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Where does one begin?

Since Katrina made landfall, The MonT-SteR has done quite a bit of news shopping to keep abreast of things. The news has been hard to stomach. I was appalled by the stream-of-misery stories emanating from the Superdome, to say nothing the tales of families torn asunder by the evacuation process, or the teary pictures of motherless children and childless mothers searching desperately for loved ones. One photo in particular got to me. It was a shot of people who had finally been herded onto a charter bus to be taken from the Superdome to Houston, TX. The bus seats were full of glum, exhausted, shell-shocked faces, all deathly silent and wearing vacant stares. I wept when I saw it.

The people of our country have responded in kindness and compassion. Some have given generous amounts of money. Others have opened their homes to displaced families. Many have traveled directly to the affected regions to lend aid and comfort in person. And then we have these shining jewels of humanity at its best:

  • It bothers me greatly that the Christian voices that seem to trumpet the loudest in times of tragedy are those who proclaim (and seem to relish) the arrival of God’s judgment in the likes of disasters like Katrina. I recently preached a sermon on Luke 13 that deals with this very issue. Jesus cites two examples of suffering or catastrophe where people were killed by human agency or accidental means. He says to his audience in verses 3 and 5, “Do you think that the people who suffered these fates are greater sinners or worse culprits than everyone else? I tell you, no; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” What He is saying is this: 1) Don’t assume that God metes out judgment in every instance of disaster or personal calamity, 2) By extension, don’t assume that you are more righteous than those who suffer calamity, and 3) As a corrollary to number 2, don’t assume that you are escaping judgment just because disaster hasn’t befallen you.
    Did God judge New Orleans by sending Katrina? It’s not beyond the realm of possibility, nor is it without biblical precedent. God is love, but He is also judge, and he does bring the nations to account for their deeds. But Luke 13 seems to indicate that Christians ought to refrain from being so glib in their pronouncements of gloom and doom. The locus of the Church’s ministry in such times ought to be in reaching out with the love, care, and compassion of Christ — not in smug proclamations of judgment from the comfort of an easy chair.
    Ever heard of Jonah, folks? You know, the guy who wanted God to fry those brutal, savage, imperialistic Assyrians? Did God allow him to just sit back and wait for Him to destroy Nineveh? Or did He send Jonah in mission to them in hopes that they would repent so they could be spared? And what did Jonah learn in the end — that God enjoys laying waste to entire cities, or that He’d rather spare them? Is God pleased when his people are happy about or hopeful for the destruction of sinners? Or would he prefer them to be motivated by His heart for compassion and rescue and reach out to sinners with His truth?
  • Kanye West, a rapper with an album at the top of the charts, participated in a telethon to raise funds for Katrina victims. Mr. West decided to turn this charitable outreach into his personal soapbox and proceeded to lambaste the alleged racism of the media and President Bush. He has been roundly (and rightly) criticized for his petulant grandstanding, but that hasn’t deterred him. On the Ellen deGeneres show this morning, West continued his anti-Bush tirade:

    “They have been trying to sweep us (African-Americans) under the kitchen sink and it was so in people’s faces and so on TV… that they couldn’t even hide it any more.

    “Down there, people are living below the poverty level to start off with, before this happened.

    “A year ago I was on tour with USHER and we had a hurricane hit Florida and everybody was saying, ‘If this hurricane went to Louisiana, if it went to Mississippi, they wouldn’t be able to handle it.’ (That was) a year ago – and there was nothing done about it.”

    Three words, Kanye: GET A GRIP. The concerns about New Orleans’s extreme vulnerability to a strong hurricane predate the Bush administration. Hordes of city, state, and federal officials have been acutely aware of it for a long time. Why didn’t you accuse them all of trying to “sweep… (African-Americans) under the kitchen sink”? Back when the Army Corps of Engineers first built the levee system, they knew it would only handle a category 3 storm. Are they racists too? Are the politicians who authorized the project (not George W. Bush) also racists for not expending the additional billions of dollars to make the levees high enough to withstand a category 5 storm?
    Your vicious diatribes against the President are merely race-baiting, politically motivated claptrap. Why, Kanye? Why would you defile a fundraiser for hurricane victims by spouting such hateful nonsense? What did it solve? Did it ease the suffering of any of the hurricane victims? Did it bring in any more donations for them? Did it feed a hungry baby, or reunite a family? Couldn’t you have put your political posturing aside for a little while?
    What is it with these celebrities? Can’t they do something good for its own sake without twisting it into a tortured, withering assault on political opponents?

  • And then there’s this lovely story about a homeowner’s association in Ocala, Florida that got wind of some residents opening their homes to Katrina evacuees and promptly quashed these pernicious acts of kindness. The board posted notices on everybody’s door stating that such charity was strictly forbidden by the association’s charter. The president of the association, Bob Watson, said he felt “damn bad” about having to send out the notices, but also said he has a “legal responsibility to enforce the deed restrictions.” You know what I say, Mr. Watson? Every resident of Majestic Oaks that cares more about their precious charter than helping Katrina victims is an absolute disgrace, and they ought to burn hotly with deep and abiding shame and embarrassment at their odious greed and hard-heartedness. Pure and simple. Any homeowners association charter that prevents such charity deserves to be torn to shreds and burned with extreme prejudice. As long as homeowners associations are havens for people who take special pleasure and delight in legalistic, controlling behavior, The MonT-SteR will NEVER live in a community that’s governed by one. PERIOD.

They say that disasters like Katrina bring out the best and the worst in people. I have to agree.


aka The MonT-SteR