Sunday, January 13, 2008

Three Words

A friend asked me this afternoon to describe Louisiana, New Orleans especially, in three words. Not given easily to brevity, I laughed. A while later, the words found me: Music, stories, and hope.

Music ... there was more music than your ears could hold. A blind person is a little less poor in New Orleans for the sheer sensation of sound. It surrounds you like a cool breeze, leads you like a wandering creek, follows you like a scent wafting slowly. It insists on being heard. Conversation will stop for the second line passing by. Every street corner is a stage, every sidewalk a scene for itinerant buskers. Everyone can join in the neverending parade. Numb is the soul who doesn't feel stirred to hum or sway, if not to dance or sing outright. And we did ... our team will remember a little karaoke bar called Cat's Meow in the French Quarter for some time to come!

Here's a little sample of what we heard one Sunday in a nightclub called d.b.a.

Stories ... the story of the hurricane, what Douglas Brinkley calls the Great Deluge, can be heard from at least a thousand sides crashing like water into each other. I prepared for the trip by learning to surf that story as best I could. Our group travelled to Louisiana to enter into another story -- the story of life after the storm. What we discovered was a weaving of narratives. With no exaggeration do I say that accounts of the storm and its aftermath are biblical in scope. That is to say, they are akin to one another, but not to be collapsed one into the other. Matthew and Luke may borrow threads from Mark, but these Gospels are not woven like the Gospel of Mark. Likewise, you have no bespoke silver thread that you can run through every cloth of the Katrina quilt the same way. Indeed, many colorful yarns have been spun together, criss-crossing now, running parallel later, forming patterns and patches distinctive in their singularity.

I thank the pastors, deacons, and all the people of faith for entrusting us with their stories, the fabric of their lives, their varied melodies. Now we are a part of the story, the quilt, the tune. We will not be the voice our Louisiana friends have, but we will lend our voices to theirs as we sing our songs of life after the storm.

Hope ... hope is a game of football at the end of the road on an otherwise deserted street of the Lower Ninth Ward. Hope is a sunlit morning drive over placid Lake Pontchartrain, a reverie in blue on blue, where the road and water run on forever. It is talk about the weather over fried chicken and sweet potatoes. It is purple, gold, and green Mardi Gras beads draped over you and your friends as you drink Dr. Pepper and chat about nothing important. It is the unexpected feast held in your honor by a people thankful for your being there no matter what you did or didn't do to raise their wrecked or razed homes. It is the conviction that God is extravagant love and desire, and as such this God has neither the time nor the patience for sad-eyed frugality. It is a joyful and noisy and mirthfully indiscreet Yes and Amen to a resurrection that fills the eyes, ears, and stomach as much as it soothes the worried mind.

Music, stories, and hope. That's Louisiana, and that's New Orleans.

Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans
And miss it each night and day
I know I'm not wrong ... this feeling's gettin stronger
The longer I stay away
Miss them moss-covered vines ... the tall sugar pines
Where mockingbirds used to sing
And I'd like to see that lazy Mississippi ... hurryin' into spring

Eddie DeLange and Louis Alter, "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans"

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