Tailgatin’ for Jesus

By Don Rollins

Local church ran a newspaper ad last week. A big invite to come on down and enjoy a little tailgating prior to a baptism. 5:30: Po’ boys, greens, sweet tea and pecan pie. Frisbee golf and a cornhole tournament. 7:30: the main event.

I’ve heard of truckin’ for Jesus. Bikin’ for Jesus. Even rasslin’ for Jesus. But this is my initiation into the world of tailgatin’ for Jesus. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, Sparky…

I shared this tailgating tale with a couple of staid, blueblood, progressive colleagues — two cats who love looking down their designer bespectacled, Harvard-trained noses at such things — and they registered the requisite yucks and dismay. What’s next, potluck circumcisions? Hog roast first communions? Ah, those lowbrow, Republican Fundies are at it again. Having been raised in an Appalachian house trailer, I’m more circumspect when it comes mixing gauche and God. Just because somebody violates some unwritten code about religious etiquette doesn’t make them socioeconomic mutants. Hell, Jesus made his bones doing shock-value stuff like working on the Sabbath, throwing down with religious muckety-mucks and chilling with at least one lady-of-the-evening. What’s a little pre-sacrament partying?

The meritocracy of the educated is alive among well-heeled progressive religionists. If my 25-plus years in such circles is any indication, left-leaning, mainly white congregations practice class Apartheid even as they call for economic justice. (From what I’ve seen, the country club folks and the country music crowd don’t much truck with one another. The more privileged wonder that their working-class pew mates still can’t figure out what to do with that second fork.)

Progressive congregations, in light of their claim to relative enlightenment, have an increased burden for self-monitoring and self-improvement when it comes to haves and have-nots.

So, this tailgating thing has me thinking: How cool would it be if churchgoing liberals could galvanize around an intentional, interfaith mission to dismantle their internal classism? What if they let themselves get caught up in an MLK-like vision — a world wherein liberal people of faith turned their congregations into what one preacher/theologian from my seminary days called, “laboratories for personal disarmament”? What if the tailgating shtick is really a form reaching out, not dumbing down? To be even more blunt, what if more progressive synagogues, mosques and churches just loosened the hell up and met working-class people where and how they are?

I’m no Pollyanna on this stuff. Mucking around with music and liturgy in a congregation is about as revolutionary as changing the standing rules and platform at the Democratic National Convention; tradition and simple inertia tend to keep in motion class-bound religion as surely as class-bound politics. But it should be obvious by now that progressive politics alone will not reverse the increasingly obscene gap between rich and poor, and it should be equally obvious that progressive religion is too often caught sitting on the sidelines.

You, know, it wouldn’t kill America’s religion-oriented liberals to mix a little bluegrass with the Bach, some Insane Clown Posse with the Yo Yo Ma, some metal with the contemplative. Our roofs won’t cave in if we quote Larry the Cable Guy alongside Moses and Muhammad. And, we won’t be selling out if we stop taking ourselves so doggone seriously.

Tailgatin’ for Jesus? I say, party on, you out-of-the-box, pilgrims. Party ‘til the Rapture, for all I care. Me, I’m not judging you; I’m just jealous of you.

Rev. Don Rollins is a Unitarian Universalist pastor who recently moved from Minnesota to Spartanburg, S.C. Email donlrollins@comcast.net.

From The Progressive Populist, December 1, 2009


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