It was the summer of 1990, just before the beginning of the Fall Semester of my third (and last) year at Florida State College of Law in Tallahassee. My mom, my 14 year-old sister, and a friend of my mom’s had ended an Amtrak Train trip out west with a final stop in New Orleans. My dad and I drove six hours from Tallahassee to the Big Easy to pick up the weary travelers. That was the last time that I have been in New Orleans.
As best I can remember, the hotel where we stayed (neither I nor my mother can remember exactly where) and the food were excellent. The Mississippi River — seen from the vantage point of the obligatory riverboat cruise — was just as you would expect — mighty in every way. And, Bourbon Street. What can one say about this most famous of lanes in the heart of the French Quarter? Twenty-two years ago, it was quite overwhelming, even for a kid who had traveled to some of the biggest cities in Europe. Both the good, the bad, and the ugly (read, “evil) could be found on Bourbon Street back in the day.
Street entertainers — from magicians to musicians — were in abundance in the French Quarter. Of course, along with the obviously talented entertainers came the ordinary hucksters who made their living preying on unsuspecting tourists like yours truly. One such “entertainer” bet me $5 that he could “tell me where I got my shoes.” Being the wise, all-knowing third-year law student, I knew that there was no way that this con man could possibly tell me where I bought my shoes. However, in legal documents and in the everyday street con, the importance of using precise language cannot be stressed enough.
It was on Bourbon Street in 1990 that I learned that lesson the hard way (although five bucks wasn’t much to pay for the street education). Having challenged me several times that he could “tell me where I got my shoes,” I took the bet (don’t judge me). Without missing a beat, he told me with a wry smile that “you got your shoes on your feet standing right here on Bourbon Street.” He had me. Funny thing about street entertainers such as this gentleman on Bourbon Street — they really don’t take kindly to would-be lawyers trying to weasel out of a legitimate bet.
Beyond the street performers and the jazz bands — all entertaining in their own special ways — and the scrumptious (and decadent food) was a very real decadence that could not be ignored. By the time I had my first visit to New Orleans, I had already been in such large cities as New York, Washington, D.C., London, Paris, and Rome. I had the blessing of traveling to Europe twice during my high school years. In all of my travels, I can honestly say that New Orleans — at least in 1990 — had a vibe, a feeling, unlike any other that I had experienced in any other major city in the United States or Europe.
What was it made me feel so dark in the Big Easy? I think it was the open occultic practices — “magic” or voodoo shops were a dime a dozen — and the easy way that folks engaged in debauchery (drunkenness and lewdness were a given) like it was their way of life. Come to think of it, it probably was.
Today, I return to NOLA for only my second visit to the city that has rebuilt itself on the banks of the Mississippi after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. I come to New Orleans to attend the Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference and Annual Meeting. I arrive not knowing what to expect, either from the city or from the SBC meetings. Many are expecting battles among fighting Baptists. When a big, diverse family like Southern Baptists get together, we will have our disagreements. To a certain extent, that’s to be expected.
Hopefully this week will not be remembered for how we battled inside the Convention Center, but rather for the spiritual battle that upwards of 10,000+ Southern Baptist Christians descending on New Orleans will engage in on Bourbon Street, in the French Quarter and throughout the Big Easy. One need only look at the lost in New Orleans (and in every community, suburb, hamlet, and city where Southern Baptists are taking the Gospel) to realize that the battle is not finished. It is a battle for the souls of men and women and boys and girls throughout North America and the world. As we remember that, may the 2012 Southern Baptist Convention also be remembered as the time and place where a mighty big God showed up in a mighty big (and unexpected) way! Lord willing, I’ll see you in New Orleans.