As the story goes, three Kings from a place very far away heard of a baby that was born. They were told he was a king. So they brought the finest gifts they knew. Perhaps if they had heard earlier they may have helped secure a more suitable place for the child to be born, it is rather unusual for persons with titles such as “King” to be born amongst cattle, in the open air. Yes, a bit of an odd situation, but they responded in the way they knew how, with fine things that usually would be presented in a chamber that reflected back what the young royalty was entitled to. When they arrived did they lift the hems of their trailing robes so as not to soil them on the dirt floor? Did they question the propriety of their heavy gifts which would laden down the poor donkey? Did they perhaps balk at how little regard the royalty of this far land were given? What exactly was the story they told when they reached their home?
After the storm, people eventually returned, the water subsided, bodies were laid to rest, families reunited. There were still broken areas. Still, businesses were closed, and some people hadn’t come back. But it was also Carnival. So what did they do? They celebrated. They baked sweet breads with colorful icing, they danced, they ate and drank, and they celebrated as they were still weeping. Would they still be here next year? How long would FEMA provide trailers? What happens if the businesses don’t return? Each year after, Carnival meant “celebrate no matter what is happening around you.” The second lines that marched ahead of the Krewes celebrated each of those souls that had moved on out with the wind and the rising waters. And “before the storm” was the signal to grab a drink and settle in for a good long story.
As the peasant King was bundled away safely in his Mother’s arms, other children were slaughtered, small lives suddenly symbols of a scared monarch’s tantrum; his reaction against the possibility of his power, his people, turning from him and reaching for something better. Did they think he would be seduced by this child’s innocence? Would he willingly give up his throne to an insurrection at its infancy? Would he endanger the stability of his kingdom in such a way? Did he not love his people and wish to keep them safely dependent and needing of his wisdom and mercy?
And there were some that hailed the storm as a sign from God. A cleansing. They feared the things in the city, things of the city. Within the city were proud folks. Folks that made music to cover the gunshots, and because they liked to make music. Folks that made food for paupers but that was fit for kings. The man with the quiet job at the bank just over the state border, the father of two kids and a sweet wife in the next town, they came to the city for the gambling, the women, the swearing, and the drinking. Then they could return refreshed and ready to live the lives they were proud of. And there were of course the folks that never left, the ones that couldn’t go anywhere else. The junkies of various flavors, the women that enticed the out-of-town male visitors, folks with latte colored skin (and folks who made the babies with latte colored skin), the folks who didn’t worship in a church, the men that dressed as women, the men who kissed men, the women who danced too close together, the music makers, the love makers. Was this God’s wrath upon all of them? Was this a chance for the city to start afresh?
They arrived with their words, and they spoke their words. Often they spoke their words even though the ears they reached were taught to hear words that sounded different. The people with words, they saw things that scared them. They saw violence they had not grown used to; it wasn’t like the picnics where they ate cucumber sandwiches in the cool breeze as the bodies swung above them like strange fruit. They did not control the violence here. In this place the mothers didn’t know to be ashamed of their breasts as they nursed their children, or that a blanket was not suitable clothing for a grown person, that one must not eat with one’s hands, that a man should have only one wife, that a man should not be with another man. How had these forsaken not known Jesus for so long? How did they live so disgracefully? How exactly could they hear God’s word?
Those who came with their words also came with things. They brought books, they brought material, and instruments, and they built a funny looking house, and they did not dance. But they shared their things, and some of the young men were learning to speak words like them. The fathers were given tools, and things to trade, and they were promised respect and power. They told the women to go and learn from the woman with the words. So they traded their blankets for dresses, they sat away from the men to feed the babies, they replaced tight braids with buns and little hats. They built a big house to pray to God in, it was also funny looking. They didn’t dance inside the funny house. Outside the funny house the men had met others who had words. But they were better, they brought drinks that made you laugh if you had too much, and better weapons, and in return they gave them some of young men they had captured from other areas, unimportant bodies, suitable for labor, but not for worshipping in the funny house.
Inside the funny house they learned that the words and the man who spoke the words was to be respected. And that if you walked into the river with him you would be respected too. And you would receive many good things if you walked into the river, your crops would grow, your cattle would find green pastures. And after many many years the children also knew the words. And the girls were meek and covered their bodies. And the men built funny houses for their one wife and children. And they cast out the men who did not love women. And things were okay.
Things were okay until the men discovered that they could not be fully like the men with words, they would not become masters of their own land by learning more words. The words had been about freedom, about truth, about a power unlike anything they had known before. But those things were not really for them. They did not remember how to build their old homes, they were afraid to pray to their old Gods. And the women only knew to be ashamed of their bodies, and they liked that they would be the only wife of their husband, and they had forgotten how to dance, and they only new the new words.
The foreigners who brought the words returned home eventually. They took back with them stories in which they were the heroes. They returned to fight against the rising tide that threatened to unseat them as Masters, as Lords of people, time, language, and wealth. The wind and the water crumbled the fearful empire they had created with words. Some of them rebuilt and found again their power and people to govern with that power. In other places people started to dance. In the city there was Carnival.
While some danced in a fallen city, the folks that forgot their own words continued to build funny houses. Some shouted to any who would listen about the wealth and power that they possessed. And the women carried out their work in heavy, hot dresses, preening about respectability and grace. They had heard about the fallen. The folks who danced even after their homes crumbled in the wake of their sins. And they spoke their words louder, and puffed their sleeves wider. This was their chance to find that power that was taken from them so long ago. Time to speak words to the sinners, to be the Master, to keep them safely dependent and needing of the Master’s wisdom and mercy.