"It's easier to think outside the box when the box just washed away." And with that the staff of Union Baptist Association launched a "hands-on learning experience" we could have never imagined months before when we were reading about chaos theory and its implications on organizations. We actually found copies of the book "Surfing the Edge of Chaos" in the mud and sludge that was all that was left of our offices. Five feet of water had rushed through our building as a result of Tropical Storm Allison.
Ten years later, I'm no longer at UBA, but the memories of those days is made fresh as story after story of tornadoes and floods offers familiar pictures of wading through the aftermath.
After a quick goodbye to the kinds of things you display in an office -- most significant for me was the embroidered piece I had brought back from my first international trip in 1989 -- we set out to check on the more than 600 churches that make up the association. One of our consultants, whose post-seminary library of hundreds of books had been housed at the office -- is a weekend warrior around the house so he was in charge of getting the info about potential structural damage. We soon learned that if the water mark was rising on the sheet rock, the walls would have to be opened up and lots of repairs would be needed.
Armed with a meter to measure moisture, we visited congregations. I remember distinctly when a pastor stood in a humble but well-kept sanctuary, describing how they had brought in fans, mops and towels to soak up the water and hesitantly but hopeful, showed me the water line. With one look, after having made the same assessment several times during the days after the flood, I explained that they would have to cut into the walls. He didn't want to hear it. The church's budget was already stretched. I wanted desperately to be wrong. But I knew officials would be advising him to do the very same thing. The potential for mold was too high for the children who gathered there for after-school programs.
Weeks later, after more and similar encounters, writing story after story of what churches were doing to help their congregants, matching those with resources to those with need, revamping a website to become a resource center that we would later utilize for the Katrina response, I shuddered when an acquaintance commented during dinner conversation, "I don't really believe all the hype about the storm. No way that much damage was done. I know my neighborhood was barely touched."
Let's just say when the Spirit moved me in that instance, it was to head out of the room in order not to hurt anyone!
UBA moved into temporary offices that we used for a couple of years before relocating across the very same bayou that had swelled to the point of swallowing us during the storm. We came back to the neighborhood with a keen sense of awareness that (as chaos theory will attest) "every change changes everything". Innovative approaches to consulting, training, starting new churches were now somehow easier. No "boxes" allowed.