A Hurricane Katrina memoir doubles as a call for religious renewal.
Bass opens his debut work with some of his most vivid memories of being a chaplain at University Hospital when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in August 2005. He recalls the heroic struggles of the hospital staff as it dealt with the loss of electricity, the isolation from outside help, and the pitiless heat and humidity that were no longer kept at bay by air-conditioning (“It was a wicked heat,” he writes. “It was almost unbearable. I can still feel it”). But unlike such classic Katrina memoirs as Chris Rose’s 1 Dead in Attic, Bass uses the catastrophe to springboard into a larger polemic aimed at Christian readers (his self-professed target audience; the most he offers non-Christians is the prospect of conversion). In Bass’ view, God was trying to “wake up His church in this country” and may have used Hurricane Katrina to do it. The shock of such a morally questionable supposition, that the all-loving ruler of the universe would choose drowning hundreds of terrified senior citizens as a way to talk about church reform, is offset somewhat by the author’s simultaneous characterization of the storm as a metaphor. He pivots from asking “How could I have ever known that one day I would find myself right in the middle of this terrible disaster?” to warning his readers: “Your storm may be nearer to you than you think.” The book is stern on the subject of the “moral termites that are eating away our foundations in America,” but achieves its most effective rhetoric on the need for American Christianity to undergo a revival, a return to the fundamentals of faith. The uneven quality of the writing can be distracting—Bass comments on it but did not actually fix it prior to publication—yet the overall message of institutional revitalization should strike a powerful chord with Christian readers.
A thought-provoking—if troubling—Katrina-driven jeremiad about the ills besetting American Christianity.