My family and I were sitting in a French café in downtown New Orleans. We were talking about Bourbon Street and how 23 years ago (nearly to the day), on my parents honeymoon, they saw prostitutes dancing in the windows of gentleman’s clubs and advertising in the streets. This conversation came up in part because only a few days earlier I had said I wanted to go to Thailand someday to work with anti-trafficking organizations. So when my parents told me about Bourbon Street I think I surprised them when I said I didn’t want to go there. I didn’t want to go because I didn’t want to see something so sad. Something that would break my heart. This wasn’t because I held distain for prostitutes or because I didn’t believe them worth loving. I didn’t want to see pain when I couldn’t do anything to help. Or when I didn’t know how to help.
I tried to explain this to my dad, that I would grieve seeing that. He looked at me and said that I would never make it to Thailand if I wouldn’t walk Bourbon Street. He compared it to the marines. “Marines have trouble at first with all the pain they see. It’s hard to witness so much death and killing. But, they train them until they aren’t so affected that they can’t do anything. If you saw a prostitute right now you’d be so disgusted you couldn’t even talk to her. I really believe that,” he said.
So we walked Bourbon Street. He was half right. For one, no girls danced in the windows anymore. Instead, men in cheap suits called out from the doors, “Two for one beers and lap dances!” Neon lights flashed through screens. A few establishments had photos spread across the doors advertising the girls. I wasn’t disgusted like he thought I would be. (ok, so the doormen did bother me some. I’m working on grace) But, it wasn’t easy either. While I didn’t feel revulsion or disgust I did feel grief. I grieved for the girls on the windows, for the loud men, the drunk tourists, and for the dreadlocked, homeless teens begging for money to spend on strippers. I needed to see that though. Because, even though I acknowledge the pain in the world I don’t always see it so vibrantly.
It got me thinking, if I always avoid pain and depravity, will I ever be able to truly love the world in the way Jesus did? We talk about how Jesus was friends with tax collectors and the cultural “riff raff” of His time. Yet I see myself, and so many Christians, striving to maintain the spotless reputation. While this makes for a great image it means nothing. It doesn’t help anyone when I keep my hands clean (the appearance of clean anyway). Jeff Bethke, a best selling author and YouTube creator, has famously said, “Church isn’t a museum for the good people but a hospital for the broken.” That’s how I want to live my life. Without pretenses and performances. And I want to go to people who need love. Who need Jesus so desperately.
I probably won’t make it to Thailand in the near future but until I do, I think I’ll walk Bourbon Street.