In a Baton Rouge shelter after Katrina

I have no deep reflective thoughts yet composed regarding our experience with this, so I’ll just pass along these: “Shouldn’t’ve named it after a black woman. She’ll just come through and tear everything up!” So said two black men at our breakfast table the morning of the day we turned the Baton Rouge Church of Christ’s Christian Student Center in a hurricane relief shelter.

There’s about 50 people from New Orleans (including four UNO students from China) living here now. Things are going amazingly smooth and the refugees are great, though in shock. We’ve already spent many hours working alongside some of them, all of today and yesterday. No one wants to talk about who and what they left behind. The ones we have talked to admit being in denial, saying that if they start thinking or talking about what’s happened they’ll pretty much fall apart. One woman who last heard that her fiancee was on a roof volunteers for all the work she can get just to stay busy and distracted. Others have seen footage of their neighbourhoods – now underwater – on TV. We don’t ask after their experiences beyond generalities, but provide opportunities for them to talk.

There’s several whole families here. People have lost their homes, businesses, jobs, and are missing family members. Most don’t know if they’ve lost anyone or not – though everyone seems sure they’ve lost their property and it seems everyone is missing somebody. No one knows how long they’ll be here… a month? 6 months? These are the people we’re trying to serve and help cobble together a giant home for a giant family.

Jessica and I were planning to join a Chinese student retreat this weekend but the camp is also now a shelter, so that’s off. We made it into Baton Rouge from Huntsville, Alabama at 5am Monday, about two hours before some fences were blown down and roof tiles ripped off. But the real impact of Hurricane Katrina on this city is felt now. Major intersections are still without lights and uncounted numbers of refugees from New Orleans and the surrounding areas have drastically swelled the population of Baton Rouge (some estimates say it’s doubled). This makes traffic is unbelievable. People have nowhere to go. Churches and community buildings are becoming shelters. The city is swollen with a huge extra population of desperate, worn out people. Rumours of looting and rioting come out of downtown. The church van was stolen and some property broken into. Some gas stations are out of gas – the police coordinate the line-ups. You can literally walk into Walmart, strike up a conversation with a few strangers, and find people who came from New Orleans and have nowhere to go. But the facilities at the South Baton Rouge Church of Christ can only hold so many, though they are considering some more-creative options to expand their capacity.

Had a previously scheduled visit with some LSU students tonight – they just happened to be covering Luke 4.37-49
46″So why do you call me `Lord,’ when you won’t obey me? 47I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then obeys me. 48It is like a person who builds a house on a strong foundation laid upon the underlying rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against the house, it stands firm because it is well built. 49But anyone who listens and doesn’t obey is like a person who builds a house without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will crumble into a heap of ruins.”

Many of these people have literally had their lives reduced to whatever their foundation is. Puts our own little transitory, ‘faith-building’ stage of life in perspective, that’s for sure.

Embodied Metaphor of Marital Intimacy

I don’t know if there’s a word for embodied metaphor but we took some pictures of one. You’ll have to click these and view them full size to see what we’re talking about.

These trees are growing together in the Parish Hermitage bayou. Two separate and whole trees, each a different kind, reaching skyward beside one another. At points, they’ve grown together. Bark overlaps, each on the other’s trunk. In some places the trunks have joined, becoming one flesh, yet each retains a distinct identity from the other. They don’t join together out of weakness – just the opposite. As each one grows stronger, taller, thicker individual trunks and branches, the potential for connection and oneness increases because it brings them closer to each other. Younger, smaller, lesser trees, weaker trees, would not have the ability or opportunity to grow together as these two are. The expression and expansion of each tree’s unique identity brings them closer to each other, creating opportunities for oneness. Healthy individuality as a required ingredient for intimacy.

With Christ as the source of our identity and the affirmation of our incredible value, finding our selves in God becomes the place from which our ability to be intimate grows.

Places of Peace

Have you ever experienced a tangible spiritual peace – one you’re intuitively sure comes from the Creator – that seems to be imparted simply by physically being in a certain physical place? …as if you could simply walk into it like walking out your back door into a downpour on a miserably hot day, drinking the rain as it soaks your clothes and saturates your skin?

In my experience, Kent and Karen S.’s home intimates spiritual calm and stillness as a gently, tenderly offered gift – more like a personal-worth-affirming warm bath to a shivering tramp than an overpowering rainstorm. The peace of God there is easily received by the willing and, at least at first, easily avoided by the fearful; it’s the kind of strong, patient peace that is willing to wait faithfully and graciously. A morning at the Parish Hermitage, at least for me, is more like the rainstorm. The peace is thick, almost overpowering — maybe you could avoid it if you got back in car and took off, but the more you surrender to it, the more you want to. The deeper it sinks in past your skin the deeper you want to open up and give yourself to it. The world seems more real, nature more intriguing, personal interaction more genuine and unguarded.

These are just two of many ways God is providing for us in abundance during this jobless, homeless, migratory season of our lives.

Morris, our adopted kitten (aaawwwww…)

Yesterday as we were walking back to the dorm we heard some pitiful little squeaks coming from a drainage hole in the side of the building behind some bushes. We looked in and found a tiny pair of eyes staring back at us. We lured him out with some tuna… he was so hungry that he didn’t care to notice Jessica sneak up from behind and scoop him up, though he sure hissed at her lot (not very fierce). We took him back to our apartment for more tuna and some warm milk. (He was tiny, and really scrawny, but got real friendly after Jessica held him for a while. We named him Morris (after the dorm) and put him outside when we went to bed (with some more tuna). He woke us up with his meowing at 5am this morning. We can’t keep him in the dorm, and had decided to put him up on the internet with all the rest of the stuff we’re selling Jessica felt bad about putting a price on his head, but I didn’t think making $5 on a free cat was a bad deal… besides, we had to recoup the tuna expenses!).

But this afternoon the a/c repair guys from maintenance adopted him as their “shop cat” and he now lives in luxury (with real cat food even) at the Central Plant. We’d love to have a cat, but it’d be hard to sneak one over the Canadian border in August (nevermind importing a cat to China… and we’ve all heard what happens to those cats! =)

8 years of college but still learning the hard way

Today I (Joel) received a distinctly West Texas education. You’d think after 8 years in college I’d know how to answer this question:

“What should you do when it’s 40 degrees C outside, you’re driving your ’77 Nova at 45mph with the windows down because it’s short trip and the a/c takes a while to kick in, and you see (and smell) a large hairy carcass formerly belonging to a now-unindentifiable animal dead-centre in your lane 10 meters ahead? It has not yet been flattened. Should you:

a) swerve around it, like all the drivers behind you who know better

b) speed up and try to flatten it, just for kicks

c) try to straddle it, driving directly over it so that (in theory) your wheels pass by safely on either side, even though the suspension on your car gave out years ago and you already ride mere inches above the ground?”

I opted for “c”, and the results were… instantaneous. Even if my aim wasn’t off and I hadn’t nailed it with the driverside tire, we ride so low that it would probably have got hooked on the underside anyway. We had to smell that thing all the way to our small group meeting and back. People like my younger sisters already think our car is nasty – I’m afraid I can’t really argue with them anymore, at least until that stuff cooks off in the Texas heat.