Parties may not seem an appropriate Lenten theme, but, as Dad and I discussed just last week, the celebration of Jesus' resurrection each Sunday overrules any fasting. Party on, as they say.

Last night I went to a birthday party of an Argentine friend and on the crowded cross-town bus back, I got to thinking what makes a good party. I decided a good party is one that is remembered with either a sigh of happiness, or a shriek of laughter. And both sorts are well remembered with others, since such events are too full to be held by one memory alone. So here, in no particular order, are seven great parties I celebrated on that bus ride home:

Union Theological Seminary's Christmas Party, New York City, December 1998
Such a beautiful night - Bekah singing Amazing Grace, DJ asking Rachel to marry her, compliments on the dancing. I still could cry.

Helen R's party, Harbourne, summer of ...1991 or 2
Gatecrashers, frozen daffodils, destroyed garden walls, loads of us sleeping over but only until Helen set us cracking at 7 am to clear up the food fight outside and retrieve the garden furniture from down the street.

Ethan's party, Palermo, February 2006
Ethan the social magnet. International jet-set plus dirty backpackers and gay porteños. Eunhye and I leaving 'early' at 4 am, as yet more people arrived.

Afternoon party, St John's, summer 1994

Sandwiches and cake, tea and chat, (veggie) jelly and ice-cream, in this girls-only gathering (until Alun arrived).

Japanese party, Lima, December 1995
Armed security, the embassy set, professional photographers, a swimming pool full of balloons, Chara teaching me to salsa. And after, the siege of the Japanese embassy and, years later, reading Bel Canto at Katherine's and thinking how strange life is.

Utila parties, Zero-siete and on the dock, Utila, summer 1995
Free rum, Marley, star gazing with Jo and Jon.

My seventh (at a guess) birthday party, Wolverhampton, October 1980
The one where I got to have an outside party (after years of envying my sister being born in July). Halloween pumpkins and the smell of candles.

He said also to the one who had invited him, "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous." (Luke 14.12-14)

Following Jesus, Christianity often talks of heaven as a party. But what kind of party are we getting ready for, and what shall we wear, or take? Because, I'm not interested in some dull gathering. I want this party to be full of good music, swirly dancing, the people I long to spend time with and others who I'm just discovering how much I'll enjoy hanging out with. And there should be party snacks bright with artificial colouring to hype you up, glitter, conversations on the doorstep, lost shoes, kisses, experimental cooking, what seem to be very important discussions, and someone asleep in the corner.

Latin American theology makes good use of the theme of fiesta, to illustrate the need for everyday celebrations amidst hard times, and a way of talking about God and ourselves that happens over tortillas, wine and dancing. James Allison, a British theologian who has spent much time in Latin America, also uses the idea of a party to describe life in the Christian community, asking, like Jesus, who is invited and how we treat those we are surprised to find there.
So I’d like to say that for me being Catholic is being at a huge and very spacious party at which there are an awful lot of people, most of whom are not at all like me and with whom I don’t have much in common. Furthermore this is a party to which I have been invited not because I’m special, or any of the other people are special, but because the host invited me, part of his little joke, a joke whose full sense isn’t yet clear to me. And yet I’m beginning to get the sense that it is a good joke, that the intention behind it is benign, and that if only I can let go of taking myself too seriously, then I’ll get it and will really enjoy the dance.

One of the things about this party is that quite a lot of us spend quite a lot of time trying to work out who should be at the party and who shouldn’t, even when the evidence is that the host is pretty promiscuous in his invitations.…

…The capacity for party seems to be grinding to a halt because of the question of whether, after all, the promiscuous host isn’t once again trying to smuggle a new bunch of people past the bouncers and get them into his party; or whether it is not the promiscuous host who’s doing the smuggling at all, but some evil agent who wants to destroy the party by infiltrating evil people into it, people incapable of partying.

May we never lose our ability to party, or our willingness to help others to do so.

You can read the complete talk by James Alison, given at Sarum College during a conference on human sexuality, here.