By Abbey Tennis
I woke up before the sun this morning so I could shower and help prepare breakfast for the sleepy All Soulsers. Most of us arrived yesterday for our week-long service trip to support the recovery efforts of the city of New Orleans, a community that is still decimated, 7 ½ years after Hurricane Katrina. As we drove into the city from the airport, we passed building after vacant building with broken windows and moldy water marks almost reaching their roofs.
Most of us are staying in the dorm building at Common Ground Relief (http://www.commongroundrelief.org/), only a few hundred feet away from the Industrial Canal that separates the Lower 9th Ward from the rest of New Orleans. This is one of the many locations where the levees failed during Hurricane Katrina, and we’ve been told that there was 10 feet of water throughout this whole neighborhood during the flood. As I write this, I’m looking out the back window of Common Ground at the levee. It’s terrifying to imagine water so high that it destroys the levee, gushes towards us, and carries this building cleanly off its foundation into the buildings across the street. But that’s exactly what happened in Katrina. None of the houses on this street survived.
Next door to Common Ground, there is a small park with informational board telling some of the story of Hurricane Katrina, and this neighborhood’s slow start at rebuilding. This particular neighborhood is filled with the homes that Brad Pitt commissioned after the flood. Most of them are painted in Easter-egg pastel colors, formed in all kinds of strange shapes and designs. It’s surreal to find ourselves in the midst of massive poverty and destruction while also being in the midst of an unbelievably wealthy celebrity’s eco-village/architecture experiment (see pictures of the houses here: http://makeitright.org/see/new-orleans/). I have to admit, though, these houses are cool.
But back to our experience here. There are 2 showers for the 16 or so of us staying here, so you have to get up early if you want to be sure to get a shower before the day begins. I’m not an early morning person, but the time change between DC and New Orleans made this morning bearable.
Once I had showered and dressed, I went outside and walked through thick fog to the common space building next door. The only fog I’ve ever seen like this is in London or San Francisco, except instead of being cold and depressing, here the fog was warm and somehow comforting. The sun was just coming up now, and gospel music is echoing across the neighborhood from the sunrise Easter service happening in a field around the corner. Upstairs, I found 3 people already bustling around the kitchen, and a full pot of coffee made! My first prayer of the day is a prayer of gratitude: “Thank you, holy one, for whoever made this pot of coffee. Dear God, thank you thank you thank you!”
So it’s Easter, the first Easter Sunday that I am a minister (I serve as the Intern Minister at All Souls), but instead of preaching or leading worship, today my ministry is about cooking sausage, sautéed onions, and scrambling eggs for the people of All Souls who have flown and driven to New Orleans to be of use in solidarity with the people of New Orleans.
Common Ground’s motto is “Solidarity, not Charity.” We are here to support the people here, take direction from them, stand with them, and be present in love to this community, to each other, and to ourselves.
It’s Easter, and I can’t help but think about the millions of people around the world celebrating the story of Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection today. The Lower 9th Ward is a community crucified by the flood, by poverty, by racism, and by bureaucratic indifference. Unlike Jesus, it has taken much longer than 3 days for this community to be resurrected. But, slowly, the Lower 9th Ward is experiencing its own resurrection.
I don’t identify as Christian, and I don’t believe that Christ needed to die so that God would save humanity from our inherently sinful natures. But there is brokenness in the world. There is brokenness that goes beyond the windows of the abandoned buildings here. There is brokenness in the world from natural disasters, and accidents. There is brokenness from our harming each other. There is brokenness from war, violence, abuse, oppression, bullying. And as long as there is brokenness, there must also be healing. Each of us is called to be a healing force in the world – and for me, this is the meaning of salvation. Healing ourselves, each other, and the world around us is how we save and are saved.
Today, the Christian tradition tells us Jesus was resurrected for the salvation of the world. Today, the members of All Souls begin to take part in another resurrection – the resurrection of the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans, Louisiana. We are not “Jesus” in this story – we are not the heroes who swoop in to save a struggling people. We are here for solidarity, not charity. But in joining the people of New Orleans as they rebuild their community, we participate in the world’s healing from brokenness. May we stand strong with these people. And may we all find healing along this journey.
It's not even 10pm, but I'm climbing into bed after a long day. Today was a mix of church, orientation, parades, and free time. We joined First Unitarian Church of New Orleans (www.firstuuno.org) for their lovely Easter Sunday Service, then ate lunch together while we learned about the history of New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina. Then we went to a Second Line parade, and disbursed for some time to roam around the city. Some of us went to the Gay Easter Parade, some took naps, some went to live music performances, and we all ate amazing food!
For me, All Souls DRE Meagan Henry, and Meagan's daughter Starling, the night ended with coffee and beignets at Cafe Du Monde in the French Quarter. One congregant here told me that she gained 6 pounds on the New Orleans trip last year. Unless someone keeps me away from these amazing little french doughnuts, I may beat her this year!
Picture: Meagan and Abbey with their coffee and beignets!