By Charles deGravelles

Charles deGravelles

Charles deGravelles

On Monday, yet another mass shooting, this time in Washington, D.C., claimed the lives of 13 people and sent a now common shock through the spine of our battered country. Recently, the President tried to convince us to lob missiles into Syria, even as we continue to struggle, like Br’er Rabbit, to disengage from the tar babies of Afghanistan and Iraq. And now that we have passed yet another anniversary of 9/11, the prospects for a peaceful resolution of the “war on terror” seem no closer.

I live in an area saturated with violence. Two cities in Louisiana, New Orleans and my own hometown of Baton Rouge, are among the most crime-ridden in the nation. Murders and other violent crimes are commonplace; there is a steady flow through the court systems into the state’s overcrowded prisons, already the most populated, per capita, in the country.

I grew up in a more peaceful town and time, but I have certainly witnessed my share of the pain and grief that comes from violence. I have been a minister at Angola prison for 23 years, and I know that for every one of the more than 5,000 men who are incarcerated there, a tsunami-like wave of trauma, heartbreak and loss has radiated outward, engulfing the lives of loved ones of victims and perpetrators alike.

For three years I was spiritual advisor for a death row inmate, Feltus Taylor, a man who robbed and shot, execution style, people he had worked with at a fried chicken restaurant on Florida Boulevard. I was with Feltus on June 6, 2000 when he himself was put to death, execution style, by lethal injection in the death chamber at Angola. One of his victims, the only one to survive the shooting, forgave Feltus and reconciled with him, and these words of forgiveness and reconciliation were the last words Feltus ever heard as he died on the execution gurney. Read More…

Part 1 of a 3-part series commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1963 “March on Washington” and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

By Rev. Dwight Webster

“We have come over a way that with tears has been watered.
We have come treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered.
Out from the gloomy past, ’til now we stand at last,
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.”
— James Weldon and John Rosamond Johnson — “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (1899/1900)

La plus ça change la plus ça reste le même.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

“The more things change, the more they stay the same.
The more it changes, the more it’s the same thing.”
–Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr — 1808-90

Rev. Dwight Webster

Rev. Dwight Webster

It was not Martin Luther King Jr. who organized the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Bayard Rustin and A. (or Asa) Philip Randolph actually made it happen, though one rarely hears them given the credit.

It’s ironic, as we view the film, The Butler, that one the most powerful men in the country was Randolph, who organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters — this nation’s first predominantly Black labor union. Many Black men were able to support and advance their families because of the work done in that capacity. Yet there are those who complain about a movie where the main protagonist is a servant.

King said,” Everyone can be great, because everyone can serve.” With nonemployment here around 52 percent of the Black male population, according to Dr. Petrice Sams-Abiodun, it seems that the employment solution is not rocket science.

Randolph proposed and planned a march on Washington as early as 1941. King stood on his shoulders at the podium in front of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963.

One of the reasons we don’t know that it was the genius of Bayard Rustin that spearheaded the organizing of the 1963 March, was because he pursued an openly gay lifestyle, which other leaders of the movement were loathe to defend. It’s ironic that the Washington, D.C. Mayor’s Office would dis-invite award-winning gospel music giant Pastor Donnie McClurkin recently, because McClurkin maintains that he was delivered/cured of homosexuality. In any case, Rustin is slated to receive, posthumously, the Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama. Read More…

By Orissa Arend

Let me start off by saying that this is an anti-abortion rant. A friend asked me to write an article on the kick-off for construction of the Planned Parenthood health clinic on Claiborne Avenue in New Orleans. Ninety-seven percent of Planned Parenthood’s services are dedicated to primary care, education and preventative medicine. Lord knows we need that with Louisiana ranking first in syphilis and gonorrhea infections and fourth in AIDS. These are health problems which City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell notes disproportionately fall upon African American women. Fifty percent of all pregnancies in Louisiana are unintended. Access to contraception has been shown to reduce abortion rates.

I knew I couldn’t interview people or even think about writing the article without confronting people’s feelings about abortion — and also my own. I didn’t want to do that. And because I didn’t want to, it gradually became apparent to me that I had to.

The way I wiggled into my decision about this writing was to devise a questionnaire. Cut to the difficult chase. What are your thoughts and feelings about abortion from a personal, moral, political/legal, professional, and spiritual point of view? Do any of these conflict? Have you had an abortion? What was theexperience like? Should a father play a part in a mother’s decision about abortion? Do you consider a fetus a life with rights, a life without rights, a potential life, something else? Does the stage of the fetus influence your answer? Do you think that a fetus at any stage should have legal protection? If so, what penalties should apply and to whom? In a perfect world would you envision zero abortions? That was the only question to which I got a universal and unqualified “yes.” Comment here.

I only interviewed people whose values I highly respect. Answers ranged from: “abortion is never morally permissible even to save the life of the mother,” to “it should always be the woman’s choice at any stage of pregnancy and for any reason.” The purity and consistency of each of those positions appeal to me. The former is the official position of the Roman Catholic Church according to the Catechism: “Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person — among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.” The Catholic Church does, however, recognize as morally legitimate certain acts which indirectly result in the death of a fetus, for example, removal of a cancerous womb.

This is not my belief. But I can understand the outrage of my pro-life brothers and sisters because I would feel the same outrage if I thought our country legally and morally accepted infanticide. Laws vary from state to state about why and when abortion is permitted.

This piece is in response to last week’s article, “Quit Acting Like Pagans.” A Louisiana deacon wonders if God is deformed and suffering from creating the universe and experiencing the pain of humankind. The article reflects the views of its author. Join the discussion. Read and respond. Thank you.

By Charmaine Kathmann, Deacon
St. John’s Episcopal Church, KennerLA

In the last email about the Easter Vigil in New Orleans and Christians falling into paganism, the anonymous writer said:

“Christians, Jews, and Muslims believe that every human being is created in the very image of God, that God loves everyone equally, and we are to treat one another as a full and equal child of God. Furthermore, Christians believe that, in Christ, all stand forgiven for faults, failures, and sins, and no one is to stand in judgment of anyone else’s personhood. Furthermore, Christians believe that everyone has an eternal destiny. Thus, society is to provide everyone equal treatment and opportunity to, in the words of the American constitution, ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’”

What does it mean to be Christian — like Christ? How do we keep from sliding into paganism? As I watched the Paschal candle blowing in the wind a block from the mighty Mississippi River (during the St. Polycarp service), I knew that to be Christian (or Jew or Muslim, as we all share Abraham as our ancestor) was to be like Christ — to suffer. I thought that Christ was among us like the wind — an ever-living and life-giving presence. He was the one moving the flame, but we could not predict where it went or where it was going next.

Being Christian means to be filled with the Holy Spirit and to stay true to God’s commands to love Him with our whole heart, mind, and soul, and to love our neighbor, each other, as ourselves. The Paschal mystery may mean that to become like Christ, we must share in his suffering. We may not be created in God’s image as most think — but rather as suffering beings.

Nobody born on this earth escapes the human condition. And the human condition may be to “suffer like Christ.” Now I would hope and pray that I will not be crucified on a cross to die — but there have been painful times in my life which included suffering. Most people suffer because they believe that “Life must be fair,” however, much of my suffering was alleviated when I came to the conclusion that life is not fair — but I still live and strive to treat others with fairness. Sometimes I am able to do so, and at times I fail. Now let us go into a “science-fiction like” journey into who is God? Read More…