Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

What the Recent Haitian Earthquake Means to Me

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

I find it interesting how some events in my life seem to add meaning to news stories and color how I interpret things. Once such event was a week to 10 days that I spent in Haiti as part of a mission trip sponsored by the Tennessee Region of the Disciples of Christ some years ago.

I will never forget visiting in a church in Port-Au-Prince. My arm was braced across the short aisle to my right, feeling the pressure of many small children pressing as hard as they could to be the first on in line to receive a dime store toy from the bag my wife had on my left. I am just glad they were small children, otherwise, the mass of humanity would have swarmed our bag and no toys could have been distributed. The elders of the church were so embarrassed by the actions of these children, desperate for a little toy.

I also remember riding in a van which often had to slow down to probably 5 or 10 miles an hour just to ease past huge potholes in roads that varied from passable to nearly impassible several times in a few miles. I remember learning that we had to drink bottled water for everything, even though there was a formerly properly functioning water main in most places we visited. In so many places there wer unfinished buildings with rebar sticking up so that construction of the next story could resume when money became available again. There were the squatters taking up residences in “nice” homes that were partially finished. The owner’s being forced to give up their property unless they forced people out by gun point.

In my opinion, many of these problems are an outgrowth of several things:

  • Haiti is one of the only countries to be established by a slave revolt
  • Haiti has been racked with historic racism and hatred between whites, blacks, and mulatoes.
  • Many, if not most of the powerful people in Haiti’s government have historically only been interested in lining their own pockets.

I am so glad to live in America where the corruption is much less.

Against this backdrop, I met some amazing Haitians who lead church services nightly, lead an ecumenical church group, had real jobs during the day, and were creating programs to educate and train their fellow Haitians. These amazing, amazing men probably get by on just a few hours of sleep a night.

Tonight when I look at the news about the reported 7.0 earthquake, I do not wonder about whether Port-Au-Prince is devastated; I know there will be rubble in the streets. The news says hundreds are feared dead. I fear thousands are dead. The news media reports that over 90% are Roman Catholic, but I wonder how many of them will ask which Voodoo incarnated spirit caused this terrible crisis and who will use that knowledge to their benefit.

I also wonder what is happening to those amazing leaders I met. Are they alive? Did their houses and churches survive? What about the Disciples of Christ missionaries stationed there? What about the makeshift markets and bazaars in the various parts of town? What about the churches that served us bottled cokes with straws? What about the guesthouse where we stayed with the huge fig tree out back and the neighborhood kindergarten classes? What about…


Be Kinder than Necessary

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

You never know what burdens someone else is carrying.

That was essentially the tagline on a friend’s email for while.  I thought it was a really good tagline.  It really expresses a lot that I just cannot put into words. 

However, I have a “story” of sorts.  It is a picture I have put together based on random comments from different perspectives.

The husband of one of my wife’s friends was part owner of his own business.  He was able to take care of his wife and 3 children.  In short, he had a successful career.  3 years ago they left comfortable lives and friends in a distant community and moved back to Nashville.  I assume that it was so that she could help take care of her parents. His wife did not earn an advanced degree until recently and has started her own business in the last few years.   I would assume that he provided for them very well and there was no need.

He now bags groceries.  It is now difficult for him to talk and bag groceries at the same time.  They moved him to bagging because he was having difficulty in other parts of the store.  He has difficulty working hard enough for his employer to hire him for more than a few hours each week.  (They do not fire people, at this location; they just reduce your hours and hope you get the message.)  He still has one child in high school.  They are moving away again so that she can get a job with health insurance and earn enough money to keep the family going.  (His ex-business partner offered her the job and I think she will be a good fit for the work.)

She is very kind and private.  With her sunny disposition, you would never know the troubles and the many issues she is juggling.

He is quietly bagging groceries.  His fellow co-workers don’t know about his former life and make comments about the guy who is “not grocery store material.”  He may not quite have the sunny attitude of of his wife; maybe because each day he faces the personal embarrassment of knowing how much less he can do today than even a few short years ago or possibly the embarrassment of being a guy and no longer providing for your family.

I’ll let you be the judge.

Can We Keep Our Older Workers?

Friday, February 20th, 2009

I still remember a fellow dorm hall resident at Virginia Tech who stated very clearly that he wanted to become a CEO at a major corporation.  He was already dressing the part.  At the job recruitement events it seemed like everyone wanted to work for somebody like “Big Blue.”  You would be set for life.  They even had a special career tracks for engineers who did not want to be in management.

Now I watch people in their 50’s and 60’s start their own companies because they got laid off and so many work places find reasons not hire older workers; but they do not “discriminate.”  Sadly, some of these people have as many as 40 or even 50 years of their life ahead of them.  Under our current typical retirement strategies, there are not enough of us in the succeeding generations to create an economy that will support these guys from now until their death under our the economic model we have used for the past 50 years.  Academically speaking, I guess these laid off workers could “go out to pasture” as a greeters at Walmart; but if we keep not hiring laid off older workers, the competition for greeters is going to get tough.

Considering that something like 90% of all small businesses fail in a few short years, not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur for a whole long laundry list of ideas.  Based on these types of statistics we need to find real jobs for these folks.

Which makes me wonder–

Is there anyway in which we could gracefully allow people to keep their dignity and sense of well being by continueing to work at jobs they enjoy or need.  The business they work for would still need to make money with the employee, so there would have to be some sort of decrease in pay.

Nevertheless, could someone who is 65 in a physically demanding job in construction be considered full-time if they only worked 25 hours a week. Could a 70 year old grandmother and 30 year old mother of small children team teach a 5th grade class so that they both work half time but receive at least some benefits?  Instead of retiring, could the Cheif Financial Officer of a company become an auditor of the work of the next CFO in the company?

Can we change our current way of thinking?

The faith of Those Rebuilding in New Orleans

Friday, January 16th, 2009

This year was again a different experience.  I decided to go back because I really enjoy the spiritual part of this journey.  It is really good for us mainline protestants to grapple with the question “Where Did You See God Today.”  Consequently, I decided to devote most of my time to helping the mission center build a better website.  You can see the results of this work at “www.wheredidyouseegodtoday.com.”  We did not spend a lot of time on the design.  The main focus was to create a structure that would allow participants could share their stories and create a better idea of what happens, than we could creating fixed promotional pages.  Of course the mission center wanted to make sure that they could easily ensure that posts were appropriate to the subject at hand and that they did not contain profanity. You know, all those things you open yourself up to when you let the public make comments.

Nevertheless, I got to see some of the city.

The first year we went to the lower 9th, I saw the bright red roof of an older pizza hut.  I thought, surely they must be open.  It looks clean.  When we drove by, I was sad to see that one of my favorite chains, was indeed minus location.  This year that same Pizza Hut sits there, unused, and apparently uncared for.  A few blocks away I could see termite damage from the street in selected buildings.

Pocked throughout the neighborhoods stretching alongside the interstate from near Slidell to the West Bank bridge are homes that that look like they could fall over at any time.  They can probably stand there for 30 years, but they are still uncared for.  Even on the West Bank, where the levees did not break from Katrina, there are building sitting blackened eyes instead of windows.

In comparison, the at least one Vietnamese Community was well on its way to being re-established during our first visit, 3 years ago.  They had a specific rebuilding plan and moved back in stages.  Each stage brought back only the people that were necessary for the task of that stage.  Each stage laid a foundation on which the following stages could build.  (1. Clean out enough of a place for a small group to live.  2. make that space more habitable, so that a few more can come back.  3) When a few more comeback, they can start re-building in the cleaned spaces while the original crew moves on to clean another space.

Where is the leadership for the Community of New Orleans to make this sort of re-birth possible?  Obviously, the French Quarter is back.  Harrah’s Casino is back.  The piles of debris have been cleaned.  The street signs are back in the Lower 9th.  The government says the levees are repaired.  How much more of the city could be fully functional, if the city had been proactive enough to layout specific rebuilding plans starting with the main arteries and then branching out to the communities?  The process would be much like the way an electric company gets power pack after on after inclimate weather.

Maybe, then, instead of feeling like we are rebuilding homes for the elderly so that they can come home to die in dignity, we could sense more completely that a community was truly being reborn. Maybe the job would be much closer to done.

The faith of many of the people rebuilding in New Orleans is much greater than my faith.  When you are in its precense, it is heartening to see what these individuals have accomplished with God’s help.  Just don’t step back and look at what could have been or look to hard at what still needs to be done.  You just have to do it.

New Orleans

Thursday, January 15th, 2009

Allison (my wife) and I have made three trips to New Orleans.  Each time for New Years to help rebuild the city.  In all honesty, it is like recycling.  The small part we do really does not matter until you add it up with the “insignficant” efforts of the other thousands of volunteers.

The first year was shocking.  During our tour of the city, we would see armed Humvees patrolling the streets.  It was one thing to hear about the searches on TV, it was another to see piles of rubble and each house visible marked.  The devastation and the horrible bureaucratic nightmares affected rich and poor equally.

The second year was surprising in its own way.  The Lower 9th Ward was mostly a field, where there should have been rows of houses.  Brad Pitt had not yet arrived.  You could see recovery happening and traffic jams coming back but the people that were rebuilding their own homes were often pouring in their life savings just to rebuild.  It seemed that if New Orleans flooded again they would truly lose it all.  Nevertheless, the property speculators were moving in.  It was heart breaking to see the banners hanging in a gymnasium, touting the the former private school’s statewide athletic success and to know that less than 50 people of the church sponsoring the school had returned.  They were selling the property because 50 people could not possibly service the same debt as a the pre-Katrina congregtion of at least 1000.

More about this year in the next post.

Life Has Been Busy

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

Actually, life is still busy.  I am now getting a chance to recover a bit.

Celebrating Christmas with two families and wrapping up most of that in a week was stressful, but fun.  Then Allison (my wife) and I took a week to rehab houses in New Orleans.  The following week I got sick. I think it was just from the exhaustion of wrapping up the business year, Christmas, and a week in New Orleans sleeping in bunkhouse with my over 40 of my closest friends.

So, what happened in New Orleans?  Check out tomorrow’s blog.

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