By Mark Hollingsworth
In The Ballad of Ricky Bobby: Talladega Nights there’s a hilarious scene where Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly and Jane Lynch are arguing around the dinner table about whether or not it’s correct to pray to “little baby Jesus.” Well, we’re in that time of year again where the infant Christ becomes the focal point, whether directly or indirectly, of so much going on around our troubled world.
Here in Nashville, the small fellowship that I’m part of has been doing something for the past 8 years that even the aforementioned Mr. Bobby would find relevant. A bunch of us from The Village Chapel like to go Christmas caroling to the clubs and eateries in our Hillsboro Village neighborhood. You would think 40 folks piling into the entranceway of a crowded bar would get some strange looks-but they welcome us every yuletide season.
As we belt out “Oh Come All Ye Faithful,” “Jingle Bells,” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” and “Joy to the Word” the places always start jumpin’. Folks sway back and forth with us and often join-in full on. When we get to some of the softer pieces like “Silent Night” and “Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem,” it’s not odd to hear customers with a catch in their throat, or even wiping away a stray tear or two.
I find that so many people are longing for some type of deeper meaning in life. These lyrics and melodies trigger something very deep in all of us. On several occasions we’ve seen clientele who were sitting alone suddenly break down in deep sobs. It’s allowed us an opportunity to spend a little time with them, invite them to come to our humble little church, and see if they might be able to find a sense of community there that they are missing. Quite a few have ended up attending because of this fun, light-hearted caroling.
In our often cynical society, people are “up to here” with Christianity that is mostly talk, and-when there is movement-it’s mostly embarrassing picket lines, or someone wagging their finger. But when folks see fellow sinners actually trying to meekly act out their faith in simple and heartfelt actions that bitterness starts to dwindle away. We’ve felt like our faith means nothing if we don’t live it out in practical ways like this, interacting with those in our part of town.
While I was driving back from Pittsburgh after my Mother’s funeral a few years ago, I remember our pastor, Jim, calling me while on the road to see if I had plans once I got back in town (he had been very diligent about calling me several times during my Mom’s sudden stroke and subsequent passing that week). Telling him I didn’t, he asked if I’d like to meet him and his wife Kim for dinner at my favorite Chinese restaurant after I got settled. To my surprise, when I arrived at The Great Wall, there were 14 others from the church there to encourage me, and help me reminisce about my Mom. And for the next 10 days after that, I got dozens more calls and visitors, and never had to cook a single meal because of all the dinners that were brought to my home by my fellow sojourners at our little church.
In fact, that practice is not out of the ordinary at all. Probably over a thousand meals have now been provided in just a half decade for parishioners who are going through mourning, recovering from surgery, getting settled with new-born babies, etc. When any kind of need is brought up, whether helping with the toddlers, or raising money to dig fresh water wells in the Sudan, our Village Chapel family responds above and beyond what anyone would expect. I guess it is borne out of a deep sense of gratitude for what Jesus did for us by coming into our world, walking around in skin and emotions like ours, and making the ultimate sacrifice to show us that God does indeed care so deeply and affectionately for each of us…even though we dare not say we deserve it.
So, if you’d like to join in the sheer joy of singing these familiar strains for complete strangers who will greet us warmly, just let me know and I’ll send you the particulars. Our group always includes everyone from kindergarteners to grandmas. We’ll also have a group going to sing for some wonderful friends at some area Retirement Homes if you would like a bit “easier” pace. After several hours of caroling from place to place, we celebrate with spiced apple cider, coffee, hot chocolate and Christmas pastries back at our facility located in the 105 year old St. Bernard’s Convent Building on 21st Avenue South-just two blocks from Hillsboro Village.
Yes, little baby Jesus will be celebrated in the bars this week. It’s the kind of Christianity that I think resonates deeply in all of us.
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Mark is a Christian activist, radical moderate, and cultural sociologist who has traveled to 44 countries. Besides his work with Compassion International, he has also managed musical artists Petra, Sixpence None the Richer, Steve Taylor, and Smalltown Poets. Mark is based in Nashville, TN and is currently finishing his first book. His blog is at http://www.myspace.com/markhollingsworth.