It is party season. Several of my friends are complaining that they have to go to them. Every time they complain, my heart aches a little for anyone who overhears them and compares:
“How many parties is this complainer going to?” vs
“How many parties am I not invited to?”
I’ve already been to a couple of parties at which I felt like a very bad guest. At one, I did not have the energy to break into various circles of introverts who make parties within parties so they feel safer. And I think I left a couple earlier than the host expected I would. I think I should be a good guest.
Throwing parties is something of an art form. They tend to reflect their host’s sense of self. They benefit from having a plan. Nevertheless, they are often just an invitation and an open door with food, so the guests make them up as they go along.
Attending also takes forethought and skill. It is an art to be a part.
As the church, we have weekly, public, open-the-door-and-y’all-come parties on Sunday, great for so-called extroverts. We also have weekly cell meetings that are smaller parties, much better for so-called introverts. [Sorry for the “so-called,” I’m pretty much dead-set against binary labels applied to people]. We try to be good hosts and good attenders. It is one of the main skill sets we need to work with God, the consummate host. Then there are all the many other parties people hold. A week can get full for some of us! And a week can seem very empty to others who think their schedule ought to be full.
I think Jesus was way into parties and he is still attending ours, regularly planned as the church or spontaneous. I invite him every week to the church’s parties and I think he is a great guest. After Jesus made his first disciples by walking around Capernaum and calling them into his traveling band of comrades, he was invited to one of Matthew’s notorious parties. The Bible doesn’t explicitly say that Matthew’s parties were notorious, drunken brawls, but I was just at the ruins of Capernaum and it is a small place. It is no surprise that Pharisee-types heard that Jesus went to one and disapproved.
While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” — Matthew 9:10-13. (This is still one of the best things ever filmed about this party [link].)
I have always admired Jesus for how he worked with this opportunity. God certainly knows how to relate! But the poor man can’t even have dinner with new friends without someone criticizing him! I can’t really go to a party either without someone having something to say about it. I can’t not go either. And once I get there I am going to bump into tax collectors and sinners, on the one hand, and Pharisees on the other. This happens in the weekly church parties and it will likely happen at every holiday and birthday party I go to this month (or don’t go to with unpredictable results).
If there really is an extrovert/introvert spectrum. I am leaning extrovert, but not as much as people think I do. So I tend to like parties. When I am travelling with Gwen I often cause her a lot of anxiety, since I will instinctively veer into a crowd of people to see what is going on and she will instinctively find a new route around them. My problem is mostly that I like people too much and I don’t have an easy time going to a party to merely drink and chat. I tend to listen and care. So if I bump into a faithless “tax collector” or “sinner,” it is hard to not feel something about that.
In Jude, he goes off on the faithless who are “blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm – shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain” Jude 12. That’s a big, biblical reaction to what’s going on at the parties! I feel his pain, a little. In the little village of Philadelphia it is easy to run into the faithless who are sure to eat all the emotional food at the party without the slightest qualm. They will again boldly ask me to absorb the trauma they cause, and to accept the oppression they perpetrate. And they probably won’t mind criticizing me for being a bad Christian when I have problems with them. In some ways they are like the sick Pharisees outside Matthew’s house, who Jesus tells to find a doctor.
I am glad to bring Jesus to the parties I attend. At least he’s good at it. And we need some help because we have a lot of holiday Swiss cheese before us during the next month. I didn’t even mention the family parties to which many of us will be invited! It will be very tempting to eat the holes, and call the rest cheesy, won’t it?
So here are my personal proverbs for parties in light of all this
- Don’t let anyone steal your joy. Give it away.
- Expect sin. We’re getting saved, here.
- Let people be who they are, not who they are supposed to be.
- Life is too short not to love someone. If you get invited to do it, that’s good.
- You better have a good reason not to attend a party. At least ask Jesus if He wants to go. There are good reasons, but have one.