How to Meet Friends and...Well, Okay, Just That

Last night, my husband and I took our two daughters to see what we thought was going to be the Story of Christmas--you know, the birth of Jesus and the nativity-- at a local Mega Church.  It turned out to be the entire life story of Jesus, complete with a really bloody and realistic crucifixion.  It was well done --very dramatic-- if not what what we were expecting. (And also? Jesus kind of had a New Yawk accent so when he said. "Fatha, forgive dem for dey know not what dey do," it kind of sounded like maybe he was talking to the GODFATHER, if you know what I mean.)

We were TRYING to give our kids some connection to the reason for the Christmas holiday but really, it was sort of depressing. I mean, the story IS violent and bloody and we shouldn't ever forget Christ's suffering. I was just hoping more for the "Great Tidings of Joy, babe in the manger" focus and what we got was a slightly Vegas version of the murder of Christ.  The show barely touched on the resurrection and then it was over.

Except the part when the pastor asked for converts but...sort of sounded like a used car salesman.  I don't know, maybe I was just in a poor frame of mind --my foot was giving me a lot of trouble and I was tired.  But the God I know doesn't speak to me through a bazillion decibel sound system, or through a play that was filled with the drama and suffering of Christ's life, but lacking all of the joy, serenity and love I associate with him.

And then, as a crowning touch, Jane (10) had a bad nightmare (all that gore) and we were up half the night.  

I decided to take my two dogs for a walk in the woods this morning to clear my head and because their boundless joy and enthusiasm makes me laugh out loud and is contagious.  I was a teeny bit apprehensive, though, because the last time I'd taken them, I ran into this red-headed guy who had two Australian Shepherds ON the leash and, um, MY dogs were OFF the leash and wild; barking at the guy and his dogs and not coming when I called.  My dogs are bigger than Australian Shepherds and I felt like we were big bullies, picking on the smaller, more well-behaved.  I was shouting for them but they wouldn't listen and I didn't even get to apologize to the guy before I had to chase my dogs down and snap their leashes on. (Much scolding ensued.)

So, we set out and before I'd gone 100 yards, I came across this: 

It's not a great picture (phone) but it's of a tree along the trail that someone decorates each year.  (Last year, I actually came across the fellow as he was decorating it but I was distracted (had lost my dogs --sensing a trend?) and didn't get to ask him why he did it.  I did pet HIS dog (a lovely golden retriever) (ON the leash, thank you) and thank him for his festive gesture.)  My heart soared.

I let the dogs off of their leashes and marched along happily, feeling the bite of the air but enjoying being out.  The woods are so beautiful --it never ceases to renew and inspire me.  And then, as luck would have it, we ran into the red-headed guy (Troy) with his two Aussies and they were off of the leash and my dogs played with HIS dogs (Scout barking schizophrenically the whole time) and I got to apologize for how crazy my dogs are and for not having them on the leash.  He turned out to be this really cool guy.  He said, "It's okay when they're ALL off of the leash because then they just run and play." and  "It's always good to run into someone whose dogs are more wild and uncontrolled then mine."  

I don't know. Somehow I found the joy of Christmas right then, in the whimsy of a random act of beauty and in the casual, kind interaction with a stranger and fellow woods-lover.  Maybe it doesn't have to be any more complicated than that. 


Unknown said…
yay, i'm glad you found it. i kinda got mine this weekend too,. not sure how but it arrived.

That play sounds..ummm...interesting. I would like a little baby in the manger, cattle lowing right now, even if I don't believe in it. So i am listening to Andrea Bocelli sing my favorite christmas songs in italian. LOVE that man's voice.
hokgardner said…
I drove along Loop 360 out in Westlake today, and dozens of trees along the road have been randomly decorated. And it lifted my spirits.

And I went to an Easter pageant at a mega church once, and it was a lot like what you described, complete with asking for converts. I could feel my in-laws' eyes boring into my head, urging me to step forward. But I didn't.
Annabanana said…
"And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store? What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?"
TexasPeach said…
I was thinking of the trees along the Loop too when I was reading the "preview" to the post. I miss driving along there and seeing all the trees decorated.

I don't understand why a Christmas pageant would have the entire life story of should have been the Nativity story. Those big mega churches to me are not what church is about. Our church in Austin was really big but it never felt felt like home. When we had our huge choir and orchestra services every year for the community..that was what it was about...the birth of Christ and we never "recruited"..they were meant as an offering and to celebrate Christ's birth by sharing it with all the people through the music. I'd have been so turned off by what you saw..which was not something that I would have wanted to share at Christmas with my son. I'd expect that story at Easter..not Christmas!
Barb Matijevich said…
You know, this church, in particular, started 30 years ago in someone's basement. And this show was obviously reaching a lot of people. It just isn't the sort of thing that speaks to me. I think lots of those churches do great work--food pantries and shelters, etc. And it's entirely hypocritical for me to be judging when I don't have a church home, nor attend church regularly. I think maybe I have problems with organized religion in general, and that's why I reacted so strongly. It was good to feel what I needed in the woods, though. I'm grateful that the God I know meets me on the ground where I feel most comfortable...
tanita✿davis said…
OH, NO. I'm so sorry. I didn't see that Mel Gibson movie for the same reason. No, we should never forget his suffering but -- with little kids, can we maybe tone it down? And maybe celebrate now the birth and the Advent?


The joyous thing is that kids are resilient, and they, too, will find their connection to the Story.

Happy Christmas.
Hannah said…
Barb, I'm responding partly to your post and partly to your follow-up comment. If you think about, when Jesus was born, He came outside of what was organized religion at the time. He was born in Bethlehem, not Jerusalem, which was the center of Judaism at the time. Three wise men -- pagans -- had to follow a star to find Him; the learned sages could look up the information about where He would be born, but they didn't care to seek Him themselves. I believe that many of us who find Him today find Him by following a "star" -- i.e. by seeking Him and finding Him in a quiet, non-showy way. He promised that those who seek Him will find Him. It shouldn't take too much human embellishments and Vegas-likes shows to point people the way to Him.

Just my .02.
lulubelle said…
Whew! Thanks, Barb...I really, really needed that infusion of the Christmas spirit. I was actually moved to tears by the exchange you had with the guy and his dogs. The spirit lives in each of us, and I find it so easy to forget that in the midst of the holidaze madness.
Anonymous said…
Felt a lot like you lots of times, but it was heartening to hear someone express the same feelings.

If getting religion gives you nightmares, maybe it's not the kind we want, anyway?

I am for "Jesus Loves You" for young people because it gives them strength when they need it. A guy thrashing around on the cross doesn't cut it for them—or for us. Thanks for your voice.
STQ said…
I heard a sermon recently that pointed out how very cool it was that the poorest of the poor (shepherds) and the richest of the rich (kings) were called by God to see Jesus. Mega churches aren't for everyone, neither are neighborhood churches. It's important to find a place you belong and fit in. The important thing is that you find somewhere to attend. God will certainly meet you where you are comfortable! Merry Christmas, Barb and fam!!
Becca said…
Oh, dear... I'm so sorry that Jane had a nightmare, but why wouldn't she?

When we lived in VA, my husband, daughter and I went to a random church for a Christmas story thinking that we would be reminded of that quiet, holy night. Our church didn't have a Christmas production, so we innocently went. Instead, we also got to see a crucifixion. My daughter was only about 8 or 10 years old at the time. I mean, it's not like we don't know the Easter story; we just weren't prepared for that kind of drama. (We're Anglicans and are great at keeping Christmas and Easter separate.) I was rather angry about it, because I feel like there should've been some notice on the church sign for those who didn't wish to see the "new and improved" type of Christmas drama.

Try this instead... go visit a hospital maternity ward (I think they will let people do that) and just look through the big window at all of those tiny human packages all bundled and wrapped, so fresh from the hand of God. And realize the miracle that Jesus willingly desired to live as one of us, to start out life on earth as a tiny, helpless, beautiful baby. What love!!! Imagine it!

To all the mega churches out there... please be mindful of other's feelings. There is plenty of time for Easter. And Jesus didn't beat people over the head; He met them in their need and loved them.

I hope Jane is feeling better!
Miri said…
Merry Merry Christmas to your beautiful family, Barb. And especially to you. Wish I could take a walk (or a yoga class!) with you this season.
Susan said…
Our Christmas is totally secular, but we have read the bible with our kids over the years in an effort o educate them and it is amazing how terribly violent so much of it is - so disturbing. I can undertand the nightmare Jane had.

Glad you found your holiday spirit.
Bullwinkle said…
Yay for woods and cool nippy air and dogs playing - off leash.

(Bummer about the previous misbehaving - been there - I find the trick is to find the people before the hyper-vigilant, better hearing, better smelling, faster dogs can. Good luck with that.)