2019
April
05
Friday

Cold War espionage, and ancient Assyrian canals. Those are two things you might not put together – at first.

But over decades the vast engine of American national security has produced some surprisingly useful unintended associations and consequences. The GPS signal in your car? Developed by the U.S. military in the 1970s, and still run by the Air Force. Microwaves? Descendants of radars developed in World War II.

Now archaeologists are mining declassified U2 spy photos from the 1950s to study historic Middle East sites long since eroded by weather or destroyed by advancing civilization.

U2 aircraft were spy planes that flew at the edge of space, photographing areas of military interest in detail. The secret program was exposed in 1960 when the Soviet Union shot down pilot Gary Francis Powers. By that point U2s had been flying for more than a decade and accumulated millions of feet of film.

The newsletter “Secrecy News” reports that archaeologists from Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania have discovered that this footage provides an invaluable sweeping view of at least 11 countries as they looked 70 years ago.

Among the things they’ve studied: huge stone structures in Jordan called “desert kites,” thought be used as traps for hunting gazelles; evidence of canals in northern Iraq dating to the neo-Assyrian empire; and marsh Arab communities in southern Iraq flooded by modern dam development.

The U2 photos are difficult to handle. They’re not digitized, or organized for nonmilitary use. But they show that perseverance and creativity can uncover whole new sources of important information. As the archaeologists summed up their project, “U2 photos provide a window into the past.”

Now on to our stories for the day, which include an examination of how El Paso is holding up as the epicenter of border controversy, a look at how artificial intelligence is reshaping personal finance, and a review of “Mayor Pete” Buttigieg’s housing record in South Bend.

Share this article

shadow

1. When dam burst, here’s how one Nebraska town fought the floods

Flooding is a perennial danger for people living along Great Plains watersheds. But this spring the challenge has been epic in scale, calling forth individual resilience and the bonds of community.

Peter
Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Former Mayor Larry Halstead and his wife, Janice, walk though their flood-damaged home in Lynch, Nebraska, where soggy drywall has been removed. Volunteers and donations have flowed in from around the state and the country to help residents recover.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 9 Min. )

Sandbags and solidarity ​– those have helped the small town of Lynch survive the worst Nebraska floods in memory. As the rains and melting snow began threatening, residents ringed their hospital with sandbags, turning it into an island and saving it. Many local homes were swamped. Bridges were out. Some structures were lost entirely as a nearby dam gave way.

“We didn’t know how bad it was,” recalls Jane Nelson, a print-shop worker who’s also a medical volunteer. Only as she began assessing the condition of people rescued by boat did the enormity sink in.

But then came waves of help. Locals organized a command center, and groups from outside town began arriving with everything from food and water to clothing and portable toilets. Baptist volunteers went house to house, cutting out the water-damaged plaster and drywall, then spraying disinfectant to discourage the growth of mold.

Students at one Seventh-day Adventist school 250 miles away put out flyers to gather donated supplies. “Little kids carrying stuff into this hall – it was just amazing,” says resident Marge Nolan.

Collapse

When dam burst, here’s how one Nebraska town fought the floods

Janice Halstead pulls an old photo, browned by the floodwaters, from a garage stuffed with furniture and hands it to her husband.

“Do you recognize that?”

“That’s our wedding,” says Larry Halstead of the 57-year-old portrait. He pitches the nearly undecipherable photo into the blue recycling cart he’s leaning on.

Three weeks ago, the couple barely made it out of their home before the fast-rising Ponca Creek flooded its banks and ran 4 feet of water through it. Now with no heat or working toilets in their house, and living with relatives, the retired couple faces the daunting task of picking through their belongings, which Mr. Halstead rates as an almost total loss. But there’s no complaint. Not even a tear.

“We’ll rebuild,” promises Mr. Halstead, former town mayor and until recently proprietor of the local TV and appliance store. It’s not clear yet just how. The home was too near the floodplain to qualify for federal flood insurance. But the Knights of Columbus and someone from out of town have donated a little money. “Everyone has been wonderful to us,” he says.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
The small town of Lynch, Nebraska, flooded in March after heavy rains hit frozen, saturated ground. The center of town, including the movie theater, is seen here on April 1.

It’s a sentiment that reverberates around Lynch, Nebraska, a no-stoplight community with a pink town hall and 230 people, and one of the hardest-hit places in March’s epic flood, which inundated cities and wide swaths of farmland from Wisconsin to Nebraska and South Dakota to Missouri. This corner of the state is a microcosm of how Nebraskans have rallied in the face of the state’s most pervasive flooding in memory.

“I have never seen it come up this fast,” says Kelly Kalkowski, administrator of the Niobrara Valley Hospital, which sits a stone’s throw from Ponca Creek. On Wednesday, March 13, he ordered the discharge of those patients who could go home. One patient was sent to the nearest hospital, in O’Neill, some 40 miles away. At first, he thought the recently built berm would protect the hospital, so when the call came asking if he’d like some sand for sandbagging, he demurred. But the creek kept rising. An hour later, he ordered the sand.

“I felt like a mouse in a maze,” recalls Vance Janak, a Nebraskan with a rural mail route just across the border in South Dakota. The freakish combination of snow, rain, and a rapid snow melt on top of frozen ground kept forcing him to backtrack to find other ways to the houses on his route.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Kelly Kalkowski, administrator of Niobrara Valley Hospital, stands in a room of the hospital after it was saved from all but minor flood damage. Many volunteers helped save the hospital using sandbags as a nearby creek overflowed.

Also worried about flooded roads, Jane Nelson left her job early at Special T’s, a custom screen-printing and embroidery shop in Lynch. But when word came that the hospital needed help, Ms. Nelson, a volunteer emergency medical technician, turned around and headed there.

Steve Spencer, a Boyd County supervisor, also headed to the hospital with his frontloader, leaving behind his other heavy equipment, perilously close to the creek. In all, some 40 to 50 volunteers showed up to sandbag: first with gravel, then with sand when it was delivered around 7 p.m. Some of them were volunteer firefighters from as far away as O’Neill. It was a race against time to save the hospital.

Under the direction of Mr. Kalkowski and the volunteer fire chief, Jim McBride, they worked into the night, eventually erecting a barrier four sandbags high around all the entrances before the waters got too high. As a last resort, the frontloader dumped the rest of the sand on top of the sandbags before evacuating the volunteers across the flooded parking lot to Nebraska Highway 12, which cuts through town. The hospital was now its own island.

Ms. Nelson sandbagged until word came that Mr. McBride’s own house had been flooded. She and others moved there to see if they could help with rescues from homes at risk from the rising water. Finally, at around 2 or 3 in the morning, she got to sleep at a relative’s home as the roads out of Lynch were blocked, but was interrupted a couple of hours later with even worse news. The old hydroelectric dam near Spencer was compromised.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Barricades warn motorists that the bridge over the Niobrara River is out on US route 281, on April 1, 2019 near Lynch, Nebraska. Many bridges were taken out by flooding and ice flows, making travel difficult in the area.

Without an emergency spillway, the 92-year-old dam had been holding back water and ice chunks the size of cars. Workers reportedly got some of the old wooden gates open to relieve the pressure, but some were frozen shut. When they realized that water was overtopping the earthen part of the dam, they evacuated, stopping to warn resident Kenny Angel, who did not evacuate with them. At 5:30 a.m. Thursday, county Sheriff Chuck Wrede got a call that the highway had been washed out. “It was snowing and blowing,” he recalls nearly three weeks later, surveying the scene. The rapid melt had been followed by two inches of rain and then a blizzard. “You couldn’t tell what was going on.”

By daylight, it began to come clear that the collapse of the dam had changed the course of the Niobrara River hundreds of yards to the south, turning a hayfield into its main channel and washing away a business, Mr. Angel’s home, motor homes, and a few vehicles. All their owners have been accounted for except Mr. Angel, presumed to be one of at least three fatalities in the Nebraska and Iowa floods. When the dam gave way, an estimated 11-foot wave swept down the river, heading for the town of Niobrara, where Mr. Janak’s parents were hoping to save what they could from their service station, Vic’s Service, which was already flooded nearly to its 10-foot ceiling. The wall of water swept away the service station just one month shy of its 25th anniversary. Three other businesses in the low-lying district also were heavily damaged.

The Niobrara River didn’t flood Lynch directly, but just south of the breached dam it washed away a portion of US 281, a major two-lane connection from Boyd County to neighboring Holt County to the south. And it destroyed the water pipe crossing the river that supplies Lynch and most of the rest of the county with drinking water.

By Thursday night, it looked like the water had hit its high mark in Lynch. So around 11, Mr. Kalkowski waded through the hip-deep waters in the parking lot to inspect the hospital. Water covered the floors in the patient rooms, but except for a few popped tiles, there was no damage. The hospital had been saved. By the following evening, staff and volunteers had cleaned up and opened the emergency room.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Refuse is piled outside a flood-damaged home in a low lying part of town in Lynch, Nebraska. Ponca Creek overflowed its banks and flooded about one-third of the homes in town.

For Lynch’s volunteers, the first 48 hours were such a blur that there was little time to assess what had happened. “We didn’t know how bad it was,” recalls Ms. Nelson. But on Friday, as she began assessing the condition of people rescued by boat, the enormity of what Lynch had survived began to sink in. All the roads leading out of town were under water. Three of the four bridges connecting Boyd County with Holt County were out. There was no potable water. No one could flush toilets because the sewer system was clogged with sand. Some 60 houses had been flooded, roughly a third of the homes in town.

In all, 65 of Nebraska’s 93 counties, 74 cities, and four tribal areas would declare states of emergency. The following week, President Donald Trump would declare a state of emergency for both Nebraska and Iowa, freeing federal funds. Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts called it “the most widespread destruction we have ever seen in our state’s history.”

Lynch had little time to catch its breath. To coordinate rescue and recovery operations, Ms. Nelson and the fire chief’s wife, Mindy McBride, organized a command center at the volunteer fire department. Volunteers going on rescue missions checked in. People in need called with requests. So did volunteers with something to give. In the ensuing days, outside help began to pour in.

“It just came in waves,” says one of two volunteers at the Lynch Community Center, where tables of donated goods are piled up, from cans of food on tables to bleach and gloves and buckets around the sides. One of the first trucks to arrive was from Orphan Grain Train, a nonprofit volunteer network based in Norfolk, which delivered 40 pallets of bottled drinking water to Spencer and Lynch. Someone delivered portable toilets.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Volunteer Garland Gehlsen stands inside Lynch Community Hall, which is filled with donations to help flood victims recover. Volunteers and donations flowed in from around the state.

“It’s amazing the things people thought of donating,” says Ms. Nelson, who still gets choked up thinking about the underwear, cleaning supplies, gloves, and other donations the community received. Students at Skyview Learning Academy, an elementary school run by Seventh-day Adventists in Douglas put flyers under windshields at a Walmart and other big box stores to collect goods for Lynch, nearly 250 miles away. In one eight-hour stint, they had collected enough to fill a semitrailer.

When the semitrailers rolled in, people in town came out to unload them. “Little kids carrying stuff into this hall ​– it was just amazing,” recalls Marge Nolan, office manager of the local Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church. “I wish I would have taken pictures.”

Then the Baptist “mudders” arrived, a group of Nebraska volunteers dedicated to clearing flooded homes of wet debris.

“We didn’t know if they were legit,” recalls Ms. Nelson, who had been alerted to watch out for scams. Ms. McBride, the fire chief’s wife, grilled the leader, a Baptist pastor. Acting on faith, she let them proceed.

“The Baptist mudders were a godsend,” says Mr. Kalkowski. The group began going from flooded house to flooded house, cutting out the water-damaged plaster and drywall, pulling out ruined insulation, then spraying disinfectant to discourage the growth of mold. The Nebraska group was joined by other Baptist volunteers from out of state. “We don’t really repair homes. We offer hope,” says Keith Sheffield, a retiree and volunteer from Texas. And “we’re not really mudders,” he adds, chuckling. “It’s ‘mud out.’ ”

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Volunteers from Texas and Nebraska with a Baptist volunteer group stand outside a home they worked on in Lynch, Nebraska – taking out damaged drywall and sanitizing flooded areas. The group helps during disasters around the country.

If there is volunteer fatigue, three weeks after the fact, it’s not very visible in Lynch. The hospital parking lot, once caked in mud, is now cleaned up. In parts of town, it’s hard to tell that anything happened at all. The donation center at the community center still has two volunteers, even though business has slowed. It’s one of five buildings filled with donations from out of town.

But on the south side of town, the cleanup is in full swing. The Catholic church is drying out its flooded basement. Although the sanctuary was untouched, services haven’t restarted because the street in front, where parishioners would normally park, is broken up by holes as deep as 3 feet.

What is it that has fueled such a strong “help thy neighbor” response? Some Nebraskans say the epic scale of the flood would have brought out the same spirit anywhere. Others aren’t so sure, pointing to the hashtag Nebraskastrong that pops up everywhere.

Mr. Spencer, who left his trucks and heavy equipment to help out at the hospital, seems to deflect the question.

“I didn’t think the water would get that high,” he says. That’s typical Nebraskan humility, avoiding the spotlight.

His son, Matt, answers: “In small towns, people look out for each other.”

“It’s hard to explain,” says Ms. Nelson. “It’s something that’s ingrained in you.”

shadow

2. How El Paso copes as ground zero of the border crisis

In El Paso, everyone from Customs and Border Protection officials to immigrant activists says the immigration system needs an overhaul. What that overhaul should look like is a tougher question.

Peter

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 6 Min. )

Javier Lopez and Lalo Garcia are playing chess in San Jacinto Plaza. Both men are in their 20s, and both have lived in the city for the four big migrant influxes it has experienced. They have never seen anything like this one, they agree.

“My neighbor’s actually Border Patrol and he talks about it all the time. Like, ‘Dude, I don’t even know what time I get home,’ ” says Mr. Lopez.

With the southwest border experiencing a surge in migrants, primarily families from Central America seeking asylum, this West Texas city has become ground zero. The commissioner of Customs and Border Protection said the U.S. immigration system had reached a “breaking point” due to “vulnerabilities in our legal framework.”

Immigrant advocacy groups dispute that, claiming that the situation has been worsened by policy decisions by  the Trump administration.

What isn’t disputed is that the people handling the migrant flows in El Paso – including CBP agents, city government, and volunteer organizations – are exhausted. The 11-hour-plus work days, buzzing cell phones, and daily chaos is akin to responding to a natural disaster.

In a border city with generations of connections to Mexico, and generations who came to the U.S. under much different circumstances, the situation is provoking mixed feelings.

Collapse

How El Paso copes as ground zero of the border crisis

For Israel Cabrera, it started five weeks ago.

A friend from another church had called. Immigration agents would be releasing 152 migrants, their processing and background checks completed. Could he take them?

Mr. Cabrera, an associate pastor at the Caminos de Vida church, said he needed time to think. We need an answer now, his friend replied.

“Ok,” Mr. Cabrera said. “Yes.”

That left 30 minutes to prepare, and all the church had was a 24-pack of bottled water. By the end of the day, members of the congregation and the community had brought beans, rice, clothes, and blankets. By the end of the week, Caminos de Vida had so many supplies they were helping other churches hosting migrants.

“The amazing thing is, we just said ‘yes.’ That’s all we did,” says Mr. Cabrera. “This is what happens when a community gets together and does something and moves on their own.”

Since the call, Caminos de Vida has been taking in 50 migrants every few days, feeding them, clothing them, and arranging transportation to family or friends in the United States. They are starting to feel the strain, he says while preparing to welcome another 50 migrants. The water bill jumped from $80 to $500; volunteers, many of them elderly, are burning out; and some members of the congregation have left, uncomfortable with what the church is doing.

That tension permeates El Paso. With the entire southwest border experiencing a surge in migrants, primarily families and children from Central America seeking asylum, this West Texas city has become ground zero. Kevin McAleenan, commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), came here last week and announced that the U.S. immigration system had reached a “breaking point” due to “vulnerabilities in our legal framework.”

Immigrant advocacy groups dispute that, claiming that the situation on the southwest border has been worsened by policy decisions by immigration agencies and the Trump administration.

What isn’t disputed is that the people handling the migrant flows in El Paso – including CBP agents, city government, and volunteer organizations – are exhausted. The 11-hour-plus work days, buzzing cell phones, and daily chaos is akin to responding to a natural disaster.

If you’re not a part of those groups, the surge in asylum seekers has remained mostly invisible on the ground. In a border city with generations of connections to Mexico, and generations who came to the U.S. under much different circumstances, the situation is provoking mixed feelings.

Never seen anything like it

On a sunny Monday afternoon, Javier Lopez and Lalo Garcia are playing chess in San Jacinto Plaza. Both men are in their early 20s, and both have lived in the city for the four big migrant influxes it has experienced. They have never seen anything like this one, they agree.

“My neighbor’s actually Border Patrol and he talks about it all the time. Like, ‘Dude, I don’t even know what time I get home. It’s just crazy because we’re shorthanded,’ ” says Mr. Lopez.

The volume of asylum requests bothers him though. “I feel like this is a safe haven for everybody, and sooner or later it’s going to be crowded or some other problems are going to come up,” he says.

Mr. Garcia jumps in. “Put yourself in their shoes,” he says. “A lot of people come trying to survive. Not all of them, but most of them,” he continues. “Which is the controversy. We get hit by that, but they need it. So, honestly, it’s up to your morals whether you want to help or not.”

Commissioner McAleenan has described how he thinks the immigration system needs to change.

Border Patrol is projecting that 100,000 migrants will have crossed the southwest border legally and illegally in March, the highest single month figure in a decade. The El Paso sector, which includes West Texas and New Mexico, has seen some of the sharpest increases in recent months. But those crossing are now mostly family units and unaccompanied children, and that change in demographics has forced the CBP in particular to do things it is not used to doing.

The agency has begun medical screening for every child 17 and under taken into custody, a policy Mr. McAleenan called “unprecedented.” And last week, for the first time in a decade, the CBP began releasing migrants directly after they have been processed due to overcrowding in Border Patrol stations and a lack of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) bed space.

The agency has reassigned 750 agents from four other ports of entry to process asylum-seekers, and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen sent a letter to Homeland Security employees last week asking for volunteers to help on the southwest border.

“This humanitarian mission which we are committed to is undermining our border security efforts,” said Mr. McAleenan last week. “Changes in the law and closing the vulnerabilities in our legal framework is the only way that this flow is going to be reduced.”

‘It’s a challenge to us’

El Paso City Council meetings these days have come to include similar statements about the need for immigration reform.

Certain laws passed in recent years, Mayor Dee Margo said during a meeting this week, “amounts to basically unfettered asylum-seeking. We’re a humanitarian nation. People are coming for their families, economic benefits, but it’s a challenge to us.”

Last week, the city appropriated $20,000 to the United Way to fund a volunteer coordinator position, and they’re now helping Annunciation House – a nonprofit shelter that has been managing the network of more than two-dozen volunteer organizations – open a new 500-bed hospitality center for migrants.

If there is a face for the citizen response in El Paso, it is Ruben Garcia, the director of Annunciation House. He calls and texts with CBP and ICE every day, and calls and texts other churches and volunteer groups to see who could take the migrants in.

But he’s begun to notice what he calls a “concerning” trend. When ICE releases migrants, it contracts with private companies that can transport migrants up to eight hours away – so when bed-space is low in El Paso, migrants can be taken to shelters in Las Cruces and Albuquerque, New Mexico. The CBP doesn’t have that ability, but the volume of their releases has been increasing, according to Mr. Garcia, from 115 last Thursday to 240 this Monday.

Those releases are “basically going to be restricted to El Paso,” he said in a press conference.

“I’m not sure exactly where Border Patrol is headed in terms of the releases,” he added. “I very much hope [it] does not have a political component to it.”

CBP did not respond to specific questions about their migrant releases by deadline.

It ‘feels like we are the target’

There have been other instances of political manipulation of the immigration bureaucracy, others believe.

Perhaps the most dramatic example was the housing of hundreds of migrants in an outdoor shelter under the Paso del Norte Bridge last week. CBP say they initially opened that camp to deal with the large increase in migrants. Another is “metering,” a policy that limits the flow of asylum claims processed at official ports of entry. Last summer, CBP officials expanded the practice to ports of entry in every border state, causing wait times to stretch for months and more migrants to cross illegally.

Xochitl Rodriguez, a community activist, says it sometimes “feels like we are the target, like they’re trying to break … the community down.”

She has been volunteering at migrant shelters, preparing food – usually pozole soup and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. If she’s lucky she gets one day’s notice of how much to prepare.

“I think we’ll never be so tired we can’t jump on it,” she says.

For other El Pasoans, the situation illustrates how much the immigration system has changed since they had to navigate it themselves.

Darlene Villagrana’s father entered the U.S. without documents and worked for more than a decade before the rest of his family joined him after President Ronald Reagan’s 1986 “amnesty” bill. Ms. Villagrana recently got married and paid $3,000 to bring her husband to the U.S. Earlier this week she was taking her infant son for a stroll in El Paso’s Memorial Park.

“I know they have problems, but ... I don’t think it’s fair,” she says. “They just come and they cross” immediately.

“It’s something I’m really struggling with,” she adds. “They think they can just come here. But everyone deserves a better life.”

shadow

3. Pete Buttigieg tried to revive South Bend by tearing down homes. Did it work?

Repair what’s there, or start over entirely are choices many Midwest cities are weighing. South Bend is considered a Rust Belt success story, but some minorities say Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s signature policy made it more difficult for them to share in that success.

Peter

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 7 Min. )

Mayor Pete Buttigieg – who is eyeing a Democratic presidential run – has received positive press for “transforming” South Bend, Indiana. The city has seen a revitalized downtown and a population that is growing after 50 years of decline. 

But a signature policy to address crumbling housing stock is not universally loved, and its evolution highlights Mr. Buttigieg’s willingness to adapt.

From 2013 to 2015, blocks of ramshackle houses turned into blocks of prairie. People were glad to have spruced-up properties and fewer eyesores. But the change also has critics. Community advocate Stacy Odom wants a focus on repairing homes and empowering people, to acknowledge the history that has led to African American poverty rates at nearly twice the national average. “They always want to come in and do something, instead of asking you: How can we do this together and create this together,” says Ms. Odom.

The mayor wasn’t happy, either.

“I’m not sure we got that completely right,” says Mr. Buttigieg in an interview.

This year, he announced an increase in grants for home repairs. City council member Regina Williams-Preston says, “You have to switch your lens as a leader, and that’s what I think Pete has been able to do.”

Collapse

Pete Buttigieg tried to revive South Bend by tearing down homes. Did it work?

Stepping over mounds of boxes and tools, Stacey Odom makes her way to a newly-painted white wall and stands in front of it, beaming.

“Fire-grade sheetrock, put it across the whole house,” she says, giving the drywall a knock.

Four years ago, Ms. Odom – a property manager and business owner – had never picked up a hammer. Now, after watching hundreds of YouTube videos, she is fixing up a home in the Monroe Park neighborhood of South Bend, Indiana.

She hopes it will be the first rehab of many. Ms. Odom is the founder of a new community development corporation, one designed to serve African American neighborhoods – but she almost lost the opportunity to rehab this house.

In 2015, shortly after she purchased the century-old home, the city slated it for demolition, as part of an ambitious program to clean up 1,000 blighted homes. Spearheaded by Mayor Pete Buttigieg, the initiative dramatically altered the city’s physical landscape, repairing homes but also leaving hundreds of vacant lots in its wake.

Ms. Odom is part of a group of community leaders looking to rewrite the script on housing redevelopment. She understands that the city needs to address blighted homes, but she also wants elected officials to focus on repairing homes and empowering people, to acknowledge the historical trends and patterns that have led South Bend to have African American poverty rates nearly twice the national average.

“If you would give [the community] the same opportunity that you do when you subsidize other people that have tons of money, if you give that little neighborhood association maybe $500,000, do you know what they would have the ability to do in that neighborhood?” Ms. Odom says.

Mayor Buttigieg – who is eyeing a Democratic presidential run and has seen his stock soar in recent weeks – has received a lot of positive press for “transforming” South Bend. During his tenure the city has experienced a revitalized downtown and a population that is growing after 50 years of decline. 

South Bend is considered a Rust Belt success story, but Ms. Odom and others in the community say the mayor’s signature policy made it more difficult for them to share in that success. The question of whether to rebuild or restart is something that many Midwest cities have grappled with, and the evolution of the program highlights not just the challenges but also Mr. Buttigieg’s willingness to listen and adapt.

Legacy cities like South Bend and Detroit are increasingly turning to demolition to address aging, crumbling housing stock. Some experts say that if cities don’t address these “hypervacant” neighborhoods, they can imperil the safety, finances, and character of the surrounding area.

That proved true in South Bend, says the mayor.

Richard Shiro/AP
South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg laughs before he speaks to a crowd about his presidential run during the Democratic monthly breakfast at the Circle of Friends Community Center in Greenville, South Carolina, March 23. Buttigieg was the longest of long shots when he announced a presidential exploratory committee in January, but now the underdog bid is gaining momentum.

“I think some neighborhoods gave up on the city because they assumed that we had control over this,” he says. “And so when they saw a house go for years and years without being addressed it felt like a signal, fairly or unfairly, that the city had kind of given up on that neighborhood.”

Most of the work occurred on the city’s west side, which is predominantly African American and Hispanic. The city’s policy was not to demolish any home that was currently being lived in. Though the city did renovate many homes, there was some pushback.

“They always want to come in and do something, instead of asking you: How can we do this together and create this together,” says Ms. Odom.

Kathy Schuth has seen the impact that collaboration can have.

“If you’re able to fix up and renovate a property and shine up what’s already there, it’s really seen as a greater sign of hope, of we’re worth something, this is worth saving, worth keeping and celebrating,” says Ms. Schuth, executive director of a local community development corporation on the city’s northwest side.

‘People could have lived in those houses’

By the time Mr. Buttigieg ran for mayor in 2011, the city’s once-thriving, dense urban core had been hollowed out, and city residents were growing “despondent” over the number of boarded-up homes. The housing program tried to improve that outlook.

From February 2013 to November 2015, the city repaired 433 properties, demolished 579 properties, and brought another 112 properties under its auspice for 1,122 total properties.

The effect was dramatic. Blocks of ramshackle homes turned into blocks of prairie, with the hardest hit blocks losing more than half their homes. People were glad to have spruced up homes and fewer eyesores, but the change also had critics.

“People say, ‘Why did you tear 1,000 houses down, people could have lived in those houses,’ ” says Judy Fox, director of Economic Justice Clinic at the Notre Dame Law Clinic. “They just don’t understand that people couldn’t have lived in these houses. These houses would’ve cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to make them habitable.”

Community advocates say the city was too aggressive with code enforcement, charging people thousands of dollars for fixing something they didn’t have the money to fix, and then threatening to demolish their home.

The mayor wasn’t happy with it, either.

“I’m not sure we got that completely right,” says Mr. Buttigieg. “If there’s one thing that I would encourage people to look at in the future, [it] is to really find a fair way to fine tune that enforcement because a lot of it almost inevitably falls to the discretion of the code enforcement personnel.”

One person at odds with code enforcement was Ms. Odom.

Timmy Broderick/The Christian Science Monitor
A derelict house is surrounded by vacant lots in South Bend, Indiana. From 2013 to 2015, the city repaired or demolished 1,000 homes as part of a housing program spearheaded by Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

Her financial situation meant she has fixed up her Monroe Park house one board at a time. She explained that to code enforcement officers, but they continued to insist that her house would be demolished.

The situation changed after she demonstrated her resolve to an officer by showing him a picture of her and her contractor fixing the roof. Suddenly, they started calling her a model homeowner and canceled the demolition. She was happy at the outcome, but the experience left a bad taste.

Ms. Fox says the resentment is understandable.

“You’ve got this sort of, ‘First you wouldn’t give us loans, then you give us bad loans, then we get foreclosed, then you come and tear our houses down that we can’t afford to live in.’ You can understand why they feel that way,” she says, tracing the history of housing discrimination toward African Americans.

For Regina Williams-Preston, who also had problems with code enforcement, this history is why homeownership is so important.

“The history and pride of owning property for, I know African Americans and my family, we moved up from another place, the Jim Crow South. Being able to kind of create this new frontier, it became, when the land was passed onto you, you don’t sell that. Like, now it’s your responsibility,” says Ms. Williams-Preston, a Common Council member who is running to replace Mr. Buttigieg.

The real value of property

This sense of pride and preserving history is integral to Odom Community Developers. The group serves two predominantly black neighborhoods, one of which has been Ms. Odom’s home for decades. Rehabbing these homes is a way to lift up her friends and neighbors.

“If you’re all not succeeding, your family isn’t going anywhere, and it’s the same way with the community,” she says. “If you just have one neighborhood that you’re putting everything into and you leave all the rest of these people out, you’re not succeeding.”

Earlier this year Mr. Buttigieg announced that the city would increase its spending to over $1 million for home repair, targeting west side home repairs in particular. It was an attempt to recognize the value of existing homes and homeowners.

“I don’t know if the accountants have figured out how to fully account for it, but the value of a property with a story and a context, especially when you add it up across many properties, it really matters,” he says.

Ms. Odom was one of several activists advocating for that increase in grants for home repairs. They originally requested $300,000. The mayor came back with $650,000.

Ms. Williams-Preston says that the mayor’s willingness to change was huge.

“You have to switch your lens as a leader and that’s what I think Pete has been able to do at this point. That healthy pressure, instead of running away from it, we convinced him to embrace it,” she says.

For Ms. Odom, the progress represents a trust in her and her community to know what they need best.

“You can have stipulations and stuff, everybody does, but give us the opportunity to be a community. Because when you got neighbors helping neighbors, neighborhood associations helping each other, then we can build together.”

shadow

4. In debt or struggling to save? Artificial intelligence can help.

As consumers struggle with credit card balances and meager savings, AI-powered apps offer new ways to take control of their finances. But some say this fresh handle on fiscal responsibility still needs a human touch.

Peter

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 5 Min. )

Many Americans struggle to manage their finances. One study finds that 4 in 10 Americans couldn’t handle an unexpected expense of $400. A new breed of money apps, powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and aiming to engage consumers’ attention when they need help the most, is trying to come to the rescue.

Olivia Moore, a young Chicago resident, was able to cut her $20,000 debt in half, in less than two years, with the help of an app called Tally. It helped her realize the impact of high credit card interest rates on her finances. But the apps come with limitations and some risks.

AI can’t do all things for all people. When an algorithm gives a nudge, after all, humans still make the final save-or-spend decisions. And some consumers worry about a loss of privacy or the risk of data breaches. Mary Wisniewski, an analyst with Bankrate who has tested out AI-powered savings apps, says she got tired of all the alerts and “a little paranoid about the sharing of data.”

Collapse

In debt or struggling to save? Artificial intelligence can help.

Olivia Moore of Chicago was $20,000 in debt when she downloaded Tally, a personal finance app designed to help customers pay off their credit cards. With Tally’s help, in less than two years she was able to cut her debt in half. Similarly, Callie Person of Florida turned to an app called Charlie, and in less than a year, she was able to set aside $1,500 in savings.

In a nation challenged not just by debt and tight incomes but also by shortfalls in financial literacy, those are significant victories.

And these apps have a distinctive feature: Tally and Charlie are early examples of deploying artificial intelligence, or AI, to assist with personal finance.

It’s a way for time-strapped consumers to get some nudges – based in part on data about their own past behavior – to align their small daily decisions with longer-term goals. But as with so many technologies, these uses of AI also come with caveats. This early phase of AI-empowered apps may be revealing cautionary lessons that coexist with their emerging promise.

“Technology can do a lot of good things to help people with their finances – especially to assess, to measure and track, to offer curated learning resources, and to nudge and remind,” says Cynthia Meyer, resident financial planner at Financial Finesse, a financial education program. ”But it can’t be empathetic, be a compassionate witness to someone’s struggles or worries, brainstorm in the moment, or offer a nuanced perspective or find the ‘question behind the question’ like a human financial planner can.”

For many people, including 20-somethings like Ms. Moore and Ms. Person, it appears that the caveats don’t outweigh the convenience.

“It doesn’t feel weird or out of the ordinary” to be letting an app like Tally access personal data, says Ms. Moore in Chicago. “I’m a young millennial and have grown up with all forms of technology, including AI. ... I understand that to receive a certain level of service, you have to give a certain amount of information, and I’m OK with that.”

And for her, the benefits were visible. Tally issues users a line of credit, enabling the app to make credit card payments for them and then charge a lower interest rate. It also served as a caution flag on debt, in a way that credit card statements hadn’t done for Ms. Moore in the past. “Tally reminded me that those rates are very real and are very, very high.”

A big need for financial help

Although millions of consumers now use AI-based finance apps, the apps still lag behind more traditional online financial tools. But proponents see reasons for growth.

These apps are empowering because they show consumers in user-friendly ways how to save money or pay off debt, says Carla Dearing, CEO of online financial wellness service SUM180.

“It’s important to recognize that customers who use banking apps leveraging AI typically have a much higher level of engagement than standalone apps,” says Jody Bhagat, president of Americas at the company Personetics, a provider of AI tools. 

And they’re dawning at a time of need.

Most Americans struggle to manage their finances. According to a 2018 Bankrate survey, 20% of Americans aren’t saving any money. Four in 10 Americans couldn’t handle an unexpected expense of $400, according to a 2018 Federal Reserve study

Courtesy of Charlie
Screenshots of Charlie in action. The app analyzes daily transactions, so if a user spends more than usual on groceries or take-out, the app flags it. The idea is to give people actionable advice in the moment.

 

“The big picture is Americans don’t like to manage their finances,” says Thomas Smyth, CEO of Trim, an app that analyzes the consumer’s banking and credit accounts to find subscriptions and recurring payments, and then gives the option of canceling them.

“The thing about saving and projecting finances is it’s a hard and an embarrassing conversation to have,” says Brian Wolfe, assistant professor of finance in the University at Buffalo School of Management. It might be easier to interact with a robot than to look a financial planner in the eye and feel like you’re being judged, he says.

The limits of AI tools

Still, many financial experts warn that the AI tools each tend to tackle just one challenge, rather than deliver a detailed or individualized long-term financial plan.

Without a financial adviser, says Ms. Dearing at SUM180, it’s difficult to address some of the more complicated issues such as emotional spending or couples with different spending habits. And if you’re facing eviction or drowning in college loans or credit card debt, an app probably isn’t your answer.

Another challenge: When the AI talks, will consumers listen?

“Sometimes we override apps,” says Bryan Routledge, a finance expert at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business in Pittsburgh. When your Fitbit nudges you to walk, some people just take it off. Similarly, some people will ignore a finance app telling them they’ve already spent their discretionary budget for the month, especially if they’ve just pulled up at Target with a kid who needs a new pair of sneakers.

Is it safe?

The biggest issue might be the amount of financial information you need to disclose to use the apps, says Professor Wolfe in Buffalo. Nearly nine in 10 U.S. banking consumers said they’re concerned about data privacy and data sharing, according to a 2018 report from The Clearing House.

Mary Wisniewski, an analyst with Bankrate, tests out AI-powered savings apps daily but, so far, none are part of her day-to-day life. “I got a little paranoid about the sharing of data,” she admits. Also, the apps don’t fit her money management personality, which she describes as hands-off. She grew tired of receiving “all sort of alerts.”

AI executives are fully aware that consumers are nervous, and that a security breach could be a company-ending event. The app companies quoted in this article say they never sell user data, don’t allow advertisers to use data for targeting, and keep the data securely encrypted.

In the end, financial experts say sometimes old technology still has its value, such as the way traditional banking apps can give an automated reminder when your balance is low.

“For consumers the smartest thing they can do is to use direct deposit to save 10 to 15% of your paycheck and have it go automatically into a saving account,” says Mark Schwanhausser, director of digital banking at the advisory firm Javelin Strategy & Research.

But many experts also say that integrating an AI-powered app with a financial coach or planner could be a powerful combination, as long as you understand how to use the technology and have a basic level of financial literacy.

Consumers don’t always understand what the app is telling them to do, says Annamaria Lusardi, founder and academic director of the Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. “You need proper knowledge to make this tool work for you,” she says.

Even Callie Person, who saved $1,500 by using Charlie, warns against relying solely on technology. “Charlie is not a replacement tool for sitting down, creating a budget, and having important conversations about finances with your partner,” she says. She calls it an aide “to help get you on the right track to managing your finances.”

shadow

5. Bolder than beautiful: ‘Our Planet’ aims to change minds

Traditionally, nature shows offer a soothing escape into the beauty of the natural world. But with ‘Our Planet,’ the creators aim to bring new layers of honesty and environmental responsibility to the genre.

Peter
Jamie McPherson/Silverback/Netflix
In the new series ‘Our Planet,’ producers counterpoint gorgeous shots of the natural world and animal behavior with information about the threats to those ecosystems from climate change, deforestation, and other human activity.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 4 Min. )

For decades, the velvety lilt of David Attenborough has served as a soothing backdrop to nature documentaries. But Mr. Attenborough’s latest project isn’t your average nature show.

“Our Planet,” which begins airing Friday on Netflix, has plenty of jaw-dropping imagery, from humpback whales bubble-net feeding to flamingos flocking to a desolate salt pan after a rain. But those shots are couched in a narrative that underscores just how much humans are destroying the Earth. In the past, there’s been a divide between nature shows that highlight the wonders of the animal kingdom and documentaries with a more activist agenda. “Our Planet” aims to bridge those two worlds.

That’s a welcome change for many environmentalists. James Balog, a photographer who focuses on the relationship between humans and nature, worries that the use of nature images as “eye candy” has fostered a “happy romantic fiction” when in actuality the “situation is dire, and the need is urgent for eyes wide open and all hands on deck.”

The “Our Planet” creators try to straddle that divide.

“The series – I hope people will love it,” says co-producer Keith Scholey. “But it’s not all entertainment. It has a reason to be there.”

Collapse

Bolder than beautiful: ‘Our Planet’ aims to change minds

Colorful reefs, a tiger stalking through the grass, and David Attenborough’s soothing voice: The opening scenes of the new documentary “Our Planet,” which begins airing on Netflix Friday, feel very familiar.

But the message accompanying those opening shots isn’t about the visual splendor on screen.

“For generations, this stable Eden nurtured our growing civilizations,” narrates Mr. Attenborough. “But now, in the space of just one human lifetime, all that has changed. In the last 50 years, wildlife populations have on average declined by 60%. For the first time in human history, the stability of nature can no longer be taken for granted.”

There’s been a certain divide in the past between nature shows that are primarily about delighting viewers with the wonders of the animal kingdom, and documentaries with a more activist agenda. The Our Planet” creators are hoping to bridge those two worlds – and some environmentalists and documentary producers are hoping that the days of pure natural beauty, divorced from the context of the threats to those ecosystems, are ending.

Sophie Lanfear/Silverback/Netflix
‘Our Planet’ explores the ways in which gentoo penguins are adapting to their changing environment – while highlighting how those shifts are creating challenges for other species in the region.

“I’ve had a deep problem for decades with the eye-candy version of nature imagery,” says James Balog, a photographer whose work has focused on the relationship between humans and nature. “It’s created this happy romantic fiction that there’s this wonderful Eden where everything is beautiful and everybody is frolicking around doing what they do in the nonhuman world of nature. ... The situation is dire, and the need is urgent for eyes wide open and all hands on deck.”

The “Our Planet” creators try to straddle that divide.

“We were determined that this time it had to be a series about our time. And we’re seeing the degradation of nature really accelerating in the last 10 years,” says Keith Scholey, who co-produced the series with Alastair Fothergill (both are Silverback directors). “The series – I hope people will love it,” he says. “But it’s not all entertainment. It has a reason to be there.”

There is still plenty of jaw-dropping imagery, from humpback whales bubble-net feeding to flamingos flocking to a desolate salt pan after a rain. But those shots are couched in a narrative that underscores just how much humans are destroying the Earth.

A riveting orangutan sequence ends with the note that this could be the last generation of wild orangutans as their jungle habitat disappears. And a devastating scene of more than 100,000 walruses hauled up on a single beach, overcrowded due to lack of sea ice, shows walruses plunging to their death from cliffs that they should never have had to scale.

Steve Benjamin/Silverback/Netflix
A Humpback whale feeds off Cape Town in November. Humpback whale numbers have recovered since the ban on commercial whaling, but global warming is now reducing krill, their main food supply.

A sequence like the courtship ritual of a bird of paradise has “got that absolute pure wonder,” says Colin Butfield, the conservation adviser to “Our Planet” from the World Wildlife Fund. But it also “brings home the fact that each patch of tropical forest contains wonders in many cases that are seen nowhere else, so the loss of that particular area has importance,” he adds.

From the beginning, Mr. Butfield notes, the “Our Planet” creators aimed to discuss threats to the natural world in a more overt way than previous large-scale productions have. They hope that they can appeal to a broad audience by balancing discomfort and outrage with hope and beauty.

That shift has been happening for some time, says Lisa Samford, executive director of Jackson Hole WILD, which sponsors a yearly wildlife film festival. “It’s no longer enough to entertain and inform,” Ms. Samford says. “At the very least, media really has to serve as the connective tissue between viewers and the world around them. That’s what consumers are demanding.”

Of course, there are still plenty of questions about just how much change such productions do inspire. Mr. Butfield says he hopes the show elevates the importance of biodiversity, climate change, and sustainability just as the United Nations is getting ready to revisit big international goals for all three topics in 2020.

Paul Stewart/Silverback/Netflix
A tree frog ponders his next move in the rain in Manu National Park, Peru. The Peruvian park is home to more than 150 amphibian species. The greater Amazon rainforest is home to more than 1,000 different kinds of frogs, and new ones are still being discovered.

Louie Psihoyos, who made “Racing Extinction” and the Oscar-winning documentary “The Cove,” about dolphin-hunting practices in Japan, notes that storytelling is very often the most effective way to drive change. In his films, he focuses on narrative arc that first engages viewers, then outrages them, then shows them a path forward and gives cause for hope and reason to change.

“You can keep on chasing these smaller and smaller oases of true wild nature and give the illusion that everything is wonderful and Disneyland,” says Mr. Psihoyos. “But the truth is, it’s disappearing. Unless you address that, you’re doing a great disservice to the things you’re trying to protect.”

shadow

The Monitor's View

The force of peace in Algeria’s protests

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 3 Min. )

Since February, millions of pro-democracy protesters in Algeria have been purposefully peaceful, even joyful, in the streets. Their main chant is silmiya, silmiya (peaceful, peaceful). With a message of nonviolence, they aim to persuade the military to stop dictating who rules Algeria by the mere force of arms.

The size of the weekly demonstrations has shocked the army’s top brass. Since 1962 the military has picked or approved the nation’s rulers. This week, its powerful chief, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Gaïd Salah, was forced to bow to the protesters. He ousted the longtime president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Now, however, the army may be maneuvering to use a sheen of democracy to select a military-friendly successor as president. The protesters are offering an alternative, using values as “weapons” – values that are also the rock of democratic governance.

Algeria’s protesters still have a long way to go to overthrow what they call Le Pouvoir – “The Power” – the military-led elite that feels entitled to rule. Even criticizing the army is dangerous. Yet good ideas have been let loose by the protests. The army has already made one surprise retreat. A peace offensive could still win.

Collapse

The force of peace in Algeria’s protests

An iconic image of the 1960s shows a young American placing flowers in the barrels of soldiers’ rifles during protests against the Vietnam War. Such symbols of peace (“flower power”) helped turn events. Something like that is now happening in Algeria.

Since February, millions of pro-democracy protesters in the North African country have been purposefully peaceful, even joyful, in the streets. Their main chant is silmiya, silmiya (peaceful, peaceful). With a message of nonviolence, they aim to persuade the military to stop dictating who rules Algeria by the mere force of arms.

The size of the weekly demonstrations has shocked the army’s top brass. Since 1962 the military has picked or approved the nation’s rulers. This week, its powerful chief, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Gaïd Salah, was forced to bow to the protesters. He ousted the longtime president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Now, however, the army may be maneuvering to use a sheen of democracy to select a military-friendly successor as president.

The protesters have learned well from the 2011 Arab Spring as well as their own country’s long history of mass political killing. They know how easily generals can foment violence or use an instance of violence to claim only they can ensure order and, by the nature of military discipline, bring stable rule.

The protesters are offering an alternative, using values as “weapons” – values that are also the rock of democratic governance.

By sheer numbers alone, the protesters display a political legitimacy that counters the military’s claim to legitimacy for its role in the war for independence from France – six decades ago. Half of Algeria’s 40 million people are under 30. They are more aware of how neighboring Tunisia has returned its military to the barracks since 2011.

The protesters are also far more inclusive and representative of society, bringing out the old and young, men and women, and people across tribes and clans nationwide. In their show of equality and a nearly leaderless organization, they make a point about basic liberty and rights.

In essence, the protests are redefining Algeria’s national identity through a hirak, the Arabic word for movement. Even Islamist parties have been forced to bend to this desire for democracy.

The world has taken notice of these tactics. United Nations Secretary General António Guterres, for example, praised what he called “the mature and calm nature in which the Algerian people have been expressing their desire for change.”

For nearly 70 years, the Arab world’s 360 million people have been stuck in a power dynamic between strong rulers and authoritarian Islamists. Each needed the other to draw support. This left little space for true democrats. The largely failed Arab Spring revealed the difficulty of liberating the region from dictators, many of whom only mimic democracy.

Algeria’s protesters still have a long way to go to overthrow what they call Le Pouvoir – “The Power” – the military-led elite that feels entitled to rule. Even criticizing the army is dangerous. Yet good ideas have been let loose by the protests. The army has already made one surprise retreat. A peace offensive could still win.

shadow

A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

A healing for Wrigley

  • Quick Read
  • Read or Listen ( 3 Min. )

When her dog suddenly became incapacitated, today’s contributor turned to God with her whole heart. What followed was a tangible sense of the all-encompassing goodness God expresses in His creation, and the dog was completely healed.

Collapse

A healing for Wrigley

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
Loading the player...

Our family raises guiding-eye puppies for an organization in our region. Last year our very first puppy, Wrigley, was retired from service and returned to us. We were thrilled to have him back!

But shortly after he came home, he woke one morning and could not use his hind legs. We were told that this condition was related to why he had been retired and that episodes such as this would not last long each time. But the condition did not improve, and the next day he became increasingly incapacitated.

I took Wrigley, who was still under the watch of the guiding-eye organization, to the local vet’s office. But as loving and supportive as the vets were, they had no idea what was wrong or how to help him. On the way home, I remember telling Wrigley, through tears, that he had come home to be healed, not to die. And I meant it.

Throughout many life experiences, I had learned that God is indeed “a very present help in trouble” (Psalms 46:1). And I turned to Him now with my whole heart.

I hung on to the idea that God is the sole creator. In the Bible, the book of John tells us, “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made” (1:3). And not only that, the Scriptures indicate that He made everything “very good” (Genesis 1:31). “Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896” by Mary Baker Eddy further explains: “Immortal Mind is God, immortal good; in whom the Scripture saith ‘we live, and move, and have our being.’ This Mind, then, is not subject to growth, change, or diminution, but is the divine intelligence, or Principle, of all real being...” (pp. 82-83).

What a promise! No matter what picture a physical body may present, the divine Mind – another name for God, immortal good – is in reality holding His entire creation safe, forever. This Mind can’t be diminished, being eternal. And because it has created “all real being,” its creation can’t diminish or deteriorate, either.

I thought about that in regard to Wrigley. God, good, could not create anything unlike His own perfect nature, so as God’s creation, Wrigley had to be spiritual, without blemish, without sickness.

When we turn to God for help, we are led to a higher and better understanding of spiritual reality, which opens the way for healing. This was the case here. As I pondered God’s complete, entirely good, spiritual creation, I felt my thought shift. I turned away from my concern about Wrigley and looked out over the porch railing at the stars in the night sky. I thought of the ways I’d seen evidence of God’s stable, harmonious, and beautiful creation expressed in my neighborhood, the town, the country, the world.

Something inside me said that this was not just about Wrigley. Rather, it was an opportunity to see and acknowledge God, divine Love, as filling all space, knowing all things, possessing all power, and imparting only good throughout His creation. There is no room in this creation for anything unlike God. Infinite Love dispels any possibility of discord.

In that moment I felt nothing but God’s love, holding all in perfect peace. I saw and felt the presence of my – and everyone’s – divine Father-Mother. I glimpsed God’s allness, God’s perfection, God’s completeness, which is expressed throughout His creation.

I clung to that feeling of beauty and wonder, which felt to me like a taste of heaven. I kissed Wrigley on the head and went to bed, completely confident that God was in charge and all were in His care.

The next morning, Wrigley awoke, bounded out of bed, and begged for breakfast – completely free. And he has remained so since then.

My family and I are so grateful. But I am even more grateful for that feeling of being caught up in that moment with God, divine Love, Himself. It was a glimpse that God is the true creator and that all He has made is indeed “very good.”

shadow

Viewfinder

Baywatch

Stephane Mahe/Reuters
French police patrol on the beach during a meeting of the foreign ministers of Group of Seven leading industrial nations in Dinard, France, April 5.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )
shadow

In Our Next Issue

( April 8th, 2019 )

Come back Monday. We’ll have a story on a key reason why Brexit is a mess: Both Tories and the Labour Party can’t help but put party over country.

Monitor Daily Podcast

April 05, 2019
Loading the player...

More issues

2019
April
05
Friday

Give us your feedback

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

 
of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.