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.

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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Better now than never: Steve Gleason’s story

By Frank Michael McCormack

The first time I stepped in the Louisiana Superdome I went there to cheer against the New Orleans Saints. I know, it borders on blasphemy. It was during the 2004 NFL season, and the Saints were playing the Seattle Seahawks.

I’d bought two tickets on eBay and was so nervous about it (having never bought anything online prior) that I had the tickets sent to my parents in Tuscaloosa. They drove the tickets down to me. We met “halfway” in Carriere, Miss., at a truck stop just off the interstate. Juanita from the Andy Griffith Show works there.

At the time, former University of Alabama standout running back Shaun Alexander still played for the Seahawks. I hadn’t yet discovered the wonderfulness of the NFL, so that small, shallow connection put me in the Seattle camp.

Jennifer and I sat near the top of the Dome where people pound the metal walls to distract opposing offenses. All in all, the Sept. 12, 2004, game was forgettable, with the Saints out-sloppying the Seahawks to lose 21-7.

The next images from the Superdome to stick in my head came almost a year later, when thousands sloshed their way to the Dome in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The roof had been ripped off by the hurricane winds. The Superdome came to symbolize everything that had gone wrong before, during and after Katrina in New Orleans.

But a little over a year after that, things began to change.

On Sept. 25, 2006, the Saints and Saints fans returned to the Superdome in a Monday Night Football showdown with the hated Atlanta Falcons (more accurately referred to as “Dirty Birds”).

Jennifer and I had, in one of our finest moments, bought season tickets earlier that year. On that Monday evening, we made our way up the ramp to Gate A, this time adorned in black and gold. We moved as part of a sea of people, marching with excitement and overflowing with emotion. Returning to the Superdome was like visiting a tomb, raising a victory banner, turning a page and gathering for group therapy, all at once.

Green Day and U2 sang their now famous “The Saints are Coming,” along with “When September Ends” and “Beautiful Day.” U2’s lyrics “see the bird with a leaf in her mouth, after the flood all the colors came out” took on a much deeper meaning that night.

Then came the Hurricane Katrina and 2006 Saints montage. All 70,000-plus people were wiping away tears.

The Falcons received the opening kickoff and went three and out. And when they lined up to punt the ball away (on our side of the field, in fact), Saints special teams favorite Steve Gleason charged up the middle untouched, dove toward the Falcons kicker, and blocked the punt. Defensive back Curtis DeLoatch dove on the ball in the end zone to score the touchdown. The game wasn’t close. The Saints won 23-3.

The blocked punt by Steve Gleason is arguably the greatest play in Saints history. The emotion of that moment helped Saints fans turn the page after Katrina. It set up the Saints to make a run all the way to the NFC championship game that season, and it started the Saints down the road toward their Super Bowl 44 victory Feb. 7, 2010.

We celebrated the five year anniversary of that night this past Sunday, Sept. 25, 2011.

To commemorate the anniversary, Gleason, who retired in 2008, returned to the Superdome as an honorary captain. He performed the coin toss and led fans in the traditional pre-game “Who dat!” cheer.

Gleason, though, did not charge onto the field last Sunday like he did in 2006. He walked slowly this time, with a limp, aided by Saints quarterback Drew Brees. Gleason, we learned Sunday, is living with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. He is 34.

ALS is a disease affecting the “nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement,” according the the U.S. National Library of Medicine. The nerve cells gradually die, causing muscles to atrophy. Only about 25 percent of people diagnosed with ALS live longer than five years, according to USNLM.

The revelation regarding Gleason set off several days of tributes and public outcries of support. Times-Picayune reporter Jeff Duncan and sports broadcaster Jim Henderson have both published extremely moving pieces about Gleason.

Gleason’s wife, Michel, along with friends and teammates threw Gleason a surprise reception Monday night, during which New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu gave him the key to the city.

“It’s just amazing to me that you have continued to teach us and show us, with great dignity and strength, what it really means to live a full life,” Landrieu said, quoted in one of Duncan’s stories. “It is a great lesson, and you keep giving it to us.”

Saints Coach Sean Payton later presented Gleason with a Super Bowl ring.

With Michel holding the microphone, Gleason delivered a passionate speech to the 100 or so friends gathered.

He offered this challenge: “We can talk about the blocked punt, and we can talk about rings. But what’s more important to me is what we do when we walk out of this room.”

In another Duncan article, Gleason admitted, “Am I afraid now? Yeah, I’m afraid. I’m afraid to walk in public, because people look at me. But I’m not going to stop. … And I’m afraid to go back and see my teammates and coaches because I know that I’ll feel envy. But I’m going to do it anyway. Because fear is just a feeling, and if you can acknowledge that fear, digest that fear and overcome it, the rewards are incredible.”

And elsewhere, he said, “It’s easy to start questioning whether God has this plan and why the plan would include me getting diagnosed with this disease. And that’s when you can start why-ing yourself to death. More than that, I’ve thought, what does this mean, how does this help me fulfill my purpose in life? If we have a purpose in life beyond being a cog in the human machine, mine is to help inspire people and that’s pretty cool. I would like to motivate the world.”

In other words, Gleason hasn’t stopped living. If anything, he’s living more richly than ever. After his diagnosis, he and his wife went on a cross-country adventure. They’re expecting their first child at the end of October. He’s filming a documentary for their child, and he’s starting an organization to benefit those living with ALS called Team Gleason.

Team Gleason’s theme is “Better now than never.”

For us last Sunday, driving to the Superdome, seeing the crowd, cheering for our team and high-five-ing friends, was a great way to reflect on the past five years. A lot has happened, for sure. But learning about Gleason’s diagnosis and reading about his approach to life made me do more than just reflect on the past five years. It also got me to thinking about how I’m living today and how I want to live in the future.

Have I always lived with intensity and purpose? No. Have I made more calls and personal visits than sent text messages and emails? No. Which do I pursue more – entertainment or adventure? Which do I value more – that which is fleeting or that which lasts forever?

Watching Steve Gleason makes me want to live with more passion and purpose for life.

Better now than never.

Visit Team Gleason’s website.

Jim Henderson: We must never forget Steve Gleason

Jeff Duncan: “New Orleans Saints cult hero Steve Gleason battling ALS”

Memoirs of a Mardi Gras maniac

Mardi Gras fell on March 8 in 2011, which is the second latest day it can fall on.

By Frank Michael McCormack Jr.

I’m not ashamed to admit it: Carnival season is one of my favorite times of the year. Some of my favorite New Orleans memories and traditions are tied to Mardi Gras. And with Mardi Gras 2011 now in the rearview mirror, I’ve been reflecting on some of my Carnival memories from the past few years. These are just a few:

First impressions

For all the hardships faced in 2005, Jennifer and I will always remember that year for our first taste of Carnival. It was a season of introductions – to King Cakes, to parades, and to leftover bags of beads. Just going to the parades was an adventure to us newcomers, not to mention the colorful floats, awesome throws and epic people watching.

Ground rules

I had a professor once who, when introducing Mardi Gras to students from outside Louisiana, said, “When it comes to Mardi Gras, you find what you look for.”

Coconut, King Cake and lace

In 2006, though still exiled in Chattanooga, Tenn., we were determined to make it to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Just six months after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans was still a wreck in February 2006. But Mardi Gras gave the city a chance to prove that things really were getting better, and it was a way for us to prove to ourselves that we were on the mend as well.

We set out that Mardi Gras day with one goal: to get a Zulu coconut. On Mardi Gras day, the Krewe of Zulu parades first and is followed by Rex, King of Carnival. Zulu is famous, among other things, for its painted coconuts that riders pass out.

Jen and I worked hard to talk rider after rider into bestowing upon us a blessed coconut. We were coming up empty. Jennifer tried to charm a six year old girl on one float. When a mischievous grin appeared on the girl’s face, we thought she was about to pass Jen a coconut. Instead, the little girl dropped some lacy Zulu underwear into Jen’s upheld hands. Not quite what she was expecting.

Farther down the parade route, I offered the same girl’s dad a King Cake in exchange for a coconut. Apparently they only had one left and it was one the little girl had decorated. So the dad handed the cake to the girl, who carefully examined it for a couple minutes, then gave an approving nod. Success! We had a coconut and some underwear to boot.

Familiar faces and places

So much about Mardi Gras revolves around family, friends and traditions. We only have seven Carnivals under our belt, but even we have a few. 1) Our parking spot. It’s amazing. Same spot every year. I don’t understand why no one else has discovered this spot. But I’ll never tell. 2) Every year we set up around the Lutheran church near St. Charles and Jackson Avenues. We see the same people each year, like the dress guy and his wife who knows everyone in Zulu, the Blues Brother, Captain America and Wonder Woman. 3) Our lunch spot: the Popeye’s on Paris Avenue. We love it because many of the Zulu paraders show up after the parade.

Spike Lee and Lombardi Gras

The Saint’s Super Bowl win in February 2010 jumpstarted a unique Mardi Gras. From the victory parade that featured signature floats from all the big parades to Saints coaches and players riding in the parades, it was a Carnival like no other. Mardi Gras already carries a spirit of unity among the paraders and people along the parade route. The Super Bowl championship only heightened that feeling of unity. Everyone came out to see “Our Boys” on parade. We even ran into Spike Lee, who was documenting Lombardi Gras.

From King Cakes to fried fish

Mardi Gras is also special for what comes afterwards, particularly with regard to the menu. Lent, which begins on the Wednesday after Fat Tuesday, signals seasonal Friday fish fries and superb St. Patrick’s Day parades. At the Irish, Italian (and Islenos) parades, watch for flying potatoes, cabbages and other produce. You can eat for weeks off of what you catch. Look for a fish fry at your neighborhood Catholic church.

Connecting Carnival to Lent

Mardi Gras may be one of my favorite times of the year, but it’s Carnival’s place in the broader liturgical calendar that I especially enjoy. I love having so much of the year organized around the story line of Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection.

When it comes to Mardi Gras, though, people too often settle for one of two extremes.

On one side are those who object to Mardi Gras altogether and believe that any parading puts you on the path to personal disaster. These people often claim they’re pro-Lent but anti-Carnival.

On the other side are those who revel in Mardi Gras with no observance of Lent.

I for one think the two go together quite well. It’s hard to observe Lent – a time of introspection, penitence and self denial – without first feasting. And the Carnival celebration lacks much of its meaning without being juxtaposed with a sober appraisal of one’s relationship with God.

The power of both lies in the contrast of one to the other.

For those who wholeheartedly object to the feasting and revelry of Mardi Gras, let’s just be honest: For most of us, everyday is Fat Tuesday. We all live indulgent lives compared to most of the world. Maybe it’s good to revel in that for a season each year to remind us of our tendency toward greediness and also to celebrate how precious life is.

After all, each day we live in a world where Jesus was born in a manger, yet we set aside a specific season each year to commemorate it. And each day we live in a world where Jesus was raised from the dead, yet we dedicate one Sunday each year to celebrate it.

And each day we live in a world full of sunshine and friends and food and family – all of which are priceless gifts from God. With that in view, Carnival season takes on a much deeper meaning, especially when teamed with Lent.

On the other hand, many shy away from dedicating the 40 days of Lent to serious, honest, inward examination and some kind of self denial. Seeking to see ourselves as God sees us, after all, can sometimes make us feel uncomfortable. But Lenten introspection should also remind us of God’s love and motivate us to a deeper relationship with him.

During Lent, some people deny themselves a favorite treat, like chocolate or ice cream. Others fast from all food or from meat on Fridays. Those things are certainly admirable (and often very difficult), but don’t forget to connect the spiritual dots. We deny ourselves simple pleasures during Lent to point us to Jesus, who “humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross,” as Philippians 2 says. Lent leads us first to Good Friday, then to Easter Sunday.

So as we embark on this Lenten season, consider this challenge from New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond. Archbishop Aymond has called Christians to a threefold observance of Lent this year. First, identify something from which to abstain. Second, identify a new action or discipline to begin that will deepen your relationship with God. And third, devote time to pray specifically for the issue of violence in the New Orleans community.

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Click below to see some sights and sounds from Mardi Gras:

A fond farewell to the Christmas lights

By Frank Michael McCormack

On my list of childhood traumas, taking down Christmas decorations sits near the top.

I’d beg to drag out the decorations as early we could, and I’d fight to leave them up – permanently if possible. And to hear my parents tell it, I never handled it well when the tree would get disassembled, stuffed in its box and stowed in the attic.

“No disassemble.”

Over the years, the pain of the after-Christmas takedown has lessened, but it’s still a sad day when the flashing lights, wreaths, inflatable snowmen, trees and nativities start to disappear.

And so it was with great excitement this year that I finally caught on to one of the traditions associated with the Feast of the Epiphany, which is January 6. As it turns out, Christmas decorations can remain in place through Twelfth Night, January 5, but must be gone by the next morning.

But that personal epiphany got me to thinking about Epiphany. What is it? Where’d it come from? And what does it mean for me?

DIGGING DEEPER: GETTING FROM CHRISTMAS TO EASTER

A New Orleans style king cake

First, a look at the current calendar of events:

Today, we celebrate Christ’s birth on December 25. Christmas season runs through Twelfth Night, January 5. The days between Christmas and Twelfth Night comprise the 12 Days of Christmas.

The next day, January 6, is known as Epiphany or King Day. It signals the official end of the Christmas season and the start of Carnival, a time of celebration that runs through Fat Tuesday (the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday). Ash Wednesday begins Lent, a time of penitence and prayer that ends with Good Friday and the Easter Sunday celebration.

From Christmas to Easter, Christians travel the course of Jesus’ life, from his birth in a manger to his death and resurrection.

And it appears that Christians celebrated Epiphany very early on.

“Epiphany was actually celebrated earlier and more consistently and more widely than Christmas in the early church. The earliest date that we know of for Epiphany was 217,” said Rex Butler, a professor at New Orleans Baptist Seminary who specializes in early church history.

Initially, followers of Jesus celebrated four events on Epiphany: Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, the visit of the Magi (‘kings’ who traveled from the East, following a star, to worship Jesus and give him gifts), the baptism of Jesus and Jesus’ first miracle (turning water to wine at a wedding). Each of these events is a way in which Jesus was revealed to the world, hence the word “epiphany.” In Greek, “epiphany” is the verb for “to manifest” or “to reveal” and carries the image of light. Jesus and his gospel continue to be that light to the world.

In time, Christians in the western branch of the church began to celebrate Jesus’ birth on December 25 while continuing to recall the other three events on January 6. For more on why Jesus’ birth is celebrated on December 25, check out this article from Biblical Archaeology magazine: http://www.bib-arch.org/e-features/christmas.asp. In some countries, Christians actually exchange gifts on Epiphany, not Christmas, in honor of the Wise Men’s gifts to Jesus.

Over time, traditions for observing Epiphany developed. In Europe, edible portions of Christmas decorations were taken down on Twelfth Night and eaten during the Epiphany feast. Some would have “burning of the green” celebrations where Christmas decorations were burned in a bonfire, in keeping with the light theme of the season.

Soon, ‘king cakes’ with beans hidden inside would be eaten on Epiphany. Whoever found the bean would be the ‘king’ of the Epiphany feast, regardless of the person’s social standing in the household. This tradition points to many of the ‘upside down’ aspects of the gospel story (the Son of God being born in a stable; ‘kings’ of the East coming to worship an infant born to a common family in a foreign, powerless country; and Jesus’ teaching in Mark 9 that ‘anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all’).

Fast forward to New Orleans in 2011 and Epiphany carries with it a few local innovations. We still have king cakes, but there’s a whole commercial industry surrounding them now. Randazzo’s, Haydel’s, McKenzie’s, and Gambino’s are all bakeries that claim to have the best king cakes.

Instead of beans, New Orleans king cakes usually have small babies inside. If you get the baby, you don’t get to rule the feast but you are responsible for bringing the king cake to the next party. And you’re allowed to eat king cakes only from Epiphany through Fat Tuesday (though I suspect some people secretly eat king cake into Lent).

To mark the start of Carnival in New Orleans, the group “Phunny Phorty Phellows” rides down St. Charles Avenue in a streetcar on Epiphany to officially start the Mardi Gras season. Just watch this video and you’ll see why “Phunny” is a perfect name: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_BaVNUPv97g&feature=related.

From Wise Men to the Phunny Phorty Phellows. Only in New Orleans.

GIVING AND RECEIVING: THE TRUE GIFT OF EPIPHANY

Most of the time, it’s the gifts from the Wise Men to Jesus that we focus on. Matthew 2:11 records their gift presentation this way: “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.”

All three gifts were fit for a king, but with Jesus they took on much more than just kingly significance. Gold pointed to Jesus’ kingship, frankincense to his priesthood and myrrh, used in burial preparations, to his future suffering and death.

But it’s Jesus’ gift to the Magi – and to all of humanity – that is the true gift of Epiphany. The baby born in Bethlehem was the Son of God who came to make a way for people to be reconciled to God. And that’s cause for celebration!

So as you enjoy this parade season, remember the true cause for your celebration. And then, during Lent, remember the cost of that celebration.

But that’s a blog for another day.

Finding community amid the cracklins

By Frank Michael McCormack

In November 2008, en route from New Orleans to a Coldplay concert in Oklahoma City, Jennifer and I took a “short cut” down Highway 190 through Central Louisiana, east of Baton Rouge.

As we approached the small town of Port Barre, we came upon a roadside sign that caught our eye. It read, “Port Barre Cracklin Festival.”

That’s right. We were passing through Port Barre on the day of the Cracklin Festival.

At this point, you may be asking yourself, “What is a cracklin?” Well, it involves hog belly, lard, a skillet or boiling pot and some heat. Check out this for more information.

Jennifer and I turned left toward Port Barre’s fairgrounds, parked on a side street and walked over to the festival. Once inside, we found a cracklin-frying, boudin-eating, Cajun-two-stepping, people watching wonderland.

On stage was Lil Kenny and the Heartbreakers – a Cracklin Festival regular – playing some sweet Zydeco music. Apparently, Tom Petty was on holiday and the Heartbreakers were free to play the festival.

As we ate a lunch of red beans, cracklins and boudin balls, we stood and soaked in the sights. Lil Kenny and the band played song after song while the cramped dance floor moved to the Cajun beat (See a clip at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wpS72FkHO5k).

Well, two years passed, and Jen and I took my parents to the 25th annual Cracklin Festival on November 13. When we walked into the Cracklin Festival in Port Barre last Saturday, I felt like I’d stepped back in time to November 2008.

Some of the same people were taking cash at the gate and the same booths dotted the fairgrounds (including Bourque’s Supermarket’s boudin ball booth). This time, though, we discovered a booth selling fried Oreos. And there on the stage was, you guessed it, Lil Kenny and the Heartbreakers.

For Jennifer and me, this was just our second trip to Port Barre and the Cracklin Festival, but it seemed at every turn there was someone that we’d seen two years prior (See a clip from this year’s festival: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ccmHRnSk1z4.

It turns out Louisiana is perfect for those types of encounters. Though Louisiana consistently ranks near the bottom for people moving into the state, it ranks near the top of “sticky states” where native-born citizens remain instate their entire lives.

For example, the Pew Research Center found that in 2005-2007, in spite of Hurricane’s Katrina and Rita in 2005, close to 65 percent of people born in Louisiana still lived in their home state (Texas ranked number one with 76 percent). See the Pew Center study here: http://pewsocialtrends.org/2008/12/17/u-s-migration-flows/.

And that’s music to the ears of anyone – especially the Louisiana newcomer – who wants to make inroads into his or her community.

It means the people at your favorite po-boy shop have probably been going there for years. It means your elderly neighbor probably can tell you the history of most everyone on your street. It means you’ll see more than just transient college students at your favorite coffee shop. It means you’re likely to see some of the same people at the grocery that you also see at the coffee shop and the book store.

So how do you get connected with some people in your tiny corner of New Orleans? It’s simple. Just walk out your door.

Spend some time outside your house. Work in the garden. Wash your car. Go for a walk. Let your dog escape into the neighborhood (Well… maybe that’s not the best strategy).

Pick a restaurant. Find a locally-owned restaurant that has good food that you can afford and go there several times a month. You’ll get to know the staff and they’ll get to know you.

Go to community events. Farmers Markets, festivals, jazz clubs, neighborhood work days. Attending these will help you become more familiar with your community – and faster.

Become a specialist. You may like jazz music, a local sports team, food, photography, theater or the local writing scene. Pick one of these and become an expert. And don’t be afraid to spend money and time. The relationships you’ll gain will be well worth it.

Find a safe place. Everyone needs a safe place away from home to go to when you need to rest and relax. New Orleans has tons of parks and cafes, and there’s always the Lakefront. You can bet that you’ll find others who enjoy the same safe place as you.

Keep your eyes open. As you go about daily life around your community, keep your eyes open for people you know. Despite its size, the New Orleans metro area really has the feel of a small town. If you watch out, you’ll see familiar faces wherever you go.

Geaux with a purpose. People long for community and togetherness. And you’ll find that if you just walk out your door into your community. But as you go, you also take something with you – the good news of God’s love. So go with purpose and with the confidence that, as God brings people into your life, he’s also bringing your into theirs – and for a reason.