Thursday, June 28, 2007

Money Money Everywhere

Thanks to Matt at Absolutely No Spin for his encouragement in continuing to write about my experiences at the Gulf Coast. After awhile the emotions get to be too much and it's hard to write about something so serious all the time. However I believe it is really important and I will keep talking until the word gets out there.

Today I came across an article from the Christian Science Monitor that said Private Dollars Leading Recovery of New Orleans. I of course had to read it, I think I've pretty much every news story about New Orleans and the Gulf Coast since being back from my trip.

The day I spent in New Orleans was education and sad to say the least. Our guide Mary who is the director of All Churches Together (ACT) a PICO organization discussed with us, among many things, the money situation. There are millions of dollars coming into New Orleans, but people are not benefiting from it all that much. Mary described over and over again, how it has been the people in the neighborhoods that have brought the spirit back to New Orleans and how the government has not been very helpful.

This article describes the situation in New Orleans, as I know it to be, very effectively. It discusses what has been done by the government (including the rebuilding of the Superdome, which to the best of my knowledge no one lives there), and what is being done in greater numbers by the people themselves.

Take a few moments to read the article, become educated about the situation. Note the sidebar on the last page giving you "recovery by the numbers." While there is a large number of street signs, light poles, and storm drains that have been repaired you would not notice these things during a drive through the city. What you would notice are the closed hospitals, schools, libraries, and the vacant houses.

One last statistic: The article says that $117 million in US funds have been allotted for the long-term community recovery program to rebuild public works such as libraries, sewers, and schools however $0 has been actually received by the city so far. We are coming close to 2 years since the storm and people are living with out the things that most people in the US take for granted, our libraries, schools, and don't forget our sewers.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Too Much

I am still trying to adjust to life after being in Mississippi, knowing that I can never go back to "things as usual." The scope of what is going on down there or rather what isn't going on down there is almost too much for me to handle. What can I do? As an unemployed seminarian in Central Ohio there is not much. I can sit here behind my computer and tell you what I witnessed, but I'm not sure if my words are nearly sufficient enough. I can also share my pictures and my stories and encourage others to take a week and see for themselves what needs to be done. But until everyone who experienced what I did starts to spread the word, most of the United States is going to be clueless to the condition of our Gulf Coast.

Two news articles were brought to my attention this week, one about the workers of New Orleans, and one about the safety of the city from flood even after damages have been repaired.

These are both New Orleans specific issues, however it is not just New Orleans who are being treated unfairly after the storm. For NO, it's a government problem and as we know government problems are hard to solve. For the rest of the Gulf Coast, such as in Mississippi, much of the problems are coming from the insurance companies. I don't even know how to begin to describe what the insurance companies are doing to the people that they are suppose to be helping. Someone pays insurance on their property, not for small incidents, but for large catastrophes like Katrina and then they never see the money they are entitled to. An Episcopal priest that I had the privilege of talking to while in Mississippi went as far as to call the insurance companies Satan... those are strong words coming from a very loving and understanding man. Lawsuits (like this one) are raging and people are still not seeing their money. I also found this attorney's website helpful in finding more information about the insurance companies. Keeping in mind that he is running a business and will be making money on any client he attracts through his website, I think it gives a pretty good picture of the problem at hand.

That's probably enough information for ya'll today.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Environmentalism

I haven't been too environmental in my posting lately. But, just so you know if you look to the right of the page, there is an area where I share news stories from Google Reader. There you can find environmental news stories that I find interesting and feel the need to share. This works well for me, because often I have no more to say about the issue than what the article itself says. It saves me time writing posts, and saves you time by taking you directly to the source. When something comes up that I feel is necessary to comment I will post. Until then, happy reading.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

FEMA Trailer


FEMA Trailer, originally uploaded by pnkwoobie.

Until recently I thought a FEMA trailer was a trailer like you would find in a trailer park. However, my eyes were opened that these so called trailers are what I call a camper. The kind you take on vacation. Depending on where you are some of these trailers are fifth wheel types, and some look like the one above. But they are certainly not large enough to accomodate a family full time. This is the trailer of the Shehorn family. Mr. and Mrs. Shehorn were living in their double wide trailer with their son Charles who had bought it for them in their retirement. Since the storm, they have had to move in with their other son and family, while Charles is trying to live life in the governmet provided trailer. I don't think it has to be said, but going to the bathroom in this trailer is challenging... I experienced it. Can you imagine living your life in this trailer?

The Gulf Goast is dotted with these trailers, with entire families living in them. I drove past on lot that had two kids playing outside with a basketball, their trailer sitting on the empty concrete slab where their house use to be. These kids went from living in a house where they probably had their own rooms, to living in a trailer with their entire family. And their family was lucky they could stay on their property. Some families living in FEMA trailer parks, where each of these trailers are lined up against a fence with enough room to park a car between each. If they are lucky they have a picnic table or chairs outside, otherwise they live their lives in these trailers.

Realizations

After being back from the Gulf Coast, there are things that take place in my everyday life that remind me of my life of privilege, and how things could be different if more people would take action.

On Saturday Ryan and I were driving towards the mall to purchase new cell phones before visiting his sister in Cincy. The fact that we have a mall to go to and that we can afford new phones is amazing in itself. However, while driving the back way on Old State Road, I observed housing development after housing development that seem to appear in a matter of months. Delaware County is one of the ten fastest growing counties in the country, and most people who live here are proud of that.

If you were to drive on highway 90 along the Gulf Coast in Mississippi, you would not see housing developments, or shopping centers, or large apartment complexes. You would see empty concrete foundations where houses, shopping centers, and apartment complexes use to be.

If developers can build houses in a matter of months, there is no reason that we should still see so much emptiness on the Gulf Coast almost two years after the storm. It doesn't make sense to me. Why build houses for people who already have some place to live in Delaware County Ohio, when you could build houses for people who are living in FEMA trailer parks in Harrison County Mississippi?

I don't know the answer to these questions, but if it was up to me development in the United States would stop until people in the Gulf Coast region had some sense of normalcy returned to their lives. Katrina was a natural disaster and it should be considered a National disaster, but most people go about their lives considering it as one of the many things in the list of "not my problem."

After being where I was, I am overwhelmed by a sense of sadness every time I step outside of my air conditioned 600 square foot apartment. Several weeks ago we were trying to buy a house, because for some reason I didn't feel that this place was sufficient enough for us. But it's bigger than a FEMA trailer. I have a grocery store near by, and a church to worship in, and my neighbors have a school to send their kids. How can my apartment be any more sufficient than that?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Last 7 Days

The last week is almost too hard to describe. I've found that sitting and writing about it isn't the way the story relates the best. For one, my writing skills are not up to par with what I've experienced. These experiences are best expressed in the form of a conversation. I hope to dedicate the next week or so trying to get the details out in writing, meanwhile discussing it all with those who will listen.

For those of you who didn't know I spent a week on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi in a town called Long Beach. I participated in the ongoing task of rebuilding everything that was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, which occurred in August of 2005. While New Orleans has gotten the most press, for many good reasons, there are parts of the Gulf Coast that have been affected drastically and are in need of as much aid as possible.

I was offered the opportunity by The Beatitudes Society, where 15 amazing, progressive, Christians gathered for a trip to Camp Coast Care. We were from across the United States with many different gifts. We came together to be the hands and feet of God in this world and to show the love of Christ to others.

We worshiped, slept, ate, worked, and laughed along side each other for 6 days, and shared hugs when it was time to depart. We carried the spirit of the Gulf Coast back to our homes, with hopes of effectively sharing our stories and the stories of those we met on our short trip.

However, this is only the setting for the story and does not begin to reach the meanings of what I experienced in Mississippi and since I've returned home to Ohio. Please be patient with me as I process all that has happened and post here what I can.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Out of Town

I'll be away in Mississippi for the next week on a service learning trip with The Beatitudes Society. Please pray for us as we are God's hands and feet in the world.

Presidential Faith

It's been a few days, but I wanted to write a few thoughts about the democratic candidate forum on faith and politics that happened on Monday. It lined up John Edwards, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton moderated by Soledad O'Brien in a special edition of the Situation Room on CNN.

I was disappointed that it allowed each candidate fifteen minutes to talk about topics so big as faith and poverty. However, I was pleased with what each candidate had to say and learned a little bit about their faith lives.

Edwards and Clinton were both asked to address their prayer lives. Edwards was asked about how he distinguishes between God's voice and his own voice in disguise. He laughed and said that he prays daily for the strength to hear God's voice and to do God's will. Edwards spoke more about his personal faith than the other two and had a lot to say about how he has experienced things as a person of faith. He made the distinction between personal faith and the responsibility of the president, saying that it is important for all faith beliefs to be recognized and that the government can not dictate decisions by faith institutions, such as the right for gay marriage. He displayed a lot of ambition towards eliminating poverty, which Jim Wallis referred to as a Biblical Priority. Edwards said as president that it would be necessary to mobilize the nation and take concrete steps such as a living wage, opening poverty centers for education and action, organizing unions, and universal health care. He called for a plan that would eliminate poverty in 30 years. Ambitious but smart.

Clinton whose second question dealt with the infidelity in her marriage handled the the issue of faith slightly differently. She acknowledged that her faith played a major role in getting her through the tough times and that her faith was tested. Admitting to be extremely private about her faith, she said that she was was raised in a tradition where she learned to be suspicious of people who wear their faith on their sleeves. However, she believes it is essential be grounded in faith. When asked what she prays, she said prayer is a daily part of her life where she prays for discernment, strength, friends, encouragement. She also admits to pray for trivial and self serving things. For the privacy she displays, she also shows that she has considered and reflected about her actions in relation to her faith.

Obama who landed between Edwards and Clinton in the discussion took a different approach to the conversation. He was asked if God takes sides. He referenced Abraham Lincoln and said that we should be asking if God is on our side, but if we are on God side, ware we following God's dictates. He acknowledge the theological issue of good vs. evil and said that evil does exist in our world and that we have to act against it forcefully. He said of the theory of just war, "simply because we've engaged in something just does not mean we do not act unjustly." He discussed this in relation to the Palestinians and Israel, saying that it is hard to get out of the immediate anger of a situation, but that is where faith can say forgive. While making small references to faith, he did not speak about his personal faith like the others. He spoke more of moral obligations than of faith issues.

Overall it was a positive event, and hope that this opens up the public forum for faith in politics.