Sunday, March 25, 2007

Raw Journal from Project 12 Trip to New Orleans...

I really need to get this on the Project 12 site. But as I'm using a little Pentium laptop I purchased literally for one dollar, and which doesn't have my passwords on it, I'm posting to blue christian so at least it is accessible somewhere.

What follows are ALL my journal entries during the March 16 - March 25 trip of Project 12 which went from Indiana to Louisiana to Missouri. Forgive the unedited nature of these posts, wherein I at times did a number on the English language.


March 18 (visiting Hebron camp for men struggling with drug addiction, near Bloomington)

When facing people who are at war with addiction to drugs, the gospel seems much simpler. As the artwork of some of our P12 women on a mural we're leaving behind us illustrates, the addict is in a hole, or cave, or even a womb of evil. The men here understand the illustration immediately. A skeleton sits in the cave, snakes dangling from the roof over his head and more snakes (and perhaps fire?) around his feet. The snakes and cave and fire hold him enthralled in his addiction. He is cross-legged in the apathetic stupor of a living death.

The next figure, a skeletal one which is crawling down the cave -- which now appears a tunnel -- is all bone. And yet... is there half a face forming? The snakes hang down, but the figure seems determined to not stop moving.

Another figure, this one still crawling forward, is almost enclosed by the narrowness of the tunnel. His guts are scraping the tunnel's floor. Yet still he crawls, not giving up. And his body is enfleshed, he has a real face.

A final figure stands outside the tunnel... embraced. Who embraces him? Christ.

This is the gospel, if properly understood. No, the man did not save himself. Jesus was there all through the journey, and even at the start where the man seems lost in his drug-fogged universe of selfishness. As Alan, the man who runs this ministry and escaped a hell of living beneath bridges while he sold himself for drug money, told us, "Right before I tried to commmit suicide, I wrote in a journal I kept one sentence. 'I am the corruptor.' In other words, I knew that where some people are corrupted by others, I had become the person who did that corrupting. It didn't matter who the other person was."

And yet Alan was amazingly rescued from his drug-overdose attempt to kill himself. And slowly, painfully, he turned over his life to God. In turn, the narrow way of escape from corruption -- both his own and the addiction's -- was cleared by Jesus. Doubtless more than once, he was literally carried by Jesus, just as he was carried to a hospital for treatment after his suicide attempt.

Yet we all are in that tunnel. And that is the amazing thing I realized yesterday and today about the people -- addicts to a man -- we are staying with. They are the sane ones in an insane place, an addictive culture that sells addictions of one million kinds. These men do not complicate what is terribly, starkly, simple.

Jesus is Lord over addiction. Jesus is the closest friend they have. Jesus cannot be "shined on" with clever god-talk, or as one put it, "Don't move your lips until you move your hips."

The gospel is mysterious, yes. But rolling around in the mystery is only for those with the luxury to do so. For the addict, Jesus is "my all in all," everything. And only He can give meaning, and sanity, to a human life. Is life about drugs, sex, money, or (worst of all) "respectability"? All these are forms of addiction.

Christ is love, and liberates us so that we can serve others. As the men here say over and over -- and they move their hips to prove their lips mean it -- Christ has saved them from the pit, from that dark, terrible cave of addiction -- that they might also turn from self toward serving others out of their love for He Who Loved them first.




March 22 (New Orleans / Covington LA)

Thursday, March 22 2007 - P12 Journal

Today in Covington, the teams split up. Two small teams went to New Orleans to visit folks being helped through the Covington EFCA. The other team, which I was on, cleaned up a tornado-damaged area here in Covington. Tornado? I thought we were talking hurricane, as in Katrina, not tornado! Well, Katrina spun off some tornadoes, which happens in hurricanes sometimes. And this one hit a church member's very large forested yard and turned it into a tangled wreck of trees. The large pines, poplars, and (I think?) Eucalyptus trees had their tops torn off -- like an angry kid might do to a garden's blooms.

The twisting motion that must have torn these trees was evident in thier appearance. The trees that survived the onslaught were stripped of every limb except the top. The house, now sitting in what looks like a square of prarie in the midst of a forest, was designed with glass windows almost entirely making up its walls. We were told the house had been completely invisible from the road, encased in a beautiful thick woods. The glass thus made sense as a way to let alll that beauty come into the house, so to speak. But now ugly white curtains hang over the lower windows, due to way too much sunlight coming in during the day.

Anyway, I toted branches and lengths of log cut via chain saw. We piled these on a large "burn pile" (which, alas, wasn't burned while we were there). Having never run a chain saw before, I let the guys who had take that pleasure. But toward the end, I couldn't resist and took a whack (literally) myself. It was fun, but made me nervous due to the risk.

We are currently waiting for a meal, then later for Glenn to play his blues set for the church folks and those they serve meals.


Yesterday, I must tell of a woman I met. Her name was M---- , and her address (she showed it to me printed on a check) was --- -----.

How did I meet her. Hm.

You see, here I am in Covington. Now, as anyone who loves great books knows, this is the home of Walker Percy. And as anyone who especially loves great Christian writers knows, Walker Percy won the national book award back in the early 60s ('62 or '64 I think) and almost did it again except he got beat out by "To Kill a Mockingbird."

I didn't expect to be in Covington, or even that near it. We were supposed to be staying in New Orleans and with only two days of intense serving others going down, I was content just to be in the same state as Walker once lived in.

However, here I was in his *home town*!

Except... every time I asked someone if they knew who Walker Percy, their most famous citizen, was, I got a blank stare or apologetic shake of the head.

Oh fine!

But then, during the wrap up of the dinner last night, I spotted a lady who breathed old south. She was two people away from me, and then the person between us left. I came to realize by listening to others that she was a victim of Katrina that the church here has taken on.

She pulled out what looked to be a shot glass, and did something with some sort of drug concoction (apologizing to my friend for doing this in a church, and saying this in such a soft, beautiful southern drawl I couldn't resist any longer.

"Ma'am," sez I. "Do you happen to know anything about Walker Percy?"

Her eyes snapped to attention on my face. "I certainly did!" she said, with just the proper touch of assertive fact and gentile unconcern. "I knew Walker Percy when he was just a child... and before he was famous. You know, the best thing about Walker Percy was how when he became famous he didn't change one bit."

Then she told me about him appearing at her house before she was ready to recieve visitors, and how she'd been so embarrassed to meet Walker Percy on her porch wearing pajamas. "I still feel embarrassed to think about that," and as she said it, she held a hand to her face proving she meant it.

She talked about his home, but when I pressed her, she couldn't remember. "Maple?" she wondered. "I know it was down by the river, probably in old Covington."

She reminded me of Walker Percy's bookstore in Covington, one that had two stories. The second story was important because it was there Walker wrote most of his novels. Ah, yes, I had forgotten that though it was discussed in a biography of Percy I'd read.

She reminisced a little about him and his wife, Bunt, and their daughter. And she told me of the daughter and perhaps another daughter born late in the game who was deaf, and a son of that daughter who was deaf, but got an operation.

Walker, though...

She returned to Walker, but again reminded me that Walker was a good man because he was just Walker. "I didn't get much out of his novels, though I know many people must have, because he certainly was famous with those awards and all. The novel I remember was by his uncle -- William Percy [?] -- and I read that years and years ago, maybe as a child. It was called..." she paused, "Lanterns on the Levee." I laughed for joy that she knew such things, and told her I knew indeed the title but had not, as she, read the book.

Soon after, she left. And I felt I'd been blessed with just a touch of history and a little present from the past.

Manette left me thoughtful, however. I wondered how Walker would feel abut a large church of Covington folks of whom maybe only one (me) knew about his works or his residence in Covington, or his allusions to it (as Lost Cove, Tennessee) in at least one of his novels.

Manette said suddenly, not long before she left, "You know, he did get some people's feathers ruffled when he said that 'Covington is not a place.' They said how could he say that when he is such a lover of Covington? But I don't think he meant it that way at all."

History comes, and an author comes and makes his mark and goes and a hurricane comes and smashes the town and northern good evangelical folk come south and help those hurt by the storm, but they will go, and the town will change again and again, and Project 12 will go certainly without leaving much more than a small ripple here. But in the end, every act of love done, whether by Walker's words or our tiny efforts, will count eternally. The rest? It is, in the end, the dust we walk on as we live, before we too become that dust.


Jon's Journal - March 24, 23 2007 - P12

I'm mixing the days together because of all that happened. It basically was one long day for me, as I sleep badly to not at all on the road while traveling.

We started by going to New Orleans to clean neighborhoods and bear witness to those we came into contact with. This bearing witness is not the traditional hard-core "are you saved?" approach to any and all. Rather, we tried to exhibit Christ in our deeds, and if the neighbors asked us why, or engaged us in conversation, we would slowly unpack our purpose to them.

New Orleans doesn't look like a town that has been bombed. And in fact, the French Quarter seems to be bustling. (We visited it via a quick drive-through as we left the city later.) But the areas we were in, and some others we saw that were even in worse shape, showed their damage first and foremost by the fact that many of the buildings were abandoned. The dirty thin line where the flood waters stopped on the buildings was visible in many areas.

We gathered with many other teams in front of a large church that looked as if it had until Katrina been a vibrant one (I have photos of this building and rally.) But the front of the building was cracked in numerous places, and later as I looked harder at it I suddenly noticed that the entire rear third of the roof had collapsed into the building itself. It is obviously a candidate for demotion, but two years later it still stands there forlorn.

We gathered the tools provided for us (not enough tools, it turned out, esp. when one of the brooms broke). And off we went down the streets assigned each team. Our team seemed quickly to get off on a street of our own, and the afore-mentioned tool problem slowed us considerably. The neighbors were friendly, even the guys who I suspect we interrupted in the midst of some sort of street business. The houses on the street we were on, it turned out, had been very little directly affected by the flood. But they were affected by the general break-down of services in New Orleans, their own inability to get around beyond their neighborhood, and the departure of so many as time went on.

After a time, Glenn, Curt, and I took off one one street while a bigger group of P12ers was "borrowed" for brick removal from a demo site. Our little group walked over to a main thoroughfare, Simon (or Simone?) Blvd. The buildings there gave way to a large FEMA trailer park, which we began cleaning before realizing that our one remaining garbage bag would be full within five minutes if we continued. It turned out we filled it quickly anyway, leaving it for city disposal crews.

At that point, we needed to get back to our gathering point. We saw many buildings with the tell-tale water mark (about three or four feet off the ground) and the buckling walls gave evidence of its effects on them. I stuck my head into one building where clothing littered its stairway and entrance, where two large French-style doors opened onto the street as if begging someone to help. (photo)

I took a few shots, then we moved on just in time. About a third of a block later, we turned to see two men leaving the building in haste. It appeared someone had found use for the abandoned building after all.

Christians have done well with Katrina. In fact, I suspect my friend Joe Paskewich is right in noting that Christians have sucked up a ton of the slack FEMA, other government agencies, and the insurance companies left behind. My own cynical side wonders if those entities are actually counting on a continued Christian response to help them cover over their errors / apathy.

But the Church looks good on this one. The Southern Baptists have done very well. The AG has done well. The Ev. Free Church of America (who we worked with) has done very well. And so have many others.

I had (and probably always will have) my doubts and reservations about just how the American Church does its charity works. But sometimes, the issue is not as much about them as it is about me... and this is likely one of those times.


After New Orleans, we got home way later than we'd hoped. In short, we were fried, and I think I was esp. so (I just can't sleep!). But I did (self-congratulatory bragging, I might as well admit to it) drive a fair amount of the way here. Oh, and where is here? Well, we're in Missouri, near Doniphan in the building hand-built by JPUSAs at a farm we once owned -- a Christian couple now owns it. I'll post pictures at some point.


Today, March 25, I asked most of the P12ers what element (or set of elements) in nature speaks to them most personally about God, and/or which God speaks most clearly to each of them. Here were their short responses:

Damian: stars in the sky
Marcos: people, esp. the ones who good things for no apparent reason.
Clove: nature's smells and light.
Jon: insects & mountains.
Tyler: skyscrapers - man's use of God's materials.
Rebecca: off the top of my head... rain.
Glenn: the sky.
Aernie: I went from complete and utter unbelief and atheism to absolute belief in God by looking at grass and trees.
Brian: The air -- encompassing every physical thing.
Curt: the sky.
Bethany: even a weed has life, takes root in things, something so apparently meaningless really does have meaning and purpose.
Gordon: The vastness of nature - stars, sky, ocean. Kitten in my lap is like the tenderness of God.
Lyle: Canoe trips where I encounter wild rivers, others bodies of water, where few people are.


Whisky Prajer said...

Any chance there's a link to the picture you describe at the beginning?

Jon Trott said...

I have a number of pics I want to post. But again, my little computer is non-compliant. Doesn't even have a port for a card reader. I'll post some within a day or two, as we're going home later today after "debarking" some trees for the folks here in Missouri... they use the debarked logs for building more log buildings, of course.


Lainie Petersen said...

Interesting posts, Jon! BTW, and somewhat off topic, but not entirely, I saw a very depressing documentary on meth use in Montana this past weekend. It is running on HBO, and I thought you might be interested:

Jon Trott said...


I just saw the "Montana Meth" HBO special as well... Great Falls, MT, which had a shorter segment in the film, is a small city (around 50,000 I think) located a mere 38 miles from my home town of Fort Benton. Very vicious drug. The poor mother near documentary's end really got to me.