I can’t take my eyes off of the television and the deteriorating war zone that is New Orleans, La., and coastal Mississippi. The sheer human suffering. The hopelessness. The desperation. And I can’t believe it’s our own country. It looks like the places far away, the towns and villages and countries to which we send our aid. And yet it’s not. It’s us. It’s our people. It’s our citizens, our brothers and sisters. They are Americans. They are hurting. They are completely divorced from anything resembling quality of life.
And they seem so alone.
Today, Sept. 2, massive convoys of help are finally arriving. The President is on the scene. A game plan of sorts seems to be emerging. Resources are being provided. It has seemed like an eternity in the waiting for something like this to be done.
But how can it ever be enough? How do you rebuild someone’s community, someone’s equity, someone’s livelihood, someone’s hope, someone’s shattered life where loved ones and friends have been plunged into raging waters, into disease, into death? Could all the resources in the world repair and buttress the battered human psyche, the limited world view that expects so little from life, that is mired in mediocrity?
These fellow citizens need tangible resources. They must have them. They must have food, clothing, shelter, monetary assistance. They must have health care, jobs, opportunity. These we can give, these we must give, no matter the cost.
But they need something more. When I look at these souls on television, I see abject poverty at all levels—material, spiritual, vocational poverty. The hurricane didn’t cause all of the poverty—much of it was already in place. Katrina simply came along and ripped the cover off to expose what was already there, to a country that otherwise might not have cared to notice. This unveiling has showed us all the suffering and ugliness and darkness of human nature that already was festering in these broken communities and families. It exposed generations, even centuries, of vicious circular malaise that perhaps is latent within sectors of our own communities, our towns today unbattered by the fury of nature yet vulnerable to the disease of apathy.
And the most troubling aspect here is that only a fraction of the canvas has been ripped away. The truth is, people living in such a downward spiral are present in communities all across this country. We forget them for a while, we ignore them on the streets, but they are there. They are people who never had a chance and who had a chance but made horrible choices. They are people who squandered character and who never had character. They have been with us since the dawn of humankind.
They are the people who have all but given up on quality living and the right kind of choices that enable such quality to endure. They fill our jails, our blighted neighborhoods, and our morgues. They are young and old.
Money and resources and all of the tangible items mentioned above will not cure what is most needed for these persons in the lowest socio-economic stratosphere our country knows: a healing of the self-image. A radical reconstruction of a world view, of an approach to all things. A massive injection of intentional living.
This is beyond entitlement programs. This is beyond federal aid. This is beyond outreach efforts by myriads of social services agencies. Throw in all of these niceties and essentials, and the gaping hole still remains, still swallows whole the precarious future for a desperate populace.
What they need is a powerful, goose bump-spreading, transforming touch of the love of God. They need to be loved on by people who have sold out to God. Period. They need God’s love with skin on it. Incarnational love. Up close, sweaty, in the trenches, walk and crawl alongside of me and see how it smells and feels and hurts from my perspective kind of love.
They need God’s people to step up and wade in, as much as is physically possible. Wherever they are. In New Orleans. In Mississippi. In Texas, the holding pen for these so-called refugees. This week, and next, and in the weeks and months to come. A sustainable, long term, deepening, massive outpouring of the ultimate aid package: godly, agape, thunderous love.
To experience the love of God is to change. No other panacea has the same kind of staying power in a human life. I can’t even fully describe what this outpouring of love should look like. For some it will be as simple, as poignant, as intercessory prayer and fasting for these children of God. For others, it will be serving as up-close chaplains—whether you are “clergy” or not—to encourage them and remind them of the love of God. For others, it will mean laborious, back-breaking relief efforts.
However it looks, one thing is clear: God’s people must be on the front lines, right alongside the President, FEMA, the police, the National Guard, and all others who play a role in attempting to bring some kind of order out of this chaos, some kind of sanity out of this madness, some kind of future out of this hopelessness.
If you are a person of faith, ask and pray right now for direction on how you are to love these people. I am wrestling with God right now over that very question. I know he will lay something specific on my heart, because I have invited him to help me better love these persons that much of society finds unlovable.
After all, God is in the love business. What’s your line of work?