Susan and I were ready for a break recently, so we decided to take our chances with air travel and spend a few days in New Orleans. The return trip was a bit of a nightmare due to a canceled flight from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Raleigh, but a Lyft to the train station and a ride on the Piedmont got us home by the end of the day.

New Orleans was hot and occasionally rainy, but as colorful and eccentric as ever. Street performers and restaurant bands are on every hand, all of them asking for tips. That must be harder these days, when so many people pay for everything with plastic. I didn’t see any credit card receipts among the ones and fives in their boxes, jugs, or guitar cases.

A man playing guitar standing on top of a car.

(Credit: Tony W. Cartledge)

One of the most entertaining was a young Black man who stood shirtless in the sun atop an SUV beside the Café du Monde, cranking out some amazing country music: he should have been in Nashville.

If that seemed incongruous, I noticed a bigger surprise in perusing some of the tacky souvenir shops – and nobody does tacky like New Orleans. If you could find something appealing among the alligator heads, Tarot cards, party beads, and tawdry T-shirts, the person behind the counter was almost inevitably from India.

That wasn’t the only thing that seemed a bit out of kilter: on the door of a clothing store facing Jackson Square was a sign saying: “CLOSED Please come in!”

The door was open. I suppose the owner was just hoping the mixed message would catch the attention of potential customers.

Given that our short vacation coincided with the last few days of the Supreme Court’s precedent-shattering session, I couldn’t help but reflect on the mixed messages sent not only by SCOTUS’s conservative majority, but also by the politicians who put those justices in place.

The previous week’s overturning of Roe vs. Wade was anticipated, but no less shocking. Proponents who cheered the ruling that robbed women of the right to control their own bodies claim to be pro-life, but that’s a mixed message. They are pro-birth, not so much pro-life. They seem to care very little about the babies they want to force women to have, without regard to the manner of conception or the health of the mother. It’s well known, despite denials, that prohibiting abortion is one tool among many used to oppress women and keep marginalized people in poverty.

The ruling that makes it easier to carry guns openly – in the wake of almost daily mass shootings – illustrates another mixed message. The non-profit Gun Violence Archive reports that in 2022, as of July 5, the U.S. has seen 315 mass shootings in which at least four people were killed or injured, including six such shootings on July 4, one of them a mass murder involving yet another disturbed young man. Pro-gun activists claim that greater access to guns promotes personal safety, but it’s obvious that the easy availability of guns contributes directly to gun-related deaths – more than 22,400 so far in 2022.

Nearly half of those deaths were suicides, and 15 of the shootings killed more than four people: 180 children have been killed with guns, and 382 injured. A startling 673 teenagers have died from gun violence, and 1,783 have been injured. Of all the countries in the world, only in the U.S. do children have to fear getting shot when they go to school – or to a parade.

A paper sign on a bookstore.

(Photo: Tony W. Cartledge)

The radical nature of the Supreme Court decisions, including the suicidal ruling that limits the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency to fight climate change, no doubt contributed to a sign we saw in a small bookstore on Frenchmen Street: “PLEASE NOTE: The post-apocalyptic section has been moved to current affairs.”

The thought is too scary to be funny.

Along with the activist rulings of the Court’s conservative majority, the ongoing hearings regarding the January 6 insurrection have clarified the overwhelming mixed messages of those who believe having Donald Trump lead the country will “make America great,” while it’s clear that Trump’s efforts to retain power are a full-scale assault on our democracy, one that continues among his followers who are working to limit voting rights. The only association between Trump and his enablers with the word “great” is that they are the greatest threat America faces today.

Americans don’t have a monopoly on mixed messages, of course. Vladimir Putin claimed that Russia needed to attack Ukraine as a matter of self-defense, but it’s obvious to the world that the war is nothing more than a land grab: Putin has likened himself to the 18th century czar Peter the Great: his sights are set on empire building.

While it’s easy to point fingers, we know the issue of mixed messages has significance in areas other than national or international affairs. It’s an individual matter, too, and we know that finding fault in others is not as difficult as admitting the mixed messages we tell ourselves.

Do we claim to follow Jesus even though every decision we make is directed toward what we desire? Do we happily sing “I Surrender All” when our real focus is gaining personal wealth? Do we claim to love others while blithely ignoring the needs that are around us?

Sending a clearer message to others begins with speaking truth to ourselves.

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