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September 2, 2005

Hurricane Katrina

I'm having trouble thinking about anything besides what is happening in New Orleans. The scope of the tragedy that was only thought to be relatively minor at the beginning of the week is now so overwhelming to me that I haven't been this riveted to the TV since 9/11. It is almost like we are watching something from Mogadishu or Sarajevo. This is America? This can happen in the USA?

As the Star Tribune has already done a fantastic job of pointing out the planning for this level of tragedy was woefully inadequate. New Orleans may be a unique situation as compared to 9/11, but what have we been doing for the past 4 years besides planning for disasters? True, the size of this disaster, the scope of the devastation in terms of square miles, would be difficult to adequately prepare for, but what is happening in New Orleans right now is shameful.

This is especially true when you consider people have known for quite a while what a category 4 or 5 hurricane could do to this area.

But from a humanitarian point of view, blame is just plain unimportant right now. There may have been a slow start (there was a slow start) but I expect that millions of pounds of supplies are making their way to Louisiana and Mississippi right now. In fact, we'll probably start seeing convoy traffic jams today or tomorrow. At least that is what I'm hoping for.

What can we do now? What is the best response we can make? Plain and simple the best response for average citizens right now is donations of money. There is nothing better. Relief agencies can make much better use of money than donations of supplies given that places like the Salvation Army and the Red Cross can purchase supplies for much cheaper than you or I can. In other words, a donation of $50 to a charitable organization can go a lot further than if you or I purchased $50 worth of water. And I'm not saying donations of water aren't important. I'm just telling you what I think these organizations would prefer.

There are so many, many organizations you can donate to. It is quite stunning really. Of course, you can't go wrong with the Red Cross or the Salvation Army. On the local scene, Best Buy is matching donations up to $1 million to the Red Cross through the previous link. Thrivent Financial (Lutheran Brotherhood) is also matching donations. Truly, the difficulty in giving a donation shouldn't be whether or not to do it, but where to donate. There are many opportunities and needs. I choose the Salvation Army due to their overall mission and ties to FEMA.

And please, let me know if there are any other local businesses that are matching donations or that are making a point of helping with the relief efforts. They deserve our business.

Finally, I'm reading a book right now that discusses, among other things, the proper Christian response to the poor and poverty. Did you know that 1 out of every 10 verses in the Gospels (1 out of every 7 in Luke) discusses matters of money and helping out the less fortunate? According to the author, though, when he asks audiences what Jesus said about the poor, invariably people will trot out Matthew 14:7, "The poor you will always have with you." This is the the number one verse that people in America remember from Jesus' views on the poor.

The author, of course, argues convincingly that this verse is taken out of context and that it should no longer be used to justify cynicism or apathy towards those less fortunate. The verse in question is a part of a longer story where a woman washes Jesus's hair with expensive oils in a form of worship and respect, and his disciples suggest that the money for these expensive oils could have been donated to the poor. Jesus, who was nearing the end of his ministry on earth, tells his disciples that the poor will always be among us but that he would not. He wasn't suggesting that we should disregard the poor. In essence, he was saying that helping the poor and worshipping the Son of God are both worthy pursuits.

The author also suggests something else concerning this verse that strikes me as very interesting:

They are at the dinner table with a leper, and Jesus is making the assumption about his disciples' continuing proximity to the poor. He is saying, in effect, "Look, you will always have the poor with you" because you are my disciples. You know who we spend our time with, who we share our meals with, who listens to our message, who we focus our attention on. You've been watching me, and you know what my priorities are.

Further on, the author continues:

The critical difference between Jesus's disciples and a middle-class church is precisely this: our lack of proximity to the poor. The continuing relationship to the poor that Jesus assumes will be natural for his disciples is unnatural to an affluent church.

Now, it is not my intention to get into a theological debate concerning this verse, or the role of the middle class churches in urban America, but what strikes me about these passages is how close the poor of New Orleans are to us today. This isn't somewhere in Indonesia or Ehtiopia. This is right in our backyard, right down the Mississippi. In fact, these people are really even closer. They are in our living rooms, on our TVs, begging for help. And it is so easy right now to give them that help. Let's see what we can do America. If you haven't done so already, please consider a donation to one of the charities above. It does make a difference.

Posted by snackeru at September 2, 2005 9:43 AM | Life


Shane: It was great to visit you at the Top Secret Greet Machine HQ yesterday. To witness firsthand the inner workings of that "Bat Cave" was an eye-opening experience. And we're still full from lunch!

Let may take this Katrina discussion one step further. What this hurricane did was expose the fact that America could be on the downward side of its history. I have been saying for years that America of today could be compared to the latter stages of the Roman Empire. Too much government....too many bad politicians in it for themselves and the power....an overextended military presence and the world dependant on the lone Super Power for protection...a society dependent on the government for aid....a society that feels it is "entitled" to a high standard of living without having to work hard for that standard (they want it for free)....and a society more interested in building stadiums for sport (a gladiator is a gladiator) than working hard to ensure their society succeeds and prospers.

In short, Katrina has exposed these cracks and now the world is watching. Sajeewa Chinthaka, 36, watching a cricket match in Colombo, Sri Lanka was quoted as saying, "I am absolutely disgusted. After the tsunami our people, even the ones who lost everything, wanted to help the others who were suffering. Not a single tourist caught in the tsunami was mugged. Now with all this happening in the U.S. we can easily see where the civilized part of the world's population is."

Posted by: Brian Maas at September 2, 2005 12:50 PM

First let me say, Brian, that I had a wonderful time with you and your family yesterday. I hope you enjoyed the Bell Museum and I'm glad I could help you with the VU. And of course, thanks for lunch!

What you have to say is very thought provoking. In times like these a person's eyes can't help but be opened. However, if the government's role in society isn't to make its citizens' lives better then what is it? I realize you are saying that as citizens we should focus on helping each other, or ourselves, more than relying on the gov't to provide that function for us, but I still think there is a strong role, a leadership role, for gov't to play in bettering the lives of its citizens (especially in disasters like this, of course). Does it have to be through the expansion of gov't? No. More efficiency and focusing efforts on proven non-partisan soltions would be nice. But in the absence of a non-selfish citizenry, I can't help but think forced humanitarianism mandated by our government is better than nothing.

I guess I would have to echo the sentiments of Sajeewa Chinthaka (thanks for that quote!). What is wrong with us? And by us, I mean you and me as individuals. It all comes down to us. Why are we so selfish? We could learn a lot from civilizations like the ones hit by the tsunami. "Love your neighbor" has been replaced by "what's in it for me" in this country and that, more than big gov't or war, is what is wrong with this country (as far as I'm concerned). That is the major chink I see.

Can government provide the leadership to make a less selfish citizenry a reality? I believe it can. In fact, I think the problems of poverty and affordable housing are too big for it not too.

And as far as sports stadiums go ... boy you really know how to hit me where it hurts. I guess we can all take comfort in knowing that our area is one of the few in America that has so far said no to these modern day homes to gladiators. Yay for us.

In closing, I am optimistic. I think this country, the most successful experiment in democracy in world history, can survive. We survived the Civil War, and quite frankly, this time in our history is nothing compared to that struggle. Social justice, education, economic reform and the understanding that we are all in this together is the key.

Sorry to ramble...

Posted by: Shane at September 2, 2005 2:17 PM


I'm on your side on this one. Of course, I threw in the stadium reference because sports/entertainment became more important than life itself in Rome.

My bottom line is that Katrina has exposed how this country has made some things much more important than others. The cracks in the ol' foundation are showing. And I'm not sure they will be plugged up.

Posted by: Brian Maas at September 2, 2005 3:05 PM

Yes, Katrina has definitely exposed how this country has made some things more important than others. When a major city is simply whiped out and abandoned, I don't know how anyone can reach any other conclusion. It is frightening.

And you are right, we probably agree with each other more than we don't. We need to get past the tags of "liberal" and "conservative" and get to the point where we are all "problem solvers" regardless of the parameters of the solution.

Stadiums ... they are tough to talk about right now. We'll pick that up at a later time...

Posted by: Shane at September 2, 2005 3:43 PM

I think I'll post my response to this exchange at fourhoarsemen.blogspot.com.

Posted by: SBG at September 2, 2005 6:09 PM

I look forward to it SBG!

Posted by: Shane at September 3, 2005 8:08 AM

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