Saturday, September 20, 2008
I haven't heard much yet about damage to other churches in Galveston or around Galveston Bay. The website of St. Mary's Basilica Cathedral in Galveston says that it had about eight feet of water, but the extent of the damage has not been reported.
Wouldn't it be nice if the Houston-area houses of worship that had little or no damage from Ike would organize an interfaith fund-raising and volunteer effort to help all the churches that had serious damage with recovery and repairs?
GALVESTON - I had to see her for myself.
I wanted to see her Saturday morning when Hurricane Ike's wind and rain finally stopped pounding our Houston home. But I couldn't. I tried to get there Monday, only to be turned around at a checkpoint in Texas City. Despite my plea that I was a minister and wanted - no, needed - to check on the church, I was told, "No one is being allowed on the island.''
Reedy Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church is a Texas historic landmark. It's also cited on the National Register of Historic Places for its architectural significance.
But much more intimately, Reedy Chapel is my family's second home. It is where my husband, Reginald Honors, and I together pastor a small flock of faithful believers - some whose affiliation with Reedy extends back four generations - who have dedicated themselves to keeping their church going.
Reedy Chapel was the first African Methodist Episcopal Church in Texas. This distinction earns it the title of the mother church of African Methodism in Texas. But its history is larger than that.
Trustees of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, purchased the lot on Broadway at 20th in 1848 as a worship site for black slaves. Until a building was constructed, the slaves held services outdoors. Once ownership of the property was transferred to freed blacks after the Civil War, they organized as an African Methodist Episcopal Church. The original building was ravaged in the 1885 Galveston fire. Rebuilding was hampered by four storms that hit the island in 1886. The rebuilt structure was completed in 1887. Then came the Great Storm of 1900, which severely damaged the church again.
Hurricane Ike manhandled the Texas coast six months after we celebrated our 160th church anniversary.
After days of wondering, hoping and praying, I got a chance to see her Wednesday, the day we normally would have held Bible study.
The venerable edifice stood surrounded by debris in the eerie emptiness of the city. Two waterlogged Bibles that came to rest face-down on the front steps served as welcome mats for Ike's wicked visit to this sacred structure. The metal gate on the front door held, but the heavy wooden doors had been breached.
I wasn't ready for what awaited me inside the sanctuary. In my worst-case scenario I had been overly optimistic. Now a sad, sick feeling engulfed me.
Inside, the fire alarm was dying a slow death. It still managed a faint beep. The freshly stripped and polished wooden floor that our church trustees worked so hard to finish before our August men's and women's day program was covered with some gray substance. I could smell the backup of sewage.
Rows of pews had been knocked over like dominoes. Some were broken. My rubber boots, the ones I bought to cover Hurricane Rita as a reporter, sank into the mud-slick carpet that held the surge water like a sponge. We had just purchased and installed that carpet about five weeks ago. A distinct and dark line marked the water's highest point in the sanctuary — about 3 to 4 feet from the floor.
The hymnals donated over the years by two sisters — both retired teachers — were not spared. Neither were the pew Bibles. A Communion cup found a resting place on a sliver of a ledge near the choir loft. A candy dish that usually sits on a small table by the pulpit was on the floor about 12 feet away. Oddly, it was right side up, with all the strawberry Creme Savers candies still inside.
At every turn there was a new revelation.
Upstairs one of the stained-glass windows was blown out; two others were barely hanging on. A door in the ladies' restroom was so swollen from the deluge that it could not be opened. Outside, one side of the decorative eaves in the front of the church dangled from the roof. A similar piece was ripped off in the rear.
But priceless pieces survived Ike: a handmade baptismal font, the circular chandeliers, an 1872 pipe organ and the archives room that chronicles the life of the church and its people.
Hurricane Ike hurled its best blow, but Reedy Chapel stood. I am truly grateful for her survival.
As the storm churned in the Gulf, my husband and I were concerned about the well-being of church members. We spent Thursday and Friday calling each member to determine where he or she planned to ride out the storm. We are thankful for their safety.
Our members are scattered now in Austin, San Antonio, Waco, Missouri City and Baton Rouge, La. Even Kentucky. The first couple we welcomed in the new-members' class after we were appointed pastors had come to Galveston after Hurricane Katrina. They fled Galveston for Beaumont as Ike approached. They since have landed back in New Orleans.
Hurricane Ike has left us with questions: When will members be able to return to the church they love and have sacrificed for? Where will we meet in the interim? Is there serious structural damage my untrained eye didn't spot?
We look forward to the day when our wonderful senior choir again sings Great Is Thy Faithfulness from the choir loft. I long to see Sister Florence Henderson — who never misses a Sunday — in her usual seat, midway down the aisle on the left side, and the stewardesses — Anne Chatman, Esther Harrell, Ruby Douglass and Sandra Mitchell — dressed in white.
This past March, Reedy was packed with members of A.M.E. churches from across Texas for our anniversary service. Presiding Bishop Gregory G.M. Ingram preached a sermon titled "Let's Celebrate." Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas was there for the celebration. She sat on a front row. It was a happy day.
As I took my parting look at the sanctuary Wednesday, my eyes focused on the message posted on our bulletin: "Men and women moving forward with divine authority." It changed my outlook.
Yes, indeed, Reedy will move forward. Reedy stands on something greater than a physical foundation.
This grand structure has endured its share of hardships and always found her way back. It has survived hurricanes and fire to remain a constant shelter from the storms of life for those in need of a spiritual haven.
I agree with longtime member Janice Stanton that Reedy will come back stronger and better than ever. History is on Reedy's side. It is a history laced with struggle and rebirth.
We also have the Christian heritage that reminds us that our faith is about resurrection. Our faith is about the worst thing happening but not overcoming us. We also have the African-American narrative that tells us that God will see us through.
The words on our outdoor sign remind me of that intertwining legacy: "Upon this Rock I will build my church." Indeed, our hope is built on nothing less.
In March, when we held our anniversary service, we entered the sanctuary singing, "We've come this far by faith, leaning on the Lord."
Reedy still has miles to go on her journey.
Friday, September 19, 2008
For those who still can’t grasp the concept of white privilege, or who are constantly looking for some easy-to-understand examples of it, perhaps this list will help.
White privilege is when you can get pregnant at seventeen like Bristol Palin and everyone is quick to insist that your life and that of your family is a personal matter, and that no one has a right to judge you or your parents, because “every family has challenges,” even as black and Latino families with similar “challenges” are regularly typified as irresponsible, pathological and arbiters of social decay.
White privilege is when you can call yourself a “fuckin’ redneck,” like Bristol Palin’s boyfriend does, and talk about how if anyone messes with you, you'll “kick their fuckin' ass,” and talk about how you like to “shoot shit” for fun, and still be viewed as a responsible, all-American boy (and a great son-in-law to be) rather than a thug.
White privilege is when you can attend four different colleges in six years like Sarah Palin did (one of which you basically failed out of, then returned to after making up some coursework at a community college), and no one questions your intelligence or commitment to achievement, whereas a person of color who did this would be viewed as unfit for college, and probably someone who only got in in the first place because of affirmative action.
White privilege is when you can claim that being mayor of a town smaller than most medium-sized colleges, and then Governor of a state with about the same number of people as the lower fifth of the island of Manhattan, makes you ready to potentially be president, and people don’t all piss on themselves with laughter, while being a black U.S. Senator, two-term state Senator, and constitutional law scholar, means you’re “untested.”
White privilege is being able to say that you support the words “under God” in the pledge of allegiance because “if it was good enough for the founding fathers, it’s good enough for me,” and not be immediately disqualified from holding office--since, after all, the pledge was written in the late 1800s and the “under God” part wasn’t added until the 1950s--while believing that reading accused criminals and terrorists their rights (because, ya know, the Constitution, which you used to teach at a prestigious law school requires it), is a dangerous and silly idea only supported by mushy liberals.
White privilege is being able to be a gun enthusiast and not make people immediately scared of you.
White privilege is being able to have a husband who was a member of an extremist political party that wants your state to secede from the Union, and whose motto was “Alaska first,” and no one questions your patriotism or that of your family, while if you're black and your spouse merely fails to come to a 9/11 memorial so she can be home with her kids on the first day of school, people immediately think she’s being disrespectful.
White privilege is being able to make fun of community organizers and the work they do--like, among other things, fight for the right of women to vote, or for civil rights, or the 8-hour workday, or an end to child labor--and people think you’re being pithy and tough, but if you merely question the experience of a small town mayor and 18-month governor with no foreign policy expertise beyond a class she took in college--you’re somehow being mean, or even sexist.
White privilege is being able to convince white women who don’t even agree with you on any substantive issue to vote for you and your running mate anyway, because all of a sudden your presence on the ticket has inspired confidence in these same white women, and made them give your party a “second look.”
White privilege is being able to fire people who didn’t support your political campaigns and not be accused of abusing your power or being a typical politician who engages in favoritism, while being black and merely knowing some folks from the old-line political machines in Chicago means you must be corrupt.
White privilege is being able to attend churches over the years whose pastors say that people who voted for John Kerry or merely criticize George W. Bush are going to hell, and that the U.S. is an explicitly Christian nation and the job of Christians is to bring Christian theological principles into government, and who bring in speakers who say the conflict in the Middle East is God’s punishment on Jews for rejecting Jesus, and everyone can still think you’re just a good church-going Christian, but if you’re black and friends with a black pastor who has noted (as have Colin Powell and the U.S. Department of Defense) that terrorist attacks are often the result of U.S. foreign policy and who talks about the history of racism and its effect on black people, you’re an extremist who probably hates America.
White privilege is not knowing what the Bush Doctrine is when asked by a reporter, and then people get angry at the reporter for asking you such a “trick question,” while being black and merely refusing to give one-word answers to the queries of Bill O’Reilly means you’re dodging the question, or trying to seem overly intellectual and nuanced.
White privilege is being able to claim your experience as a POW has anything at all to do with your fitness for president, while being black and experiencing racism is, as Sarah Palin has referred to it a “light” burden.
And finally, white privilege is the only thing that could possibly allow someone to become president when he has voted with George W. Bush 90 percent of the time, even as unemployment is skyrocketing, people are losing their homes, inflation is rising, and the U.S. is increasingly isolated from world opinion, just because white voters aren’t sure about that whole “change” thing. Ya know, it’s just too vague and ill-defined, unlike, say, four more years of the same, which is very concrete and certain…
White privilege is, in short, the problem.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
My home near downtown Houston was among the first to lose power, about 7:00 p.m. Friday night. The power stayed off just over 48 hours, spoiling everything in the refrigerator. We were able to salvage some of the freezer contents by taking them in a cooler to a friend's house with power ten miles away. At this point 58% of the customers of Centerpoint (the primary electrical provider for most of Harris County) are still without power, despite something like 12,000 utility workers who have arrived from other states to help repair the damage. Those without power are, of course, frustrated, angry and depressed. But at least they see progress being made and offers of help from the fortunate whose power has been restored. They know that in weeks if not days, their power will return.
In the middle of all this, Richard Parker, a lecturer in journalism at UT Austin and a former Knight Ridder national correspondent who wrote about Katrina and Rita, raised some important long-term questions in an insightful op ed piece in the September 16th Houston Chronicle.
Parker writes that, as the fourth-largest city in the U.S. descends nightly into almost total darkness, "it is the ensuing pitch black that envelops more than 2 million people and 600 square miles that reveals something not just about Houston, but about Texas, and even America. We aren't so much addicted to oil as hooked on the tumultuous relationship where money, oil and the obsessive cycle of the boom and the bust all collide. It's a rollicking love affair and yet it seems doomed; it's just too hard, too costly, too painful.
"The visible evidence is dramatic enough: the Galveston oceanfront smashed into matchsticks, the stilted homes of the Bolivar Peninsula ripped from their pilings. There's that boat wedged under the house in Bayou Vista. And in downtown Houston, Interstate 10 is gracelessly lined by crumpled gas stations, shorn billboards, smashed roof lines and shattered skyscraper windows.
"But the storm's truest self lies in the enormous economic and financial cost... Yes, in Texas everything is big, and something this big can ultimately be untenable. The cost of the storm is between $6 billion and $16 billion, according to federal estimates; private industry estimates say $8 billion to $18 billion. The irony is that just as Houston is the undisputed petroleum capital of the globe, rising sea temperatures are making Gulf hurricanes more intense, according to the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
"And the cost will only rise in the years to come. Houston didn't used to be so big but like the rest of the coastal United States it has swollen to expose ever larger numbers of people to ever-larger storms. The coastal population has soared by 57 percent since 1960 and jumped more than 200 percent in some places. As a result, some financial risk managers expect the claims from Gulf hurricanes to rise 40 percent in the coming years.
"And yet, the lure of the boom is strong. Before curfew, Interstate 10 is as jammed with convoys of cars flying into town at 80 and 90 miles per hour, pickup beds stuffed with bottled water and generators. Until Ike, after all, Houston had defied economic gravity even as the rest of the country slid into economic hardship. Buoyed by the price of oil, the skyline soared, property values roared and houses flipped. Even as the global oil supply began to run dry, Houston has been easy money for oil traders and day laborers alike.
"There is a strong sense of denial in all this. The radio crackles with weathermen chatting about school closings and good weather for the work week, followed by pleadings for citizens to take ice and water to the first responders. Only to be followed by reminders for the city to boil its water. Except that there is no electricity with which to boil the water or pump the gas to work. And there is no electricity at work. One radio caller from Louisiana gently reminds: Recovering will not take days or weeks but, fully, years.
"The caller grasps something that keeps eluding everyone else in the dark. Houston isn't just some bucolic collection of farms and fishing towns. It's a city. But can it survive in this form if it must be evacuated or closed for a month every two years? Can we continue to survive our dependence not just on foreign oil but domestic petroleum supplies that are constantly interrupted, whether for 30 days three years ago, or 10 days this time?
"Oh, sure, the houses will be rebuilt, the city cleaned up and the power will flicker back on. After all, Houston is the great, if imperfect, ideal of Texas; and by extension, it is the great and tawdry love affair of America.
"And the wind and the water have laid it bare for exactly what it is."
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Zeroing in on Mitt Romney's September 3rd speech to the Republican convention, Pitts lamented that "a representative of the ideology that has controlled most of Washington most of the past 12 years can say with a straight face that his ideology needs to seize control of Washington to fix what is broken there."
Critiquing Romney's cant, Pitts said "I have to ask: what liberal Washington is he talking about? The federal government has three branches. The legislative, i.e. Congress, was under conservative control from 1995 to 2007. The judicial, i.e. the Supreme Court, consists of nine justices, seven of whom were nominated by conservative presidents. The executive, i.e., the president, is George W. Bush. Enough said."
It is bad enough, Pitts noted, that conservative politicians succeeded so well over the years as they "trained their followers to respond with Pavlovian faithfulness to certain terms. Say 'conservative' and they wag their tails. Say 'liberal' and they bear their fangs."
And it's worse still that pulling off such cynical manipulation "requires a limitless supply of gall and the inherent belief that people are dumber than a bag of hammers."
But what is most damning about the conservative rhetoric is its intellectual dishonesty, which does violence to the English language and corrupts political discourse to the point of absolute paralysis. That means "to argue that which you know is untrue and to substitute ideology for intellect..." It evacuates words of all objective content and instead opts to make words "mean what you need them to in a given moment."
I agree with every word of Pitts' analysis. I have argued here in multiple posts that cavalier, inaccurate, dishonest use of words has brought the creative advance of reality to a screeching halt in many areas of public life: religion, politics, science, the global economy, global warming, international affairs--to name but a few. Until we call the perpetrators on their intellectual hypocrisy and convince enough people to see it for what it is, the downward spiral will continue.
Perhaps it's a start that if I Google "Pitts Romney-speak," I get about 12,400 results. The initial ones reflect other newspapers that ran Pitts' column and other websites that have paid attention to it.
Please take it to heart. It is no exaggeration to say that our ability to have a future is at stake.
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
The Times-Picayune says reports that "three" vessels were banging up against flood walls were astoundingly understated: in fact, says the U.S. Coast Guard, there were 70 vessels loose, and they all belonged to one company, Southern Scrap.
It turns out that Southern Scrap actually had 130 vessels in the canal when Gustav hit--so that less than half of them actually stayed moored.
The Coast Guard, which has no formal approval process for such situations, reviewed Southern Scrap's Heavy Weather Protection Plan before hurricane season and found it satisfactory. The Coast Guard also inspected Southern Scrap's Industrial Canal recycling yard early in this hurricane season and verified that they had the proper mooring equipment outlined in their plan.
But in a written order to Southern Scrap yesterday, Capt. Lincoln Stroh, the Coast Guard's New Orleans sector commander, expressed doubt that the company had followed its plan, since several grounded barges were found with frayed ropes and severed steel cables, but no chains. Stroh said the Coast Guard is launching a formal investigation.
Stroh also ordered Southern Scrap to remove all of its vessels from the canal prior to any new gale-force winds and to keep them out of the canal for the entirety of hurricane season, June 1- November 30.
Forty of the derelicts were still loose in the canal as of late yesterday. Southern Scrap planned to sink about six of them, but said it did not have enough time to remove the grounded barges before the possible landfall of Hurricane Ike. The president of Southern Scrap's parent company, Southern Recycling said they would try to keep them from floating again by punching holes in them or filling them with water.
The Times-Picayune reports that Southern Scrap plans to move its ship-recylcing operation up-river to St. Charles Parish next year. Given that parish's greater vulnerability to storm surges, its residents might want to re-think the cost-benefit calculation of that move.
They might also want to listen to Joe Sproules, president of Tri-Dyne Industries, which had two warehouses on the Industrial Canal disabled during Gustav when some of Southern Scrap's projectile barges slammed into them. Sproules is mad enough about his own losses, and has lawyers pursuing compensation.
But Sproules is even more concerned about Southern Scrap's callous disregard for the welfare of New Orleans' residents. He says that barges that missed his warehouses were headed for the federal floodwall, and that only good fortune made them stop short. Had they slammed into the wall, they could have breached the Industrial Canal again and re-flooded the 9th ward.
If the Coast Guard investigation confirms the negligence the agency suspects, Southern Scrap should no longer be allowed to operate anywhere. It's assets and operations should be seized, then sold to a company that values adjacent residents as something more than fodder for its bottom line.
Friday, September 05, 2008
The studies portray a surprising and fascinating mixture of good news and bad.
On the downside, the studies find that the 30-year quest to trace specific cancers to a malfunctioning gene or two is much too simple and can never be achieved: after examining 20,000 genes in tumors from 24 pancreatic cancer patients and 22 brain tumor patients, researchers were amazed at the unique complexity of each individual cancer.
No two tumors were exactly the same. Individual tumors were found to require a different domino effect of genetic changes, and genes blamed for the same kind of tumor were different from one patient to the next. For example, Johns Hopkins researchers reported in Science that a typical pancreatic cancer contained 63 genetic alterations and a typical brain cancer had 60.
Not only did the genetic maps include mutated genes. There were also missing genes, extra genes, overactive genes and underactive genes.
If these were the only results, the findings would suggest that the relative simplicity of looking for a bad gene or two had hit a wall of unsortable, unpredictable complexity. Fortunately, there was also good news, and it may well outweigh the bad.
The upside of the research was that by providing a description of how cancer develops that is more accurate, it identified a more elegant simplicity that is actually very promising.
The researchers found that despite the wide variety genetic alterations and the apparent randomness in the way they cascade to turn normal cells cancerous, "clusters of seemingly disparate genes all work along the same pathways. So instead of today's hunt for drugs that target a single gene, the idea is to target entire pathways that most patients share."
Kenneth Kinzler, the Johns Hopkins doctor who lead the pancreas research, said if scientists can identify which genes cluster in which pathways, "a simpler picture emerges." The hope is that if pathway blockers can be found, they may help patients with many different kinds of cancer.
These developments are perfectly in line with Whitehead's model of creative advance, in which old simplicities are shattered repeatedly by new complexities. But once the new complexity is experienced more generally and described more accurately, a simplicity that is truer to reality does emerge.
This phenomenon is one exemplification of Whitehead's ultimate metaphysical principle: "The many become one, and are increased by one."
Thursday, September 04, 2008
Well, some words, anyway. She’s still reticent to address the mess she and husband Todd have made of their family life—or why their mess is a telling indictment of the conservative values she’d impose on the rest of us.
Occasionally her words are clever. Being mayor of Wasilla, her Alaska hometown is, she says, sort of like being “a ‘community organizer,’ except that you have actual responsibilities.” Yet she’s more than a little vague about what those responsibilities were or how they equip her to step in as president, should the need arise. In fact it was a $68,000 per year job, supervising 53 municipal employees, for a population of 5,469 in 2000, with an annual budget that rose from $4 to $6 million in her six years as major.
Sometimes her words are yawningly predictable: Obama will just tax-and-spend, because that’s what Democrats always do. But Palin can summon a few specifics.
She touts ethics reforms she got enacted into Alaska’s laws. But she has yet to account for her role in firing a state official who declined to fire a state trooper after her sister divorced him. (Court filings alleging the trooper abused the sister and threatened Palin’s husband may have justified Sarah’s concern; but did her tactics forecast more abuse of federal executive power by Republicans who have made it a way of life for eight years?)
As other emblems of achievement, she points to selling the governor’s private jet, driving herself to work, vetoing wasteful spending, suspending the state’s fuel tax, and promoting construction of a $40 billion natural gas pipeline.
She also claims that her supervision of the Alaska National Guard gives her both foreign-policy and military-command experience, yet when CNN pressed McCain spokesmen for an example of accomplishments in those roles, they were unable to provide specifics for either.
Unfortunately, the silence from Palin is deafening when it comes to addressing how the conservative values she prizes have wreaked havoc in the life of her own family.
The values I have in mind can be summed up in two words: “Reagan parenting.”
Reagan parenting is characterized by two specific negatives: (1) both parents working and absent from home for significant periods of time, so that they really don’t know what support and guidance their children are getting, largely from others; (2) and reducing sex education to abstinence education—which, in addition to its obvious impact on the Palin family, has caused the teen birth rate, reduced by nearly 1/3 since the early 1990s, to now be on the rise for the first time in 15 years.
Why don’t Palin and McCain want the media to discuss the pregnancy of her daughter, Bristol? Of course it’s embarrassing that Bristol and the baby’s father are unmarried and barely legal. But the Palins try to put lipstick on that pig by focusing attention on conservative values the teens have discovered after forgetting the one prohibiting sex before marriage: now they plan to get married, have the baby and care for it with all the teenage skill and dedication they can muster.
Yet the real reason Palin and McCain don’t want the media and the public focusing on Bristol’s predicament is that it portrays Reagan parenting for what it is: yet another conservative theory that has been a failure in practice.
It is important for us to discuss the Palin family’s private experience with Bristol publicly, because it shows very persuasively how thoroughly Reagan parenting has failed and how urgently we need to replace it with something that works.
The Republicans seem to have little interest in enabling parents to spend more time with their children or in encouraging educators to teach teens how to handle sex and reproductive options responsibly. The electorate needs to reward candidates who understand how pressing those needs are and who show courage enough to address them.