One of the things that’s making me happy this week is the newly released concept album Welcome to Lindeville created by Arkansas native Ashley McBryde and friends. It’s the story of the people in the fictitious town of Lindeville, named after the late songwriter Dennis Linde (who brought us–among others–the classic Good-bye Earl).
Lindeville doesn’t sugar coat life in small town America. It lays out all that’s funny, ugly and even offensive. But it is a GEM of an album, and it really does capture something about real people dealing with real problems in away that country music (and most any other genre) doesn’t do so much any more.
All the songs have something to recommend them, but if you want to be convicted, you’ll want to tune in about mid-way through the album to Gospel Night at the Strip Club.
Jesus loves the drunkards and the whores and the queers
Would you recognize him if he bought you a beer?
There’s a big emphasis right now in my denomination (Presbyterian Church USA) on becoming a Matthew 25 kind of church. It focuses on that part where Jesus tells folks that they saw him hungry and didn’t feed him and in prison and didn’t feed him and naked and didn’t clothe them. Of course, he’s met with outraged indignation and shock! “Just when did we ignore you like this?” they all ask. And Jesus tells them that every time they dismiss the needs one of the least of these, it’s like they’re blowing off him.
Congregations become a Matthew 25 church by embracing at least one of these areas:
–Building congregational vitality by challenging people and congregations to deepen their faith and get actively and joyfully engaged with their community and the world.
–Dismantling structural racism by advocating and acting to break down the systems, practices and thinking that underlie discrimination, bias, prejudice and oppression of people of color.
–Eradicating systemic poverty by working to change laws, policies, plans and structures in our society that perpetuate economic exploitation of people who are poor
Now all of those are good things that are desperately needed,and I don’t know what every church engaged in the Matthew 25 initiative is doing, but I haven’t heard anyone talking about heading out to hold Gospel Night at the strip club. I haven’t heard anyone talking about hanging out under the bridge with the homeless. I haven’t heard about any Bible study groups starting up at the women’s prison.
Our efforts to address the greater systemic injustices by addressing laws and policies, our energies given to advocating for Black Lives Matter and setting up the church booth at the Pride festival are GOOD things. But let’s get real: they give us an excuse to not actually engage with those people Jesus was calling us out for ignoring.
“Hanging out with strippers and the homeless and hungry–that’s just putting a band-aid on the problem. We have to address the underlying systems that cause theses problems,” we love to say. But that 15-year-old runaway who’s on the streets can’t wait on the systems to change, the hurting vet who panhandles at the intersection can’t wait on the funding from that mental health care services bill to kick-in , and that 17-year-old kid whose parents kicked them out for not wanting to lay claim to a specific gender may never make it to 18 if someone doesn’t reach out and make sure they know they’re loved–today.
It can’t be either/or. It has to be both/and. We need protests at the capitol AND Gospel Night at the strip club. We need to write letters to our elected officials AND hang out with those who can’t advocate for themselves. We need to break down systems of oppression AND get blankets and socks and warm clothes to those who need them this winter.
I know it sounds a bit overwhelming, and I don’t by any means pretend I’m out there doing this hard work every day. Like all of us (or at least most of us), I do not lean into being the Christian I am called to be a good bit of the time. I write these things to remind myself every bit as much as I write it for whoever else might see it.
But make no mistake about it: Gospel Night at the Strip club is not heretical or disrespectful to the Gospel. It is, indeed, the Gospel (as its title states).
Let’s all strive to be at that place in our faith journey where, if Jesus bought us a beer, we would for sure know it was him.
Rev. Anne Russ is an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA), currently based in New York City. Doubting Believer provides tools and encouragement for the rollercoaster ride of your faith journey. Follow me on Facebook , Instagram and YouTube. You can also follow on TikTok. Get emails to keep up with all that is happening.
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Because a fait that wrestles with questions is always stronger than one that never asks any