Tuesday, February 5, 2008
A visit to New Orleans must include beignets and cafe au lait. A sweet, rich treat any time of day. Today, the day before Lent begins, is the day, where tradition dictates that we get rid of all of the fat (and sugar) before Lent starts. Most people usually deal with this tradition by overindulging and partying. Today is an especially big party day in this part of the world since there will be a parade down the canyon of champions for the Super Bowl winning New York Giants (who play in the Meadowlands in New Jersey!). A day to overindulge in sweet, fat and gloating. Whether in New Orleans, New York, New Jersey or anywhere else, many of us will eat pancakes, wears beads and overindulge in richness before adhering to the stricter lifestyle of Lent.
I was in New Orleans in September with the rest of the bishops of the Episcopal Church. Our fall meeting was held in New Orleans, and we spent a day, helping to rebuild the city and ministering to folks who have been devastated by the hurricanes. As we fanned out across the city on that Saturday, I realized that we have little to offer, and the people had so much to teach us. The cab driver who drove my husband and I from the airport, who was well into his seventies, gave us a very personal tour of his neighborhood and told us his story of surviving (in his cab) for several days, not knowing the fate of his family. For a brief moment we were able to be first hand in the wake of destruction through his eyes, through his story. With all the richness of music and culture that surrounded us in New Orleans during that visit, I was daily reminded of the brave cab driver's story and the ongoing trauma that is his life, and the life of so many.
For many of us, who watched the destruction at a distance, the shock of what happened there was overwhelming, but it didn't linger. And yet, there is destruction and need all around us, every day. For most of us Christians, who indulge this day, and who move on to a Lenten discipline tomorrow - we have the power of choice to forget the reality of others and engage in out religious observations with a remote smugness. But plenty and want live right next door to one another, and as we celebrate and gloat, or as we are strict and observant, our neighbors are in unrelenting want. We live right next door to substantial, ongoing, and overwhelming need.
May this Fat Tuesday be the beginning of our indulging our neighbors in our plenty. May we be austere with no one, but our own self-indulgence. May this day we see and hear the stories of those in need around us and rise up to share our blessings. The love of God is revealed most often as we share bread with others. May God's love be abundantly evident today, especially in our neighbors (the un-victorious, the un-indulged, the overlooked, the set-asides, the survivors with lingering trauma and loss) who we so rarely acknowledge with God's abundance. May God bless us in the coming season with hearts that turn beyond ourselves.