My earliest memories of Mardi Gras are of my parents dressing me to take me to the parades in uptown New Orleans. Mom made sure I had on clothing which was appropriate for the weather, of course (usually chilly; sometimes rainy). Dad made sure I had Green and Blue Tulane Green Wave outer apparel – most importantly, a jacket and a knit cap to cover my ears.
As the floats rolled past us, some of the people on them would see us and yell, “Hey, Tulane! Roll, Green Wave!” and inundate us with beads and doubloons and all sorts of cheap little plastic trinkets. Others would see us and yell, “Booooo Tulane! LSU! LSU! LSU!” and then bombard us with beads and doubloons and all sorts of cheap little plastic trinkets.
Dad was a smart man.
Mom and Dad knew that the clothes I had on – especially the outer garments which covered over all the other garments – connected me with a group; the clothes I wore, in fact, characterized who I was in some way; they were a part of my identity. I was the son of Tulane graduates and a proud fan of the Green Wave in a state dominated by the LSU Tigers.
When I was a teenager in St. Charles Parish, my youth minister began bringing a few neighborhood children to church with him. Then, after a few Sundays, he stopped. I learned later that an important family in the church (“important family” as used here means “the largest financial supporters”) threatened to stop coming, and stop giving, unless the youth minister stopped bringing “those colored children” into our church.
That church was instrumental in shaping, challenging, and deepening my Christian faith. It was often overflowing with grace, compassion, and, yes, love. Much of that was in part to the generous contributions of that one family, who themselves were nothing but gracious to me. But on this specific occasion, for that moment, over all those other beautiful clothes, my church threw on an overcoat of prejudice and racism which covered it all.
The Apostle Paul speaks metaphorically of the clothes we wear: compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience (Col. 3:12-14). But above all, over everything else, Paul says to “clothe yourselves with love.” Love is what ties it all together.
Paul says that our attitudes and actions, especially how we relate to one another, characterize who we are; they identify us as belonging to Christ.
As I listen to and observe us in the Church talk about Muslims, foreigners, strangers, enemies, the poor, and those pushed to the outside margins of our society, I notice the wardrobe of power, wealth, pride, arrogance, self-righteousness, might, dominance, and exclusion – the wardrobe often described biblically as “worldliness.” It's easy for me to spot these, because the same clothes are in my closet and chest of drawers.
As we approach Mardi Gras Day, this New Orleans-born minister cannot help but wonder, if Paul and Jesus were riding by on a parade float, would they be able to pick me out of the crowd by what I had on? Would they be able to recognize you?
So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it. (Colossians 3:12-14, The Message)
Rev. Bert Montgomery pastors University Baptist Church in Starkville, lectures at Mississippi State University, and really misses Mardi Gras in New Orleans. His website is www.bertmontgomery.com.
© Bert Montgomery, February 2016