Monday, March 4, 2019

Masks & Camouflage & Mardi Gras

Good Monday morning.

If you're nearby I hope you're in front of a fire drinking some coffee. Welcome to March, readers. Temperatures in my corner of Louisiana are not expected to reach forty degrees today. You know me; I am totally fine with this. I need a few freezing cold days to cheer me up before we lose an hour of time soon. 

If you missed it, ---> here's last week's post detailing our quick trip to Dallas to hear the Dallas Symphony perform The Little Mermaid to accompany a showing of the film. 

This past weekend was considerably more low-key. Friday night was book club night.  

I didn't love the book we read in the month of February, but that's okay. The designated book was The Wedding by Nicholas Sparks. I did not read all of it. It's supposed to be a sequel of sorts to The Notebook. I did read The Notebook when I was maybe fifteen or sixteen. I can't remember how I felt about that book because it has been a long time since I was fifteen or sixteen, & my feelings about that story have been heavily colored by the subsequently released film starring Ryan Gosling & Rachel McAdams. As separate people I am a fan of Ryan Gosling & Rachel McAdams, but together in The Notebook they are just wonderful. I really, really wish someone would write a romantic comedy for Rachel McAdams. I know she's forty-something now, but she doesn't look it, & I love her. If you've never seen the movie The Family Stone, you need to watch it. It's not light, there's some tough stuff, but you will laugh, & you will cry. She is wonderful in that film.

Anyway, so, The Notebook. It's been fifteen years since that film released. That's hard to believe.

The Notebook is the only Nicholas Sparks book I've read in its entirety, & I don't see that changing anytime soon. There's just so many other books. Anyway, my immediate issue with The Wedding was with the narrator. The narrator is the son-in-law of Allie & Noah of Notebook fame. I mean, he's a middle-aged man who happens to be married to Allie & Noah's daughter, & he is just kind of blah. The book opens with him forgetting his anniversary, & this makes his wife sad, & it's all a lot of who cares? from there.

One of two things needs to happen almost immediately in a book. Either the events unfolding need to hook the reader, or the narrator needs to hook the reader, or both. A fantastic example of a perfect opening chapter is the opening chapter of The Hunger Games. Collins yanks you into the Katniss's head & Katniss's world immediately, & you do not want to leave. I personally am fine with slow books so long as I don't mind being in the narrator's head.

I didn't finish the book, but I did meet the ladies Friday night. We had a grand time. I ate handfuls of almonds & some cheese all day Friday in preparation for our dinner at a place called the Burger Grind where I ate an excellent hamburger & some onion rings . . . & then I split a cupcake with my sister because we were celebrating the birthday of an esteemed book club member.

So, instead of the Dallas Symphony on Friday night, I ate burgers & cupcakes with the book club ladies while we discussed what we liked & disliked about The Wedding.

Instead of a Saturday lunch at the Grand Lux Cafe in the Dallas Galleria we all met up at Johnny's Pizza to celebrate my mom's birthday. Johnny's has an amazing lunch buffet during the week, but what none of us expected was for the buffet to be laid before us when we arrived Saturday afternoon. Needless to say, it was the happiest of birthdays for my mother. 

We then headed to my parents' house for the rest of the afternoon for cupcakes with Nana & the weekly fighting-of-the cousins. On a near daily basis Reagan asks me when she can see & spend quality time with her cousins. She & Henry both moan about their lack of time with their cousins, & so naturally Saturday afternoon — an unending series of hours during which the cousins had nothing to do but play with one another — resulted in countless fights & a few total meltdowns. 

Today & tomorrow the community college where I teach is out for Mardi Gras Break. On Thursday of last week I reminded students our class would not be meeting on Tuesday, that they have no classes on Monday or Tuesday of this week due to Mardi Gras Break. I was then asked by a vocal young man who seems to have few inhibitions if I would be attending any Mardi Gras festivities. I told him that No, I would be with my book club Friday night & my family the rest of the weekend. I further elaborated & told him, & the class, that I have never attended a Mardi Gras parade. It is true. My students were aghast. Hadn't I lived most of my life in Louisiana? Did I not party when I was a teen &/or a college student?

I took what I saw as an opportunity & encouraged students to think for a few minutes about the origins of Mardi Gras. I walked them through the terminology of Mardi Gras. The class is "Fundamentals of Communication," & we talk a lot about language & its origins & functions, so this was all totally content-related. I asked them why Fat Tuesday is so named. I got a few decent answers about partying & eating & drinking a lot. They may not know & readily use the term Hedonism, but these students understand the concept of Fat Tuesday, of uninhibited revelry. I tried, via a discussion about Fat Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, & Lent, to explain to them that I find the premise of Mardi Gras to be bothersome. This has been on my mind since Thursday's class, & so I will now try & sort it out in a few paragraphs.

I fought with my parents some when I was in high school, but I don't recall ever fighting with them about attending a Mardi Gras parade. There is an annual parade in my hometown that always occurs a few weekends before the New Orleans parades, but I have never attended. I'll be honest & tell you my reasons for not attending in high school were two-fold. First, I kind of hate parades. They are so wasteful. They cost a lot of money, & in their wake is a sea of trash. What if the city opted out of the parade one year & instead fed homeless people, or maybe, you know, fixed some of the streets on the parade route, something that would benefit the entire community for years to come? Before & during these parades people act like idiots whether they are drunk or not. It is just so far from my scene. If I am going to be outside surrounded by drunken idiots, I better be in Tiger Stadium.

The second reason I never attended a Mardi Gras parade, local or otherwise, when I was in high school is that I think I was smart enough to pick & choose my battles with my parents, & attending a Mardi Gras parade was not something over which I was willing to tangle. I suspect my parents would not have wanted me to go, but I never even asked their permission because of my aforementioned desire to stay inside & warm & away from fools & litter. I assumed then & I assume now that they wouldn't have been thrilled about my attending a parade because these parades are synonymous with alcohol, & the whole premise of Mardi Gras is to party to excess & then, if you're Catholic, to ask for forgiveness on Ash Wednesday & follow that up with a period known as Lent during which you give up something you enjoy. Obviously not everyone who celebrates Mardi Gras observes Ash Wednesday or Lent, & many of them probably couldn't explain the significance of these things if asked. For many, Mardi Gras is just another reason to party & drink.

Trey & I plan on remaining in Louisiana, & you can't escape Mardi Gras here. Our universities observe this holiday right along with Thanksgiving & Christmas & other days so significant classes are canceled. Knowing the questions from the kids will likely come, & after my discussion with my class last week, I've made a short list of specific reasons the extent of my Mardi Gras celebrations is a piece of King Cake here & there, & that's only when it is thrust on me. 

(1) Alcohol 

Alcohol is synonymous with Mardi Gras. In fact, giving up alcohol for Lent is a common practice among those who observe Lent. It's my belief that parades are actually not all that exciting. Sitting outside (exposing yourself to a host of strangers & the elements) waiting & waiting for a peak at a float or two is a retrograde activity when you consider we have climate-controlled homes with Netflix & coffee makers. People drink so they don't realize how silly the whole thing truly is. If they were sober, they'd quit fighting the crowds & go home where it's warm & dry. 

(2) Masked revelry 

Mardi Gras is also synonymous with masked revelry that encourages & even celebrates poor choices . . . for which you can then repent on Wednesday, theoretically. Ask the average person anywhere in America what he associates with Mardi Gras, & the answer is likely to paint a picture of a throng of drunk people, some wearing masks, some exposing parts of their bodies in return for beads or some other useless trinket. Think about that. Then consider the religious implication, for those who even realize one exists, tied to Mardi Gras. Consider that the plan is to drink & party, possibly behind a mask, & then ask for forgiveness, to ask that your forehead you hid with a mask be marked with ash to note your penitence. This whole charade mirrors nothing I read in the Bible. I understand that it is part of Louisiana's history & culture, that we put masks on our kids & hang beads around their necks. I get that. I've been here nearly forty years now. Forcing others to pick our cotton was also once part of our history & culture, too. My point is not to equate Mardi Gras with slavery, but rather to merely suggest Christians not simply say, "Well it is part of our culture," & instead assess the situation using your brain & the Bible. 

(3) Planned indulgence, repentance, & subsequent deprivation 

These are not Biblical concepts. It is not Biblical to purposely indulge in something sinful or harmful, planning all the while to later ask for forgiveness & then deprive yourself of something for a set amount of time. Christians should strive to be holy every day, every moment. There are no timeouts.  There are no "cheat days" as if Christianity is a diet you can resume when convenient. Yes, fasting & deprivation for a time are Biblical, but purposefully & knowingly sinning with the intent to later ask for forgiveness is an affront to grace. 

This is without a doubt the most I've ever thought about Mardi Gras. It occurred to me when I said the words out loud last week that I have, despite living nearly my entire life (save about nine months when I was in school in Arkansas) in Louisiana, never attended a Mardi Gras parade. I've always been very meh on the whole thing, but I've never thought about exactly why that is the case aside from my aforementioned distaste for parades. There are theological reasons why I dislike it, apparently. 

You, readers, are not my children or my students, & I am not here to tell you what to do. I am certain I do things, go places, read things, etc. that other Christians find objectionable. I am happy I've prepared in advance an explanation re: Mardi Gras & my aversion to the parades for my children. If for no other reason than that, this hasn't been in vain. I hope I've made you at least think about the yearly revelry so closely tied to my state's history & culture.

After my students left the room last Thursday I immediately googled the Hawthorne quote from above.

No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself, and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.

I had a very interesting discussion with my students about wearing masks & what that symbolizes. We even talked briefly about the Scream movies & the mask associated with those films. The term two-faced was mentioned, & then & I asked them if they'd read The Scarlet Letter (sadly few of them have read it). 

This is another good one:

Don't you know that a midnight hour comes when everyone has to take off his mask? Do you think life always lets itself be trifled with? Do you think you can sneak off a little before midnight to escape this?

― Søren Kierkegaard

The verse, ". . . come out from among them and be separate" (II Corinthians 6:17) sticks in my mind when I consider all this. 

Nothing associated with Mardi Gras advertises, I am separate. I guess if I had to sum this up succinctly, my advice would be to always ask yourself:

Does this activity or behavior require a metaphorical mask? & Does this activity or behavior separate me from the world, or does it paint me in so much camouflage that I blend in seamlessly with the world? 

I have wished for years & will continue to wish that Christians in Louisiana reconsider their approach to Mardi Gras. This concludes my Mardi Gras lecture.

I hope you have a wonderful week. The kids' Spring Break officially starts this Friday. They are out all next week, & they're also out this Friday because of a teacher workday or inservice or something that means teachers have to go to school but the students do not. At any rate, I shall return, the Lord willing, next week to tell you all about how ecstatic I am to be sleeping later & not making peanut butter sandwiches at six-thirty in the morning. I'll also probably whine about the hour of sleep we will all lose come Saturday. 


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