The big pageant

Beg to Differ reflects on  a little Christmas  miracle

Normally, more about we’re firm believers in the separation of church and business blog. But in this one season, we’re going to make an exception. On the weekend, Dennis Van Staalduinen was part of a real Christmas miracle – one that happens every year at his church. The miracle: the Christmas pageant happened again.


A pageant? You call that a miracle?

Okay, it’s no Jimmy-Stewart-running-down-the-street-yes-Virginia-there-is-a-Santa-Claus kind of miracle. But if you can increase the size of your Grinchy heart a size or two for a few moments, it sure seems like a miracle to me, and I’ve learned a lot from seeing it happen every year.

And I may even convince you that there’s a business lesson or two in there for you.

Believe in the impossible

Sheep on a rope: a glimpse of the mayhem from the Saturday rehearsal.
Sheep on a rope: a glimpse of the mayhem from the Saturday rehearsal.

The miracle is that for the past ten years, it has always looked absolutely impossible. At the annual Saturday dress rehearsal the day before the pageant, kids are always forgetting their lines, a couple of key characters are always missing while other kids show up for the first time hoping for a part, and confused toddlers in sheep heads are wandering everywhere while their “shepherds” whack away at each other with their crooks and angels climb the walls.

General, hair-pulling, ulcer-inducing  mayhem.

But somehow, on Sunday morning, it all happens. The kids settle down. Everyone (mostly) remembers their lines, the donkey says “hee haw” at the right moments, and no angels kill each other – or themselves – to the tune of Hark the Herald Angels Sing. And every year, we all agree afterwards that this was the best pageant ever.

Is that even possible? Nope. Like I said: it’s a Christmas miracle.

Weirdness happens. Roll with it.

Every year I’m reminded how important it is to approach the pageant – and life – with a sense of perspective and a healthy sense of humour. That’s because the pageant is most successful when it isn’t perfect.

A pig in a Jewish stable? At our church, we'll figure it out...
A pig in a Jewish stable? Slightly unorthodox, but at our church, we'll figure it out...

One year, I asked the boy playing the donkey why he showed up in a Grim Reaper-type robe. He told me: ” I’m not a donkey; I’m a Ring-Wraith from Lord of the Rings!” So that year, Mary, Joseph, and the Ring-Wraith made their way to Bethlehem (and you can bet the Centurions and Innkeepers gave them a bit less grief when they arrived).

Another year, the baby Jesus doll wasn’t in the manger when Mary arrived, so the congregation was treated to the sight of a swaddled baby sliding 20 feet across the hardwood floor from the wings. Mary, to her credit, didn’t miss a beat. She picked up the doll and just kept going.

This year, a pre-schooler insisted on dressing in a pink Easter Bunny costume instead of being a sheep. We could have gotten uptight about its “appropriateness”. Instead we just let it happen. The little girl was delighted and the congregation had a good laugh.

At our church, we don’t sweat the small stuff. And we think that a certain swaddled infant would approve.

And the word becomes flesh

Every year, our pageant is a miniature incarnation. The ancient words of a powerful story get translated into my clumsy, corny script, which in turn becomes a framework for the kids as they walk through their paces. And lo, at the end of the process, all our fallible work becomes part of a beautiful, moving, community-energizing event that is a highlight of the year for the whole church.

Think about that for a moment brand communicators. I don’t say that what we do is equal to the Christmas narrative, so please hold off with the lightning bolts. But I do say that the same basic rules that run the universe – and more specifically the human heart – apply to us.

The words we create are meaningless unless they are “incarnated” into human emotions, actions, and commitments. And unless we can express our same old stories  in new ways, in terms that even a child can understand, they’ll just grow stale on the page… or the hard drive… or the blog.

So this is my question for myself:

When I go back to work in the New Year, will my words make human lives better? Will I change my small corner of the world to make it warmer, richer – more human? Will I be generous or selfish?

Can I combine my clumsy efforts together with those of my fellow humans to create something beautiful that will last – something that is greater than the sum of our frail actions?

Is that even possible?

Did I mention miracles?

Thanks for reading Beg to Differ this year. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

3 thoughts on “The big pageant”

  1. Dennis – you do make your small corner of the world richer. You always make me realize the important things, with a good dose of humour perspevctive to make the message palatable. I am happy to have reconnected with you this year, and reading your blog always brings a smile to my face. Thank you for that, and a very Merry Christmas to you and your family.

    1. Wow. After a week of family, festivity, and cold-weather playing in the snow with the kids, I feel richer already.

      Glad to hear you’re enjoying the blog – and staying in touch. Merry Christmas right back to your coast as well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *