They’re Having This Party In My City

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The folks from Mobile will tell you that Mardi Gras did not originate in New Orleans, but as soon as the locals found it the perfect excuse for a prolonged party, they took it over. I’ve sometimes told people that New Orleans and Heaven have several things in common, with “loving a good party” coming toward the top of the list.

Actually, most of the citizens of metro New Orleans have a love-hate affair with this holiday. A surprisingly large number hate it and go to Breckinridge, Colorado, for a skiing vacation at this time. They tell me it’s “New Orleans west” out there right now. And others leave town for the beach or grandma’s to avoid the congestion. But, to be fair, a lot of the locals love it. They take the kiddies and line Veterans Highway in Metairie or St. Charles Avenue in uptown New Orleans and catch beads and other throws from the floats. They overflow the Quarter and Canal Street, they wear all kinds of masks and disguises, and they do things they would not want anyone back at home to know about.


Riding a float is a funny thing. The rider has to purchase all his own throws. Everything he or she flings into the crowd has been purchased with his own hard-earned funds. The average, I’m told, is $1,000 per rider. As a rider throwing away your good money, you wear a costume and a mask so no one even knows whom to thank. At the end of the route, you climb down and get in your car and go home.

The people catching the throws fight over them. Some of the necklaces are fairly nifty and would cost you, oh, perhaps fifty cents each in one of the ubiquitous Mardi-Gras-supply stores that pop up for the season. Most of the strings of beads go for a couple of pennies each. At the end of the evening, you gather your treasures into a grocery bag and get in the car and drive home. You dump them out on the dining room table and stare at them for a day or two, then put them away and try to keep down the nagging questions–like what am I going to do with this, why did I want them anyway, and what was the point of all this in the first place.

An insurance agent was telling his story in the newspaper the other morning. He said a divorce court judge convinced him to give up on Mardi Gras. When his wife found out he was riding a float and throwing away good money, she figured that if he had money to toss to strangers, he could increase her alimony. Her lawyer pulled him back before the judge. To his utter surprise, the judge ruled that life in New Orleans requires that its citizens participate in Mardi Gras, that it’s perfectly normal and not extravagant at all, and the money was well spent, and he threw the case out. That’s when the agent said the foolishness of the whole thing hit him. Ever since, he has hopped a Southwest Airlines flight and left town for somewhere. Anywhere.

They call today–as I write this–Lundi Gras, meaning “fat Monday.” Parades go on all over the area today, tonight, and of course tomorrow. The radio newscasts at the top of the hour are mainly about the parades, whether it’s going to rain, who’s king and queen of this krewe. Then, they “take you live” to the French Quarter where the announcer is bellowing into the microphone in order to be heard about the din of the crown. “It’s wild here in the Quarter,” he calls out. “We’re on the balcony of the Royal Sonesta Hotel overlooking Bourbon Street. It’s wall-to-wall people, back to back partying, and everyone is having fun–drinking and laughing and partying and getting naked.” Yep, that’s what he said.

That sure sounds like my idea of fun. Yessiree.

Not.

In fact, living in this city since 1990, I’ve met a lot of people who rue the years they wasted with this kind of foolishness. One said, “I spent money I did not have to impress people I did not know, doing things I knew were wrong. I almost ruined my health, lost my family, and damned my soul.” Another said, “You wake up with a headache, a hangover, and an emptiness inside the size of Montana–and I would say to myself, ‘There has to be more to life than this.'”

So many of the party people remind me of the fellow who when he found out he was lost doubled his speed. By drinking more, spending more, indulging more, maybe they’ll find what they’re looking for that way. But they never do.

It all reminds me of a wonderful line from “The Wiz.” My wife and I witnessed this delightful adaptation of “The Wizard of Oz” a few years back on a hillside in Richmond, Virginia, along with 7,000 other picnickers. Until that time, I had never seen the original Judy Garland story, so I enjoyed this freshly, somewhat as a child would, I imagine.

The best line in the play went to the cowardly lion. The tin man is explaining that he used to be a regular lumberjack but he got hold of an enchanted ax, one somebody had put a spell on, and as he was splitting wood, it slipped and cut off the first leg. “So I got me one of tin,” he said. Then it slipped and cut off his other leg. “I got me another leg of tin.” Then the ax cut off his arm, and he got an arm of tin. And so on. Finally, the lion says, “Man, did you at any time think of getting you another ax?”

I’d like to ask my neighbors who live to party–and the myriads from your city who fly in for the “fun”–did you at any time think of getting you another ax? The one you’re cutting with is destroying you. It takes all your resources to mend the damage it’s causing. Eventually, it’s going to destroy you and my guess is it’s already hurting a lot of people you love.

Drugs. Alcohol. Destructive people. Ungodly living. Greed. Chasing the almighty dollar. All enchanted axes destroying the one weilding them.

At one point in the play the cowardly lion asks, “What good’s a brain, and what good’s a heart, if you ain’t got no courage?”

It takes courage to quit something destructive. Courage, you remember, is doing the right thing against great odds in the presence of great fear.

You might have to do what the insurance agent does and get out of town.

9 thoughts on “They’re Having This Party In My City

  1. My husband (a minister)has been telling our folks for years that this is one holiday that Christians have no business celebrating and to stay away from it. It is amazing how many say it is just “harmless fun”! There has never been a time when “sin” was harmless. Thank you for your stand on this issue.

  2. Brother Joe, Thank you for your stand concerning Mardi Gras. As usual, very eloquently put! It is one of those “holidays” since I was saved, that I’d rather avoid all together. It reminds me too much of all that my life was before salvation! Why would I want to go back there?! May the Lord continue to use you and bless you.

  3. As a redneck from Kentucky that stumbled upon a relationship with a Cajun from New Orleans, I found out quickly what the environment does to a good man and a good family. As I got to know his family and I visited several times with them, I realized it was not a place conducive to family life. And they were good, loving people. They just ALL got caught up in the environment in which they lived. The alcohol, the drugs, the promiscuity, beautiful teenage girls with a life ahead of them, pregnant etc. Needless to say, the relationship did not last long, but oh how I wanted to help him find a better way. He just didn’t want it. I was lucky (if that’s what one would call it) to visit during Mardis Gras and ride a float. Now that is an experience for an ol’redneck from Kentucky. Quite an experience. I can say, I’m glad I did it for the experience but I have NO desire to ever do it again. I love that family, I still keep in touch but i know they are lost and I have no hope that they can be found.

  4. I wish all Baptists could read this article. Many of them go to the parade in our area because they think it’s fun. I agree with you…what’s fun about it! I, too, think Mardi Gras should be avoided. I’m praying for you each day as you go through the treatments.

  5. AN ADDENDUM FROM JOE MCKEEVER–

    I had so much more I wanted to say on this subject, but the article was already long enough.

    If you do not know about “Joe Pix,” you’ll be interested in knowing that this is a creative evangelistic strategy that goes on during Mardi Gras (as well as in other cities for various events like Super Bowls, Rose Bowl parades, etc.). A group of trained people from our churches go into the crowds during the parades and using a digital camera, take group shots. They the “shooter” hands them small cards with a number on it. When they return home, they can go to the website (JoePix.com) and type in their number and print out their photo. While there, they may look around the website and find out who these people are who took their photo. That’s when they encounter the gospel message. Invariably, between 60 and 80% of the people will retrieve their photos and a high percentage will read the Christian witness. Every year, we get information on a number who pray to receive Christ as Savior through this ministry.

    Our people like it because it’s a way they can get into the Mardi Gras culture and bear a witness for Christ without confrontation.

    ONE MORE THING….

    I keep remembering the time three or four years ago when I was in the church office (First Baptist Kenner, across from the New Orleans airport, where I pastored 1990-2004) on Mardi Gras and the phone rang. A religious supplies salesman from New Hampshire wanted to speak to our associate pastor. I told him Jim was not in the office, that actually we were closed for the holiday. “What holiday?” he asked. When I said, “Mardi Gras,” he reacted.

    “Do you mean to tell me your church closes for that ungodly event?”

    I said, “Sir, the whole city shuts down, it’s hard to get across town because of the traffic, and so for most of us, it’s just an off day and a chance to be with the family.”

    That did not satisfy him. He felt he had to preach me a sermon on the ungodliness of Mardi Gras and how Christians need to be opposing it in all its manifestations. For a moment there, I resented the man’s attitude so much, I almost found myself defending Mardi Gras.

    I said, “Sir, the sins you will find down in the French Quarter today are the same ones you will find in Concord or Manchester, New Hampshire. They are just more open about it, and it’s more concentrated.”

    I ended the conversation with this. “The fact is sir, that the people in the Quarter today carrying on are not your local people for the most part. They are from New Hampshire and they are acting the fool because they think they can get by with it.”

    If you doubt that they are out-of-towners, be at the New Orleans airport tomorrow morning and count the hordes descending on the place, trying to get home.

    MY ONE FEAR IN WRITING THIS ARTICLE is I did not want to come across as too negative. You recall the old line that a puritan is someone who lies awake at night worrying that someone, somewhere in the world is having fun. And we Christians get accused of that. But as I said in the lead paragraph, Heaven enjoys a good party. But the emphasis is on “good.” The kind that truly satisfies, that delivers what it promises, and leaves you on a high that lasts.

    I’m always interested in what you think and read these comments from you faithfully, even when you disagree with what I said.

    Joe McKeever

  6. Hey Joe,

    I cannot imagine the Joe McKeever that i know not representing the Lord God anytime even when discussing Mardi Gras. I thanks God for your heart and commitment to the Gospel.

    I am writing a insert for the ARBC mailout and will include your piece about how to become a christian. I will, of course state clearly where those particular words came from.

    As they say down South, Joe “you de man!”

    Joel Davis

  7. I’m going to give a slightly different view point. (Joe said it was okay!) I am a Christian and do not like nor approve of “all that goes on” during this time of year and it constantly amazes me the things people do because the figure no one will know. However, I have enjoyed going to all the parades by my house the first weekend of parades and the ones on Mardi Gras on St. Charles. Gary doesn’t like the crowds or the parades so the girls and I parade with the family of a friend of mine. There ends up being a group of about 20 of us, we start camping out to hold our spot at 5:00 a.m. We have “family zone” and have a great time eating Popeye’s chicken, biscuits and king cake and seeing how much “stuff” we can catch. This year our beads go

    to St. Michael’s and everything has been put up for next year.

  8. Good morning, Brother Joe. As one of those “riders” on an Endymion

    > float,

    I

    > do throw about $800 of stuff in the street. I would like to let you

    > know that not everyone on the floats is an alcoholic/pervert. My

    > float has a great group of guys, none of which drink, or at least not

    > much that I can see. They all know that I am a Christian. I invited

    > a friend to ride

    with

    > me this year who runs the House of Shock haunted house, and he is a

    client.

    > To my surprise, he told me that he does believe in Jesus, although he

    curses

    > often and does things that are “worldly”. We had a chance to talk on

    > the float, and I discussed my faith with him and encouraged him to

    > curb his language and try to straighten up. He was receptive, and

    > blamed the

    element

    > he has to be around with his work. I encouraged him to find a

    > different element. He said that he’d like to come to church and see

    > how we Baptists worship as he has lost his love for his old Catholic

    > ways, although he

    said

    > he prays and believes. You just never know when you will have time to

    talk

    > to a friend about faith in the risen Lord and to maybe lead a lost

    > soul to Christ.

    >

    > Take care, Brother Joe.

  9. Having lived here in the New Orleans area since 1991, I’ve gone to several parades, all of which were in Metairie (a suburb of the area for those of you who aren’t familiar with our geography). I’ve seen familes and individuals who enjoyed the parade without resorting to all of the foolishness and drunkenness that unfortunately come with the holiday.

    I’ve also seen people make absolute jackasses of themselves, knowing in my soul that they would wake up the next day with no memories of anything except how many beers they guzzled. However, I’ve also seen men and women, devoted to Jesus Christ, who give out tracts, engage in witnessing (via Joe Pix) and use their time to tell people about the Lord. We can either curse the darkness, or light the candles God gave us.

    Here endeth the lesson.