What is natural about it?

I just finished cooking burritos and fajitas for 50. Cooking for large groups of people is a skill I have to offer these movers and shakers. Sometimes I am struck silent by the talents for organizing and mobilizing and analyzing and theorizing and explicating and remembering statistics of the others on this trip and figure one thing I have to offer is cooking for them, providing a healthy meal.

And I can offer my feelings. I’ll jot a few down.

I remember over Thanksgiving in New York, my father paid the full, suggested donation at the Natural History Museum and the total tab was a hefty $80 dollars for four of us. I said to him, “Papa, I don’t want you to pay that much! We don’t need to pay that much.” He gently asked me whether or not I felt it is our duty to pay the full amount for others who cannot. His response to me was simple and profound. This set me thinking….

It is, of course, socialism on a basic level. I love my Papa for so many reasons, one of them being this gentle reminder that what we do with our money matters.

We are on this trip to explore the ramifications of this natural disaster, but the more questions I ask and the more answers I receive, the more it becomes obvious that there is more to this disaster than just the hurricane. The disaster already existed before the storm hit and before the levees broke. The disaster is and has been deeply rooted in the blatant and systematic oppression of the poor, the working class. This disaster doesn’t exist only along the Gulf Coast, but all across this country. Lack of affordable housing, lack of legislation calling for a living wage, lack of adequate health care, lack of laws which protect all people, lack of politics which truly represent the people—these are the disasters, this is THE disaster. What is natural about it?

As someone who wants to be in ministry committed to social justice on local and national levels, I am immersed in this experience and wondering why faith communities want only to respond to a disaster like Katrina or Ivan or Rita, when the disaster of millions of people in our country are devastated all the time, every single day. How can we get our communities of faith to situate their ministries in ending the systems that oppress poor people, rather than cleaning up the death oppression delivers?

What does it mean to have no home? What does it mean to be without a home? What does it mean to be home-less? These problems we are exploring are so big. They are so huge and where do I enter in? Where will I find my work within this movement? Do I focus on health care, welfare, prison reform, environmental racism, policy writing, advocacy for voting rights, teaching, childcare, youth work, domestic violence, affordable housing, chaplaincy, where? I am so small. And while I feel small, I also feel important. It is important to ask these questions. And it was important to make that meal.

I head to bed wondering how I live a life committed to doing this work. And another prayer…

Tallu Schuyler, Union Theological Seminary

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