piece was originally written for the Pastor's Column in the Visalia
Times Delta representing the Visalia Friends Meeting. It was adopted
as "speaking for the Meeting" prior to submission.)
you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it
On August 27
I was in Birmingham Alabama. As I unpacked my bags, I flicked on
the TV and heard that a huge hurricane was heading for New Orleans.
Last year I saw an episode of the PBS program NOW that showed how
environmental destruction of the Mississippi delta left New Orleans
in danger of destruction by even a moderate hurricane. I recognized
immediately the situation was grave.
The worst we
experienced in Birmingham were downed trees and power outages. We
weren't flooded like New Orleans: we were flooded with people fleeing
the storm. The looks on their faces and the tension in their voices
still haunt me. The stories in the hotel lobby of friends left behind
were heartbreaking. One family told of leaving pets in a kennel
on top of a table, then hearing that their neighborhood was flooded
to the rooflines. I was surrounded by newly homeless people.
On TV I saw
endless interviews with people stranded without transportation.
What good is an evacuation order without an evacuation plan? After
returning home I continued to be horrified as so many died waiting
for rescuers that never came. These people come to me now in nightmares,
but they will stay in my heart forever.
Then I saw
a transformation in the news coverage that was as horrifying as
the gruesome scenes: the poor black victims, and they were overwhelmingly
poor and black, were transformed before our eyes into criminals.
Curfews and shoot-to-kill orders were imposed on people merely trying
to survive. Heightened security drew manpower away from rescue efforts,
and evacuation centers were transformed into concentration camps.
Police blocked bridges to prevent the poor black residents of New
Orleans from flooding into the not-so-poor, not-so-black suburbs.
New Orleans was not just the Hurricane. The destructive force of
racism, cloaked in denial, has worked for decades compounding the
poverty of the black parishes. The hurricane exposed the cancer.
The hurricane also exposed the cancer in our national priorities.
Our leaders pour out our resources and blood in Iraq but treated
New Orleans with utter neglect.
have given generously for hurricane relief, and we must continue
to give, but we must do more. We must confront the racism that alienates
us from our neighbors in need. We must address the inequality that
traps generations in poverty. We must build infrastructure that
respects the environment and provides a safe and healthy place to
live. We must build true community, not just buildings. And around
the world we must make friends, not war.
the test of true spirituality was not words, or even beliefs, but
actions toward "the least of these my brethren." The "least
of these" were abandoned to die in New Orleans. Spiritual values,
on the national level, do not consist of professions of faith, but
priorities and policies that value people.
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