Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Things You Don't See (or, How the Christmas Eve Service Went from Sublime to Chaotic)

The setup
To begin with, the sanctuary was very dark. The only light came from a few candles, and a couple strings of white Christmas lights spread around the edges. In addition, a stand light was clipped onto the podium from which our readers would share the scriptures, and a piano light stood to illuminate the book out of which I was playing. All lyrics were projected onto the screen, so that nobody would have the need to read out of a bulletin or hymnbook.

Beginnings of a Disaster
It was my fault, really. One of the highlights of the evening was to be the Isaiah 9 passage scrolling slowly across the screen, word by methodical word, as the pensive and haunting "O Come" from John Doan's "Wrapped in White: Visions of Christmas Past" played over the sound system. Only I had forgotten to get the powerpoint file of Isaiah 9, complete with transitions, to our display operator. At the last minute she asked me about it; I ran to my office, copied it to a flash drive and ran it up to her in the balcony. She loaded it and checked the title page, and all looked well.

The Disaster presents itself
Here was the problem. I had used a particular font for the main portion of the Word "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. . ." A font that looked beautiful on my laptop. A font that wasn't accessible on the computer used for projections. Thus, rather than seeing "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light," our people instead saw a series of empty boxes and jiggles and wingdings and such. The Scripture reduced to incomprehensible nonsense. The intimacy of Christmas Eve turned to confusion and humor.

But I'm trained to manage disasters.

I say something about "technical difficulties," and grab my Bible, making my way to the reading light, from whence I shall read Isaiah 9 in my best Prophet voice. I assume the powerpoint is turned off.

Only, as I read I can tell from my peripheral vision that the powerpoint is, in fact, carrying on. This, I think, could be confusing. By slide 2 and 3, the font is actually back to normal and thus is readable, but if my reading isn't lining up with the powerpoint, then people will be all the more confused. We'll be out of sync. All this goes through my mind as I continue to read. "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given. . ."

Disaster hits in full
So I turn slightly, attempting to see where the powerpoint, scrolling behind me, is actually at. And at that precise moment, when my head is slightly turned to look behind me, while my voice is droning on "and he shall be called Wonderful. . ." it is in that rotation of my head, that my contact lens pops out of my left eye and flies into the darkness.

Into the pitch black of Christmas Eve.

My expensive, one-of-a-kind, highly specialized lens for my very rare corneal condition. Gone.

I read on, trying to see if it landed on me, or on my Bible, or on the stand. No luck.

I regret bringing up a Bible with very small print.

I consider that stopping to look for the contact would ruin the moment. That it would be something people talked about for years and years to come. So I press on.

And so, for the second half of the service, I'm completely blind in one eye.

It's very difficult to play the piano when you can't really see your music. And it's tougher to play when you can't really see your left hand, either. And it's tough to lead a group prayer when you can't really read the words on the projection screen, due to its oblique angle and my having only one good eye. And it's really hard to concentrate on the moment when you're watching people walk up to the front in the dark, and wondering which will step on and crush your one-of-a-kind contact lens, your lens which you won't be able to replace until sometime after the New Year. I was thinking about appointments and insurance when I should have been concentrating on the manger scene and all the people gathered around.

And Yet
And yet. . .when Heather read "Mary's Carol," by Walter Wangerin Jr., my soul was deeply stirred. And Ron's reading of John 1 goes down as one of the most powerful scripture readings I have ever been witness to.

And the a capella 3rd verse of Silent Night - it was as if the congregation left and a professional choir walked in, as if the angels joined us to sing along. It almost left me in tears.

The conclusion of the matter
When all was said and done, Doug grabbed a flashlight and helped me find the contact lens, still in perfect condition, on the floor beneath the reading station. And we all went out into a quiet, joyous Christmas, filled again with joy at the good news delivered to all people, that our savior was born to us.

I just keep thinking there must be a metaphor in all this, a good sermon illustration, but I can't figure out exactly what it is yet. Perhaps a kind reader might illumine the rest of us, showing us how God spoke through a mishandled powerpoint and the disappearing eyesight of the pastor.

Or maybe we just ought to get rid of all technology on Christmas Eve and celebrate a Luddite Christmas next year.


MilePost13 said...

yet further proof that Satan dwells in PPT...

Kim said...

There's got to be some profound spiritual significance in all of this, and I'm sure I'll find it as soon as I stop giggling...

Merry Christmas, Dan! :-)

Linda Anderson said...

Had you not said anything, most would not have known anything was amiss except the powerpoint, which does weirdness on occasion, and we shrug it off. Christmas Eve was a lesson in "get out of the way and let God..." for some of us. As usual, your piano concerto was flawless and the service touched hearts. For years I have used the Christmas Eve service as a sort of "bribery" (or maybe it was a form of "guilt for their own good")against my children. The deal was: Candlelight Service and then family gathering at my house for gifts and food. This year we were tested in that work and other things altered everyone's ability to carry on the tradition--or so I thought. After planning to do the family gathering thing on Christmas afternoon, I was blessed with the unexpected gift of getting off work early and being able to attend the service after all. On top of that, all the kids came on their own! Then the ultimate blessing (of the evening) happened. Heidi left for work and Jon was visiting and after 11 sometime I realized I didn't have my cell phone--can't live without that, so we determined it must have fallen out of my pocket at the church while I was sitting on my jacket. Jon drove me down to the church and there it was, right under the pew where we had all sat. As I tucked it safely in a different pocket, Jon said, "Mom, can we just go up in front and sit and talk for a while?" Duh! We talked for nearly and hour and a half, answering his questions like 'why do I (Jon) feel like crying everytime I walk into this church?' 'why do I make such foolish choices so often?' 'why does Doug always want to pray with me?' 'why does God make bad things happen to good people?' Answer #1 is that God is touching your heart. #2 is you're 25, single and still finding your niche. #3 because Doug wants you to enjoy a relationship with the Lord. #4 The truth of God's love is not that He allows bad things to happen to good people, but that He is always right there beside us when they do. Trials come to make us stronger and increase our faith. We talked about the meaning of some things he recalled from the service and left with cold seats and hearts that were pondering (his) and rejoicing (mine). God took over early in the day and worked a plan for Christmas Eve that was better than all of us could have imagined. Thanks for being a willing participant---and I'm glad you found your lens!

Kim said...

I feel I must add - I'm not laughing at you. It's just that you tell such an entertaining story! It also helped me recall all the church service mishaps I've lived through over the years - that I can look back on now and laugh about. Of course, they were MUCH less funny at the time...

Gracie said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one laughing out loud, and I do mean to say, loudly!! I'm sorry it didn't go as planned (kinda).