Saturday night after the conference had concluded attendees were invited to meet up at a local bar for some fellowship and Karaoke.
The Karaoke, I found out, was Mark Van Steenwyk's idea. Mark is the founder of the Mennonite Worker and an editor of Jesus Radicals, the online hub for conversation about radical Christianity and Christian anarchism. If you're interested in that conversation be sure to check out Mark's new book The unKingdom of God.
I loved getting to spend time with Mark, talking about his community and the theory and practice of Christian anarchism.
And Mark is, interestingly, also a bit of a theologian when it comes to Karaoke.
Karaoke, according to Mark, is a practice of vulnerability and community. You take a risk when you get up in front of strangers to sing a song. And yet, the quality of your singing doesn't matter. What matters is jumping in and taking a risk. Being exposed and vulnerable is what is welcomed. That's what gets you the embrace, just getting up there and participating. Being an exposed and vulnerable human being.
According to Mark, that's the gospel according to Karaoke. That's how Karaoke becomes a model for the Kingdom of God.
Church, according to Mark, should look more like a Karaoke night at a bar. We should be willing to be exposed and vulnerable in the church. Being the "best"--being all cleaned up and put together--isn't what it is supposed to be about. You're not expected to be a great singer at a Karaoke night. Being "good" doesn't matter. What matters is sharing in the communal vulnerability and solidarity.
You don't get much of that shared vulnerability and embrace in the church. But you do in bars on a Karaoke night.
And so it was that Mark and I and others gathered at a local bar in Minneapolis for some Karaoke.
Mark had never been to this particular bar. But it was close to the church and had Karaoke that night. Plus, it was a dive bar, which is what Mark likes, because dive bars are "third places" that tend to be local, neighborhood establishments that cater to regulars.
When we got there the place was fairly empty, but as the night worn on the crowd grew.
I'd never done Karaoke before so I took some time to see how it all worked. Many among our crew jumped right in. They had some standard songs they liked to sing. I kept flipping through the big binders on the table to find a song I knew.
Finally, after about an hour or so I figured it was either now or never. Time to step up to the microphone in front of a packed house. Time to be an exposed and vulnerable human being.
I wrote down the name of the song I wanted to sing along with my name. I took the request slip up to the lady DJing the Karaoke. Eventually my name got called and I took the stage. My song started and I began to sing...
And you know what? Mark was right. I don't think I sang particularly well. But it didn't matter. Why? Well, you really couldn't hear me sing. Because everyone else was singing along. The whole bar sang. And not just for my song, for every song. It was a shared singing experience.
And I thought to myself. This is where people sing communally when they don't go to church. These big binders are hymnbooks. And just like at church the shared singing creates fellowship and community.
It's also possible that people didn't mind my singing because they were a bit drunk. That's one advantage for waiting a bit before taking the stage.
Anyway, after my song was over, basking in the applause and high fives from strangers on the way back to my table, I knew that Mark was on to something with this Karaoke.
Standing on the outside looking in Karaoke had seemed kind of weird and strange. But on the other side of it Karaoke was found to be fun, communal and very, very human.
The Gospel According to Karaoke.
I told Mark that should be his next book. I hope he writes it.
Oh, before I go, some of you might be curious.
What song did I sing?
After pouring over title and titles of songs in that huge binder I finally landed on one of my all-time favorites.
I sang "Sweet Child of Mine" by Guns & Roses.