One of the practices I wanted to change heading into the 2020s—other than my wife, Kacie, getting me hooked on watching Downton Abbey nearly every night (that show is amazing…and, yes, I’m still straight)—is committing to write more frequently about my theological observations as they present themselves in life’s everyday events.
My dad and his fiancée visited us in Tampa for a couple days over the last week, and the first day they were here happened to be the weekend of the Sant’ Yago Knight Parade in Ybor City, about two minutes from my house. My dad and I had been showing his fiancée, Kate, around Tampa and decided to head down in the afternoon to show her one of our favorite places in Tampa: Ybor City. We thought that, if the parade got too crazy, we could leave early. It didn’t. People were celebrating and having a good time as various businesses and organizations rode through the streets on their floats, sports cars, and trucks, tossing an unbelievable amount of beaded necklaces out into the crowd.
At one point in the night a street corner preacher showed up with a megaphone and started yelling at people in the crowd, and a few people started showing up wearing condemnatory t-shirts and carrying picket signs about how the end is near and everyone is going to hell. I had a little bit of a gut-check for a moment. Right in front of me were people with whom I supposedly share Christianity, and they were condemning the festivities in which I was taking part. I looked and listened as they angrily yelled about how people who party are going to hell. Not a single person was going near them. The contrast couldn’t be more stark between the preachers and everyone else who was jumping, dancing, celebrating… black, white, hispanic… all kinds of people who were strangers were talking to each other, hugging each other, and having a good time.
My momentary guilt quickly faded. I realized I was in the right crowd. The street-preachers started to make me really angry. They were being anti-Christ in that moment, and they were very embarrassing for those of us who are actually Christians. One of them walked right in front of me wearing a (particularly classy) T-shirt that said, “Party now and burn in hell later.”
I looked at him and said, “You do realize that’s not how it works, right?!”
My dad pulled me back and said, “You’re right. It’s not worth even arguing with him, though” (Kacie was in New Jersey at law school that day… or she probably would have stopped me, too).
So, I walked back to the parade and had a great night… exactly as the Jesus I read about in Scripture would have done. I have more beaded necklaces than I could ever know what to do with… and I didn’t even have to take off my shirt.
Christians… We have to stop causing controversy over things that really don’t matter. We perpetually present ourselves as “the boy who cries wolf.” It’s no wonder that we have no legitimate voice about those things that do matter. Maybe… just maybe… we can make an impact by doing what the Jesus we claim to follow said was one of the two greatest commands: Love your neighbor as yourself.