Sunday, December 19, 2010


You may have seen the "camel clip" which made its viral way around media outlets over a week ago. A camel loaned out by a company that provides animals for stage and screen productions decided to deviate from stage direction and take a dip into the audience. She was supposed to crouch down at the head of the church aisle and stay still long enough for the rider/actor in a Christmas pageant to safely climb down. Instead, the rider found himself tumbling onto audience members in their pews after the animal fell sideways onto stunned and screaming attenders of the pageant's dress rehearsal perfomance.

One can laugh at this unfortunate event because it turns out that no one got hurt. Thank the Lord. This event is especially interesting to me as it occurred at my former church. Why it is "former" is a long story. But I spent a good chunk of my life there, from age 5-35, with a few off years in between. Duing some of that time, I was involved in the church's annual Christmas program, The Singing Christmas Tree. Real pine branches wrapped around and over fencing and pipe, with ascending rows of wood plank floors that choir members could stand in. There were strands of lights strung on it, too. The tree was almost as high as the church's ceiling.

The costly production was nixed by a recently appointed pastor last year after 37 years. Another story in itself, I'm sure. But my experiences with it began sometime in the 70s when I was in the children's choir. The kiddies had one night to sing secular and spiritual Christmas songs while styrofoam snow shot out of twin tubes in the ceiling. Later, while in high school, I performed in the adult choir for the real shows, spectacles of ornamentation and drama (the performance kind, though there was some of the other to be sure). It was exciting. We'd rehearse all the way from September onward. I was a bass. All the tech was dazzling. I also have warm memories of looking down on the orchestra, cuing in with them for the 5th night on the first bars of "O Holy Night". True "performance", but also a blessing. You know, what it was supposed to be.

After college, I returned to the church choir and for four years I resumed not only singing in the Tree, but videotaping it on alternate nights (I was on the media crew for many years). The production got bigger and bigger. Its purpose was to reach out to the community to display the story of Jesus' birth and the salvation He offers us. In later years, it was decided to also include scenes of Christ's crucifixion and resurrection, more typical for Easter pageants. With the more grandiose presentations, it was inevitable that live animals would be included. It started with live sheep and doves. But another church down south was using camels!

So my old church followed suit, eventually. This year, it didn't go so well. If you read some of the YouTube comments, you may see a "God pushed that camel" or two. I confess, that was one of my first thoughts when I initially saw this clip. Shame on me? Well, I worshipped and worked at my old church for many years and I saw plenty. This post is not designed to reveal old dirt. I could post some, believe me. No, but this recent incident should give everyone pause. Can big production and genuine, Christ-directed outreach co-exist? Truly? During the Tree years, sometimes the latter seemed outweighed. I wonder how the many un- or underchurched in those audiences felt about all the flash.

I thought that was why a new Christmas pageant was decided upon. Certainly there were budgetary reasons, but they still brought a camel in there. The Message doesn't need one, in my opinion. Just sing and praise, is what I say. Maybe God did a little pushing after all....
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