Monday, February 27, 2006

Mardi Gras, Carnival, and Christianity

People who don't live in New Orleans have a lot of misconceptions about Mardi Gras and Carnival. The stereotype is that it's a pornographic display of public nudity and drunkenness. Church groups even send "evangelists" to try to convert the revelers.

We saw a couple guys dragging large crosses mounted on wheels on Bourbon Street. One of the observants of this protest called it right: "Jesus didn't have wheels."

My Roman Catholic mother-in-law is in town for a visit, and we took her to Mass at St. Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter. There were a group of dour sign-bearing protestors trying to convince people that Jesus doesn't approve of the merry-making. The funny thing is, the protestors were standing outside the cathedral where the Mass was to begin in five minutes. I invited some of the stony-faced "Christians" to come into the cathedral and actually meet Jesus. Nobody took me up on the offer. Maybe they distrusted me, a "fool for Christ" in my silly hat and beads...

Anyway, Mardi Gras is a religious festival - French for "Fat Tuesday," signifying the last day of feasting before Lent begins the next day on Ash Wednesday. It is elsewhere called "Shrove Tuesday." It is a time of joy and feasting - a time to "get it out of your system" before the season of self-examination, self-discipline, and mortification of the flesh of the six-week Lenten season prior to Easter. Carnival ("farewell to flesh") refers to the several weeks between Epiphany (January 6) and Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras is the pinnacle of the Carnival season.

So, our misguided Christian brethren don't get it. Perhaps they are unfamiliar with the Church's ancient traditions and calendar. But as Scripture tells us "to everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven" (Ecclesiastes 3:1ff) there is a time for joy and celebration, as well as a time for introspection and self-examination. Carnival and Mardi Gras are times for the former, and we will indeed participate in the latter, long after they have packed away their signs and loaded their wheeled crosses into the attic.

Indeed, if you're looking for sinners, you can find them everywhere (in fact, the very best place is our own mirrors!). If you're seeking out those who abuse times of joy and warp them into self-destructive and sinful behavior, you can sure find it - whether on Bourbon Street in New Orleans or Rural Road 1 in any corn town in the midwest. Most of the time, people who carry signs and bullhorns are looking for attention.

And attention is hard to get during Carnival! I guess that's why they try to be just as garish as the rest of us who are enjoying ourselves. But truly calling folks to repentence just isn't dramatic and theatrical

Maybe the protestors ought to leave that to us "fools for Christ" who wear the black robe and white collar. We'll be here during Lent when they are long gone. We'll also be here for Easter when we celebrate the resurrection anew, and the joie de vivre (joy of life) will return again to New Orleans and the world

Meanwhile, check out this article by Angus Lind, a reporter who "get's it," from today's Times Picayune.

So for now, "Throw me somethin' mistah!" and let the good times roll!

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