A couple of years ago, our local children’s theatre troupe had to close its doors for lack of funding. Several of us were deeply saddened by the news, but obviously not enough of us to make a difference. My wife had the crazy idea that maybe our church could fill this void in the community. I couldn’t tell if she was serious or not, but I wanted to appear supportive. So I responded with my best non-committal smile, “Yeah, that would be something, wouldn’t it?” A week later she told me that several others were on board; they would start planning the show.
I went through all of the reasons why it wouldn’t work. We didn’t have any money set aside to pull this off. Decent costumes and sets cost money, not to mention enlisting the services of a competent director. And if this thing was to be driven by volunteers, our church would have to grow in a hurry. We aren’t a large enough operation to carry out such an ambitious plan for an entire month. But the real hesitation for me was quality. I knew what church productions were like. A bunch of kids dressed in bathrobes singing tacky songs against a backdrop constructed of pipe cleaners and Elmer’s glue. And that’s okay — we’re all okay with it. Because it’s church. And it doesn’t have to be good. It just has to be sweet and lovable and kind. As long as we do something for Jesus, it doesn’t matter how pedestrian the quality. So I made my peace with the decision, comforted by the fact that, at the least, grandparents would get some memorable photos of the kids.
This weekend I realized how wrong I had been. I watched a team of 30 or so children put on a thoroughly enjoyable show. They sang… and sang well. They danced… some better than others. Kids were involved at all levels of the performance — running lights, helping with sound, offering stage direction. The script was phenomenal, co-written by a church member who composed every one of the songs. She even enlisted a band so that we didn’t have to use any canned music.
To be fair, we weren’t doing Broadway. Our little show won’t be on the list of Tony nominees this year, or any year. But it counts for something that we refused to settle for “good enough.” More importantly, we didn’t use our faith as an excuse for poor taste. See, somewhere along the way it became acceptable to offer a third-rate product in the Church. We accommodated for tacky and cheap because it was “for the Lord” or “with the right heart” — the equivalent of giving a lousy birthday present and explaining it away with, “it’s the thought that counts.” Truth is, there’s not much thought in it at all.
I realize that quality is subjective — it’s relative, always. In comparison to a large congregation with lots of funding, our production might have looked like pipe cleaners and glue. And then there are the little churches like the ones I grew up in, where a bathrobe nativity play is plenty ambitious for one volunteer to handle. But regardless of the setting, our divine imagination can always expand. We can make the effort to dream a bit deeper and lift our souls a margin more. Too often the name “Christian” gives sanction to inferiority. Instead, that name ought to compel us toward a deeper experience of the combustible intersection where the holy and the human kiss.
I can’t help but wonder what we’re actually teaching our children about this beautiful faith when we set the bar so low for creativity and artistic expression. Yes, God can be praised by our “joyful noise,” if that’s all we’re capable of. But I think there are plenty of cases when we’re capable of much more than a noisy mediocrity.
When we teach our children to create well, we also teach them to worship well.