Monday, September 05, 2005

Learning Lessons from Katrina

The burning cauldron of a sunken city buried thousands of God’s precious people in a furnace of chaos, terror and despair. Despairing days of hunger and thirst overtook eyeless nights of screaming victims. The world watched and wondered why have these people been forgotten?

As the city descended into darkness, pronouncements of judgment were inevitable. The media condemned the looters, the mayor condemned the government, and the preachers condemned the hedonism. As early as last Wednesday, I began to hear comparisons of this disaster with the judgments on Sodom and Gomorrah.

I am hesitant to make any pronouncements or proclamations. The ways and wisdom of God are higher than the ways and wisdom of man. I cannot begin to suggest that I know why so many people suffered and so many people died. I can only grieve with those who grieve.

And as I grieve, I cannot help but see the images of screaming mothers and dying grandmothers. Those images do bring to mind Sodom. The prophet Ezekiel announces that one of the reasons that led to Sodom’s downfall was their absolute failure to care for the poor: “Look, this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughter had pride, fullness of food, and abundance of idleness; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty and committed abomination before Me; therefore I took them away as I saw fit” (Ezekiel 16:49-50).

The world gasped as an American city appeared to be reduced to third world disaster. Unfortunately, Katrina didn’t create a deplorable situation, it revealed it. Last week, the world saw a different image of America. One that is more real than the gods we worship on the red carpet.

We saw a part of the country that long before Katrina appeared, was ravaged by poverty. The statistics are alarming: New Orleans ranks in top 20 of America’s poorest cities. Louisiana and Mississippi are two of the poorest states in America. According to the Corporate Crime Reporter, Mississippi and Louisiana are two of the most corrupt states in America.

If anything, Katrina put a magnifying glass on poverty in America. After watching the stunning losses in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama, I decided to spend a little time looking up poverty in America. It is not a pretty picture. According the US Census, poverty is increasing in America, and income is stagnant, meaning many people are slipping to the working poor.

12.7 percent of Americans live below the poverty level. A study by the United States Conference of Mayors in 2004, indicated that requests for emergency good assistance increased by an average of 14 percent during the year. And 20 percent (on average) of requests for emergency food assistance go unmet.
According to America's Second Harvest, the nation's largest network of food banks, 23.3 million people turned to the agencies they serve in 2001, an increase of over 2 million since 1997. Forty percent were from working families.
While millions are hungry in our own nation, most of us waste at least $590 in food per year. According the UA Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology, household food waste adds up to 43 million dollars. And America’s Second Harvest suggests that over 41 billion pounds of food were wasted last year.
As I read these statistics and think about those images last week, I cannot help but think of the prophets of Israel. They relentlessly called for justice and consideration of the poor. We may believe in the Bible and we may even “prophesy” to one another, but if we fail to care for the weakest members of our culture, we live under indictment.
Currently, there is a flurry of activity relating the to evacuees from Katrina. And I hope and pray that each of us will do our part to care for the suffering refugees. In the coming months and year, many people suffering from this devastation will rebuild their lives. But the hurting and the hungry will still be here. The cameras won’t be focused on them, but they will still suffer.

If we truly are a prophetic people, I pray we will never forget our obligation to care for the weakest among us. I’m not asking for any money, and I am not advocating any agencies, I am asking you to consider what is required of you? We cannot continue to collect and amass luxuries without end while ignoring the hurting in our own nation as well as around the world.

If anyone is interested, here are a few scriptures concerning our obligation to the poor.

Ezekiel 22:28-31
29 The people of the land have used oppressions, committed robbery, and mistreated the poor and needy; and they wrongfully oppress the stranger. 30 So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one. 31 Therefore I have poured out My indignation on them; I have consumed them with the fire of My wrath; and I have recompensed their deeds on their own heads," says the Lord GOD.
NKJV

Isaiah 3:14-15
14 The LORD will enter into judgment
With the elders of His people
And His princes:
"For you have eaten up the vineyard;
The plunder of the poor is in your houses.
15 What do you mean by crushing My people
And grinding the faces of the poor ?"
NKJV

Isaiah 10:1-3

"Woe to those who decree unrighteous decrees,
Who write misfortune,
Which they have prescribed
2 To rob the needy of justice,
And to take what is right from the poor of My people,
That widows may be their prey,
And that they may rob the fatherless.
3 What will you do in the day of punishment,
And in the desolation which will come from afar?
To whom will you flee for help?
And where will you leave your glory?
NKJV

Isaiah 14:32

32 What will they answer the messengers of the nation?
That the LORD has founded Zion,
And the poor of His people shall take refuge in it.
NKJV

Isaiah 41:17

17 "The poor and needy seek water, but there is none,
Their tongues fail for thirst.
I, the LORD, will hear them;
I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.
NKJV

Ezekiel 18:12-13
12 If he has oppressed the poor and needy,
Robbed by violence,
Not restored the pledge,
Lifted his eyes to the idols,
Or committed abomination;
13 If he has exacted usury
Or taken increase —
Shall he then live?
He shall not live!
If he has done any of these abominations,
He shall surely die;
His blood shall be upon him.
NKJV

Ezekiel 22:29-31
29 The people of the land have used oppressions, committed robbery, and mistreated the poor and needy; and they wrongfully oppress the stranger. 30 So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one. 31 Therefore I have poured out My indignation on them; I have consumed them with the fire of My wrath; and I have recompensed their deeds on their own heads," says the Lord GOD.
NKJV

Matthew 19:21

21 Jesus said to him, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor , and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me."
NKJV

Luke 14:12-14
"When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. 13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor , the maimed, the lame, the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just."
NKJV

Galatians 2:10
10 They desired only that we should remember the poor , the very thing which I also was eager to do.
NKJV

James 2:5-7

5 Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? 7 Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?
NKJV

6 comments:

floyd said...

A+++++++++++++++++++++++++ Seller; Would do business again; Asset to blogosphere.

Milton Stanley said...

I agree, and I linked to your post at my blog. Peace.

Justin Patterson said...

If my nose was running money, I'd blow it all on you...seriously.

Always thought provoking, thats why I like this guy.

Mike Morrell said...

I resonate with your reflection; isn't it kind've a bitch, though, that the Lord might judge a city for not caring for her poor, by destroying her poor?

Doug Floyd said...

Mike,

I agree. Although I would hesistate to suggest that this is directly a judgment of the Lord. I don't know why that hurricane hit the Gulf area. But I do think those in authority had long since abdicated their responsibility as leaders. With the corruption already present in those governments, they (and we as a nation) had long since failed the weakest members of our culutre. So when disaster struck, those weakest members were swept up into the disastor. Let's hope we will chnage our priorities and realize how dependent we really are on one another. They need us, but we need them as well.

In one sense, this is a challenge to the libertarian mentality of our culture.

David M said...

Doug,
I believe that I understand what you are saying, but here is where I take issue with your "challenge to the libertarian mentality of our culture"; the poor of our day and time are different than the poor of Jesus' day in respects to opportunity. In respects to the devastation that poverty can have on an individual, family, and community; the comparison is more parallel. In Jesus's day, if you were born poor, then you had little to zero chance of making it out.

I'm not a strict libertarian (really don't know what I am), but I believe the idea is that in America, you have a choice to choose to get out of poverty or not. It may not be easy, but the choice is an individual's to make. This point can be argued by myriads of examples from either side of the issue, but the LAW of the land allows for choice. Iguess that I am skewed because I personally know of people who overcame insurmountable odds to make it in this society--and it wasn't easy. One lady I know lived in a 10' x 10' storage shed for years while she went to college.

The church's responsibility to the poor is a tricky one to me; Just as tricky as deciding what to do when asked by street folk for a dollar. Therefore, it is extremely difficult to interpret scripture written to another culture and people and superimpose its meaning on our culture.