Though it was built assertively against nature for the purpose of amassing wealth, New Orleans is one of the world’s great cities. It is utterly unlike any other American city (local people will tell you emphatically that it is not Southern). It is an amalgam of French, Spanish, “Creole” (with all the many meanings of that term), Caribbean, African-American and, almost as an afterthought, WASP (the WASPs who moved into the city were disdainfully called “Americans” by the Creole elite). As a passionate lover of New Orleans, which I know well, I have often been asked what I like so much about it. One word sums it up for me: gusto.
No doubt, the spirited, insouciant population of the Big Easy will recover enough to welcome tourists and visitors to hotels and restaurants in relatively short order. The French Quarter, the Garden District, and the Uptown section—the areas best known and most beloved by visitors—were least affected, so far as one can tell at this point. No one can fail to have noticed, however, that most of the refugees in the Superdome were black and that the terrified people awaiting rooftop rescue were from the poorest neighborhoods. As Christians we are seriously challenged by this factor which almost always makes itself known in disasters of this kind. Members of relatively affluent churches along the stricken Gulf Coast will undoubtedly be moved, even in the midst of their own miseries and losses, to reach out to those who have few resources to cope with catastrophe. Churches will be on the front lines of response to individuals and families in distress. All of us throughout the country can contribute to special funds at the churches on the Gulf Coast of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, in addition to the various agencies that minister to those who have so little. These church funds (such as Episcopal Relief and Development–www.er-d.org) have the advantage of going directly to people and places where there is most need.