31 August 2005

New Orleans Drowned

Northwest Louisiana has only heard the whispers of a people needing help.

Evacuees have come to my own corner. Around 200 students from a sister university (Dillard, in New Orleans) arrived in the Centenary College Gold Dome at 5 am Sunday after one of their busses overheated and burned everything on board (no students injured, but laptops and all belongings lost); yesterday a bus left for Dallas and another for Chicago, ferrying students back to their homes as Dillard closed indefinitely. Those who live abroad or around New Orleans will need more long-term solutions, so Centenary has started collecting funds to help provide those.

Across Shreveport, everything that can become a shelter has become such and shortly filled. There's an unsurprising blood shortage. Gas prices have shot up. My mobile phone has decreased coverage and calls get dropped fairly frequently. But I can't imagine what will happen to those who must find housing and food, having lost their roofs and jobs, for however long it takes them to pump Lake Ponchartrain out of the civil engineering debacle that is New Orleans. "The scope of the catastrophe caught New Orleans by surprise"? Why wasn't Mark Fischetti's October 2001 Scientific American article "Drowning New Orleans" posted on every door in that town?

Of course, the rich will always be with us, but I'm not sure about the poor. New Orleans' levee first broke in one of the city's poorest sections--where the economic situation of its nearby residents meant it didn't get fortified as well or as often.

Hitting the news this morning: New Orleans hospitals must evacuate their patients. Those with private insurance surely arranged their own care outside the city, but the poor had no recourse. The city has no power and no drinkable water, so the hospitals run on generators, but Charity Hospital at least has its generators in the basement, and the basement has flooded, so patients on respirators must be physically bagged by the nurses and doctors who have remained. It's likely the least experienced who must care for those war zone sick. I wonder how many will be lost.

And that's only the beginning of the health epidemic.

And then there's Mississippi.

In northwest Louisiana, though, the last two days brought a slightly cooler temperature and beautiful clouds. I could hardly rejoice for them, even as I remember the sovereignty of God remains my steady hope. Until He redeems the creation for the age to come, I'll sing Anne Steele's old hymn:

"Dear refuge of my weary soul,
On Thee when sorrows rise
On Thee when waves of trouble roll,
My fainting hope relies."

11 August 2005

We are on a global desert, and violence in marriage is our desiccation.

Today, The New York Times published Sharon LaFraniere’s troubling article “Entrenched Epidemic: Wife-Beatings in Africa.” Just to get us situated, note how LaFraniere concisely states the problem with this example: “About half of women interviewed in Zambia in 2001 and 2002 said husbands had a right to beat wives who argue with them, burn the dinner, go out without the husband’s permission, neglect the children or refuse sex.” In short, it seems that sub-Saharan Africa suffers violence because of a global misunderstanding of God’s design in sexuality and marriage.

Though there’s a heap worth saying about the social urgency this article stirs in me, I simply want to make some observations here about what two of the interviewed men say. At the very least, they reveal fear that results in the particular degradation of their wives and the general diminishing of marriage as a glorious display of God’s character and an ideal symbol of His greatest unifying work. Observing this fear and hating its result (particularly, politically and culturally condoned marital abuse) will point us to a pressing need: we must understand and delight in our Lord, especially in His design of marriage, so that we might love Him and hasten toward holiness.

First, listen to Kenny Adebayo: “If you tell your wife she puts too much salt in the dinner, and every day, every day, every day there is too much salt, one day you will get emotional and hurt her. . . . We men in Africa hate disrespect.” Adebayo lacks self-control ironically because he fears losing control (over his wife particularly) and losing respect (from his culture generally). He blames his wife for all this, justifying his emotional outbursts and violent behaviors by the persistent presence of superfluous sodium chloride in his diet. If only it were so easy. Truthfully, he does not beat his wife because his wife pushes him over the edge; he beats his wife because he loves violence and hates gentleness, because he loves himself and hates God.

Now consider Emmanuel Osibuamhe. The journalist carefully observes him pacing, increasingly angry the more he thinks on his marriage. He says that consistently beating his wife was wrong, but listen as he speaks: “You can’t imagine yourself beating your wife?” he says. “You can’t imagine yourself being pushed to that level? But some people just push you over the edge, and you do things that you are not supposed to do.” Like Adebayo, Osibuamhe offers his wife’s defiance as reasonable cause for his violence. He loves himself more than God’s design for marriage.

Now, to be fair, perhaps Mrs. Adebayo does maliciously refuse to change her salt shaking. And perhaps Rosalynn Isimeto-Osibuamhe deliberately agitates her husband. Wives have unusual and intimate access to their husbands’ buttons. But no matter how insipidly wives provoke their husbands, we can justify no resultant violence whatsoever, whether subtle emotional isolation or knives to throats. This is not because human beings deserve better treatment or even because those women’s stories break my heart but because God is supreme and deserves all worship.

In fact, God has designed marriage gloriously, and undermining that design indicates a great idolatry. If God has fashioned human sexuality in general and marriage in particular so that He might display Himself and describe His relationship with people, then to violate that image with selfish motives and personal abuse reflects misplaced worship. Indeed, God invented marriage so that we would have language and imagery displaying the strange intimacy of His covenant with an unapologetically faithless people (1).

Consider, for example, how in Hosea’s minor prophecy God compares the adulterous whore Gomer to Israel. She even uses gifts from her compassionate and tender husband to pay others so they will agree to her prostitutions, and yet God tells Hosea to go woo her and pay any outstanding debts she has, because this is how he will treat Israel when Israel is like Gomer. And she will be. We will be. Everyday even God’s chosen people are like Gomer, faithless and fearful of everything but our perfect heavenly husband.

God designs and defines marriage as He does to demonstrate His jealous and unending commitment to a faithless people, making them whole and blameless for His glory. So may Adebayo and Osibuamhe and every sub-Saharan African and everyone the globe over repent and speak with Israel: let us take with us words and press on to know Him. He is my everything—my evergreen, my cedar, the dew for my lily—and I will love nothing else.

(1) Piper, John. “Sex and the Supremacy of God: Part I.” Sex and the Supremacy of God. Ed. John Piper and Justin Taylor. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2005. 26.

03 August 2005

Ah, the strangler fig. It's better than a hypotenuse.

You've got to love symbiosis: all an ecosystem's components working essentially and thoughtlessly together for a gorgeous whole. Like the Trinity, and like the Church ought to be. Take for biological example the Amazonian environment that brings us the Brazil nut tree. PBS recently featured a show on just that.

The destructive force of the strangler fig captivated me most here. How susceptible the Brazil nut trees are to those strangler figs: seeds left as if by accident send inevitably malignant roots down the bark, taxing its host of all nutrients to parasitically swell itself. Only after decades of slow growth does the end become apparent: the original tree has completely disintegrated, but the vines stand as a stoic shell.

PBS says the fig looks then "like a hollow monument to this epic struggle," but I disagree: the tree never put up a fight but just got overtaken by a slow and deadly constriction. The human heart can similarly find an inevitable end, especially under the strangle hold of worry. Only the powerful theology of God’s nearness can nip that anxious vine from our hearts.