Shrek's been in the house the last few weeks. Our church in Bashaw has hosted nine performances (and all the costumes, sets and rehearsals) of Shrek: The Musical. And it was awesome. "Really, really," as Donkey says.
After the final show, one of the audience came up to me and said "are you the pastor of this church?" I said yes and he said "well that was just wonderful. I think it's great that you allow this here."
Not the first time I've heard that comment and I'm still so surprised to hear it that I don't really know what to say. I said "thanks."
The thought never crosses my mind that we "allow it." I think we treasure it.
I should mention, if I haven't before, that Bashaw Community Theatre stages its performances in the church itself, not in the hall. The swamp and castle for Shrek cover the cross (and most of the front of the church). Just as the sets did for all the previous plays. So I can see why some people might think that there's an issue of appropriateness.
Not to mention content, right? Shrek's full of ogres and fairytale characters and, well, there's that burp and fart competition that Shrek and Fiona have. Oh, and Pinocchio says "crap" and Little Red Riding Hood says the swamp "smells like butt." But I'm pretty sure I've talked about this kind of thing before. This isn't our first play with farting. Or fairytale characters, or fighting, running, yelling or anything else that people might think is inappropriate to a sacred space. Don't even start me on the symbols of ancient Egyptian religions in Aida or the man-eating plant in Little Shop of Horrors.
Yes, I can see why there may be some questions and we've had them, too. There has even been times that we changed a thing or two. What's always been important to us, I hope, has been that we are true to our understanding of what makes a space sacred.
And that has been on my mind this week, because the third Sunday of Advent is joy and I think that is a big part of it.
It would be easy to point to the enjoyment of everyone in the audience, it's really good entertainment. How do you value the smiling and wondering faces of children and adults enthralled with Shrek, Donkey and Fiona only a few steps away from them or the fun the cast and crew have in putting it all together? There's a lot of happiness to go around.
But, more than that, there's a deeper and more profound joy. A place is not made sacred because we say so or because we put a label on it, it's made sacred by the spirit of those who gather there to create a community in which everyone's gifts are acknowledged, encouraged and embraced. It's made sacred by the sharing of struggle and success, the moments of achievement and fulfillment, the lifting of spirits, the warmth of relationships and yes, even the happiness. When people feel welcome, appreciated and safe, then amazing things happen.
You might enjoy a great show, you might feel touched by the ideas and themes or even the performance itself. One person at Shrek said that it's so great to see something that's so much fun for kids, but has such a great message about how we judge others and about knowing who we really are. But there's more: there's a sense of family. For cast and crew, it comes from all those hours together, from all the hard work, the learning and growing and, most importantly, the relationships we build. That's the deeper joy of knowing a place where you belong because you're you. That's a place where love is shared.
We call it community theatre, but I'd hope that might be how we'd talk about church, too. And, yes, I know that not all churches are like that, nor are all groups that call themselves "a community." I also know that the ideal that we call a "family" can struggle as well.
But, listen, here is good news: the joy of Christmas is that very thing. It isn't about the stuff that will make us happy for a moment, but the moment that will stick with your heart through happiness and grief, struggle and success, comfort and conflict. In that moment will be love, shared.
That's what makes the family or community. Or church. That's what brings true joy, that love is present and we belong in it.
In the darkest moment, light came.
In the meanest moment, love came.
In the quietest moment, the Word was spoken into life.
And in the loneliest moment, we found belonging.