Monday, December 21, 2009

Retro Jesus

Yesterday, while visiting family in Kalamazoo, Michigan, I bowed to peer pressure and attended a Christmas "show" at the local megachurch, Valley Family Church ( It was a Christmas pageant with songs from the 60s and 70s, with cast and co-pastors wearing jeans and tie dyed shirts. The description sounded intriguing, so I went along although I had planned to go to the UU church to hear what I'm sure would have been a much more meaningful service on Hope in Hard Times.

The newly built (even in hard times) megachurch had all the usual accouterments--parking attendents, smiling greeters, coffee bar, bookstore, and what looked like fabulous classrooms for the children.

There were glow sticks on the seats and a guided program at the beginning to "practice" using them in response to commands from the video screen. Then one of the co-pastors came on stage and gave a long series of announcements/adverstisements and took the collection. They gave out free traveling coffee mugs if you turned in a "connection card" after the service.

Then the "show" began. For the most part, it was shallow, and at times, downright racist. Their approach was to rewrite words to fit "their" Christian message. Sometimes they parodied singers--Sonny and Cher singing "I got you babe," implying that Joseph and Mary got married before the birth. The Shirrelles (Mama Said) with ridiculous tall fluorescent colored wigs. (all the actors were white). They parodied a black preacher and several times spoke in insulting Jewish and other accents. The worst was when they donned fake leopard skins (men) and hula skirts (women) for "The Baby sleeps tonight" ("Wimoweh" / "The Lion Sleeps Tonight"). They even tossed out plastic leis. The audience roared.

The program notes described the show as a parody--and it certainly succeeded in mocking the original songs and the spirit in which they were written and sung. Yet its purpose supposedly was to bring people to Christ. I wonder how that could be.

There were two points in the show I found meaningful--when Jesus' father sang "King of the Road," reflecting on what it would be like to raise this child. I wish I could remember the lyrics, which were drastically changed, of course.

The second truly touching moment was when Mary sang "Bridge Over Troubled Water" as if she were hearing these words from baby Jesus. The lyrics were only barely changed at the end.

I wish I had thought earlier to take pictures of the lyrics, which were projected on one of the three large screens above the stage. Here are a couple I caught at the end.

This is an invitation across the nation
The light of the world is here .... (Dancin' in the streets)

Yes and how many tears will it take til we know
His death on the cross was not in vain (Blowin' in the wind)

Somehow I doubt they got permission from any of the composers/authors to make these changes. Nor, I imagine, did they even think of it.

As bad as the show was, it did give me the idea that we UUs could do this same sort of show with much deeper meaning. As Tom Schade pointed out, we have the capacity--if we so choose--to more truly embody the spirit of Jesus than those who often claim the limelight at times like these.