There’s nothing like the buzz of the city, especially this city.
It has that “It” factor, that indefinable quality. It’s like that special guy or girl. It’s not as if they are smarter, kinder, more successful or more attractive–though they may be.
It’s truly indescribable. It’s something which cannot be replicated with another. The two of you just get each other.
In the case of New Orleans it stems not simply from its eclectic nature. New York City, Nashville, Chicago, San Francisco, San Diego and Austin–among other major US cities could fit the same description.
It’s not even the architecture, the food, the second lines on Sundays or the way the city practically shuts down on Sundays during football season, all in one accord to root on the beloved Saints.
It certainly includes all these things, but the cities already mentioned bring many of these same characteristics to the table. They are all eclectic in their own way.
They’re all loud, crazy and never sleep. They all have one unique thing which makes them a great city. And they are all amazing cities, no doubt.
But none of them compare to New Orleans.
All of those cities have one unique trait which makes them great. NYC is known as “the city that never sleeps”. Chicago is the Windy City. San Francisco is the city by the bay.
San Diego is “America’s Finest City”. Nashville is “The Music City”. Austin is the closest one can get to New Orleans, as it’s more indefinable. But really is anyone going to choose Austin over New Orleans? Not in their right mind!
Now, of course I am biased. And I’m also taking a risk in doing the one thing New Orleans can easily be considered in doing wrong.
There is certainly and truly a sense in which New Orleans knows it’s the most amazing city, and as such is at risk of becoming a cliche fostered in arrogance.
While it is terribly predictable this mistake will be made, it’s also true.
New Orleans stands alone because throughout its almost 300-year history it has been the antithesis of cookie-cutter. While seemingly every city has gone from a colonial settlement to a place for immigrants finally to an urban center, New Orleans has surpassed them all because it has maintained its innocence, never really evolving.
Every other city has progressed to the point where it looks like another. Not New Orleans, at least until recently.
This is not meant to be a slight of, or a rant against, the local politicians, as corrupt and off-base as they may be. It is instead meant to be a plea to exercise discretion.
Sure, bringing in chain restaurants and big businesses may mean more dollars for the local economy. It may even mean more job opportunities–obviously a good thing. All this in turn may lead to less crime, less poverty and less chaos.
But with greater organization and infrastructure comes something far more subtle yet harming: a horrible mix of class-ism, socioeconomic divisions and ultimately a loss of the great culture New Orleans has carved out for itself in a topsy-turvy existence.
See what makes New Orleans New Orleans is the fact it knows how to celebrate in spite of corruption, violence and natural disaster. It is its ability to remain rather mixed ethnically and racially despite it being geographically in a place where historically racism and class-ism has been strongest–at least within the continental United States.
This is not an original idea to myself, but one I have certainly come to on my own. New Orleans is a city just dying for revival to follow Jesus. If it did, there is little doubt the rest of the United States would follow as well.
Why? Because, unlike much of the United States, New Orleans knows how to celebrate. Go to a second line, or a Mardi Gras parade or any one of the other 100 parades or festivals which occupy this city’s time throughout the year. Then tell me this city doesn’t get it.
Of course the problem is not in its understanding of how to celebrate. The problem is it celebrates the wrong things. Its celebrations are idolatrous at the core. The subject of New Orleans’ worship is some kind of humanistic resolve to overcome in spite of circumstances.
And it has mastered this mold. But what if we dream? What if New Orleans instead became a city which celebrated redemption from sin?
It wouldn’t stop throwing festivals. Hopefully the festivals would only increase. The difference would be the object of worship, of celebration.
Instead of worshiping idols–food, alcohol, sex, partying itself, as well as any other forms of paganism–New Orleans could see these things in their original intent in the Garden of Eden.
It would surely be beautiful. I pray for this. I long for it. I desire it. At the best of times, I’m willing to give every ounce of energy I have to making this a reality.
See New Orleans, in a sense, doesn’t need to be taught the implications of the Gospel. It needs the Gospel itself. New Orleans in many ways already exemplifies so many of the implications of the Gospel.
But again, the motivation is inherently flawed.
This morning I was afforded the opportunity to spend about an hour at one of my favorite spots in the city: City Park. There is a little spot not far from NOMA (New Orleans Museum of Art) with park benches overlooking a pond.
It’s my favorite spot in the entire city to go and just relax. I love to take a book and/or notepad, sit on the bench and read or write. The pond also comes with an accessory of sorts.
There are always a flock of ducks doing duck things. Sometimes they’ll be in the water. Other times they’ll be sitting or standing on the grass, sometimes it’s a mixed crowd–some floating on the water, others sitting under the shade created by the huge oak trees in this little secluded area.
When I’m there, I am relaxed. One of God’s good gifts is nature. And in this case, nature is a quiet little secluded spot somewhat off the beaten path, providing shade so even visiting it in summer is doable.
As the sun sparkles off the water, it is as if God himself is shining His glory. In fact it isn’t as if. He is in fact shining His glory brightly.
This little spot is nestled away from the hustle and bustle of a city which only sleeps because God forces it to do so.
Even in a place where violence, political corruption and several other forms of injustice are present, this little spot acts as a respite from it all. This little spot proves something we know from theology, but are often much too forgetful to recall to mind–God will restore His creation to its original state before Satan tempted Eve and she gave in.
In fact, God’s restoration will be all-encompassing and comprehensive. This little spot, as peaceful and restful as it is, is not a fully perfect picture of what is to come one day.
There is unkempt trash, untrimmed grass and other sin-inflicted problems.
But this glorious little spot is a foretaste to the day when the earth will be made new. See as Christians our eternal landscape is not of “Heaven”, whatever that would even be.
It’s that we will one day live on this very planet, one made fully perfect. There will be no political corruption, no violence, no drug or alcohol abuse, no broken relationships, no fatherlessness, no pain, no tears.
The hope for the rest of the world is this as well. But to that end, there’s little doubt New Orleans can play a key role in bringing a revival, if it will only get the Gospel.
Biblically-speaking this is referred to as being a “City on a hill”. If only for the United States, New Orleans can be a City on a hill. New York City, Chicago and the other eclectic cities can learn from New Orleans and fashion themselves off of New Orleans, allowing for the same freedom and unique cultural identity to take root.
The goal is not to have a bunch of New Orleans’s all throughout the country and world. The goal is to have New Orleans and every other city regain its own unique culture, reflecting the Gospel in uniquely native ways to the praise of God’s glory.
When each culture brings God to the forefront of their cultures, they become a truer version of what they should be, and display his amazing creativity.
As the 90s Christian band, DC Talk, rightly declared, “God is a very creative artist”.
The plea to let us keep our city is not a selfish plea. It’s a God-mandate. For in keeping our city as it is, and turning our hearts from our own cultural idols, we become exactly who God intended us to be, to the praise of His glory.
Keeping our city is the license we need to shine God’s glory most brightly.
So by all means, please let us keep our city, so God may be seen as glorious.