that this work of mine had given something real to her. Since then, others have told me the same.

I’ve already written about the gift of St. Anna’s. If you come here, go on a Wednesday night. My having visited nine months ago, gave me an anchor for now. They’re in the thick of the resurrection of this city: they know devastation, and wow do they know joy. They will welcome you.

I interviewed someone I met at St. Anna’s, who is involved in the Mobile Medical Mission. We talked for over an hour. I turned off the recorder, and we kept chatting. He used a phrase that has always bothered me: “There but for the grace of God go I.” I told him why I was cringing; I was a Catholic Worker for a year, and the only things I saw that separated me from the guests were chance and circumstance. If God is everywhere, and God’s grace keeps me from being homeless, where is God for the homeless person? He talked to me about the presence of gifts and graces in everything: a meal, a bed, your life. And he said to me, “Maybe a grace for them is you.”

Oh. I got it.

Last Thursday, Mimi and Grandpère took me to lunch. They live about an hour and a half from here. We got into an accident, and I got whiplash. Yes, it hurts—but other than being kind of wiped out, I’m not really suffering all that much. I went to the ER at Touro Infirmary the day after it happened, and got diagnosed and treated. They did a CT scan of my neck (all clear, thank God) and gave me good drugs. My neck’s only slightly stiff; the pain’s in my right scapula. The first two days, I felt fileted. That gave way to a feeling of having been vaguely kicked in the back, and like someone has their fingers underneath my shoulder blade and is trying to tickle me. My right pinkie was feeling a little weird; now it’s mostly better. The drugs are really kind of fun; I take a muscle relaxant at night, which has me hopelessly uncoordinated in ten minutes and asleep seconds after. (My friends I've e-mailed after taking it, know this.)

Mimi’s been amazing; she checks in with me pretty much daily, to see how I am. I’m just thankful that neither of them were hurt. 2 ½ months of neurological weirdness, I can handle. They’re both older; I’ll heal much faster than they would.

And it’s only transient pain. There is no permanent injury. I’m learning that all human experiences prepare us to minister to one another; I’ve certainly been ministered to here, by people who have suffered more loss than I can wrap my mind around. There is a deep humanity here; it’s one of the things that draws me to this city. And I was in an accident a month ago, from which we all walked away just fine but which was pretty much my fault. It can happen to anyone.

I mentioned earlier, the help I received from a fantastic deacon. Deacons in this diocese rock. They do everything. The deacon at St. Andrew’s asked me a week ago, “How’s your project going?” I told her, not as productive as I want—I was having trouble figuring out transportation, and struggling with getting going. So she offered to either lend me her truck or drive me around.

That was all the impetus I needed. I’d been really stressed, and felt guilty about not doing enough. With her offer, and the interest of others at St. Andrew’s, I felt so much better. That Sunday afternoon was warm and beautiful—think May in Olympia, September in San Francisco. I took the streetcar to the Quarter, played tourist and ate. Walked until my feet were aching; went to Jackson Square and watched the river for awhile, remembering how to breathe. Bought some Mardi Gras beads and a shirt that reads, “Re Cover Re Build Re New Orleans.” Took the streetcar home… and I don’t remember, but I think I took a nap.

That Monday afternoon, Elaine picked me up, and then another friend of hers, and we drove downtown to the mayor’s office to deliver roses to him. They do this every Monday; one rose for each murder victim of the previous week. St. Andrew’s does the mayor’s office; St. Anna’s, the chief of police. They go in pairs; the apostolic model, and it keeps them accountable for going every week. We talked to the woman at the front desk, briefly: she gets it, though I don’t know whether the mayor does. Afterward, Elaine invited me in for tea, and we started doing the interview. We talked for maybe 45 minutes, then we got on the topic of Brad Pitt’s pink tents. I think she said she hadn’t seen them; I said, “I know where they are. Wanna go out there?”

She looked at her watch, and we jumped in the car. We talked the whole time; she knows so much about this city, and she freely shared it with me. She told me which neighborhoods we were in as we drove through them, and showed me the homeless encampment under the freeway. We drove around in the Lower 9th, and circled back to the pink tents. Some of them were down—and a house was going up.

This is her home; her city. It isn’t mine. But we both cheered. This is resurrection.

There have been so many other gifts and graces, here. It will take me a long time to realize, and remember, all of them. But I needed to get something in print; I don’t want to forget this, and I want to share the hope I’ve found here.

I’ve been told again and again, “Disaster can happen to you. And we will be there, when it does.” These are human beings. They did not deserve what happened to them; it is not their fault, for living where they do. (The San Andreas fault runs 800 miles through the most populous state in this nation.) They have thanked me over and over, and told me how much the presence of volunteers—for compassion, as much as any skill—has meant to them. This city is rebuilding, and it’s thanks to the vibrant spirit of these people, as well as the help they’ve received from volunteers. Come and see.

Thursday, January 17, 2008


My Fortune Cookie told me:
Your wounds are strangely shaped.
Get a cookie from Miss Fortune

Well, I may have wounded my back--but it's shaped like nothing other than a surprised scapula. I'll find out more tomorrow; Mimi has prayers for me. (We really did have a great time, other than the roller coaster ride in the intersection. She and Grandpere are great company, and lots of fun.)

I didn't realize I hadn't blogged in a week. I'm having so many incredible experiences--I've been too busy, and too involved, to write about them. When I have down time, I'm exhausted. But I will catch up, some way or another.

Pray for New Orleans. Pray for me. Pray for Mimi and Grandpere.

h/t Eileen for the fortune cookie.

Love to all.

Friday, January 11, 2008

She did it

Thank you, Katharine. Glory, hallelujah.

Presiding Bishop inhibits San Joaquin bishop
Action comes after Review Committee says Schofield has abandoned the Episcopal Church

By Mary Frances Schjonberg, January 11, 2008
[Episcopal News Service]

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori on January 11 inhibited Diocese of San Joaquin Bishop John-David Schofield.

In the text of the inhibition, Jefferts Schori wrote: "I hereby inhibit the said Bishop Schofield and order that from and after 5:00 p.m. PST, Friday, January 11, 2008, he cease from exercising the gifts of ordination in the ordained ministry of this Church; and pursuant to Canon IV.15, I order him from and after that time to cease all 'episcopal, ministerial, and canonical acts, except as relate to the administration of the temporal affairs of the Diocese of San Joaquin,' until this Inhibition is terminated pursuant to Canon IV.9(2) or superseded by decision of the House of Bishops."

Full article here.

Paul reminds me (and Lisa reminded him) that the best way we can show tangible love to the people of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, is to donate to Remain Episcopal. Click on the graphic:

Thank you so much for supporting the efforts of these faithful people.

Please continue to hold all of the people of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin in your prayers. Support from the power structure will help the remnant heal; the road bends toward wholeness, but reconciliation will take prayer, faith, work, love, and time.


- Link to the person that tagged you. (done)
- Post the rules on your blog. (done)
- Share six non-important things/habits/quirks about yourself. (done)
- Tag six people and at the end of your post, link to their blogs. (not done)
- Let each person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog. (see above, beg excuses)

Mimi and David both tagged me. Yay, I’m one of the popular kids! Guess I better play, huh?

Six non-important things…

1) I can walk on my knees in the lotus position. I learned in my early 20’s; I was working at a DV shelter in Olympia, and one of the women taught me. It’s easy; sit in the lotus position, and push yourself up on your hands until you’re balanced only on your knees. Lurch back and forth until you move a few feet. Fall over.

2) This is related to the first. My most natural sitting position is cross-legged, folded over, resting my elbows on the floor and my chin in my hands. Lots of people can’t do it. I can’t bend backwards worth anything.

3) I learned to read when I was three, and I don’t remember before I could. I answered a meme this morning saying I think in pictures, but that’s only when the words don’t come first. I think in print, at least as often.

4) It took me an entire year to understand long division. Sometime in the middle of fifth grade, that clicked. Before that, I couldn’t follow the steps to save my neck. After, I didn’t have to.

4b) This did not save me from being hopeless at algebra, when I took it and since.

5) I like mochas, but drink them only rarely (and never in the afternoon). I wake up wired, if unsociable, and need herbal tea to calm down.

6) When I had access to unlimited yogurt containers (yay Oly Food Co-op!), an ice-pick, organic seeds, potting soil, and time, I used to start dozens of basil plants in the spring and give them all away. I miss being able to do that.

Borrowing a line here—most of my usual suspects either have been tagged, or are certainly about to be. Play if you like. All may, some should, none must.

Once you get going, there’s no end to the ephemera. Enjoy!

All I can picture is a brain in a jar...

That last quiz was Eileen's fault. This one is Paul's.

You Are 15% Left Brained, 85% Right Brained

The left side of your brain controls verbal ability, attention to detail, and reasoning.
Left brained people are good at communication and persuading others.
If you're left brained, you are likely good at math and logic.
Your left brain prefers dogs, reading, and quiet.

The right side of your brain is all about creativity and flexibility.
Daring and intuitive, right brained people see the world in their unique way.
If you're right brained, you likely have a talent for creative writing and art.
Your right brain prefers day dreaming, philosophy, and sports.

I'm supposed to have a recipe file, now?

Heh. I like this one. (Note: I took it with first and last names, which lots of you know, but which are not all over this blog. When I just used "Kirstin," the results were ridiculous.)

The Recipe For Kirstin

3 parts Nonconformity
2 parts Courage
1 part Friendship

Splash of Delight

Shake vigorously

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Back to St. Anna's

I went to sleep last night smelling like chrism, and I could still catch a hint of its sweetness when I woke up. A friend says that’s like “living in resurrection”—and he doesn’t know how right he is. This church is in the thick of it, and rising.

My I-guess-you-could-call-it-office is at the dining room table in the house next door to the Diocese of Louisiana headquarters. The administrator answers the phone, “Office of Disaster Response.” Upstairs are Jericho Road, some other programs, and volunteer housing. Yesterday I was displaced to the kitchen table, because Bishop Jenkins (whom I really like) had a lunch meeting with seminarians from Nashotah. I immersed myself in research; some for my project and some for myself, to understand more deeply the effects of the storm. I e-mailed some people I want to interview. And I left in the late afternoon, to walk to St. Anna’s for the Wednesday evening healing Eucharist. It was both spiritual food, and fieldwork.

One curious detail, I learned in the Urban Ministry Center kitchen. While trash pickup is restored to the city, you still have to truck your own recycling out—more than two years after the storm. The same is true in Slidell (across Lake Pontchartrain) and I don’t know where else. What I thought at first was environmental insensitivity, isn’t—it’s just the way things are, here. There is still so much to put back together.

I gauged the time for my walk just fine—but had never quite realized that an hour and a half meant approximately four miles. (I amble, particularly when carrying my office on my back.) I’m feeling it today. My body feels stretched, good-tired, strong. I could have made it shorter by heading up a side street; the city’s laid out like the spokes of a wheel. But I don’t know the neighborhood well enough to feel safe committing myself to exploration, when I’m essentially racing the sun to get where I’m going. (That’s one of the drawbacks of being here alone and carless; I’m much more self-protective than I was when here with a group.) I stuck to the neutral ground—at home we’d call it a median—walking along the streetcar tracks, down St. Charles. I saw lots of joggers; mostly men, a few women. The city is flat, and the ground is soft. Sidewalks in lots of places are broken, uneven, crumbly. The only risk while running in the neutral ground, provided you’re facing the streetcars, is mud.

Speaking of, it’s pouring right now. I love that sound!

I followed the streetcar line all the way to Canal St., which was farther than I’d thought it would be. Then turned up a fairly quiet street in the Quarter, and followed that all the way to Esplanade. (I was, by then, trying to shorten the walking distance—but if I do it again, will just stay on Bourbon. It’s always crowded, and in that way feels safer. I’ve walked in dicey places in Seattle, in the day when I could and at night when I had to—and felt less afraid than I do here. (It’s hard to scare me, ordinarily; I hate having the murder rate burned into my head. But in this city, it is.)

Turned up Esplanade just before dusk. Walked past a FEMA trailer park; the same settlement I’d biked past, last Saturday. Then past a huge, antebellum-looking house—I think it’s a hotel—surrounded on three sides by chain-link fencing, and in the front by a huge wrought-iron gate. I wondered then, and still, if they’d feel safer if they took their fences down. I think I would.

Saw the Medical Mission trailer parked behind St. Anna’s, and entered the church by a side door. They were setting up the parish hall for dinner. I recognized Bill, the rector, from behind, by his long white ponytail. He knew I was coming—but I think he was as happy to see me as I was to see him. We hugged hello, and I told him again what I’m doing here. It felt—and feels—so good to have a place in this city that feels like home. I don’t know the community at all—but I feel so safe, so comfortable there, in a way that I don’t feel in more “establishment” churches. (Ha, St. Anna’s was founded in 1846, and is Anglo-Catholic to this day. But all kinds of ragtags and riffraff worship here; locals and volunteers alike.) Part of it’s him; part is the services to the community that happen there. It’s just a good place. I won’t go on a Sunday, because they use incense like nobody’s business. But on a Wednesday night, I can hang out in the back, or duck outside—besides, the health clinic (which also includes acupuncture and massage, all free) and benefit dinner for musicians are too cool not to be part of.

[Incense is usually a huge emotional trigger for me, as much as it's a physical one. But this is not my school, my parish, my home. I don't have the inclusion response that I did when St. Aidan's used it for the midnight Mass at Christmas. It's what St. Anna's does. My work includes keeping my own home safe; it doesn't extend to changing the culture in a parish 2300 miles away, that does so much right. Bill flexes for me anyway; last time I was here, he used it, but didn't process it in. I could feel it, but I could also stay away. Other times and places, the response has been, "We're using it," or, "We're only using a little." The subtext is, "Others want it. Tough." I don't feel that, here.]

I was lucky last night; it wasn’t a feast day, so I could freely breathe. (When they use incense, it’s thick enough so that I can’t go anywhere near the altar. Asthma sucks; it's also real.) Bill had a few minutes before he had to get ready for church; he took the time to teach me some Nashotah arcanery, and tease the deacon for the way she was dressed. He showed me the closet full of copes (I'm not kidding; they have eight in there, and others farmed out around the city.). He also remembered I can't do incense, and we talked about that.

Bill kicked me out of the sacristy so he could get dressed, and I went in to church. The liturgy was straightforward Rite II; the music was gorgeous. They use LEVAS (Lift Every Voice and Sing, gospel hymnal) exclusively, at least on Wednesdays, and the song leader announces the hymns right before you sing them—so nobody knows what's coming. He leads the singing loudly enough, so that it didn't matter that many of us sounded very white. (No joke; the family behind me was from Madison, WI. They’re down here helping with the rebuild.)

The gospel was Jesus walking on the water, from Mark; the sermon was about loving ourselves so we could love others, and not being afraid of love. The Peace was much like we do it at St. A’s; not so much the hug-fest, but everyone greeted everyone else. Very open; very friendly.

Bill asked the family behind me to introduce themselves, during announcements. He didn’t ask a thing of me. Apparently, having been here once makes you a regular. He also thanked all the out-of-towners for being here; said it communicates to them that we’re still thinking about them. New Orleans is moving past the recovery phase, into the rebuild. It’s my observation that this city is being rebuilt by college students and youth-group kids. This place still needs our love and attention; our money, our skills, our time. Even if all you can do, like me, is listen to and gather stories. Everything counts.

They do use fish food; oh well. Here, even that felt sacred. I didn't recognize the wine (which isn’t saying much); I think it’s also what's used at the very middle-class St. Andrew's. Spicy. Good. Kinda festive.

We went back up for healing, immediately after Communion. The last time I was here, I was a sobbing mess, in shock from lack of sleep and the ruin of the city, floored because people could suffer so much and still be beautiful. Yesterday, this experience was joyful. We were an arc of people stretching all the way across the altar, holding hands; it didn’t matter that many of us didn’t know each other. The musicians played "Were You There," which I thought was contrived for the occasion, but I lost myself in the music nonetheless. Bill went around and laid hands on each of us, prayed for us, anointed us. It wasn't the prayer I knew from school, but similar, and he varied it; he thanked God for my life and ministry. He wore a ring that held the chrism, which I didn't see until he was almost right next to me; I couldn't figure out what he was doing with his thumb on top of people's heads.

The closing hymn was "This Little Light of Mine," presumably so we could clap (we all were) and not need the words. The deacon sang what I know as the Easter dismissal, with the many-syllabled Alleluia. Then we went next door for dinner.

There are signs above every exit in this complex, reading

You Are Now Entering Your Mission Field.

I love that. It’s so very true.

Dinner was spaghetti, veggies, salad, and chocolate; certainly adequate for the occasion. The musicians played slow, sleepy jazz; it was fun to listen to. I made a couple of good contacts; an ER doc who moved down here from Maryland with her partner (also an ER doc) after the storm, to help out, and a nurse-practitioner from the Mobile Medical Mission, who's also a Jesuit priest. Couldn't actually interview them there; it was too noisy/busy. (The parish hall was packed.) I had e-mailed Bill and told him I could get myself to church just fine, but would need help getting home. He introduced me to my ride, Diana, an RN who was running the blood-pressure checks. I mentioned to him that I was curious about All Souls. He took me aside to tell me what he knew, which admittedly wasn’t much.

All Souls is a mission to the 9th Ward, meeting in what I think is a converted Walgreen’s on St. Claude. Nobody seems to know that much about them. The priest-in-charge is Nigerian; I’ve forgotten his name. Bill wasn't positive when the services are. Buses are still really dicey out there; I may not be able to go, though I want to.

[I need to figure out how to get myself to St. Paul’s, Lakeview. The homecoming center that used to be at St. Luke’s, is now there. It is, or was, an upscale neighborhood—flooding changed everything for lots of people.]

We talked more about Nashotah, Anglo-Catholicism, church politics, whatever. I think I carry a certain seminarian charm; I’ve only met this priest once, e-mailed a small handful of times, and we caught up like friends. I'm also going to interview him; not the least because of the "murder board" outside. (There's a giant white board on an outside wall of the church, listing in black marker all the murders in this city from last April through now. It speaks volumes about honoring every human life.) He gave me a hug goodbye, and left to run some errands. I went back into the parish hall, and listened to music until it was time to go home.

Diana takes Jim (Jesuit NP) home every week; he lives near me and can't drive. She was living in New Orleans East, which was pretty much universally flooded. She said they only got three inches of water—which caused 3 ½ feet of mold. So they're living near her parents, 30 miles west of the city, and working on their house when they have time. Her parents had lived in Gentilly; their house had taken 5 ½ feet of water. (That's exactly as tall as me.) They gutted it, sold it, moved out of town. The entire extended family evacuated to Diana’s parents’ house, and stayed there for six weeks after the storm.

This city is sloshing to the brim with stories. Sometimes all you have to do is ask, "Are you from here?"

Hard to have a spice cabinet, without a kitchen.

Only 50% crazy, hmmm. I don't know how accurate this is, but I like my results well enough; and anyway, I'm blaming Paul.

More on NOLA in my next post; with spice on the brain now, I'm going to run over to the corner coffee shop for lunch.

Your Score: Saffron

You scored 100% intoxication, 50% hotness, 100% complexity, and 50% craziness!

You are Saffron! Those other spices have nothing on you! You're warm, smart, and you make people feel really good (and with no side-effects!). You can be difficult to get to know and require a lot of those who try, but you're so totally worth it. *Sigh*

The Which Spice Are You Test

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Strange day, and clarifying

I had another day to get my bearings, yesterday, and so I did. I’ve been sticking to the streetcar line and the Quarter since I got here; reading the prep work Courtney gave me in coffee shops, exploring well-traveled areas, having fun. I’ve been needing to go back to the disaster zone, and see it again for myself.

I took the streetcar down to the Quarter; the tracks run right past this house, but the closest place I can catch it is four blocks away, at the current end of the St. Charles line. Got off at Canal, and walked. Lunch was gumbo from a café in the French Market; it was a huge bowl of muddy-looking seafood and veggie soup, over rice. Slightly spicy; very good.

I walked all the way through the Quarter and rented a bicycle. As soon as I turned right on St. Claude, I saw signs of the storm, in peeled paint, broken windows, and school marquees reading “Welcome Back 2005.” Before I went even a block, I was out of the bustling, intact French Quarter and into an unrecovered neighborhood.

I rode all the way into the Lower 9th, using the less imposing of the two possible bridges to get there. I had my camera, but I didn't take pictures; I felt very conspicuous, and uneasy stopping. Courtney had told me to stick to the main drag, but I'd never intended to strictly follow that advice. I rode up some side streets, a block or two farther than Claiborne. They looked exactly as they did when I was here nine months ago. I could look down a street and see no signs of anybody. There were lots of areas still deserted, overgrown; piles of debris everywhere, broken houses standing as they had since the storm. On one block, there were two men outside working, with heavy equipment; one moving trash, the other earth. There was a house in the middle of another block, freshly painted a festive Day-Glo green with purple trim, family names proudly displayed above the door. (It reminded me of what Latino families do at home.) On either side of it stood trembling houses with overgrown yards, and no signs of life.

I saw a stand of godawful hideous pink tents, and rode over to investigate. I’d read about them on the web; it’s this Brangelina project. There stood a rickety, makeshift observation tower; I locked the bike to a stop sign and climbed up. 150 house-shaped tents, three blocks or so all the way to the levee, and farther on either side of me. It's designed to be a sustainable-development project; I can't argue with the basic idea, as I do believe in it. But the tents were a color a friend once described as "Silence=Death pink." They seemed unfittingly gaudy. Acrophobia told me to get the hell back down. I did, and noticed a "driving tour" set up around it. (There were people around; I wouldn't have stopped, had I been alone.) Let alone the pink; it just felt so creepy, freaky, wrong. This may be a bulldozed and blown away section of the neighborhood—but the whole time I was in the Lower 9th, I felt like I was staring at the grave of a community. I could almost see the silence. Driving—or biking—around and gawking felt profoundly disrespectful and wrong.

If you come here, I implore you—take the stories home, and tell them. Use the time that you have spent here. Don’t just look, and go on with your lives.

On Tennessee St., I rode past a FEMA trailer with posters, clippings, and a giant white board: memorials of Robert Green’s mother and granddaughter who died in the storm. I'd read about them in the NOLA paper online. (The child's name was Shanai Green, called “NaiNai”; she was 3. Robert had lost his grip on her, and she slipped off a roof and drowned.) I read the memorials, stood there for awhile. Muttered to myself that I needed to talk to people. It’s what I came here to do, and I’m anxious to do the work, not just watch.

I got back on the bike, and immediately rode past a man sitting quietly in a chair next to the trailer. I hadn't even seen him.

I circled in the street twice, wanting to go back and apologize, but I lost my nerve. I felt so guilty about not seeing/talking to him, and being a disaster tourist, that I thought for awhile about calling a priest friend and confessing. (Not just telling him how weird it was; I wrote that in an e-mail when I got home. I felt like I needed to honest-to-God confess my own complete inability even to see another human being.) It was that intense; that piercing.

I rode back across the bridge, not chased by any trucks this time, and returned the bike. I’d been out just under two hours. The clerk asked if I’d been around the Quarter; I mumbled a vague reply.

As soon as I did that, and was walking through the Quarter again, it felt as if the experience I'd just had in the Lower 9th had happened to somebody else. In a different world.

I walked back through the Quarter to Jackson Square and the river. I stuck my fingers in the Mississippi, for Paul and Orthodox Mimi, for whom today is Theophany. (Paul celebrates Epiphany, too.) My hand came out slightly sticky. I did something vaguely like praying; watched the water for awhile. I walked back through the park and listened to musicians, relaxing. Mindful of being back before dark, I walked back to Canal St., and caught the streetcar home.

I don't feel as guilty anymore, but awkward. I know I'm not here to stare at people's pain, but to bring these stories home—but yesterday I was a disaster tourist, through and through. I felt so white, so privileged, so innocent. I’ve never been through that kind of hell. I’ve never been forced to leave my home, without the means to return. I’ve never returned to a place that still looks, sounds, and feels like a nuclear wasteland. Meanwhile I'm thanking God that I've been here before, know what I'm getting into, and know I can approach the people I'm interviewing with respect, that's not complicated by my jaw clattering quite so noisily on the floor.

I’m also feeling fatalistic—in a way I hesitate to share, since I’m working in solidarity with the people here. I don't know how that's ever going to be a neighborhood, again. I’ll be thrilled, if and when I’m proven wrong.

I want very much to talk about this; I need people to process with, even before I start working with actual human beings. Yesterday, my usual suspects were otherwise occupied: taking the GOE, sleeping off a sickness, working hard on a project, doing other stuff. I’m feeling really alone with what I’m witnessing. I can mention it to Courtney tomorrow; we’re supposed to talk anyway, and I know she wants to support me. I chose not to interrupt her writing. Mainly, I need to get past my guilt. I’m not a New Orleanian. I wasn’t here. I couldn’t have changed the culture, erased classism/racism, kept the levees intact, made a safe place to come home to. And though I looked for all the world like a tourist yesterday, I don’t intend to be. I’m here to gather people’s stories, to get them out beyond this city in such a way that people pay attention to themselves and their own surroundings, and don’t let this social devastation happen anywhere else, again.

Not sure what today will bring, other than church—which by now is a spiritual need. I was up several times in the night with a cranky digestive system—whose mood has barely improved. I think it’ll be a day to lie low, read, research, catch up with myself. This trip is less intense than the last, so far—although it’s longer, and once I’m really immersed in my project I’ll think I was nuts for saying that. This city is haunting, just the same.

Friday, January 04, 2008


Thank you 815 and Remain Episcopal leadership--and thank you Episcopal News Service, who came back from vacation with a vengeance, and this headline:

In San Joaquin, Episcopal Church 'alive and well'
Clergy, laity report new hope, signs of growth, plan for January 26 meeting

ENS has the full article. We're discussing it at Jake's.

Rejoice in the power of the Spirit!

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Remain Episcopal now taking online donations!

YAY! Go look!

No more hunting for buried checkbooks! No more getting your tongue stuck on stamps! No more hiking to the post office!

Now you can just click here, and donate!

A little, or a lot; it's all appreciated, and all very much needed.

Love and support are as important as ever; and as always, you can e-mail those messages here.

I'll leave the Facebook link in the sidebar, just 'cause.

On a mission

I meant to catch up yesterday, but I didn’t, except in the comments over at MadPriest’s.

I met the people I’m going to be working with, yesterday. Courtney is Strategic Director of EDOLA’s Office of Disaster Response. She landed here because of her work in NYC after 9/11. She’s writing a book contrasting responses to 9/11 and Katrina; I’ll be interviewing survivors for her. Shakoor works part-time for EDOLA and part-time for, I think, another housing program. He came over from Common Ground, where the four of us worked last spring. One of the things he’s into is stopping the violence in the city, and bringing hope to the youth. I’m going to be helping him with this website.

Or so far as I understand it, anyway. They took me to a Lebanese restaurant a few blocks from where I’m staying, and filled up my brain. Courtney gave me a CD and a pile of reading to do, for background and to get me started thinking. I’m to immerse myself in this, start brainstorming interview questions, and call her Friday.

Then they took me downtown to meet diocesan staff. The bishop has been at the forefront of the struggle to keep affordable housing. He was so friendly—everyone was. ODR’s new director is a native New Orleanian; she was working with a Catholic agency in Nigeria when the storm hit. She asked herself what it meant to be from a place, and what sense it made to be working for peace and justice overseas when her home needed it so badly. So she’s been back here, for two years. She’s direct, focused, and on top of what she’s doing. The case management coordinator came over from the juvenile justice system. Everyone I met was so friendly, and so knowledgeable, and organized. I sat in on at least two conversations I didn’t understand a word of; I’m going to have to learn the local housing alphabet soup.

I’ll have sporadic access to a car; either Courtney’s, or a truck owned by the diocese. Probably not until early next week, though. I’m going to be mostly doing fieldwork, after this week. Today’s project: take the streetcar (the tracks run right in front of this house), look around, and do my reading. The house next door to EDOLA contains housing offices for several programs they’re connected with; there’s no extra office space, but I can set up at the dining room. I work much better with people around me, than I do completely alone.

I want to play tourist a little bit, too.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year!

Sleepily checking in from NOLA; it's 3:16 am West Coast time. (Quarter after 5, here.) I don't know what I'm doing awake. I plan to remedy that soon.

Thank you to all who love me, pray for me, challenge me, support me, shift my perspective, laugh with me, and hold me in your hearts. I'm thinking of all of you, early this morning in the city that shook me forever last spring.

As seen last year, here is 2007 in a paragraph of nonsense. Take the first sentence from the first post of each month, paste them together in a paragraph, and see what you get.

[The ache I mention in the context of last year's post, has healed enormously. Thanks be to loving, patient friends, the Bishop's Ranch, general growing-ness, and God.]

I don’t really do resolutions; it’s too easy to break them and get depressed about it. Click on the title of this post, and see what I did tonight instead of the homework I was supposed to do. What is obedience to the gospel? Michael flew back to Berkeley last night; Vivian and I flew together, and have just gotten home. I am, among other contradictions, an asthmatic seminarian. I'm at a preaching conference at Villanova this week. I was praying with four friends from my parish yesterday afternoon; it's an early step in my vocational discernment. I'm sorry, anyone that I've worried. Hot. Struggling with something I don't know how to blog about... without spilling more than I want to of my own soul, in public. These are some, with whom I'm in relationship, and who have given me particular gifts. I got to meet Mother Laura yesterday!

Wow, do I sound busy. As I am. I can really, deeply feel myself moving toward God. This past year has been, in a lot of ways, really difficult. But I know where I'm going, and there is so much joy in that.

Love and blessings to all.