A Spring to Remember

New leaves and Spanish moss adorn a live oak in City Park

New leaves and Spanish moss adorn a live oak tree in New Orleans’ City Park.

By Frank Michael McCormack

Here in Southeast Louisiana, this has been a spring to remember. From the mild “winter,” the cool spring months that stretched long into May, and the days and days (and days) of Pacific Northwest-style gloom, to the vibrant colors and new leaves on trees, the passing season (spring) has made shifting to the next (hurricane season) a little easier.

Just a couple weeks ago, people were wearing sweaters to Jazzfest! In May, the New Orleans metro area saw nighttime lows a few nights near 50. We actually stand a (small) chance of making it through all of May without hitting the 90 degree mark. In May 2012, New Orleans eclipsed 90 degrees at least five times.

I consider the “money months” in Southeast Louisiana to be from October through April. The money months make the termites of May, the heat of June through August and the stress of August and September worth it. The money months bring the end of hurricane season, the last half of the Saints season, Advent, Christmas, Carnival, king cakes, Lent, festivals, low humidity, sweater weather and Ponchatoula strawberries (just to name a few highlights). Sure, it rained and rained (and rained). January = 6.5 inches of rain. February = 7.2 inches. April = 11.6 inches. But we have the flowers to show for it too.

Here in Southeast Louisiana, it’s easy to begin to think this is the center of the universe. There are collective wounds from hurricanes, almost unparalleled culture and history, natural beauty, and a common cause (coastal restoration). All make for a gumbo pot of pride, to use of a well-worn metaphor.

And then there were the videos, photos and first person reports from Moore, Okla., May 20. All the destruction, people injured or dead, the images of schools leveled, the aerial views of the tornado’s path. With reports just streaming in, my mom called from Tuscaloosa. The Moore tornado brought back memories for her from two years when that April tornado passed less than a half mile from my parents’ house.

My boss, Gary Myers, is from near Moore and Oklahoma City. My friends, Owen, Billy and Jason, are all from Oklahoma. Just last week, another tornado went through Cleburne, Texas, where another friend’s family lives. The week prior, I met some people from Santiago, Cuba, where the recovery from Hurricane Sandy is trudging forward.

Weather has a way of exposing my self-centeredness and the inequalities we all live with.

Last night, I laid down in my bed as usual while people from a whole community just two states away couldn’t. For every night I go to sleep full, so many lay awake empty. I get takeout, while so many do without. But too often that tension only lasts as long as the current news cycle.

I’ve heard Jesus’ words in Matthew 26:11 “the poor will always be with you” quoted to argue that there’s only so much you can do to help people and, really, ultimately it’s not going to make much of a difference (Of course, this takes that statement well out of context).

That mentality says, “No matter what you do, it’s just going to happen again. You can’t stop tornadoes, hurricanes, poverty, murders, slavery or a failed education system.” This is echoed in statements like “If they don’t like it, then they should move” or “They should know better than to live there” or “Don’t use my tax dollars to fix their problems.” Forget the politics of disaster recovery or efforts to minimize poverty. Where is the empathy and compassion in statements like that? Especially in the days following a disaster.

In this instance, as in so many others, I’m drawn again to Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. The story begins with a “lawyer” who asks “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answers, “What do you think?” And the man answers, “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

But he then asks Jesus for clarification: “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus then replies with a story about a man traveling from Jerusalem who is waylaid by robbers and left to die in a ditch. As they traveled on their way, both a priest and a Levite pass by, ignoring the injured man. Then as now, it is shocking that the ones purporting to be closest in devotion to God would fail to stop.

But then a Samaritan, “as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.” The Samaritan went to the man, cleaned and bound his wounds, and carried the man to a place of healing, leaving funds to provide for the man’s recovery.

I’ve often wondered, if Jesus told this story to a group of religious Americans in 2013, who would the “Samaritan” be?

What stands out to me is this: The “lawyer” asks “Who is my neighbor,” but Jesus describes how to be a neighbor to others. In essence, Jesus foregoes any technical definition of neighbor based on ethnic or geographic constraints. Neighborness is based on my actions toward others, not someone’s connection (or lack thereof) to me.

Whether you donate to the American Red Cross or a disaster recovery volunteer team or travel to Oklahoma to volunteer or buy lunch for the person walking down the street that you know is hungry, make “neighbor” a verb and not a state of being today.

New Orleans gears up for Super Bowl, but we still have lots of work to do

Editor’s Note: Surprise, surprise. After a long hiatus, Geaux Therefore is back – just in
time for the Super Bowl!

By GaNewOrleansSignry D. Myers

It’s game time.

In the days leading up to the Super Bowl in the Mercedes-Benz Super Dome Feb. 3, New Orleans may be the world’s largest construction zone. Construction is nothing new for the Crescent City. This place has been under construction constantly since Hurricane Katrina left her battered and wounded, down but not out.

Aided by the massive reshaping and rebuilding, the city came back with passion and spice. And when New Orleans was announced as the host city for the 2013 Super Bowl, NOLA ordered up yet another round of updates and improvements. The Super Bowl is a chance for the city shine and I believe she will look good for her close-up.

For over a year the touristy sections of town have been reduced to a maze of traffic cones, barriers and orange construction netting. Street and sidewalk work in the French Quarter, a new streetcar line on Loyola Avenue, and a $300 million airport makeover. And the work continues. On Jan. 23, Mayor Mitch Landrieu declared the city Super Bowl ready. Mission accomplished … almost. I suspect the work will continue right up until people begin to arrive for the big game. Maybe we should change the welcome signs to read, “Welcome to New Orleans: Careful, The Paint is Still Wet.”

This Super Bowl is important for our city. We’ve survived Katrina, the BP oil spill, a cantankerous little storm named Isaac and the corruption trials of countless civil “servants.” The game brings an influx of cash. It means major exposure. People will visit and want to come back. You just can’t help falling in love with New Orleans.

New Orleans has already hosted nine Super Bowls. But this tenth one, though very important, isn’t our most important Super Bowl. That came in 2010. We didn’t host it, but the Saints won it. Rarely has sport been so transcendent. The win was so much more that a reason to brag about a game. Players and coaches alike wanted to win it for the city. They wanted to make a statement. The win said our city was back from the brink. It gave a measure of hope just when we needed it.

I will always treasure my memories of the victory parade that follow that Super Bowl win. We saw Drew, Reggie, Pierre, Sean and the team. That was cool. But the best part was sharing the night with 800,000 other Saints fans – people of all walks of life.  We shared something special together as a city and a region. We experienced community. My love for the city and its people grew that evening.

But a championship can only do so much. It provided some hope, but it didn’t solve all our problems. Our educational system is improving, but it is what it should be. We still have a ridiculous murder rate holding us back. Still we have a lot going for us – food, history, music, art, architecture, passion, etc. All this good needs to be matched with good schools, safe streets and opportunity – in a word, hope – real and lasting hope.

This Super Bowl won’t solve our lingering problems either. We will look good for the camera. I won’t discount the importance of that, but we need to be good. We need to be good for the children of this city. We need to foster their potential to rise above the status quo.

It is game time, but the paint is still wet. Solutions to our problems still can be found. The solution rests with you and me – everyday New Orleanians. It won’t be easy … in fact it often seems like fourth and long. It’s game time. Will you get in the game?

From City of NO to City of Yes

By Gary D. Myers

The City of No – that sure doesn’t sound like a happening place. It doesn’t sound like a city on the move . Sounds more like a place with very little opportunity.  Sounds like a place where needs go unmet and dreams go unfulfilled.

Until 2010, http://www.cityofno.com was the official web address for the New Orleans city government. Mayor Mitch Landrieu quickly changed the web address to http://www.nola.gov soon after he was elected to office. He referenced this fact in his recent State of the City speech.

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Of miles and memories

By Frank/Michael McCormack

The first time I laid eyes on the Jeep was 18 years ago. I was in the 6th grade. When I went to school that day, my mom was driving a baby blue 1980s Toyota Cressida. And when I got off the bus that afternoon, she was in a brand new hunter green Jeep Cherokee Sport.

It was 1994. I was 12.

I don’t remember much out of the ordinary about the Jeep between 1994 and 1997, when I got my license. We usually went on trips in my dad’s truck, so we didn’t pile the miles on the Jeep those first few years.

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Where. When. Why. A second look.

By Gary D. Myers

Editor’s note: All the King Cake is gone and Geaux Therefore is back from the Mardi Gras break. This post on context was published in the early days of the Geaux Therefore blog. In those days, virtual no one was reading the blog, so I thought it might be time to take a second look at “where, when and why.” It isn’t a straight repeat, rather a second, updated look at context. I hope you enjoy.

Where, when and why. These are three of the most important concepts for the missional adventurer. Knowing, mastering and wrestling with each of these concepts is a life-long process.

Know where you are
By nature a photograph captures only a portion of the real scene. The photograph is stingy with space – capturing things as they really are within certain parameters. At times, the deepest communication in a photograph comes not from what is included, but from that which is missing. The photograph has captured truth – at least the portion visible in the viewfinder at a specific moment in time.

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When crime becomes personal

By Frank/Michael McCormack

Sometime in late 2004, not long after moving to New Orleans, my wife, Jennifer, and a group of her friends were held at gunpoint by a young man looking for money.

The group, made up of three ladies and a baby, parked just off St. Charles Avenue, under a street light, across from a busy restaurant. As they exited the car, the young man walked up, gun drawn, and said, “Okay ladies, this is how it’s gonna be…”

The encounter lasted just a few moments, with Jennifer shielding the baby from the gunman, one girl dumping her purse out on the ground, assuring the man that she hadn’t looked at his face, and the third girl letting him know that they didn’t have any cash. She was holding a diaper bag, not a purse.

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Homeless, not hopeless

By Gary D. Myers

John* struggled as he walked through the food line at Ozanam Inn. The grimace on his
face hinted of his degenerative disc problem. John was grateful for the plate of food, but he couldn’t take the cup of lemonade that I offered. It was all he could do to shuffle through the line carrying his plate. As I watched him find a spot to eat, I was overwhelmed with compassion.

After John finished eating, I went out to talk with him and hear his story. I’ve heard quite a few sad stories from homeless men and women. Some stories seem true, but others do not. John’s story is sad, maybe not the saddest I’ve heard, and I’m convinced that his story is true.

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