Last night was the first time I had spent Christmas Eve away from family in a long time. Perhaps ever? I ended up going out caroling with a group of friends in town. It was a big group -- maybe 30 adults and children -- although nobody seemed to know any of the second verses. We sang "Jingle Bells" and "Rudolph," "Silent Night," and "O Come All Ye Faithful." At our last stop, the people in the lobby of the apartment building we visited came out and sang with us.
After about an hour and a half of tromping through the residential areas of Greenfield, we headed to the Rendezvous, a neighborhood bar in nearby Turner's Falls -- one of those rare places that manages to be both friendly and hip at the same time. One of the organizers of the caroling is a co-owner of the bar, so he closed it down for the evening and we had a potluck feast -- with homemade eggnog (made with the eggs of local chickens). Not to mention flan and samosas! Candles were lit. The Beatles' White Album was playing. The vibe was festive, yet chill. I had planned to stay only a few minutes, yet found it difficult to tear myself away.
I have no idea how many of the participants last night were churchgoers (if any). But I am very sure that Jesus would have felt more at home at this gathering than squeezed into an uncomfortable pew. He probably would have asked for a second helping of eggnog, too.
This book took me through ten states and over 10,000 miles of highway, to rural Appalachia and the Mississippi Delta, prosperous New South suburbs and New Orleans after the flood. I talked to pretty much anyone who would talk to me—black and white, rich and poor, liberal and conservative, Baptist, Pentecostal, and Catholic.
I witnessed protest rallies and Pentecostal tent revivals. I visited megachurches and a pacifist Christian commune. I met a few scary people and many more kind, hospitable ones.
I heard some stories you might or might not believe...