Nativity Remix

A local conservative church here in Crieff, Scotland asked members to create floral arrangements to symbolize the birth of Jesus. These could be traditional, literal representations of the stable with Jesus in the manger, or something more abstract. A friend of mine, who is a member of the church, invited me to design and construct one with him.

Some days later I envisioned a stable made of rusted, broken, ugly, inorganic materials with a single sprout of new life wedged into the rubble. (The emergence of something New in the midst of the old world-order of brokenness and decay).

On a walk, we found an old dump pile loaded with broken glass, rusted metal and chicken wire. In another place we found a piece of barbed wire on a fence. My friend suggested a single lily nestled in highland moss instead of the sprout I initially suggested.

Below you can see the result (click on the photos for a larger view).

Right now this same church faces a crisis and a test. One of their members just came out to them as gay. The pastor knew for a few years, but as long as the man stayed relatively silent about it, the church had no problem. Suddenly, as an openly gay man, some members of the church feel they need to “manage” the situation.

One elder tried to persuade the man to step down from his elected position as worship coordinator. The pastor pressured the man to stand aside and not lead the pre-Christmas service that he had been asked to organize and lead weeks before. More meetings will take place over the next few weeks with the worse case scenario that this gay man will be removed from the membership roles and forbidden to serve the church in any way and only just allowed to attend services as a guest.

This serves as a test for the church. Suddenly the Outsider, the Alien, the Other stands among them. Do they rely only on their assumptions and ignorance and chuck him out like an unwanted and inconvenient pile of rubbish? Or do they labor to love this man, to understand his world, to recognize the years of work he has done to embrace both Christ and his sexuality?

If God were a novelist, I doubt God could script it much better than this. The church gathers to celebrate the birth of the OTHER among them, the Stranger Savior, who religious leaders ultimately execute and the Church then embraces as the cosmic scapegoat.

Parallel to this celebration, a man, a brother, reveals he is not exactly who they always imagined, but something more, something different, something new for them (or perhaps something they have been avoiding and managing for years). Will they embrace this new part of the person among them and allow their understanding of him and the scriptures to grow?

The ending remains unclear. Perhaps we will see a Christmas miracle and the appearance of wise women and wise men who will recognize Christ in their midst in each and every member of their community, even the queer ones.

This post has 9 Comments

  1. Adrian Lovel-Hall on December 23, 2006 at 4:03 pm

    Hi Peterson

    What an amazing portrayal through your and your friend’s display of the love and wonder of Christmas – and the “Other”. I have recently been ‘side-stepped’ in Church life in South Africa by someone too scared to come out and be counted in the Praish as a gay man … a gay priest. I am not sure how the parish is going to react to it … lose or gain … but a debate/discussion I wanted to start in the community has been ‘postponed’ to the new year as at Christmas, we should not talking about a gay fellowship in a Parish.
    My prayer at this Christmas season is that God will be born again in the manger of our hearts – to waken us to the simple faith, to the love that is unending and the peace which passes all understanding.
    Best wishes and peace from New York. Enjoy Scotland!

  2. KJ on December 23, 2006 at 4:09 pm

    Well done! You nativity intepretation needs little explanation.

    Regarding the coming out of the worship coordinator: I firmly believe such situations are the only way that we are going to see change as Christian believers are forced to reconcile their preconceptions with the person they know — Pebbles in a pond.

  3. nonsequitur on December 23, 2006 at 5:05 pm

    I love your creative nativity scene and I feel for the man who is currently reckoning with his church over the issue of sexuality. There have been many churches worldwide who have suddenly been faced with this dogma-inspired conundrum and there will be many many more to come.

  4. Peterson Toscano on December 23, 2006 at 5:39 pm

    adrian, thanks for commenting. One of these days we will once again be on the same continent.

    kj, I agree. Coming out, expressing ourselves, affection in public, all of that are both personal and public steps.

    nonsequitor, yeah, seems to be the hot button issue for many groups right now. I guess every generation has at least one such issue. it is not necessarily the most important issue, but the one where people get stuck and then work through their stuff.

  5. Pomoprophet on December 24, 2006 at 12:32 am

    Thats a very symbolic nativity scene! I love it and what it stands for. Good job!

    As for the church, you seem to fault them for sticking to what the Bible says. Funny how it is always the church who must change its stance rather than people conforming to what the Bible says.

    Now if this man is not acting on his same sex feelings, he should be allowed to stay. Their is no prohibition against same sex attractions and we certinly dont choose them. But acting on them would be the same as a hetero pastor who is unmarried and acting on their hetero desires.

  6. Liadan on December 24, 2006 at 2:48 am

    Wow. I like it– just be careful with the rusty barbed wire, that looks like tetanus waiting to happen.

  7. Peterson Toscano on December 24, 2006 at 9:16 am

    liadan, I KNOW! I told my friend four times that we need to put up a sign DO NOT TOUCH! with tape on the floor. But of course that will only encourage people to touch.

    pomoprophet, so glad you like our nativity. I was so pleased to find just the right materials and I think the flower instead of the shoot is so much more dramatic.

    I understand where you are coming from in regards to the Bible having been there myself for nearly two decades, but I disagree. The church has gotten it wrong on many issues due to the misinterpretation of the Bible texts (slavery, women, clothing, dancing, etc).

    Although the Bible condemns lust and rape and abusive sexual relationships and idolatrous sexual acts, it does not condemn the loving partnership of two men or two women. That condemnation comes from the godless world and is echoed by the church.

    I write more about this in my post The Bible and Homosexuality

  8. alex resare on December 25, 2006 at 12:06 pm

    “I told my friend four times that we need to put up a sign DO NOT TOUCH!”

    If there is people that cant see rusty barbed wire and not resist touching it, maybe thats natures way of sorting some people out.

  9. Srina on December 27, 2006 at 3:33 pm

    this is a beautiful post, p, as is the later one about the advice anita would give to other parents faced with accepting the “stranger” in their own child. i am reminded as i read these posts of the gentle wisdom that your generous heart brings to everyone within your reach. with no tone of prosthelytizing (sp?) or intolerance or frustration or impatience, you softly nudge us in the direction of compassion. you show us in words and action that there is nothing that can’t be understood and accepted and loved. thank god for you.

Leave a Comment