Just Before Mardi Gras

The planes coming into and leaving New Orleans are all filled. Party-goers from “your” city are arriving for the five-day parade season, today–Friday–through Tuesday, Mardi Gras Day. And many locals are taking the long weekend as a great time to go skiing or visit relatives–or just leave town, period.

I say “your” city, because the untold thousands of partiers jamming the streets along parade routes and filling the bars on Bourbon Street tend not to be locals but out-of-town visitors. The reason I point this out is as a gentle reminder for residents of New Hampshire (and “your” state) who slam New Orleans as sin-capital because of Mardi Gras. If the folks in your town would stay home, we’d have to shut ‘er down.

Why New Hampshire?

Several years ago when I was pastoring FBC of Kenner, across the street from the New Orleans Airport, I ran up to the church on Mardi Gras day to get some work done in the quiet. The phone rang. Some salesman of church supplies from New Hampshire was asking for Jim Lancaster, our associate pastor. I told him Jim wasn’t in, that it was a holiday here and the offices were closed. Long silence. What holiday, he wanted to know. “Mardi Gras,” I said.

The poor man almost had a stroke. “You’re telling me that a church of the Lord Jesus Christ closes down its operations and observes that ungodly holiday?” I said, “Sir, the entire area is shut down. Streets are clogged. It’s hard to go anywhere. So we give our people the day off. Most spend it with the family, some go out of town, and some are down in the French Quarter witnessing on the streets.”

That still did not satisfy him. Finally, I said, “Sir, the people down here doing the worst partying are from your town in New Hampshire. If they would stay home, we could cancel the holiday.”

This humorless individual never did get the point. If I were a betting person, I’d wager he has repeated our conversation ever since as evidence of the low level of Christianity in this city. No doubt when Katrina hit, he added that to his routine, convinced beyond doubt that the hurricane was God’s judgment on New Orleans.

Me, I’m headed for North Alabama first thing Saturday morning. Some of my siblings are meeting me for lunch at Nicki’s Restaurant just off Finley Avenue in Birmingham. Then, as is my custom when time permits, I’ll spend an hour in Reed’s used bookstore on 20th Street South before heading 60 miles northwest to spend the weekend with my parents on the family farm.

Mom will be 91 this July, and Dad turns 95 on April 13. But before that, on March 3, they will observe their 73rd wedding anniversary. It had better be 73 because their number one son Ronald J. turns 72 this August 16th. Glenn Dale turns 71 the day before. The rest of us–Patricia Ann, Carolyn Sue, and me–bring up the rear. Poor Mom–she gave birth to seven children in a nine year span, from 1935 to 1944. Pioneer stock, believe you me. When I asked her once if having all these “old” children made her feel old, she said, “No, it’s not my problem.”

I’ll be returning home on Monday and resting up from all that driving on Mardi Gras day while our offices are closed. On Wednesday morning, I’ll have my usual 9 am meeting with several young pastors, followed by the weekly 10 am pastors meeting (you’re invited) at our Baptist Building at 2222 Lakeshore Drive, just off Elysian Fields at the lake.

Greg Hand and the Vieux Carre’ Baptist Church, one block over from Bourbon Street in the French Quarter, are hosting an out-of-town church group this weekend, here to witness on the streets with the revelers.

In case anyone thinks that people who come here to party cannot be won to Christ, in a recent Wednesday meeting of our pastors, we went around the room expressing our views on Mardi Gras and made a discovery. Both Pastor Thomas Glover and Pastor Oscar Williams were saved on Mardi Gras day. It can happen. We appreciate so much those who brave the cold and the crowds and come here at their own expense to share the faith.

The news Friday morning was the nine shootings overnight. Two dead. We continue to need lots of prayer from our friends everywhere. And lots of policing from both the NOPD and the Louisiana National Guard.

Couple of fascinating events coming up….

“The Future of Atheism” is the title of a two-day dialogue to be held at our seminary (3939 Gentilly Boulevard) on February 23 and 24. Alister McGrath of Oxford University and Daniel Dennett of Tufts University will be the primary speakers. Other presenters include William Lane Craig of the Talbot School of Theology, Keith Parsons of the University of Houston, Hugh McCann of Texas A&M, and Meera Nanda of the John Templeton Foundation. For more information, contact Dr. Robert Stewart at our seminary: rstewart@nobts.edu or 504/282-4455, ext. 3245.

Previous similar sessions at our seminary have plowed new ground as far as Southern Baptists are concerned, as speakers on different sides of some hot issues present their views in a gracious setting. What a great opportunity for seminary students and pastors to sit in on these dialogues. I guarantee you, pastors, you will go away with sermon fodder–and food for thought–for a long time to come.

Liz Curtis Higgs is coming to the FBC of New Orleans March 9 and 10 for a women’s conference called “Embrace Grace!” Higgs is a hilarious speaker and the impressive author of “Bad Girls of the Bible” and some other books. The schedule is Friday night from 7 to 9, and Saturday from 8:30 to 2:30. Lisa Pierre of the Women of Faith Praise Team will lead the worship sessions. The conference costs $35. Contact Judy Jackson for details. Her e-mail is jjackson@mindspring.com. This event is well worth the time, cost, and effort of churches in our part of the world organizing their ladies and busing them here.

Have a great weekend. I’m gone.

3 thoughts on “Just Before Mardi Gras

  1. Joe: your folks will be blessed to be lead by Liz Curtis Higgs…one of my favorite Christian speakers and authors. We got to know her when we were in Louisville…and have loved her ability to communicate the Gospel with humor, always emphasizing God’s grace.

    I continue to pray for you…that God will give you Wisdom, grace and Peace. When you get the urge, come on up to North Carolina, but you might want to wait until after March Madness. Nothing like your Mardi Gras…but crazy to spend so much time and money focused on an orange bouncing ball!



  2. Joe,

    What an awesome experience to enjoy your parents 73rd wedding anniversary! I hope you had a great weekend. About your comments concerning NH – it’s amazing what people think when they don’t know the heartbeat of a city that hungers for something more than revelry will bring. Hopefully someone informed this man of the fact that Katrina was a chance for Southern Baptists (and other Christian groups) to show the love of Christ in a real and tangible way and to prove that God has not forgotten nor abandoned the city. You have been great for New Orleans Baptist work and more importantly kingdom work in this time of history. I count it a blessing to have been a team member with you at First Kenner. Eleven years ago you showed my family and I great grace as I went through some very difficult days. I have never forgotten that – nor will I ever. Joe, thanks for being you. Keep blessing folks.

    One of your “Timothys” in ministry,


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