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FIRST-PERSON: Is this the New Orleans we want back?

DALLAS (BP)–We all love the plucky people, the underdogs who fight back against impossible odds. Maybe that’s why otherwise sane people are heralding the return of Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

Of course, it’s a big week for the tourist industry (restaurants, bars, emergency rooms, etc.) and it is the event for which the city is best known, but is that a good thing?

Visitors to pre-Katrina New Orleans found an excess in the consumption of food and drink, as well as people hawking beads and voodoo paraphernalia. On a weekend, the party never ended. Did that have anything to do with the deep poverty and general dysfunction of the pre-Katrina city? Is that the New Orleans we want back? Is this what we paid for?

I don’t think so. The New Orleans we rooted for and helped was also trade and education and families and churches. The annual pre-Lenten riot works at cross-purposes with that more solid foundation. Even if they do make some money during Mardi Gras, part of it is lost again in the costs of extra and overstrained law enforcement, injuries and destruction that accompanies even a temporarily dissipate community culture.

In a nutshell, that tradition should die. New Orleans couldn’t really afford it before Katrina and it can’t afford it now.

It is also a bit unseemly for a city or a person to quake in terror before a storm, beg for mercy, beg for help, and then, after those prayers are abundantly answered, to run naked through the street yelling, “Laissez les bon temps rouler!” If a seedy section of your city blows away in a tornado, are you going to celebrate the return of the Kitty Kat Klub? New Orleans was best known for being the bad side of town for the entire South. I’m disappointed that Mardi Gras was the big roll-out for the city in recovery.

Yes, I know, I’m a Baptist and we don’t know how to have fun. But are you ever troubled by the idea that we need places with legal prostitution and gambling (Nevada) or seedy strip joints (the margins of any large town), or an annual Bacchanalia (New Orleans) before we can have fun? Fun doesn’t have to come with disease, poverty, crime, pain and a host of other bonus features we somber Baptists are left to help clean up in the lives of the participants and victims.

I’m for New Orleans. I’m not for the clueless people who think casinos and bars will suddenly be the solid foundation for a revitalized city. It never has been and it won’t be now. We Baptists have a lot we could teach our neighbors about how to have a good time — a good time where we could bring the kids without fear or shame.
Gary Ledbetter is the editor of the Southern Baptist Texan, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, online at www.sbtexas.com/texan/issues

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  • Gary Ledbetter