Boxing up the church year ~ 2012


Today is Boxing Day. I’m doing a fun job, the culmination of a year’s worth of preparing. I’m putting together a slide show for our church, highlighting the events and activities of 2012. The slide show will be shown at the New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day services. I’ve taken hundreds of photos throughout the year. Now it’s time to sort, crop, zoom and sequence the photos into a visual narrative of sorts. It’s almost as fun as writing, arranging the pictures to tell a story… the story of love for God and love for neighbour at our church.

I wish everyone could take a turn at this job (although no one else seems to be jumping at the chance :-). The photo story magnifies what we know and profess _ the communion of the saints _ showcasing it, holding it up for an appreciative view, like a necklace draped on black velvet, its precious living stones strung together, their shine enhanced by proximity, the glimmer multiplied.

We don’t see each other this way enough. We see one another’s flaws so much more readily – Eugene’s impatience, Dayna’s controlling nature, Lucy’s tendency to complain, Rudolph’s parsimony. (All pseudonyms that apply to me as well as anyone else!) Those flaws are real. But the photos tell a true story, too.

There’s elderly Susan holding little Theo at the baby shower. Jane and Jessie are waiting for their turn. There’s everyone lining up to shake the hands of Mike and Jenn and the others who made profession of faith. There’s the fellowship hall filled to the rafters at the potluck lunch to welcome the pastor. There’s Shane and Clay climbing the tree out in front of the church, Jesse and Caleb playing their gameboys on the piano bench, Kailey and Brooke doing a whimsical jig in the church basement. Baptisms, seniors dinners, choir concerts, Sunday school events, HANDS Team pancake breakfasts, Friendship Sunday, VBS, Gems Mother and Daughter banquet, the Serve Team garage sale, Mindy and Marisa playing their instruments, Harry tuning up the soundboard, Jim and Aijolt peeling potatoes. Exquisite moments of hugs, of friendship, of worship, of work, of support, of love for one another. A multitude of moments that combine to outshine passing irritations with a blinding beauty, like the sun breaking the horizon, so bright you can hardly take it in.

 As the photos flash by, we see beyond our own small church circles – our family clan, our Coffee Break study group, our Council meetings. We see a connected whole that, in the right light and with the right spirit, gives a glimpse of what God sees … his people, his family, his children … his delight. And, in the right light and with the right spirit, we also see God dwelling in us and among us. The Wyoming CRC as just another manger.

I love this job. I love my church.



War Horse

559552_10151158439583451_356241135_n[1](Christian Courier column, November 26th issue, 2012)

$200. That’s what it cost me to see War Horse last month. Bus fare, ticket, meals, driver’s tip. I’m reading Shane Claiborne’s The Irresistible Revolution right now, so I’m wincing at the admission. His remarks about consumerist Christians feel up close and personal.

But let me tell you about War Horse. I’ve read the book, seen the movie, but “the play’s the thing.” With minimal staging, we were cleverly ushered into farmyards, village squares and even battlefields. I loved how scythes could become fences simply by turning them over and butting them together, farmers becoming immobile posts. I loved how stringing pennants up into the audience could rope us effortlessly into a celebratory town meeting, the recruiter cajoling us with stirring patriotic rhetoric. “It’ll all be over by Christmas!” he vows. This is the pulse of drama, suggestiveness coupled with imagination, disbelief suspended. Thomas Merton said, “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” And it’s true. I’m there, ready to sign up for King and country.

A screen above the stage, like a huge torn scrap of paper, afforded further orientation. Simple pencil drawings, sketched live, outlined the geography – patchworked pastures and village rooftops. Archival film footage of the crossing of the English Channel and the twisted, charred tree trunks of No Man’s Land lent sobering realism. But abstract images were equally powerful, a single red drop spreading like blood on the white canvas, dripping, metamorphosing into poppies with quavering paper-thin petals slipping off the edge.

The puppetry is the wizardly part of the production. It’s beyond description really – life-sized horses operated with flawless choreography by agile puppeteers. In seconds you’re mesmerized, hoodwinked, believing the horses are real, every snort and hoof beat credible. They even breathe. The puppetry, not only with respect to the horses but also the larks, crows and a comical goose, represents a phenomenal achievement.

Celtic folk songs smoothed the transitions between scenes, universal and timeless ballads of mothers, wives and sweethearts longing for their men to come home, for their families to be reunited, for the fighting to be over. The plaintive melodies were juxtaposed against the deafening din of battle scenes, the booming artillery reverberating with terrible authenticity. Music, noise and silence combined to generate a subliminal kinesthetic commentary – physiological meaningfulness penetrating muscle and bone.

The story starts small with the love of a boy for his horse, but ripples out concentrically, encompassing the family, Albert, his alcoholic father and long-suffering mother, the village, with its petty local rivalries, and, finally, the whole world, nations engaging in cataclysmic confrontation. Within these overlapping circles, the enduring questions keep bumping against each other: the whys and what ifs.

Was the $200 well-spent? I marveled at the talent and ingenuity of the production, my awe undergirded by praise and adoration for a creative God, the God whom we image in every artistic human endeavour.  T.S. Eliot, in Choruses from the Rock, sums it up so elegantly: The LORD who created must wish us to create / And employ our creation again in His service / Which is already His service in creating.” Amen and amen.

But, further, I’m grateful for any artistic expression that allows us to not only lose ourselves, but to find ourselves, to perceive the multiplicity of our own being – the wild amalgam of nobility and degradation, holiness and profanity that we are – because such discovery can propel us toward the “other,” the neighbour who is not so different from us, after all. The fact that Joey, the war horse with an oh-so-human name, served on both sides of the combat deliberately places such recognition in the crosshairs of our consciousness. As we gaze upon the fractures in Albert’s family and in Europe, upon the dead and dying horses in the mud of Flanders, we also see the cracks and fissures in our own families, in our own neighbourhoods and in our world. But as Christians, we’re invited to look with the eyes of Jesus, the Saviour who ignites redemption and restoration through Incarnation, the supreme example of embracing the “other,” divine embracing human. What Marilynne Robinson said about fiction is true of all the arts: “I think fiction may be, whatever else, an exercise in the capacity for imaginative love, or sympathy, or identification.”

Exiting the theatre, a turbaned teenager stepped back to allow me to leave ahead of him. I smiled and thanked him. It was … priceless. And when I got home, Shane’s book still on my night table, I gave a donation to our church’s school-building project in Belize: my heart stretched, perhaps, by this exercise of its “capacity for imaginative love.”