Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Mercy 9:3

Sunday night, we joined a caravan of friends and journeyed up to Chattanooga for the Mercy 9:3 Benefit concert, an event to raise funds in support of various organizations providing AIDS relief, especially in Africa. Musically, there was a lot of good stuff going on:

  • Matthew Perryman Jones played a short set, supported by a skilled percussionist, and they sounded great. I'm very excited about MPJ's new album, set to release in just a few weeks.
  • I had never heard of Judd and Maggie, a brother and sister folk-esque duo, but they really impressed me. Both of them were very talented, and Maggie has quite an amazing voice. They are currently touring with ...
  • Derek Webb and Sandra McCracken, both of whom played a set during the second half of the evening. I've gushed enough about Derek and Sandra lately, so I'll merely re-state the fact that seeing them solo is always a treat, but seeing them play a show together is wonder-tastic. Sandra announced that she will have a new album releasing this summer, and she played a couple of new songs, including the wonderful -- and appropriate -- "Chattanooga."
  • Dave Barnes closed out the evening and was entertaining, in a very Ritalin-needing kind of way. His bass player was pretty awesome.

  • Overall, it was a great night of music. (The only real disappointment was the absence of Randall Goodgame, who was originally slated to play, but was not able to attend.)

    But of course, the evening was about more than just music. The benefit was actually the senior thesis project of a Belmont student, and speakers from various relief organizations spoke in-between musical acts. The name "Mercy 9:3" was an allusion to John's account of Jesus healing the man born blind. The disciples speculated on the cause of the man's blindness -- specifically, whose sin caused it -- and Jesus responded that "it was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him." One theme of the benefit was that true mercy is more concerned with showing compassion and relief to those in distress regardless of the circumstances or harmful choices that led to their need. This emphasis is very important for an issue like AIDS, which has a considerable stigma attached to it.

    In between musical acts, representatives from various relief groups spoke about different ways for Christians to help engage the AIDS crisis: Blood/Water Mission, African Leadership, Chattanooga CARES, and the ONE campaign were all represented. Most of them addressed issues involved with providing relief to the horrific conditions in Africa, although one group (see if you can guess which) focused on ministering to local AIDS victims and their families. All of the speakers had encouraging yet convicting things to say. The speaker from ONE, a former Ugandan refugee, was quite impressive and has even addressed the G-8 summit. Derek Webb, during his set, also had some great comments about how the Gospel directly connects to the kind of relief work being promoted at the benefit, especially as a proclamation of the coming Kingdom where there will be no poverty or famine or disease. I appreciated the fact that he carefully set Christian relief work into the context of the finished work of Christ. He flatly condemned the claim that affluent Western Christians face God's judgment for failing to address poverty, countering that notion with the fact that Christ has already perfectly fed the poor on our behalf. Our acts of charity do not win us favor with God -- only Christ can. Rather, the cross has freed us and enabled us by the Spirit to carry out the work of the Kingdom. These comments only confirmed my belief (stated elsewhere) that Derek is laying a much more cohesive and sturdy foundation for Christian social outreach than some other Christian activists. Hopefully, such sound articulations will continue to encourage the faithful to more boldly proclaim the Gospel in both word and deed.

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