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Sufjan's right: Christians create public space and keep the common good
Advent and, in my opinion, Christianity as a whole, is about creating public places where people can experience the love of God. Unfortunately, the “state” has been propagandizing us to people that it is the keeper of public space and the common good. Of course, one could make that argument if he or she observes the public services that the state provides the propaganda does not seem so far off. Of course, it is also easy to observe our deficient and underfunded infrastructure, corroding public education system (that that same state is farming out to private corporations), and the fact that those that keep the public safe are more interested in keeping themselves safe.
The state, if it protects anything, seems to be the interest of the one percent, at the very least. Sometimes those in the one percent are the ones running the show, too. Dick Cheney, the war-profiteering, backstabbing, torture justifying, former veep is enough reason for not to trust the state to create any sort of public space, and only protect its own interests. The state does an amazing thing: it teaches us that we are to be total self-sufficient and individualized, but it also teaches us that the only to accomplish anything is through it. It dominates us and then leaves us by ourselves to solve our problems. Not so different than King Herod, threatened by this baby King, killing all the first born boys under two, after the Magi trick him. (Herod, in the Massacre of the Innocents, also killed his son leading Macrobius, to write, “It is better to be Herod’s pig, than his son.”)
Even the capitalists’ seemingly public spaces are falling apart. The public spaces that we know are facades. When we went to the light show at Macy’s the other day—a nice spectacle, designed to get people to buy more stuff. Well, I bought into it, and I decided to also buy a belt. I stood in line for 45 minutes waiting for the understaffed store to serve me (the cashier had been there since 6:30 a.m. and had a broken machine with no help in sight). I left so frustrated, I thought to myself, “This is why I buy everything on the Internet.” Of course, the cynic in me says, it is in Macy’s interest to push us to buy our things online, mainly because they do not have to employ the frustrated cashier any longer.
When we are in public, our phones occupy all the space. In addition, should we ever want to have public interaction, we are forced to do it online on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram—or if we are looking for a date OK Cupid or Tinder. The experts are telling me that the only way to meet people is on social media. One of the great laments of our lack of public space and interest is how hard it is to meet someone, to make a relationship. Aaron was telling us how hard it was to invite someone into our faith and live last night. One of the reasons if because we can hardly meet someone!
Although in the Middle Ages the church simply became the state, and in the postmodern era, just a self-serving, self-protecting voting bloc and subculture, the church has historically been a response to the state, an alternative. I want us to keep doing that.
I suppose that is one of the reasons I like calling our Sunday meeting a public meeting. Because that “public” world is so unusual, it needs explanation, but moreover, it creates something that is lacking in our world, despite the world's groaning for it. Christians create a public space so that people can experience God’s love, hope, and this season especially, his birth. Jesus was born in public. Out of the open. And the angels, in the public sky, told them about it. Their declaration was for the whole world to hear, and the shepherds followed, worshiped the baby savior, and spread the Good News to the region and subsequently the world.
The shepherds are a symbol of the common person. They gather their sheep, as in the parable of the Lost Sheep. Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd. They care for a flock, they gather people, they make connections. I think we need to do the same as followers of Jesus, create space, invite people into that space, for one. But also, go out into the little public space we have left (including on social media), and make a relationship. Like Sufjan says, when he quotes himself in his rendition of Joy to the World, “Boy, we can do much more together / It's not so impossible.” We can keep the common good together.
We have an opportunity to declare joy to the world. Like Paul tells the Corinthians, each of us use given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. That manifestation of the Spirit, this week, is in that baby savior who is given to us and us to him.
My suggestions to create public space and keep the common good? I’ll give you two:
Tonight, at 7:30 p.m. at 29th and Cecil B. Moore, we’ll be sharing good cheer with our neighbors as we sing go wassailing.
Tomorrow night? It’s Christmas Eve. Join us in public worship as we stay up late and await the the birth of our Savior. 1125 S. Broad St., 10:45 p.m.