Two guys playing a friendly game of dominoes in the middle of a busy city street. Pedestrians take this in stride because this is Bourbon Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans. I was in the city to work with Phoenix, a non-profit organization that repairs and rebuilds homes damaged by hurricane Katrina in 2005.
A visit to New Orleans is not complete without a stroll through the French Quarter and its main artery, Bourbon Street. Lots of adjectives fit this place: colorful, decadent, indulgent, sleazy, festive, lurid, weird. The Rev. Jerry Falwell claimed that Katrina slammed into the city because New Orleans was all of these. Ole Jerry, so certain of many things!
Central St. Matthew United Church of Christ (www.centralstmatthewucc.com) is a recently merged congregation of less than a hundred members that houses volunteers who come for short-term work projects. While there, I grabbed a welcome brochure. Every church makes a pitch to visitors and guests. Most attempts are pretty lame: ALL ARE WELCOMED. . . VISITORS EXPECTED. . .WE’RE A FRIENDLY CHURCH. . .YOU CAN’T SPELL CHURCH WITHOUT U.
I was especially impressed with the radical intentionality of Central St. Matthew. Here’s what they want visitors to know. Maybe you’re: divorced, single, single parent, LGBTQQIA, empty nester, married with kids, married without kids, not rich, not poor, Black, White, Asian, Latina/o, First Nation, biracial, multi-racial, mobility impaired, dealing with mental health issues, tattooed, have a funny haircut, a local, a transplant, raised in a different faith, questioning God, doubting your faith, perfect, angry, happy, sad, lonely, in recovery, an ex-con, broken, uncertain, skinny, overweight, a college student, a tourist, returning home – have we gotten to you yet?
There are many reasons why Jesus met an early death. He claimed a relationship with God that was cozier than the religious establishment deemed appropriate. He chose nonviolence over armed resistance. He snubbed religious traditions when those traditions got in the way of serving people. Though he never raised a sword, he threatened the peace and the political powers could not risk that.
Then there was this criticism of Jesus: “He welcomes sinners and eats with them!” That annoyed the religious folks to no end. Maybe it was the last straw. In the context of Bourbon Street, “Jesus welcomes the bronzed and silvered, sits on a bucket and plays dominoes with them.”
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