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 | By Alison Blanchet

Conformed & Transformed with the Power of Plastic Beads

Living just a few hours from the cities of New Orleans and Mobile, where Mardis Gras is a serious holiday, means the weeks that led up to Ash Wednesday included several local parades. In our neighborhood alone there is a traditional parade plus two shorter ones for kids and pets. There are floats, plenty of masks and, most importantly, so many beads.

For a weekend it feels as though the beads never stop falling from the sky. I was astonished as a newcomer years ago to see the floats begin the parades with thousands of beaded necklaces looped around the railings — they are built to carry hundreds of beads at easy access — and then handfuls of beads were tossed into the crowds as the floats made their way down the street.

Then, an interesting phenomenon occurred. If you had asked me a few weeks ago if I wanted a dozen cheap plastic beads in a variety of colors and sizes I’d have said, “No thanks, I’m good.” If you had thrown dozens of cheap plastic beads at me while I was trying to enjoy a drink with my friends, I probably would have complained to management. If I threw cheap plastic beads at you from my car you’d be well within your rights to call law enforcement.

Yet, when the Mardis Gras parades began, we were all suddenly consumed by the need for cheap plastic beads. I hear that our local parades are relatively calm compared to those in the city, but when the floats began passing it was not unusual to see people fall off curbs, dart in front of oncoming traffic and elbow their neighbors to reach an unclaimed necklace that, an hour later, they’d walk past without a second glance. Even my four year old, who hates loud noises and crowds, realized there were shiny necklaces falling from the sky and began pushing past people five times her size to grab what she could.

Follow the crowds. Peer pressure. Go with the flow. It has lots of names, but catching beads at Mardis Gras is a great example of how quickly we get caught up in the momentum of the world that has us chasing things of very little value. We saw this on Palm Sunday as crowds welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem with shouts and praise, only a week later to join again in shouts of “Crucify him!”

In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul exhorts the followers of Christ to “not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect” (12:2). Mardi Gras is a modern and very concrete example of quickly conforming to the crowd, but I find that the temptation to creeps into my daily life in the most subtle ways: gossiping with coworkers, consuming media that glorifies sin or sows discontent, averting my eyes from humanity in need.

As we’ve moved into the Easter season, the “renewal” of the mind that St. Paul speaks of is critical in resisting the crowd in a culture where we are surrounded by secular and even downright pagan influences, a culture where Easter is a single day and we move instantly that Monday to store displays for Cinco de Mayo and swimsuits.

Renewal has looked different at each stage in my life, but as a busy mom it means I listen to podcasts that help me grow in my faith while I load the dishwasher. I have the Bible loaded on my Kindle app so I can always find the Gospel with a few taps, even if I’m waiting for a grocery pickup or putting The Toddler to bed.

Faith formation, daily prayer and receiving the sacraments regularly are just a few important ways we can be transformed by the Gospel. Truth can often be drowned by the crowd, so in our celebration of Easter, we are empowered to discern what is good, holy and of value so that we conform ourselves only to the one who matters: the Risen Christ Jesus.

Alison Blanchet lives in Panama City with her husband and three children. She works as a therapist for children and teens. Email her at