I'm not qualified to assess blame for the failures in the material response to Hurricane Katrina. Was it mayor, governor, senators, representatives, president, FEMA director, homeland security guy, etc. etc.? I just don't know. People who are smarter than me about these things are already well on their way to assessing what went wrong and who is to blame. I am content to let them do that and chuckle at their buffoonery from the comfort of my living room chair.
I have never criticized anyone for their material response, even in my previous post, in which I said, "It’s not just about what they are doing; it’s about how they are acting." I am a local pastor in a mid-sized mid-western United Methodist Church; I have no authority to question material response. That is not where my expertise lies.
My expertise is in theology, scripture, discipleship. You know, churchy stuff. (Also in choral music, but that is neither here nor there for the moment.) I do empathy. I do compassion. I do love, grace, mercy, justice, peace - all those cool God things. And when I see a lack of empathy, I point to it.
Overall, the response of the government up til now has been marked by a lack of empathy for the poor.
Was it the mayor (moved his family to Dallas, Texas), or the governor (deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming semi), or the Louisana legislators (finger muscles strained from pointing at everyone other than themselves), or the homeland security guy (Grand Moff Tarkin), or the FEMA director (dewy eyed horse lover), or the president (looking forward to sitting on Trent Lott's fabulous porch), who was "responsible" for the mistakes of the past two weeks? I don't know, and anyone who tries to make this a political issue is a moron. (I mean that, of course, in the most Christian, loving way possible. ;)
Now, this morning in the paper, President Bush says, "I take responsibility." The buck has stopped, and President Bush is taking it on himself. This is good leadership. Say what you will about timing, this is good leadership. And acknowledging responsibility hints at the beginnings of true empathy for the victims. "Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government," the president said. And the nation nods in empathetic agreement.
When we are able to say, "I am responsible for you," it is natural that we feel empathy. Jesus was God with us and God for us, incarnate on our behalf. Likewise we, as children of God, have a certain responsibility for others that leads us to compassionate empathy when others are hurting, injured, and broken. Who is responsible in this story? President Bush may be taking that weight upon his own shoulders, but in fact we all are responsible for one another as children of God together in God's world.