There was also a curious song with four female singers titled “Sending You A Little Christmas.” I say curious because it was about being far away from the one(s) you love… and it had some war footage playing on the big screens behind the singers! I think it’s nice to remember our armed forces out in the field during the holidays, and while I find the juxtaposition of bright red santa stockings and machine guns a trifle jarring, I understand that’s their lives… but I was rather startled at the shot of explosions going off around the soldiers diving desperately for cover! I’m not sure I entirely agree that’s suitable viewing material for small children, holidays or no.
I was also a bit uncomfortable when I realized the (hopefully unwitting) power dynamics revealed in the slideshow during this song. There were shots of the soldiers in the field, and there were also several shots of soldiers hugging their loved ones. Interestingly, all the male soldiers were standing and hugging their always-smaller wives, or holding their babies. The sole female soldier I spotted in this sequence, though… was kneeling on the ground between other folks’ legs as she hugged her toddler. I think that’s sweet, and I didn’t have any problem with the individual photos — but when every photo shows men in more powerful positions than women… well, after a while it gets both uncomfortable, and kind of aggravating. I know I don’t want to be pushed, however subtly, into someone else’s expectations of me, after all — especially when they’re nothing like what I want to be like!
The “Twelve Days of Christmas,” which followed, was quite cute, with each number being assigned to a different section of audience, which was encouraged to jump up and yell out their section of the song as loudly as possible. We were seated in “three French hens,” and my companion amusedly noted that next year, if we came, we needed to be sure to sit where either 11 or 12 was. He also noted the timing of the song: at an excellent point to let the restless kids work off a bit of energy!
After that was an interesting version of “Carol of the Bells,” with guitarists and people whacking PVC tubes of various lengths, kind of like a bell choir. It really was nicer than it sounds here — I don’t know how to describe it well. Soon after that, though, was something called “Creation’s Love” in the program. Four people (two women, two men) dressed all in black came out and started talking in turn. They were all smiling, calm, completely normal seeming as they started talked about how beautiful and intricate the world was… and then I realized with shock — they were actually promoting “intelligent design” — in a christmas show!
That, quite frankly, was the beginning of the downhill slide for me. The next song was “My Heart Belongs to You” which wasn’t christmassy at all — it was (I believe) intended to be addressed to Jesus. The fact that it was sung by two men who frequently were turned towards each other amused me; the standing ovation confused me. I didn’t think it was that marvelous a production; like the other parts of the show, the artists were over-produced amateurs. In fact, there wasn’t much christmassy music at all after that, which was a disappointment — there was a verse from “Oh Come, O Come Emmanuel,” and then it was all modern songs which emphasized the virgin birth mythos.
Interestingly, there were four dancers downstage for “Oh Come, O Come Emmanuel.” Each woman was behind a big, backlit rectangle scrim held by other folks, and the effect was a nicely mysterious seeming silhouette of the dancer. However, at some point having just a silhouette made me start noticing other things about the dancers, such as their (relatively skintight) outfits being subtly designed to not strongly accentuate their hips and thighs. Further, none of the different steps were at all… I don’t know what word to use… voluptuous? Sensual? I don’t know if this was a lack of skill on the part of the choreographer — entirely possible, considering it was simply a nice amateur effort — or more of the tired old christian shame/fear of women’s bodies, and the ensuing need to control their sexuality.
Right after that was the minister talking about Jesus being right there in our lives, not distant at all. This became rapidly rather surreal for me — since the people playing the parts of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus (an actual infant rather than a doll) were as far away from the crowd as they could physically get: high up above the stage and as far upstage as possible; in a raised, backlit nook with a scrim hanging between us and them.
Frankly, I was starting to get grumpy at about this point. I know, I had no excuse — it was a Protestant church, after all; of course they’d be pushing their beliefs. But still, I’d really hoped for more of the lovely, awe-inspiring old carols I was raised on as a child… instead of snippets of them taken out of context, along with modern songs which felt almost like they were attempting to guilt-trip me into “accepting Jesus into your life.” There was some almost-rap about Mary tamely acquiescing to the apparently male angel coming to her and saying she was going to be impregnated regardless of her wishes — no mention of the cuckolded husband, of course. There was “How Many Kings” about how only Jesus was a king who’d give up everything to be murdered for our sins. There was “You Ought To Know” — although by that point I wasn’t listening very closely, so whatever it was I ought to know, I don’t.
Perhaps most creepy of these songs was “A Baby Changes Everything,” which had me seriously worried they’d start spouting off about the supposed evils of abortion as well. Fortunately they didn’t, but as a result of that song, I found myself viewing the obligatory “birth of Jesus” panorama going on at the same time with an extremely jaundiced eye. Mary, of course, simply sat and stared with a disturbingly blank-eyed smile down at the baby in her arms, while Joseph bopped around happily welcoming and organizing all the shepherds and Kings around Jesus and Mary. The shepherds and kings, of course, were all male, and the angels (who were mostly out in the aisles and never got close to the baby at all) were all female. I found myself wondering a bit cynically if this church felt Jesus should have no women in his life at all, aside from his powerless and personality-free mother! As I quietly noted to my companion as well, that’s a heck of a resume piece: “played Jesus.”
Afterwards I went through the lobby — which reminded of me more of a nice little hotel than a church — on my way to the bathroom. I was waiting in line as two women were chatting about what a good show it had been. I was polite enough to restrain myself, but I wanted to indignantly ask them: did they really feel the birthday of the supposed Prince of Peace was the time to spout political propaganda? Had they missed the lopsided power structures, the disturbing conflation of church and state in the slide shows, the preponderance of white faces in the auditorium dedicated to a religion that states “There is neither… male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” [Galatians 3:28]; that we should “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” [Mark 12:17, Matthew 22:21, Luke 20:25]; that “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” [Mark 10:25, Matthew 19:24, Luke 18:25]?
The answers should have been self-evident to me, of course; in retrospect I’m glad I didn’t say anything. If I believe I can choose my own origin story, and that it has nothing to do with nonsense about apples, talking snakes, and my gender being the source of all evil in the world… then who am I to tell anyone else what they must believe? We are the sum of the stories we tell ourselves; their stories are simply very different than mine. I was a guest in their house of worship; if I want my stories to be told and shared, I should do it in my own house.
So I guess that’s what it comes down to, for me: in the cold and dark of winter, we gather together in our various communities, and we share with each other. Is that not the most beautiful essence of humanity? We share our warmth and happiness at still being alive, still caring and loving for each other, and we express that joy through our rituals, through our shared beliefs and faiths. That’s the true reason for the season, I think: for us to be generously, deeply, unitedly human.