Monday, August 23, 2010

Sunday at Church   for more pix.  

Today I visited Our Lady of the Isle, a Catholic Church on Grand Isle.   My logic was to make contact with a spiritual community and be with them to get a feel for how the people are really dealing with the actualities and the uncertainties all around them.

Father Mike Tran is the dynamic Parish Priest who was assigned there in July of 2005.  A few weeks later, Katrina came ashore in Grand Isle.  Each subsequent year another hurricane.  5 years later, the BP Oil Disaster.  This island, this church and this priest are what I came to be with. 
Our Lady of the Isle was underwater 5 years ago during Katrina

The picture of the interior shows a modern, open sanctuary.  The roof beams are all that is original.  Everything else (except the pews) is new because the church was under water during Katrina.  The pre-Katrina sanctuary had dark wood paneling and fully carpeted floors.  The church was gutted, the pews restored with weatherproof materials, and the carpeting replaced with weatherproof stone-look flooring.  The walls were waterproof drywalled and painted white to make the sanctuary more open.

New stained glass windows feature an ocean theme and at the vestibule entryway, a beautiful artwork depicts the things Grand Isle is famous for.

New Artwork for entryway to sanctuary.
At every service, they pray to Our Lady of Prompt Succor for protection from hurricanes.  It is a normal part of the liturgy down here.  The people are very joyous, and friendly.  I was welcomed by Fr. Mike and his congregation with open arms.  They want prayers and positive thoughts sent their way.  They have the confidence they will survive this; just as they have always survived.  They depend on each other and their faith to get them through.

Fr. Mike is leaving for a semester at the Washington Theological Union.  He looks forward to his sabbatical and the learning opportunties  before him.  I'm certain he can use a break.  He would like to be with his people during the rest of this catastrophic situation.  I can't stop thinking about this 30 year old priest coming to a new assignment and then getting slammed by Katrina.  His church under water.  Charged with literally rebuilding everything except the frame.  What wasn't damaged by storm waters was blown away by high wind.  He figured out how to rebuild.  He developed a nautical theme for the sanctuary, contracted the work and helped design the entryway.  He navigated the world of insurance claims, funded renovations and kept the positive attitude going.  Of course, the devastation was not just "property" related.  People were evacuated, jobs lost, homes destroyed. 

Through it all the spirit of this church remained intact.  The energy and passion of Fr. Mike is palpable.  His services a joy to attend.  He is, in every sense, a man of God.  He also has a great sense of humor.  Before the service I said, "Father, you have a very southern accent" (he is obviously of Asian descent) he smiled and said, "But son, I've been eatin' this here food for 5 years now."  More later.  There is no you and no me.  It is all WE.  What happens to one, happens to all.  When you cut your finger, I too bleed.  I do not exist apart from all of you.

Bags are packed, ready to go

Grand Isle, Louisiana.  Our home for the next week.  This is a pre-oilspill photo of "Paradise". 

I fly out of BWI Thursday morning and arrive in New Orleans around Noon.  Meet the other Chaplains around 2 and head down to Grand Isle. 

With all the theories, disinformation and rumors - remember the FUD Factor...FEAR, UNCERTAINTY and DOUBT.  It was the common tactic in the early days of the PC industry.  Seems to be undergoing a rebirth in coastal Louisiana.  I can't wait to bear witness to what is happening and develop my own opinions.  We aren't there to find fault or to identify enemies.  There are plenty of others interested in doing that.  As Buddhists, we simply offer a compassionate presence to all living beings suffering from this tragedy. 

Thanks to all of you who supported the FUNdraiser.  I now ask for your positive thoughts, prayers and love as we journey to the Gulf area offering a mindful approach, no judgements and caring.

Starting tomorrow 8/18/10 I will be posting to this blog almost daily.  No politics.  Just my impressions of what I experience firsthand.  Sign up to follow this blog all week.  Gassho.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

We are in Grand Isle - Beautiful place, beautiful people!/album.php?aid=73635&id=1322605103  for photo album.

We arrived here yesterday, got situated and did a quick tour of eastern part of the barrier island.  I was struck by how many drilling platforms are here.  You can't look in any direction without seeing them.

Monday 5 areas of beach were opened to the public.  We saw a few umbrellas and signs of beachgoers; but we did see a number of surf fishermen.  The waters were opened to both commercial and sport fishing.  The fall shrimp season began this past Monday.  We ate in a local restaurant and the waitress told us she was thrilled because they got their first load of fresh shrimp.  She sees it as a sign of hope and an indication that they are on the way back to normal.

I keep thinking about "The Impossible Dream" from Man of LaMancha.  I hope this dream is not impossible.  The residents are grasping to the hope that things are going to get better for them at last.  There is deep frustration, skepticism, but my impression is that these are a very optimistic lot of people who have weathered many other storms (literally and figuratively).  Next week is the 5th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.  In visiting with local folks, it seems almost therapeutic for them to talk about Katrina.  Although there are still some signs of its damage; and the vivid memories of how much flooding occurred, they got through it.  These people seem to find strength from their Katrina experience.  I hope it helps them get through this catastrophe as well.

On the good news front, the Community Center is the focal point for small businesses to apply for 133 SBA economic injury disaster loans totalling a little over $10 million.  BP has provided $15 million in funding to the LA Dept. of Health and Hospitals for behavioral health support for coastal residents.  In addition a toll-free hotline has been setup by the Federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Everyone is so friendly.  Smiles abound.  We have met with cleanup workers, merchants, wait staff and all are happy to see us.  They are very appreciative that we came here to be with them and to "see how y'all are doing".  It's hard to believe these folks are living in the midst of such a great environmental disaster.  Are there lessons for the Chaplains to learn from their attitudes?  Living in the present moment.  Loving kindness.  The interdependent web of all existence.  We have come with the intent of helping them.  Already they have helped us. 

May all beings be happy.  May they be joyous and live in safety.  Until tomorrow, please see a photo album posted on Facebook.  Here is one celebrating some good news.
Fishing boats leaving an inlet headed for fishing grounds off Grand Isle, LA

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

WOO HOO FUNdraiser Completed

Thank you!  Domo Arigato!  Gracias!  Merci!  Denkeschoen!  to all who were so generous toward the FUNdraiser Friday night at Windoz Grill in Millersville. 

What we lacked in numbers we made up for in enthusiasm and GENEROSITY.  Between admission donations and the Silent Auction our FUNdraiser brought in a little over $800.00 to help send Chaplains to the Gulf Coast to help them deal with all that is going on because of the Oil Disaster and its repercussions.

Special thanks to Ron and Ryan Felpel the co-owners of Windoz Grill who were so generous in hosting the big event.  They also donated $100.00 in gift certificates to the restaurant.  Ron also was the successful bidder on several items at the Silent Auction.

Taylor Merrill worked hard to make us all enjoy the evening of humor and did his usual outstanding job.  Newbie, Nate Bomberger made his comedy debut and had us all laughing hysterically at his tales of being "naked in the farm pond".  DJ Kani, had the tables burning and did an excellent job with sound gear and keeping the music pumping.  ALL THREE MEN WORKED FOR FREE TO HELP SUPPORT OUR GULF DISASTER PROJECT!!!

So many people to thank.  Val Aubry, Ron Felpel, Brad Royer, Rich Crockett, Tricia Como all won single or multiple items in the Silent Auction. 

Windoz Grill, Merrill Seafood of New Cumberland, Sara Wiegner, Meaghan Merrill and a few anonymous folks donated wonderful items for the Silent Auction.

This is just the beginning.  Got the plane tickets bought, the bags are getting packed, and now the real work starts.  Please keep the other Chaplains from around the US and me in your good thoughts and prayers.  We don't aim to fix everything, just help with what we can.

More blogs will be posted daily once we are on-site next week.

Great photos of the FUNdraiser on my Facebook page at!/album.php?aid=72478&id=1322605103

Thursday, August 5, 2010

1 MORE DAY to FUNdraiser!!!

TOMORROW AT WINDOZ GRILL the FUNdraiser for Compassion in the Gulf.


  • 60's era 4 x 3 foot framed poster of Sgt Pepper's Album Cover
  • Handcrafted plate donated by a missionary in Mexico
  • Hand carved Inuit statue from Canada
  • 10 POUNDS of Extra Large cooked frozen shrimp
  • Yankee Candle Sampler
  • Framed "Lancaster County Farmland" poster
  • HD Radio
and many more great items - all proceeds to Compassion in the Gulf Project

Monday, August 2, 2010

Big Event This Week

Photo of beach in Grand Isle. 
This Friday, August 6th is the big fundraiser at Windoz Grill in Millersville.  The excitement is building for this evening of food, fun and FUNdraising.

Admission is only $10.00 and all proceeds from admission and the auction go directly toward sending Chaplains to the Gulf Coast area.

Special thanks to the great people at the American Legion Post 34 in Lancaster (where my daughter works) who are busy filling a special "Help the Gulf" jar full of money for the trip.  You people are great!

The rest of the Chaplains are on their way to a residency session at Upaya Zen Center and will be joining me in New Orleans on August 19th.  From there we drive to Grand Isle, LA where we will stay for a week; offering whatever assistance we can. 

If you or your company can help sponsor the trip, please respond.  All assistance is appreciated.