Sunday, March 05, 2006

Compassion Fatique on the Gulf Coast?

I was on a plane full of Presbyterians from Michigan flying from Memphis to Gulfport yesterday. It was yet another work detail coming to help with the cleanup in Biloxi, Gulfport, Waveland and other places. The ride down I-90 is still stunning to see all the huge buildings and churches quite literally gutted and the old southern houses destroyed. I felt less badly about seeing the casino boats demolished. The oddest sight of all was coming to Biloxi and there, like a gigantic Noah's Ark was the wreck of one of the casino's in the shape of the ark, resting next to a pier. One can imagine what it might be like if God had not promised to Noah not to destroy the world again by water. One has to look for rainbows amidst the rubble and choas on the coast.

And since all the media attention has been on New Orleans, much of the story in Mississippi has gone untold. Mississippi is of course the poorest state in the union, a solidly red state, which has been left red-handed and red in the face due to the lack of government response. Yet thankfully the church has seen its opportunity to stand up and try and do something about this major disaster which will take years to recover from. Thankfully many parts of the church are seeing their responsbilities to the rest of the body of Christ, as well as to the rest of humankind and doing something about it.

There are many heroic and moving stories to be told, but I will leave you with one that was telling and made the national news. Canadian Baptists, part of an organization called Grassroots have been in New Orleans rebuilding homes. The CNN reporter interviewed them and asked "What do you think of Mardi Gras"? Their response was succinct--- "no one needs to be getting drunk and acting in immoral ways to drown their sorrows and try and forget. We all need to get to work and help rebuild people's lives and homes."

Praise the Lord for such folks--- they have seen this disaster as an opportunity to be the hands of Christ even to those whom we may not think deserve it. It is what Jesus would have us do, and it is a good witness.


Anonymous said...

Dr. Witherington,
I enjoy reading your blog. It is very inspiring. My question is out of subject (I apologize). I am interested doing Ph.D. work in New Testament studies concentrating in the Gospels, Historical Jesus and Johannine Literature. What are the some good schools would you recommend for such pursuit?

Anonymous said...

I specifically want to study the Gospel of John.


Ben Witherington said...

Well, Celucien..... I would say there are various places--- Duke, Princeton, and yes.... Asbury. Our PhD will be cranking up in the fall of 2007. We already have a joint PhD with London School of Theology, and we have students already in such subjects.


Ben W.

DanO said...

Dr. Witherington,

I'm interested in your quotation from the Canadian Baptist Grassroots organisation: "no one needs to be getting drunk and acting in immoral ways to drown their sorrows and try and forget".

That's the sort of quote that used to make sense to me as a Christian... before I started journeying closely with people on the margins of society -- prostitutes, crack addicts, people with mental disabilities, and abandoned children. Since then I have come to believe that God may be quite okay with some people turning to such things as alcohol or crack. I can affirm the statement quoted, as long as the people of God as a corporate body, is focused on journeying in intimate relationships with the marginalised. However, when the Church abandons such people (as she is prone to do), everything changes. Abandoned by the people of God, drinking becomes a means of survival for many on the street. Facing the cold, regular violence, and sexual abuse, alcohol is often the only thing a person has to keep going. Certainly, alcohol is often part of a vicious cycle, and a downward spiral, and I do need to establish a bunch of provisos around who the "some people" that I mention are, but I think you get my point -- perhaps, without the Church, some people do need to be getting drunk to drown their sorrows and to help them to forget, to live another day, to survive.

Besides, as Proverbs tells us, it is kings who should abstain from drinking, but we should not withhold wine from the poor (as Proverbs also tells us).

I realise I've taken this quotation and applied it to a somewhat different context (to be clear: I am in no ways interested in condoning the debauchery of Mardi Gras), but I would be curious to hear your thoughts on this.

Grace and peace,


Anonymous said...

Wonderful,(Asbury) that is incredible! I've noticed you Asbury offers a Ph.D. in intercultural studies, but did not see anything in the field of New Testament Studies. How do I find out about it?
Thanks for your feedback

Questing Parson said...

One of the most uplifting things I've witnessed of late was the several folks I know who sit quietly in their pews Sunday after Sunday, who faithfully attend the services, the meetings, the fellowship gatherings, but who, otherwise, do not stand out, but who, when the hurricane struck, simply packed up their cars and went to help.

I was asked if I thought they should have waited for some organized effort to coordinate their work. My reply was one can't always wait on the "organization" when the Spirit calls.

Chris Whisonant said...

Our church up here in SC is planning on 4 week-long trips to Mississippi in April, June, July, and September. I may be looking at coming down with the July trip.

Gary said...

I fully expect that sometime in the future we will be required to end all words in 's, but in the meantime, I'm wondering if English major to English major, I might ask you to correct casinos in this phrase "like a gigantic Noah's Ark was the wreck of one of the casino's in the shape of the ark"

It would make me feel better.


Weekend Fisher said...

Thanks for reminding people of the rest of the Gulf Coast. From Beaumont TX to Mississippi, people got slammed by big storms last year. Lots more are hurting than N.O. And here in Houston, we're still struggling to get services and housing for our new 100,000 permanent residents that stayed.

Ben Witherington said...

No worries Gary.... you sound like my mom, whom I know affectionally as Mrs. Grammar. This is what comes of being a two fingered typer.


will.vastine said...

Back in January, I took the youth group I work with to Gulfport to work with UMCOR and help in anyway we could. And we are leaving again in a few days to go there again and help.

From my past experiences there, it is amazing how the church has really stepped in the gap and helped the people of Gulfport and the surrounding communities. I have so many stories and look forward to gaining so many more on this next trip.

It's amazing.