GREETINGS FRIENDS--Pardon if I seem to be shouting, but my Christmas Spirit is all out of whack. I turned off Cheech and Chong's "Santa and his Old Lady" halfway through. I didn't decorate the office until last week. I waited until last Sunday before I put up my own tree. I sent boxes full of ornaments back to storage. I didn't get my Christmas cards made, and even this little thing is bound to be late. What is the matter with me? You don't have to answer that, because for one thing it would take too long, but also because, in this instance at least, I think I know. You see, on Monday I saw a sight that filled me with wonder and formed the basis for my hypothesis.

Monday was my mother's birthday. That isn't particularly wondrous as it's happened quite often in the past, but this time it fell on the day of the last performance of The Phoenix First Assembly's Twentieth Annual Celebration of Christmas, A Story you Won't Forget, "Is There a Place?" and she invited her friend Sister Sorenson, Pat and Sophia, and me to come with her to see it. And I'm glad she did, I want to be perfectly clear on that point just in case someone gives her a copy of this. Thank you, Mom! Now let me set the scene.

The curtains parted to reveal an enormous Christmas tree shaped riser festooned with colored lights and laser beams. The choir sat therein, and while they sang and sang, an angel was dangled over our heads. The audience was invited to sing one part of a carol, but our voices were overcome by the amplified volume of the choir. I couldn't hear anybody in my row sing. I couldn't hear myself sing. Christmas lights flashed all around, and smoke machines filled the air with sweet smelling fog to shoot lasers through. After a big round of applause, "Is There a Place?" began.

You know, you could tell a lot of effort went into every aspect of the show, and I admire that. And I'm sure whoever thought of combining the stories of Oliver!, Annie, My Fair Lady, and It's a Wonderful Life were certain they had a blockbuster on their hands. But the story of a little orphan angel who has one last chance to earn her wings by bringing a fore flawr gel the spirit of Christmas during the English Industrial Revolution was flawed in poignant ways. For example, like George Bailey, the girl (Eliza) is about to give up on life, but unlike him there is no evidence that she has ever done anything that will be missed had she never lived or suddenly ceased to live. The angel takes her to an orphanage where when the children complain that they have no presents, food, or parents, their warden cheerfully reminds them they could be working in a mine. HoHoHo! The angel gives Eliza a vision of Christmas presents that just seems cruel when you know she will awaken still miserable, cold, and broke. Then the voice of the Angel Gabriel tells the little angel that she really messed up (does that mean she will be booted out of heaven?) and he will take over from here.

But instead of Gabriel, the pastor reclaimed the stage and started in with the faith promoting rumors and the exhortations for money. He laid on the guild with a trowel. He insisted that we fill out cards attatched to the programs that have a big box in the corner to check if, "THIS EVENING I HAVE RECEIVED CHRIST AS MY SAVIOR." You could also request "A visit from the church" or a "Special Prayer." He called for and was granted a big round of applause for Jesus. Then he sent the guys with the maroon velveteen bags around to accept donations. Mom, bless her heart, shoes this moment to repay me for the ticket I'd bought for Pat. What was I supposed to think when I saw money coming in my direction at that moment? I waved a guy over and dropped it in his bag. Then and only then was the purpose of the money revealed to me. Pat laughed and said, "This is rich, this is rich." After a few more big rounds of applause, the Nativity Extravaganza was put into motion.

The curtains rose to reveal a variety of Jewish stereotypes lolling about the stage. Eventually, they were joined by a fat gay Roman Tax collector, then the Holy Family. After a while, the Miracle occurred, signified by the lasers hitting the spinning disco ball. Pat called out, "It's raining men! Hallelujah!" then all heaven broke loose upon the auditorium, with lights and music, camels and sheep, cherubim and seraphim. Pat claimed he looked up the skirt of one of the angels who gamboled overhead, though perfectly aware that's the sort of thing that gets you a first class ticket to hell. After a final big round of applause, we were released into the night.

If you are wondering what this has to do with my want of Christmas Spirit, I'll tell you. The Phoenix First Assembly Church is really close to my house. I pass it coming to and from work every day, and sometimes even on weekends. I think my Christmas Spirit has been seduced by these nightly orgies of light and sound, and when it comes staggering back to me it is grouchy and lethargic. I may sue.

Merry Christmas!

Written by Sharon C. McGovern

From Vol. 3
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