Saturday, January 26, 2008

A Time to Build

I spent Friday with Lutheran Disaster Response Groups from NJ, PA, and MS. We toured from Mobile, AL to New Orleans learning about the different styles of response to Katrina. Each volunteer camp has the same mission, but approach it slightly differently. Seeing the devastation that lingers almost 29 months after Katrina is shocking.

In the third picture, Lee Zandstra, LDR of NJ, is 5'10". The water in the area came to the top of the wall behind her. Unreal, the power of a wall of water to clear everything.

Our tour guide for New Orleans grew up in East New Orleans and is now a pastor in Slidell, LA. Driving through the ninth ward and witnessing the marks on the door, that signify the day entered, number of deaths, and whether or not to demolish the house, I realized there are no words for the emotions of saddness and regret that things were not different for this area.

What brings comfort, is the promise from God to Noah in Genesis: "Never again will I destroy all the earth with a flood." And so with the words of Ecclesiastes 3:3 ringing in my head, we are now in "a time to build"

May the light of Christ illuminate your path so that others are drawn to the hope of the World.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Screw and Nail Removal

"Bind us Together, Lord" is a hymn I sang often while a member at Peace Lutheran Church in Lompoc, CA. The refrain goes

"Bind us together Lord, bind us together with cords that cannot be broken. Bind us together Lord, bind us together Lord, bind us together in love."

I was a little more awake today at 0600. While strolling around the dorm area before breakfast, I noticed the sign from my parent's church on the wall. It's amazing how many different congregations have little works of art to say, "We were here to help." The connections between congregations in the ELCA and beyond who have worked here are incredible. The map shows people have come to help from Germany, Austria, England, South America, as well as all 50 states.

Today, I did more caulking and cleaning. Then, after lunch we were sent to a home that needed to be gutted. The original repairers from '06 mixed copper and aluminum electrical wire. This is a serious fire hazard, and while the electrical crew was attempting to just redo the wiring, it was determined that the insulation was not replaced from the flood.

Sheet rock, insulation, duct work, everything removed from the house. Twenty people working hard, so that next week the house can have new drywall installed. I don't recommend climbing into a dumpster to pack down fiberglass insulation so more can fit makes ya itchy :)

It's hard right after a disaster, to imagine anything good coming from the situation. Yet, Paul in Romans 8:29 provides a glimmer of hope: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

In just a few days, I have seen the good God has done, uniting a diverse group of people for a common mission of taking care of our neighbors.

God be with you

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Cleaning and Caulking

"Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; for you are my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy." Psalm 61:2b-3

The day began at 0600, lights on and folks rolling out of their beds. Me, I was grateful that I didn't have anyone singing "I'm alive, awake, alert, enthusiastic" to get me to move.

I went to two homes with a mixed crew from PA, IA, MI, NJ, and I'm representing NY. Our task was to do the final cleaning and tweaking so folks can move in. Sweeping, mopping, window cleaning, caulking, etc. Whatever needed to happen to make the home look brand new, ready for someone to move in.

What a surprise, when the homeowner came by to say "Thank you, God, for sending these people. After two years, I'm finally going to come home." She's been living in a FEMA trailer on her front lawn with most of her furniture in a P.O.D. While she was there, we asked "Where do you want your towel rack?"

At the second home, WC, the owner also came into see the progress. The building inspector was on site, and WC will be able to return to his house next week once the stove is connected.

WC was one of the people who choose to ride at the storm. The winds blew at 150+mph for hours and the storm surge came at high tide. This 30 ft surge, pushed the water from the Gulf back up the canals and into neighborhoods. WC had water in his house up to about 24 inches. He and his wife were forced to live elsewhere for the last two years. Sadly, his wife of 50 years died in August, never seeing her home restored.

Today, I saw the promise of Psalm 60 come true. The transformation from despair, to hope and trust.

"O God, you have rejected us, broken our defenses; you have been angry; now restore us! You have caused the land to quake; you have torn it open; repair the cracks in it; for it is tottering"

The Lamb of God is here, repairing what has been torn open. Thank you, Jesus, Amen.

Feel free to reply to this blog, that me know you're out there :)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Open the Eyes of My Heart Lord

I was surprised, I was expecting a "camp" not a remodeled sewing factory. Yet, it already feels like home. The exterior has been painted in murals by local artists, the interior adorned with signed t-shirts by the groups hanging from the rafters and the walls decorated with paintings, scripture and signatures.

My heart has been opened to the need: 60+ families still need help with food every week. Only 20% of the homes have been restored/rebuilt in south Mississippi. The statistics are mind numbing. Jesus invited the disciples to come and see. That invitation fits coming to Mississippi; there are three church camps that house and feed volunteers. Come and work in a wide variety of jobs, come and encounter the Lamb of God.

Tomorrow at 0800 I'll get dirty. I've been added to a church group from South Carolina to go to a housing development in Biloxi, MS to help paint, run electrical wire, and hang sheet rock.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Getting Ready

I'm excited, bubbling with anticipation. Finally, I'm heading off to Mississippi to help with the continuing rebuilding efforts following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. I've been wanting to do this for two years, and other things were a higher priority. In December I decided, now is the time for action. So with hammer, steel toed boots and some work clothes in the bag, and several more items to squeeze in...time is growing short because I leave in 36 hours.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Sacraments II

Sunday, Jan 13, marks the annual celebration of Christ's baptism.

In honor of this event, I invite you to remember your baptism. Go outside, find a mud puddle...roll around in it, splash in it, have a blast like an energetic two year old. Yeah, go get really dirty.

Then, come back inside, take a warm shower and as the water knocks the mud off; remember how in baptism, your sins are washed away. Everything you've regretted doing, everything that still makes you feel guilty has been washed away. Because Christ was baptized, we are made holy, pure and perfect before God.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Power of the Sacraments

There are days when I think we take the power of Holy Communion too lightly. We key in on the "forgiveness of sins" and make it an individual happy meal, forgetting the word "union" found in communion. In the simple meal of bread and wine, we are all other Christians, past, present, and future.

It is this unity that provides comfort after the death of a loved one or friend. To know that because the circle around the altar has no beginning, or end the people we miss are members yet to be born are present...Christians from around the corner and around the world are next to us. In short, we are one gathered around Christ. It is mind blowing. To borrow phrases from Science Fiction, the space-time continuim is stretched and bent so that God's kingdom is fully present in those moments.

For this I thank God.


Sunday, January 6, 2008


Part of my brain is historical detective...pulling back the layers of myth, legends, and assumptions to discover the truth. There are times when that gets dicey from the pulpit. Telling folks that the three kings, aren't spelled out in scripture makes their paradigms shift without a clutch.

In Matthew 2:1-12, they are called "Magi" and there is no particular number given in this passage. It could have been three, it could have been 30. Matthew didn't bother to let us know...therefore, it probably doesn't matter that much.

What does matter is that the Magi were the "Miss Cleo's" of their day, horoscope, astrologer, pseudo-scientists, who knew how to read the stars. In Matthew's gospel they were neither kings nor wisemen. Our word magic comes from "magi".

God used Magi, who were heretics to the community, to be among the first to worship Jesus as King of the Jews. God met them where they were with a sign they could understand.

And here's the good news for us: because God brought these outcasts to Jesus, there is nothing that we can do that will keep Jesus from us. Sure there are days were God may feel far off. Numerous psalms reflect this feeling, but all the while, Emanuel, God with us, is calling take my hand, I'm right next to you.