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Jesus and the Detritus

Friday, 30 December 2011

Christmas Must Be Tonight - The Band (mp3)
Shotgun - Pete Yorn (mp3)

Shepherds in the fields, tending to their sheep.

Those were the first people to hear the news of Jesus’ birth. Would gangsters be the modern-day shepherds? Were Jesus born in 2011, to whom would the angels deliver their first birth announcement?

Right about the time I first raised my candle into the air during “Silent Night,” sitting in my comfy spot in the choir loft of our almost-capacity church crowd for our Midnight Service, as angels were supposedly singing “gloooooooooooria” from on high at the birth of a savior, shots rang out in downtown Chattanooga.

Nine people injured at a Christmas Eve service slash party at a church slash nightclub called MOSAIC. In the aftermath, the city government has vowed to do whatever is in its power to end this farce of a church, and most of the city is understandably supportive of this, as MOSAIC has seen more than a few run-ins with pugilistic youth and young adults.

I celebrated the birth of a humble baby in a manger with a bunch of older, middle-class-and-up white people who were born believing in the baby in a manger. Nine out of every 10 people crammed into those pews on Christmas Eve had parents who took them to church, and they grew up in a culture happy to inundate them with stories of wise men and guiding stars and angels and virgin births.

We’re lucky if our celebration converted a single soul.

What if someone’s Christian soul was saved at MOSAIC on Christmas Eve? How much physical pain and human damage is a saved soul worth? Is it worth nine gunshot wounds?

Christopher Hitchens (RIP) and any number of atheists would say that a single gunshot, a slap in the face, even halitosis, is too high a price for conversion to Jesus, and there’s a practical and rational part of me that agrees.

But the part of me that believes -- in something more, in magic, in miracles, in God -- thinks nine gunshots with no deaths would be cheap bargain for a saved soul. This strange, twisted part of me believes MOSAIC is attempting -- perhaps feebly, perhaps failingly, perhaps misguidedly -- the very real work of ministry and evangelism the entire New Testament proclaims, the kind of ministry so few of us traditional American Christians actually do.

So is Tim Reid, the “minister” behind MOSAIC, a shyster? Is he a fool with good intentions? Is he precisely the kind of missionary our world craves, and the forces of our corrupt world are bearing down on him to try and stop something good and righteous?

My gut tells me he’s somewhere in that land between shyster and fool. My gut tells me MOSAIC is a crock hiding behind tax-exempt status to throw parties that provide neither sanctuary nor enlightenment. My gut tells me MOSAIC is the kind of place where cults like The Yellow Deli are given birth.

My gut, however, has been wrong quite a lot. And ever since I read this story on Christmas morning, I’ve found myself troubled my my own judgments on this man, on his church, and on our city’s reaction to all of it.

Shouldn’t professed Christians in this city be reacting to this event by wondering what we can do to reach the lost and forgotten? It’s obvious most of my Christian brethren and sistren don’t want gangstas or the smelly indigent sitting in the pews next to them, but that doesn’t mean we’re powerless to help them.

And if helping them only means sending Christmas presents and canned goods to their neck of the woods, I can’t help but think we’re missing something about our responsibilities. Canned goods are merely fingers in the broken dike, aren’t they?

A bag of Christmas presents given to a child who goes home and gets beaten, or who watches his mom get beaten by some boyfriend or druggie pal, or watches his older siblings involved in any sort of illegal activity... do they plant a priceless seed about the kindness of our fellow man and woman, or are they merely a nice and depressingly temporal distraction from the chaos of the everyday hell?

Nine gunshots at a Christmas Eve service. Something terrible is happening, and the way we are reacting, as a city, could be more dangerous and damaging than a single magazine's worth of bullets.

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