Thursday, December 4, 2014

Reviewing Movie Churches: "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" (1983)

Since this is the first movie post, I want to make it clear what this is about, so you’ll be in the know. Those poor folks who start reading after this week will be baffled but not you. These movie posts will review not movies, but rather the churches portrayed in movies.

For instance, I recently saw the film “John Wick.” The film features Keanu Reeves in a mindless but stylish retread of 1980’s Chuck Norris, Sly Stallone type action films, if you like that kind of thing (and I do). But in this column, we wouldn’t be analyzing the direction of Chad Stahelski or the plotting of screenwriter Derek Kolstad. We just jump ahead to the church portrayed in the film. The church is some sort of Orthodox denomination with a massive building in NYC. But apparently that  just serves as a front for an Eastern European mob. So I’m giving the church in the film a big thumbs down. Call me old fashioned, but I don’t like churches with clergy on the take with syndicate drug money, where sitting in a pew could get you shot in a spectacular gun battle. 

But this December, I’ll be reviewing churches found in Christmas films, starting with The Church with No Name in “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” a cheesy made for TV version of a pretty wonderful children’s book.

As I’ve indicated, I never did catch the name of the church from watching the film, but let’s go through some of the church’s pros and cons before we decide on whether to give it a thumbs up or a thumbs down.

Pro  Thriving Children’s Ministry
Every kid in town seems to go to the Church with No Name’s Sunday School class and participate in the annual Christmas program. Every kid except for those in the Herdman family, youngster thugs who are devoted to extorting from other children and blowing stuff up real good. The story is about when even the Herdmans decide to become involved with the Christmas program.
Con   A Network of Gossips
When the Herdmans become a part of the Christmas program, every woman in the church seems to be on the telephone talking with every other woman in the church about how awful it is that these young reprobates are befouling their sacred building. (Jesus, on the other hand, was pretty positive about when sinners came to see Him.)
Pro   A Minor Celebrity
Attending the church and directing the Christmas program is none other than Loretta Swit, television celebrity. Didn’t recognize anyone else in the church, but it would be cool to say, “You know Hot Lips from the show M*A*S*H? She goes to our church.”
Con  Cowardly, Mealy-mouthed Clergy
The pastor wants to buckle under the pressure of the gossiping women and plans to cancel the Christmas program because the Herdman children are involved. Skittish pastors are not a pretty sight.
Pro  Grape Juice Served for Communion
Now I know many of you may prefer wine for communion. But in the film, the Herdman kids get into the grape juice stash. I used to sometimes get a hold of the leftover communion grape juice and drink it until I was sick. And I can tell you both situations would have been a lot worse if wine had been served.
Con  Little Support for Volunteers
Ms. Swit seems to be on her own directing the Christmas program (with the exception of her reluctant daughter).

But I have two pros left:
Pro   Christmas Program Goes Well
The Herdman kids manage to inject some earthy reality into the show, and it touches people.

Finally, one more Pro:
Early in the story, one of the Herdman kids, after a church service asks, “What it the Christmas program about?” and someone responds, “It’s about Jesus.” And the Herdman kid says, “Everything in this church is about Jesus.”

Now if that was true about a church, “everything… is about Jesus”, then it definitely would get a thumbs up and I’d want to go to there.