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cut backs
by collette mcfarland 
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Cut Backs

Its amazing how you don’t miss something till it’s no longer available, I reflected as I drove slowly through the empty park. Just last year this place was alive with activity. Temporary buildings and tents had been erected along the route from entrance to exit and cars had moved so slowly making frequent stops that the road looked more like a parking lot than a thorough fare; and no one honked rudely in attempts to speed things up, that was a miracle in itself.
People dressed in theme costumes had performed skits at designated locations, starting at the admission gate where you received the free program and CD to play that described each scene. It was a pretty well organized event, hosted by dozens of churches, of all denominations, that was another miracle; Catholics, Presbyterians, Baptists, Pentecostals, all joined together to reach the community, without recruiting for their specific theology.
The first skit had been a humble structure with live cattle, donkeys and sheep hovering around a couple cradling an infant, a real infant not a doll. Obviously you now are getting an inkling of what the project was about. The following structures went up chronologically from Jesus’ birth to various activities in his life, all replayed over and over for each passing set of automobiles by church members, as the cars glided slowly past listening to the stories on the CD’s that had been provided.

Now all I could hear were the faint echoes of years gone by; echoes of ooh’s and aahs that descended into a reverent hush when appropriate. The event called “Celebrate Christmas” had been an annual activity for years before I had actually attended one. It hadn’t been the free admission that had prevented me from attending, just indifference. I knew all about the bible and had claimed Jesus as my savior so I had no need to accompany my husband here every year, he was one of the volunteer actors and construction crew, so he had to come but I didn’t. Why leave a nice toasty home with a cozy bed to traipse out here in the cold winter night for three weekends in a row, from Friday night to Sunday, just to watch something I was already convicted of. Let the lost come. Let the hurt come. Let the desperate come. Let the dispossessed come that had used the the temporary makeshift shelters during the night for protection from the winter cold and sleet. Let me stay nice and warm and comfortable in my bed.

Then one year I had come with some friends from work. It was then I saw the life of Jesus through eyes of spiritually hungry babies. They asked questions so simple a five year old could have answered them. I l listened to my friends’ excitement with amazement, coupled with embarrassment as we passed each stage depicting one more scene from the Lord’s life. Now nothing. I had to come to see the results of our latest major recession; a recession so devastating people were struggling to avoid foreclosures and keep food in their mouths, donating for a project of this magnitude was out of the question. To the organizations that had contributed this had been the first choice on cut backs.
As I neared the location where the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus took place as recently as last year, (in proxy only mind you), I felt compelled to turn off the ignition and sit quietly to meditate. This had been my favorite reenactment. Angels had rolled back the stone exposing a Jesus impersonator glowing from the stage lights before he walked around the tomb showing his cut back to reenter again and repeat his performance three more times for me. (In reality he had only been interred once and rose for all time! Alleluia and pass the wine, er.. non alcoholic wine!)
Hey, what’s going on over there? People were assembling in the area of the of last year’s ascension scene. (Sorry, my mind is still in the past.) The destitute that utilized this park for their sleeping quarters after hours were all milling around some central attraction that was obscured from my sight. Well, I’m nothing if not curious. I know, curiosity killed the cat; but satisfaction brought him back!

Pulling the keys from the ignition I (a lone woman, a lone stupid woman) stepped out of the safety of my car and sauntered over slowly to the gathering crowd hoping to fit in. I wasn’t dressed for the opera after all, just in casual attire, which in my case would aide in helping me to fit in! The nearer I got I heard the voice of an angel; some man narrating a story with absolute eloquence, perfect diction, heavenly inflections! Spell binding. He was narrating the bible stories that had been presented here for the last decade before all the tragic cut backs! This was a pocket-sized one man reenactment of Celebrate Christmas!

The faces of the indigent glowed, their usual expressions of indifference brought on by years of self esteem fed by the social structure they were part of were gone, replaced by….the gospel of hope, the gospel of the good news. Three men were working the throng, I caught shreds of conversation, they were encouraging the downhearted, offering hope, not temporal hope, but hope for things that aren’t seen, and the hope was being received gratefully, accepted, and implanted into fertile soil.

My eyes met the raconteur’s eyes, eyes that pierced my soul! I got hit with an inspiration! A communiqué from God! Racing back to my car (and believe me, racing at my age does look comical!) I sped home, made some phone calls with detailed instructions, and some heavy imploring, opened (and eventually closed) the trunk of my car, enlisted the help of my grumbling family, and sped back to the park. The crowd was still there, and growing larger with a gathering of several more penniless men and women, of all ages from seventeen to ….they had to be younger than they looked because some looked already dead and decomposing!

I pulled my PC from the trunk along with a portable table and set up the show. I had filmed the last trip to Celebrate Christmas and now I could share it, though the quality was lacking something…like quality, but what’s that old adage; it’s better than nothing! But the story teller could enhance it immeasurably.

More cars started to arrive, park and open trunks. My church had raised supplies for the night shelter down town, well this unofficial night shelter needed things more, these were the out casts that didn’t even go to the shelters! I had successfully convinced my church to bring the items here to distribute, like sleeping bags, blankets, pup tents, coats, socks, personal toiletries, ect, the list goes on. One member, a restaurateur, had been persuaded to bequeath refreshments, hot cocoa, donuts, bagels and cheese, fresh cut up fruit (yummy); complete with waitresses, who had been promised overtime but had ….declined! They had volunteered for a cut back actually.

What had started off as a dismal evening for me had sprung up into a spontaneous old fashion praise jamboree. I prepared a plate of munchies and some hot cocoa and headed toward the God -sent speaker to offer him refreshments and commend him for his talent. He was sitting off by himself, observing the mingling and interactions of the assemblage.

“You were great!” I exclaimed, “You have talent and a fantastic knowledge of the bible. Have you ever taught?”

“Yes, ma’am, every day of my life.” He answered accepting the plate of food and taking cautious sips of the hot cocoa. The silence took over. It was a comfortable silence between us {and anyone that knows me knows I’m not usually comfortable with silence!} as we watched the two groups of strangers, church goers and the impoverished, blend and dine on a feast, a feast of comfort food. I observed some net working taking place also; there would be few less unemployed tonight. Just because big corporations had to suffer cut backs obviously didn’t mean that small groups of churches couldn’t make a difference. We can still cover ground one step at a time. Nothing is gained by cutting back but bread thrown out over the waters brings increased returns. One hot dog at a time. One cup of cocoa at a time. This man by himself had ignited a chain reaction that spread through a miniscule section of the community.

“Will you be here again tomorrow night?” I queried, not wanting this twenty first century great awakening to end.

“I’ll be here until the end of the world,” he responded getting up to join his three approaching colleagues. As he walked away I noticed one more cut back; his. His torn shirt exposed the markings of a heavy whipping. A whipping that had to have been near deadly; was it gang related? No, I realized as the four men walked back towards the vicinity of last year’s ascension scene, (and straight up into the air without benefit of last year’s props), the marks were sin related. I spilled my hot cocoa on the ground. Spilled; l dropped the cup as I watched the entourage fade into the sky.

“Hey, where are those guys that started this?” a friend came up and asked looking around. She was positive she’d seen them head this way.

My hand weakly fluttered in the general direction as I toyed with the idea of revealing the truth. No, I’m not ready to be locked away…..by my standards… yet.

“They went that away,” I answered pointing horizontally to the earth, not vertically. No, I’m sure no one would believe this until….. Until the end of the world.

Eccl. 11:1-2 Isaiah 58:7-12
math 27:26 Math. 28:20
James 2:14-17 Rev. 22:20-21

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