Deliver us from evil


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Deliver us from evil

By Bobby Neal Winters

Like everyone else, I’ve been watching the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina with a mixture of horror, sadness, and fascination. As I write this, we don’t know what the death toll will be, but thousands seems more likely than hundreds.

Josef Stalin once said, “The death of one is a tragedy. The death of a million is a statistic.” For all the evil that anti-Christ committed, this is a profound truth. It is difficult for us to truly feel empathy when we hear of the death of large numbers because so very few have experienced such tragedies; it is too horrible for us to imagine. On the other hand, each of us has lost someone we love, and we re-experience that grief when we hear of the death of someone in particular. Much more so if that person is like someone we’ve lost.

We shake our heads when we hear about the levee breaking, and cluck our tongues when we hear about the flooding, but it is only when we hear the stories of individual loss that we cry.

For my part, I’ve tried to avoid the individual stories. This isn’t because I fear crying. Crying doesn’t bother me at all. When I was growing up, it was well-know that I was tender-hearted—or a bawl bag as my brother liked to put it. But as the Preacher said in Ecclesiastes, “There is a time to cry,” and for me that time is not now.

Now is the time to think.

Most of us were shocked by how quickly New Orleans went from the cultural center of the Deep South to utter lawlessness. I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say “thin veneer of civilization.”

Just what is that thin veneer of civilization? I’ve been staring at the phrase for half an hour, and I can’t say that I know, but however thin it is, we darn sure know when it is gone. In New Orleans, it was gone with the wind. Civilization was gone, people were isolated into tiny bands, and there was no leadership.

Leadership is one concept it has taken me time to get my brain around, because to the untutored eye it often appears the leader isn’t doing anything, yet in most situations leadership is essential.

Consider something as small as saying the Lord’s Prayer. This was something we didn’t do in the church I grew up in because we didn’t believe in just repeating a prayer someone else had written even if that someone was Jesus. In the tradition I follow now, we say the Lord’s Prayer every Sunday, and there have been Sunday’s when I’ve lead it.

This isn’t difficult. You just start saying the Lord’s Prayer yourself and everyone else follows along. There have been times in front of a large group when I’ve spoken so softly after I began as to simply whisper and everyone else kept going in perfect harmony. They all know the words because they’d been saying it all their lives. They pick up the tempo from their neighbors and return it to them. It is in their bones. So closely do they follow one anther that when I listen, I hear the congregation speak as with one voice.

Other times I’ve led a group where it’s not in their bones and they don’t pick up the tempo from their neighbors. At times like these, I have to speak loudly so that I might trace the words of the prayer properly myself.

Sometimes when it is like this, I do pause to listen and I hear small fragments of harmony here and there which never manage to meld into a euphonious whole, regardless of how loudly I pray.

Whatever it was that made New Orleans speak as one was taken from away and there was a descent into chaos. I don’t know that city. Maybe there was never a single voice. Maybe there were always groups here and there who spoke with harmony among themselves never melded into a whole.
Perhaps the chaos was there all along and the mass exodus simply revealed it.
In any case, it is something for us all to think about.

(Bobby Winters is a professor of mathematics, writer, and speaker. You may contact him at or visit his website at