The Battle of New Orleans 2017

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu gave a historic speech at Gallier Hall on Friday, May 19, 2017 as the final of four Confederate monuments was taken down. So ended a process Landrieu began in 2015, when at his request the City Council declared the monuments public nuisances. The speech is excerpted below with a link to the full text. Below that, Martin Marty compares Landrieu’s speech to the Hebrew prophets. And below that, Southern historian Malcolm Suber of #TakeEmDownNOLA critiques how Mayor Landrieu subverted a much larger city-wide process aimed at taking down all such statues, not a representative four.

From Mitch Landrieu:

“The soul of our beloved City is deeply rooted in a history that has evolved over thousands of years; rooted in a diverse people who have been here together every step of the way – for both good and for ill. It is a history that holds in its heart the stories of Native Americans – the Choctaw , Houma Nation, the Chitimacha . Of Hernando de Soto , Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle , the Acadians, the Islenos, the enslaved people from Senegambia, Free People of Colorix, the Haitians, the Germans, both the empires of France and Spain. The Italians, the Irish, the Cubans, the south and central Americans, the Vietnamese and so many more.

You see – New Orleans is truly a city of many nations, a melting pot, a bubbling cauldron of many cultures. There is no other place quite like it in the world that so eloquently exemplifies the uniquely American motto: e pluribus unum – out of many we are one. But there are also other truths about our city that we must confront. New Orleans was America’s largest slave market: a port where hundreds of thousands of souls were bought, sold and shipped up the Mississippi River to lives of forced labor of misery of rape, of torture . America was the place where nearly 4000 of our fellow citizens were lynched, 540 alone in Louisiana; where the courts enshrined ‘separate but equal’; where Freedom riders coming to New Orleans were beaten to a bloody pulp. So when people say to me that the monuments in question are history, well what I just described is real history as well, and it is the searing truth. ….”

Read the rest of the speech here.
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From Martin Marty’s commentary “Memorial Day, Mayor Landrieu, and the American Future”:

“Let me compare Landrieu’s genre to the forgotten language and intentions of the ancient Hebrew prophets. Landrieu addressed his city as “a people.” So did the prophets, like Jeremiah, revered in and beyond Judaism and Christianity. Landrieu was defending the decision and act of taking down the city’s four most prominent icons—the prophets would have called them “idols”—in the form of statues commemorating long-revered General Robert E. Lee and lesser Confederates who defended the enslavement of American blacks. The expressions of others before the removal of the statues were not always eloquent or healing: defenders of the statues and representatives of what the mayor would call the “Cult of the Lost Cause” often rallied with shouts or whispered with threats.

As the statues were being lifted up from their platforms and lowered to the ground, Landrieu—not to his or anyone’s surprise—was the subject of death threats. Yet, like Jeremiah, he spoke of “a future and a hope.” His speech exemplified Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s definition of prophecy as “hope projected backward.” In a time of bitter divisions in New Orleans and throughout the nation at large, Landrieu spoke not as a great denunciator, but as a great enunciator of directions for his contemporaries to take. Unmistakable was his identification with his great city, to some of whose many assets he referred in terms that a tourist bureau could envy.”

Read the rest of Martin Marty’s commentary here.
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Malcolm Suber’s commentary in the Lens critiquing Mitch Landrieu’s approach:

“The two-year struggle to take down the white supremacy statues (which is really the culmination of a decades-long struggle for removal by the Black community) revolved around whether these statues were on land belonging to the city. State and federal courts ruled that these were indeed public lands belonging to the citizens of New Orleans. The courts further ruled that the city could do whatever it desired to statues present on public lands.

Mr. Mayor, it’s not what you say, it’s what you do.The mayor’s attempt to present the future of these former monument spaces as a done deal seems to be an attempt by Mitch to preclude any other voices and opinions from being heard. Take ‘Em Down NOLA calls for a series of town hall meetings where we solicit what residents want to replace these monuments with.”

Read the rest of Malcolm Suber’s commentary here. And listen to On the Media’s Bob Garfield interview Malcolm Suber here.

First Friday of Lent: Is Alligator a Fish?

As a Catholic with a Louisiana-Catholic grandmother, I could not resist posting this letter from the Archbishop of New Orleans from a few Lents back. If you want to read the hilarious comments from when it was first posted (and you aren’t afraid of The American Conservative), then check them out.

My favorites?
For the Monty Python fan:

“Now given that witches are made of wood and thus float, does that mean that alligators, being a species of fish and thus also float are witches? Or does it mean that alligators are made of wood?”

For the Byzantine:

“I’ve heard that both Catholic and Orthodox Lenten Fast laws classify beaver meat as a kind of fish, not that I’d every take advantage of that loophole.”

For the Bible geek:

“While I’m in total agreement with you concerning Abp Aymond’s apostolic authority, please remember that ancient Hebrew had no word for reptile. Ergo, just as the Hebrew words “brother” and “sister” actually mean cousin, auntie, BFF, and old lady from down the street when referring to the family of the Lord; in the same way “fish” in Hebrew actually refers not only to alligator, nutria, and capybara, but to crocodile, cayman, eel, and platypus as well.

As an alternative exegesis of John 21, it is entirely possible that the apostles were grilling alligator with a bit of platypus by the shore of Genesseret, but our Lord thought it was icky and changed it into tilapia when they weren’t looking.”

Seriously, this is one of the best comment threads I’ve come across in a long time. There’s even a Lenten recipe for bayou delicacy nutria. (Don’t even ask ….)

Super Bowl Lights Out: Our Half-Lit Climate Future


“Last night’s power outage at the Super Bowl gave the world a glimpse of the daily challenges many New Orleans residents still face in the wake of rebuilding post-Katrina. Thanks to misplaced priorities that place war and partisan politics over our nation’s infrastructure needs, cities like New Orleans suffer. From New Jersey to New Orleans and beyond, we have watched recovery dollars spent in discriminatory ways. Suburban, more affluent areas and tourist zones get the lion’s share and communities — especially low resource communities and communities of color — wait for months and even years for relief. Studies published by the National Housing Institute and others have shown how these historic patterns of racism exacerbate present-day gaps but there has been no significant policy effort to address this inequity. The fact that New Orleans got the lights back on so quickly is a testament to its resilience and know-how. However, cities cannot put the lights back on or undertake the gargantuan task of rebuilding without their fair share of public dollars.”–Makani Themba, executive director of The Praxis Project

Osagyefo Sekou: Martin King, Science Fiction, and the Future of America

Rev. Osagyefo Sekou is a fire-brand Pentecostal prophet. His recent essay A Mighty Stream traces Martin King’s life and developing perspective on radical economics within the Christian tradition.

I first met Sekou through the Word and World program. Additionally, he was the founding national coordinator for Clergy and Laity Concerned About Iraq. In response to Hurricane Katrina, Sekou moved to New Orleans for six months and founded the Interfaith Worker Justice Center for New Orleans. He’s the author of Gods, Gays, and Guns: Essays on Religion and Democracy (Campbell and Cannon Press, 2011) and the forthcoming Riot Music: British Hip Hop, Race, and the Politics of Meaning (Hamilton Books, 2012), which explores the London riots.

Sekou’s a third-generation Pentecostal minister and the special assistant to the Bishop of New York Southeastern District of the Church of God in Christ. As we continue to unpack and learn from the tremendous legacy Dr. King left us, here is another perspective in the opening section of Sekou’s essay A Mighty Stream:

“Darling I miss you so much. In fact, much too much for my own good. I never realized that you were such an intimate part of my life,” writes a young graduate student, Martin Luther King Jr. to his love interest, Coretta Scott. They are separated for a few months because King had gone home to Atlanta for the summer after his first year as a PhD student at Boston University School of Theology. King opens the letter by sharing how much he missed her. Honing the oratory that would go on to seize the consciousness of a nation, King laid it on thick. “My life without you is like a year without a spring time, which comes to give illumination and heat to the atmosphere, which has been saturated by the dark cold breeze of winter.”

Turning to “something more intellectual,” King indicated that he finished reading Bellamy’s “fascinating” book. In April 1952, Scott sent King a copy of Edward Bellamy’s socialist novel, Looking Backward 2000-1887. She inscribes the gift with a note expressing her interest in his reaction to “Bellamy’s prediction about our society.” The utopian science fiction novel took place in Boston, where both King and Scott were graduate students. Written in 1888 and set in the year 2000, the novel’s protagonist Julian West awoke from a 130-year slumber to realize that the United States has been transformed into a socialist society. West offered a stunning criticism of the faith practices of the 19th century:

“Moreover, it must not be forgotten that the 19th century was in name Christian, and the fact that the entire industrial and commercial frame of society was the embodiment of the anti-Christian spirit must’ve had some weight, though I admit it was strangely little, with the nominal followers of Jesus Christ.”

Read Sekou’s whole essay here.

Save A Nun: Cokie Roberts’ Keynote Address to Leadership Conference of Women Religious

cokieroberts

New Orleans native and NPR’s senior news analyst Cokie Roberts gave the keynote address at the recent gathering of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in New Orleans. LCWR represents 95% of  U.S. Catholic religious women and is under investigation by the Vatican. (See my earlier posts LCWR Calls For Transparency and Vatican Investigation.)

Roberts gives an excellent overview of the historical role of Catholic women in America – especially in New Orleans. When she veers toward the current Vatican investigation, she frames it in a way that brings out some of the essential tensions: The true nature of the American experiment is still not understood by Rome. Here’s an excerpt:

This country remains a puzzlement to our ancestors in Europe and their modern day descendants. After all we are very young—it’s not even 300 years since the Ursulines arrived here and that was almost 50 years before independence. I understand why the Europeans continue to see this as some sort of upstart nation. They often see only the chaos without witnessing the creation. And they don’t appreciate the fact that we have traditions that are different from those of the old world, traditions that have to do with service both inside and outside of religious life. So–at the same time that the Ursulines were here creating schools and hospitals and orphanages, and Elizabeth Seton was doing that on the East Coast–women of every religion and color were creating similar institutions–whether it was Isabella Graham the Scotswoman who worked with Elizabeth Seton to create the Widows Society and many other social service agencies, or Rebecca Gratz–a Jewish woman in Philadelphia who worked with other women in the community to create orphanages and other societies for the poor and then established a parallel set up for Jewish children who were being taught Christian doctrine in those other institutions. Or Catherine Ferguson, a former slave, who started the Sunday School movement in America. Or first lady Dolley Madison who worked with the local women of Washington to set up an orphanage after the British invasion of 1814. These women of course couldn’t vote and married women could not own property. They were the property of their husbands. But with great difficulty and determination they lobbied the legislatures, solicited funds from the public, petitioned the Congress, organized rallies, performed highly political acts in order to create the safety net for the poor in a time of exciting unbridled capitalism. And that tradition of service continues.

Read Cokie Roberts’ whole address.

Save A Nun: LCWR Calls For Transparency in Vatican Investigation

Threat to Vatican?
Threat to Vatican?

Earlier this month, I posted on the Vatican investigation into Catholic women’s religious orders. I noted the Vatican opening a parallel investigation into the largest umbrella leadership organization of the U.S. women religious, the Leadership Council of Women Religious.

LCWR had its national meeting in New Orleans from August 11-14, and the Vatican investigation was leading topic. Rachel Zoll’s article Catholic Sisters Under Vatican Review Want Answers is the most recent follow up. Here’s an excerpt:

An association of U.S. Roman Catholic sisters raised questions Monday about why they are the target of, and who is paying for, a Vatican investigation that is shaping up to be a tough review of whether sisters have strayed from church teaching.

The Leadership Conference of Women Religious, representing about 800 heads of religious orders, said there was a “lack of full disclosure about the motivation and funding sources” for the inquiry. The group also said it objects to the Vatican plan to keep private the reports that will be submitted to the Holy See.

“There’s no transparency there,” said Sister Annmarie Sanders, a conference spokeswoman.

The investigation, announced earlier this year, will examine the practices of the roughly 59,000 Catholic sisters working in the United States. Some sisters have privately expressed anger over the assessment, which they say unfairly questions their commitment to church teaching. However, in public they have remained largely circumspect in their comments.

LCWR posted their official response on their Web site. Here’s a bit of it:

The assembly body also discussed the Vatican study, as well as a separate inquiry being conducted by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the position of LCWR in matters pertaining to Catholic Church doctrine. Following analysis of the experience of these studies thus far, the leaders noted that while their orders have always been fully accountable to the church and plan to collaborate with the Vatican in these studies, they request that those conducting the inquiries alter some of the methods being employed. Among the expressed concerns are a lack of full disclosure about the motivation and funding sources for the studies. The leaders also object to the fact that their orders will not be permitted to see the investigative reports about them that are being submitted directly to the Vatican.

Throughout the assembly, the leaders emphasized that their orders have remained faithful to the reform and renewal of their communities called for by the Second Vatican Council that urged women and men religious to adapt their lives, prayer and work so they may most effectively fulfill their mission. They reclaimed their commitment to what they believe is the unique and needed role of religious life which includes serving at and speaking from the margins of the Catholic Church.

LCWR represents roughly 95% of U.S. Catholic sisters. I’m intrigued that NPR’s Cokie Roberts gave the key note at the LCWR assemly. I’ll try to get hold of her talk.