It has been so long since we last got together. So, wash your hands, pour a cocktail, maybe stop by Betty’s later but let’s chat, shall we?
The world as we knew it has changed so much that one might not recognize it even though we so desperately want things to be the same. Like it used to be. Or do we really? Perhaps more importantly should we want to go back to a time just a few months ago?
Like many of you, I have wrestled with COVID-19, racial justice, and politics for the past many months not unlike Jacob and the “Angel.” The Jacob story is a very early account. Call it a myth if you wish. These old stories, scholarship tells us, range in date from 5th century BCE to the 10th century BCE. So what ever does Jacob have to do with COVID? Taking down statues? Political chaos? #BlackLivesMatter? George Floyd? White privilege? The economy? Or, the inclusion of LGBTQ+ protections affirmed by SCOTUS?
Nothing or maybe everything! Whether historical or mythical, it is a text that makes a statement. It is written by a once-enslaved people who are trying to lay down roots and make a claim to land and hoped-for economic and social prosperity. They tell their stories through the lens of a God. Even that view of God evolves and changes over time. Those tribes, unlike many others surrounding them, are imperfect justice seekers.
Yet, here we are with the almost bizarre and yet predictable turmoil of our community and nation. Are we justice seekers? I guess time will tell. Are we being good to each other? I suppose a retrospective down the road will provide some clarity. But isn’t it exhausting? Or perhaps exhilarating? Perhaps it is both. I am so tired of large corporations and TV stations saying “We are in this together.” Are “we” in this together? Well, the answer to that is, at least in our tribe, YES.
A coalition of caring people and businesses, who all recognized the need for their mission and the comfort it could provide, put together an amazing organization to feed folks in the Quarter and beyond. Betty’s Bar and Bistro and, later, Oz were used as the bases; their participation and everyone else’s who were involved, including the many volunteers, was a way of not giving back but simply giving.
Likewise, Misti Gather, Jeffrey Palmquist and crew have been instrumental in providing a voice for the community via their radio show on WHIV as well as bringing attention to at least two feeding programs during this dreadful economic time.
What does this have to do with Jacob and his wrestling match? Hang with me, it will come together, like all good mysteries, in the very last chapter.
St. Anna’s Food Pantry delivered a lot of food to families whose breadwinners were out of work. Often these families had children in our out-of-school program, Anna’s Place. Brother Don, whom many know, tells me that in May alone we provided over 1,000 pounds of groceries using about 55 volunteer hours plus helping an additional 108 homeless individuals by distributing about 216 care packages. But that was all made possible by our tribe. I am talking about this community–YOU.
Our “Hot Plate” ministry worked for several weeks providing over 50-100 meals three days a week to families in need. Yep, again, our tribe stepped up in the persons of Ron’s Gumbo Stop, Silk Road, GW Fins, and Cafe at the Square. In so many cases, those hot plates went directly to our children. In fact several of those same vendors pledged that IF we were able to open our Summer Camp for Kids they would help supply the lunches. NO COST.
Likewise, Tulane University Medical School supported by LSU Medical School all joined in a BLM protest a few weeks ago by taking a knee for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in front of Tulane Medical Center. Yes, those young brilliant minds taking a knee in the middle of Tulane Avenue while fighting a pandemic ALL 500+ OF THEM. Not a bad afternoon I’d say. Maybe they ought to be a part of the Tribe that I keep talking about. Maybe they already are.
There have been singular voices out there these past weeks that have caught my attention. Voices like Zak Gillespie, RN/glamour queen FatsyCline supporting BLM (not to mention being a nurse at UMC during all of this). Like Duane Daniels who has real things to say that are important to us all. Listen, please. So many voices that are stepping up and educating us, representing us, motivating us, and at last getting us to THINK. Maybe even to feel, feel compassion and passion. It is exhausting, maybe exhilarating too.
If all of this seems a bit disjointed, a little scattered maybe that is because this season is so full, so rich and rife with critique and possibility, with evaluation and reevaluation, with fear and expectancy, and yes, with hope somehow floating around in the midst of it all.
Yet, there is this: Stuart Butler joined his lifemate Alfred just as the pandemic began. We have yet to celebrate his life in a formal way. We are making plans for that. Mary Dodwell, a pillar of our church, died just as orders to stay at home surfaced. We have yet to celebrate her life. We are making plans for that. James Watkins, an itinerant, sometimes homeless man who was part of our neighborhood, died. Yes, we are trying to make plans for his send-off as well. Jill Sanders, who lived in the Quarter and helped many folks, has passed and we are trying to think of a way to celebrate her life.
Many others have passed, some from violence, some from disease, some from age and infirmities. All part of this strange strange season. Because our traditional way of hurting, loving, healing, and simply being are now quite different and without a template. It’s a very new day.
Now back to Jacob and that Angel. The text calls the angel a “man” and Jacob wrestles all night with him. A season of wrestling and exertion. In the dawn hours the angel/man disjoints Jacob’s hip socket and the struggle ends. Likewise do we not struggle these days? Are we not wrestling within ourselves and within our nation?
Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”
Yet, even though the world seems to be spinning off of its axis I cannot help but think that we have struggled with God and with humans and we shall overcome.
Dear friends, so many have done so many great things these days. We have learned that in the face of discord and disaster, in the face of pandemic and racial injustice, we in New Orleans will rise to the occasion. There is no other city like NOLA in all of North America. There is no deeper and more generous community than the LGBTQ+ community. So do not be distressed, do not be overwhelmed with change, be generous, remain kindly, and always be hopeful. For in hope we find our way to a new day.
It’s great to be back. It’s great to “see” you again. As always, if you simply need someone to talk to, or if you know of someone who is facing challenging times due to isolation, feel free to give me a call at (504) 947-2121. Like the local news says, “We are here for you.”