satan in the manger

Around the baby Jesus sit a huddle of squirmy dog eared children dressed as rodents and livestock, their head mics shorting out and all their clever antics and memorization flying out the window. One boy is inexplicably dressed all in red with red pointy ears. Maybe he is supposed to be a squirrel? He looks like satan peering down at the baby Jesus, leering over the cradle. I cannot stop chuckling. My Fellow whispers to me in his best demonic voice, “See you in 33 years, sucker.”lk04_04

All the children are bewildered and befuddled except for camel 2: a tall girl with shiny caramel coloured hair, savvy as Miley before the wrecking ball. She has her part memorized and everyone else’s. John leans in behind me and whispers, “Your daughter is a natural!” He has the wrong daughter. Nora is the camel beside Miley, she has her head in her script, re-reading it anxiously. I don’t know why. Poor dear. She is completely off book, She has comic timing, she has great physicality, she knows all her songs, she absolutely loves it, but she’s panicking: her face buried in her pages so deep she misses her cues. And her mic won’t work. She is getting upset with herself. I see her head darting around looking at the pianist, looking at the director, checking in with Camel 2 who is staring ahead, placid as Lake Tahoe. I of course can say nothing, but smile at her, sending her calm vibes. Hannah-Montana-Christmas-miley-cyrus-300x300

But truth is, I am nervous as hell watching this damn pageant. Why? Because I know the children are under rehearsed, some, like the Boy, have missed one of the few rehearsals and don’t have their lines memorized. Performance day is the first day with props, blocking and costumes. I sit through the entire 1.5 hr dress rehearsal, which largely consists of mic check and toddler herding and my nerves are completely shot by the time the congregation shuffles in. Some of me thinks I should volunteer some time next year and some of me thinks I sure don’t have the stomach for it. The woman in charge is so very calm, I am in utter fascination with her. Fellow looks at me curiously. “Are you alright?” I hiss back, “Honestly! A church of this size should put more funds and time into their Christmas pageant! It makes it stressful for the children and the organizers! They don’t get a chance to be successful. How can they? And believe me, they aren’t content to just be laughed at because they’re cute.”

Fellow gives me that “I’ll just back off right now because you’re being unreasonable” look. Satan peers up at me and smiles, all five and impish. He’s content to be cute.

Why does my mind leap to prime minister Stephen Harper forming a band and singing and playing piano at his own Christmas party? Somehow these things are linked. I think he has a right to play and sing, of course. I’m glad he has music to enjoy as a hobby, I have found that endearing. But who in their right mind plays and sings for a very high profile event without much evident skill or rehearsal, the entire thing televised internationally?! That band would never get hired for anything more than a $50.00 wedding in a back room bar of a small town in Northern Alberta. This is a small but symbolic abuse of power and lack of respect for the craft. Why didn’t he play and sing privately? Why didn’t they hire artists who knew what they were doing and enjoy the gifts of those who slave to be excellent? Why not value the art itself? It isn’t just a chance to be cute. It’s a holy undertaking. Holy.

Imagine if the pageant was something the children knew by heart and could immerse themselves in, stepping out for a huge audience with confidence and excitement? What if they had a bit of rehearsal to get into their bodies and their voices? What if they transported, even for a second or two, to that place in the manger? What if they momentarily did ask, “What can I give him, poor as I am?” What if we saw the innocence of childhood retelling the Christmas story in such a way we can’t help but see it new? What if the prime minister’s Christmas party, filled with over worked highly criticized complicated guarded intelligent adversary politicians and their support teams, actually had an awesome band that transported them momentarily to their high school grad when they squeezed the bottom of their crush and slow danced to “sweet child of mine”. What if they kicked off their heels and loosened their ties and wiggled with a bit of abandon? What if Stephen Harper took a moment to not be the biggest personality in the room and danced with his wife? A gift was missed. And at least half a dozen artists are without a gig. A half a dozen artists who constantly constantly constantly have to justify their existence. And then we ask, “Isn’t this supposed to be a magical time of year?”

Am I being unreasonable?
Photo on 2014-10-28 at 3.29 PM #4
The pageant is finally over. The kids shuffle off the stage, the congregation blinks and claps politely. The dear volunteer organizers sigh with utter exhaustion, an air of apology, and no relief. I feel very badly for them. They had a mammoth task. They head to the back of the church to nibble cookies. Our kids join us in the pew, finally. They seem a bit embarrassed and they don’t want to talk about it. The mouse costume gets handed back to me with a thank you to me for making it. (admittedly, it was awesome, and cool, and thank GOD he seemed to take small comfort in it) Nora is flustered when I further ask, “Did you have fun? It was nice to see you up there!” She looks at me tearfully and says, “I didn’t do a good job. It wasn’t my fault, Mom! My mic kept going on and off, it was very distracting-!” I rub her back and say “I bet it was! But I sure liked the way you swished that tail of yours when you first walked in.” She gives me a small hopeful smile. The two of them bound off to nibble cookies and wrestle with other freed stable creatures in the choir balcony.images

And then…and then…the organist does the postlude: Toccata and Fugue in d minor so powerful it shakes the creche. The pipe organ jolts everyone into lightening bolts for a moment. Some continue their conversations. Children screech and play. Coffee pours, cookies are munched. But many of us sit, blasted with beauty, tears in our eyes as the music relentlessly rips into our hearts, thundering some sort of reverence into us. Two little boys tip toe towards the organist with shy awe and lay underneath his feet, spread eagle on their backs, and listen to the entire magnificent piece. The voice of God this is.

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