A few weeks ago in church, my pastor read from the first chapter of Tony Campolo’s book, The Kingdom of God Is A Party. In it, the author tells of an experience in Hawaii where, through an interesting series of events, he ended up organizing a birthday party for a stripper in her late 30s who had never had one before. When he ended up leading a prayer to fill in a moment of silence, the bartender who had co-organized the party confronted him about his faith, and Campolo replied that he belonged to a church that welcomed prostitutes and strippers and threw them birthday parties at 3 AM. The bartender was skeptical that such a church existed, but Campolo maintains that that is Christianity at its best, and points to the life of Jesus as evidence of this.
Intrigued by the anecdote, I purchased a copy of the book and gave it a read. It was far less radical than I expected, and certainly had marks of being from the early 1990s in its references and theological understandings. That said, Campolo had some very good points that many in the church would do well to be reminded of–especially those who are so afraid of being corrupted that they isolate and sequester themselves from the world, and those who value piety over love and community.
Campolo also seemed to be cognizant of challenges to his argument, addressing them head-on and convincingly in my opinion. He recognized that there was a difference between the parties of the world and the parties of faith; he recognized that even Christians would have different expressions of parties and encouraged people to be authentic in their parties; he also made quite clear that false happiness was NOT what he was advocating–parties of faith recognized sorrow and loss and grief and pain. At the same time, Campolo also pointed to Jesus’ life repeatedly, and emphasized that Jesus’ willingness to eat and drink and dance and sing and pray and talk with the outcasts and those on the margins, his willingness to party with all sorts, was what made him popular with people of diverse backgrounds and enabled him to reach them.
I am certainly not of the charismatic evangelical background Campolo hails from, but I have seen the power of partying with people of diverse backgrounds, faith, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. I have ate, drunk, danced and sung with all sorts, and I have learned many lessons from them. I know that I can be in such situations, such parties, and be true to myself, to my Christian faith, and I can lift up and encourage others, as well as model a different way to party. Many times, the different way in which I party has been met with respect and admiration from others on the dance floor or around the table. There’s a power in knowing yourself and your values so that you are who you are, regardless of the situation, and it’s a power many Christians have lost and need to regain. Campolo’s book is a good start for many who need to learn again how to dance and sing and party in order to build fellowship and bring a taste of the kingdom of God into the present reality.