Sunday, December 12, 2010

Startling Joy by James Calvin Schaap

A gift. The baby. The pageant. The parties. The worship. The afterglow. The story. These are the elements of most every Christmas. In Startling Joy, award-winning author James Calvin Schaap takes a look at each of these elements through seven stories that show how imperfect people can find joy and grace in an imperfect world. His eyes turn on an outgoing bus driver, a passionate mother, a daughter reluctant to return to church, and even his own assumed-mediocre performance at a Christmas pageant. Along the way, readers see how the amazing message of Christmas can be found in the oddest of places. This heartwarming read is both moving and magical and will help readers usher in a joyful Christmas season even amidst the howling winds of winter.
I've read quite a few Christmas story collection this past week or so, and I have to say that so far, this is my least favorite.
I did like the final story in it though, which I would say is worth reading. (Just skip right to page 143)
He writes, "I am not a Picasso, a brutal misogynist who inflicted terror on nearly every female around him. Neither am I a Hemingway, a drunken lout given to baring his chest and knuckles at the drop of a hat. I adore Van Gogh, but I would not cut off my ear for anyone....(He goes on and on in a humorous way and then says...) I am, as most of you may have guessed already, unabashedly elitist."
He was asked to be the narrator in his church's Christmas presentation, since he had a "big voice" and a theater background. When it came time for the performance, everything went smoothly in the beginning. But as he was sitting in his seat, he was distracted by three teenage girls playing with a string and giggling, who just didn't seem to care that they were part of the retelling of a miraculous story. (Or that they were on stage and people could see and probably hear them.) As he continued his narration, he became more and more irritated and put all his frustration into his story. He says, "I knew they didn't care, and, in my mind, that killed the performance. I don't know that I can completely explain my anger. Perhaps those who have never worked at art will not understand. Those three girls wrested my attention so completely away from what I was saying that, in the process, they became my sole audience. I delivered my lines in a voice meant for them, even though they were behind me and probably never for a moment stopped chatting and playing with that loop of string." By the end of the performance, he says he was "relieved but seething." Many thanked him on his way out the door for what they said was a great performance. It didn't mean anything to him until a retired missionary-- a woman he describes as being well read in the story of the Nativity-- comes to him and tells him that he made the story new to her. He was astonished that it had had such an impact on someone who knew the story so well and felt awe as he reconsidered his experience. He says, "And that's when it hit me, this epiphany of Christmas. He came for those who need him, not because they are poor or slovenly or unable to care for themselves. He came for all those who need him, even some like me, the elitists, self-satisfied with the arrogance that insists they really need nothing at all. He came for me because I too--in my annoyance and pride-- am very much among the needy. A hundred times or more I've cried on stage. It is a technique that, with practice, one accomplishes quite easily. But alone, in my car,...I found myself suddenly in company with the Lord who came to earth, not for Christmas, not just for spoiled children, but for all of us, even me. He made me a blessing, even in my pride. He washed the sin of my human arrogance in his blood and through me made the story new, both to an old woman and a proud old actor. At that moment I felt something totally unpracticed pinch my eyes and choke my breath. I wasn't acting. The Lord of heaven and earth was acting upon me..."
And that, is the reason for the season.

I loved this story. I just saved you from actually having to pick it up from the library to read the last 10 pages. Although he tells it so much better than I did. Loved it.
Loved, loved.
The rest was mostly crap. :)
Happy Reading!

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