New Orleans: Windows into Justice

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It is that time again, dear reader, when I begin to travel homeward. Of all my justice-related travels, this has been my shortest one so far — at only four days, I feel in some ways like I’ve just settled in and started to warm up to my subject matter; and in other ways, I’m ready to go home, hunker down to finish my degree, and find a church where I can put all this learning to good use!

This trip was also different from the others I’ve gone on because it wasn’t just a social justice immersion trip — it was also a training to teach people how to lead these sorts of trips themselves. There is no kind of learning as effective as the hands-on type, and so to learn how to lead immersion trips, we Continue reading

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The House of Dance and Feathers

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There is a long, proud history of street culture in New Orleans. In particular, there is a “network of grassroots, working class African American organizations called Mardi Gras Indians.”*  I started learning about all of this a couple of weeks ago when I bought a book about the history of New Orleans, which starts back in 1965 when Hurricane Betsy devastated the city and continuing through Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The book, Nine Lives: Mystery, Magic, Death, and Life in New Orleans, covers the lives of nine people who lived through those years, each with a unique and unexpected perspective. One character, Tootie, is the man who changed the Mardi Gras Indian culture from one of street fighting to one of pageantry and pride, sewing incredibly elaborate beaded and feathered costumes that were so intricate and lovely that no one would want to destroy it with fist fighting — thus the only way to “fight” back was to create an even more elaborate costume of your own the next year. The designs were kept secret all year, only to be dramatically revealed when it was time to parade through the streets on Fat Tuesday.

Another man in the book, Ronald Lewis, grew up in the Lower 9th Ward (which I wrote about yesterday). The book describes his childhood in the wake of Betsy, and moves on to his young adult life, then his married life. It touches on his advocacy for the black community when he worked on the streetcar rail lines, standing up for fair wages and intimidating his white bosses with a flashy gold grille of teeth. He, too, became ultimately involved with the Mardi Gras Indian street culture, creating those elaborate beaded costumes for his Continue reading

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The Lower 9th Ward Village

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Dear reader, remember in the previous entry when I compared the patchwork repairs in the church to the illusion of New Orleans as a whole being back on its feet? Following our experiences this afternoon, I have to say — this city still needs your help. Desperately. Just because they have a Metrodome and the Saints won the Super Bowl last year, or just because Bourbon Street and the French Quarter are open for business, or just because there are still wild costumes on parade — that doesn’t mean that folks here aren’t deeply hurting, with neighborhoods still decimated eight years after the storm. I hope you will allow me to tell you about some of what I saw today, and perhaps sway your heart so that you might decide to visit New Orleans yourself, or even form a partnership with some of these community organizations that are trying to build this city back to what it deserves to be.

We drove east (or, as they say here in New Orleans, “downtown,” meaning downriver) until we crossed the canal into the Lower 9th Ward. Immediately the devastation was evident. Beautiful, proud old homes sagged in on themselves, their owners gone with no intent of returning, or wanting to return but unable to afford the repairs, or “missing” (which everyone in the Lower 9th knows is really “dead,” but the government — OUR government — doesn’t want the Continue reading

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Rethinking “Normal”

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We rose early this morning — especially given that a number of us are on Pacific Time sleep schedules — to come together for breakfast. Waiting for us on the table was a King’s Cake — a giant pastry, in this case cinnamon, covered in icing and liberally sprinkled with purple, green, and yellow sugar. In fine print on the side of the box, I found the warning: “CAUTION! NON-EDIBLE BABY FIGURE INSIDE THIS CAKE!” Later, we uncovered a tiny gold plastic infant, and this, we were told, was what gave the cake its name — baby Jesus, the King. “After all,” our New Orleanean guide laughed, “the cake sure isn’t named after Elvis!”

We went downstairs into the sanctuary of First UU Church of New Orleans for morning reflection and worship. While much of the building has been repaired after the damage from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, it currently exists in a curiously Continue reading

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Landing in New Orleans

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Dear reader,

I write to you, after a long hiatus, from the city of New Orleans. On Christmas Eve (two weeks ago), I came across a link on Facebook advertising a training for religious leaders who wanted to learn how to lead spiritual pilgrimages, offered jointly by The Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal and the Church of the Larger Fellowship. Thanks to the generosity of the Center for Public Ministry in Minneapolis, I was able to make arrangements to attend, and so here I find myself.

I’ve been enjoying the city’s Southern hospitality for about a full day now, and I have found a generous welcome everywhere I turn. (Except for that

Continue reading

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Day 04 – Salt Lake City, UT to Zion National Park, UT

Sunday 06/17/12

(Editorial Note:  Thank you for your patience in waiting to vicariously finish our trip!  It was difficult finding both time to write and an internet connection during our travels, and it has been a busy summer for me since we returned home.  As a belated thank you, I have gone back and edited the previous entries to include photographs as a special treat for you, dear reader! -lm)

Morning came gently to our log cabin haven.  Folks who hadn’t showered last night did so this morning, and meanwhile our Macalester-student hostess cooked pancakes for everyone — and when we’re looking at a total of eighteen people, that’s a lot of pancakes!

We had to get on the road, though — and so did our host family, because they were leaving on vacation!  We cleaned up our areas and said our goodbyes.  I’m discovering the main problem with homestays is that you have to leave so soon after meeting new friends!  I know there were many of us who wished our return trip could have included another visit here to Salt Lake City, as well as to our friends in Rapid City.  Alas, I guess the only solution is to do this trip again someday!

Now that we’ve made such a significant amount of progress toward our final destination, we’re able to slow down and enjoy the stops a bit more.  Therefore we decided to take  a slight detour and go explore the shore of the Great Salt Lake! Continue reading

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Day 03 – Yellowstone National Park, WY to Salt Lake City, UT

Saturday 06/16/12

COLD!

Oh, so cold!  For all of us, our sleep was fitful through the night as we huddled, shivering, in our sleeping bags.  The temperatures continued to drop through the night, until at dawn it was 30 degrees outside.

The funny part is that for some reason we each thought we were the only person who couldn’t sleep.  So rather than getting up and doing something about it (like climbing into the vans and turning on the heat), we all laid there trying not to wake everyone else up with our private misery.  Craziness.

Striking camp in the freezing cold at Yellowstone

As it was, we creaked out of our sleeping bags at about 6am, fumbling for the zippers with numb fingers, sniffling our runny noses.  I took one bleary-eyed look at my zombie-like companions and suggested that we strike camp, pack up the vans, and go get some hot breakfast at the Old Faithful Visitors Center.

There were no objections.  The vans were loaded in record time.

Field of Fumaroles, Yellowstone National Park

 

As we headed west around the Grand Loop on the north shore of Lake Yellowstone, we saw some pretty amazing geothermal activity.  We stopped briefly for a photograph at a field of fumaroles, and then again Continue reading

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