making room for magic (reflections on the 2011 production of The Birth)

I am conscious that I’ve publicly and privately lauded The Birth: A Reflective Celebration of the Coming of Christ so loudly and so often that I might seem like a hype man.  The good news is that I have no qualms about being the hype man for The Birth, as I genuinely believe it’s the most unique beautiful and provocative theatrical event in our city.  While it’s going into its sixth year of production, The Birth is still navigating uncharted territory.  It’s still dodging the clichés and kitsch of contemporary Christmas productions, as well as the self-conscious artiness of independent theater.  It’s still avoiding easy categories and still walking the tight rope of profound faith and honest human expression.  The Birth is still working its magic on me, refusing to let me enter the holidays on either sentimental or cynical terms.

Nathan Rouse is the creative life-force behind everything that is The Birth, and his courageous performance only gets more textured with every year.  He conceived the original production from the words of Frederick Buechner’s elegant Magnificent Defeat (Buechner being my favorite living writer!)  The creative team around him has familiar faces this go round (faces of people I love: Shelley Jones, Josh Spence, Rodney Kennerly, and Kate Rouse), but has significant additions: the great local talent James K. Flynn and Renovatus Worship Arts Pastor Sarah DeShields.  (Aside: She’s been brewing up magic of her own in the studio with her new EP, The Pilgrim Way—and I can tell you it’s stunning.  Between Sarah’s album and her role driving the musical portion of The Birth, it feels like a long overdue breakout from our Scottish minstrel.)

While The Birth has never been a direct product of Renovatus Church, it’s the most beautiful artistic representation of the vision we’ve always had for faith and the arts.  So while I don’t claim to be without bias towards Nathan and the cast (they are like biological family to me), I’ll tell you just how powerful I think The Birth is: It makes me a believer in the Christmas story year after year.  Whatever doubts I might accumulate or shadows might dance in my mind, the truth of the incarnation of Jesus is never more tangible than when I walk into the crisp winter air after another performance.  I can believe the word became flesh because the word grabs a hold of my flesh at every show.

I love the fact that The Birth requires no context or church back story to be appreciated on its own terms—as demonstrated in the tremendous response we’ve seen from mediums like Creative Loafing in recent years.  But since I am a pastor and my primary sphere of influence is in the faith community, I am especially passionate about getting local ministry leaders out to the free Pastor’s night preview The Birth is offering this Thursday night, November 17th, at 6:30 and 8:30pm at Renovatus (1209 Little Rock Rd., Charlotte, NC 28205).  Not only will you have the opportunity to bear witness to the latest incarnation (pun intended) of this remarkable theatrical experience before anybody else, but to participate in a talkback session after the performance I’ll be leading personally.  I’d love to see you there and enter into the magic with you.

Mystery can’t be maneuvered or else it would stop being mystery, but I can tell you that in 5 years of performances I’m always finding new reasons to get the shivers before its over.  If you are a ministry leader, click here for more info/to sign up:  I can’t wait to see you there!  It’s an event I deeply believe in, and we are honored to host the magic for one night only before the show opens formally at Duke Energy Theater.