A Pageant-Less Forecast


Wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked a variation of “So, what’s it like this year without the Durham Christmas Pageant?”

For the past 21 years, our church has produced and performed the Durham Christmas Pageant on Duke University’s campus. Al and I have co-written every script, carefully chosen songs to fit the action on stage, and coordinated all the help needed to pull off the yearly event. We’ve joked that it’s kind of like your Great-Aunt Martha who comes to stay at your house for four months out of the year–make that your very demanding Aunt Martha–who arrives in early September and leaves out a few days before Christmas.

That said, here’s our dirty little secret: This year we are stress-free. We are gliding through the Christmas season.  We’re not getting hung up on all the inevitable hobgoblins that accompany a massive program. This year, things seem to be well in hand (thanks to the Lord!). There is even a sense of quiet anticipation, leading up to the event we’re doing this year.

Debbie Cline, one of our church family, mentioned to me Sunday she recently took a trip down memory lane through Page Auditorium at Duke, the Pageant’s old stomping grounds. Page Auditorium is a professional working theater, complete with a fly system, orchestra pit, and downstairs dressing rooms. The other night Debbie and husband Mark had arrived early to the Handel’s Messiah performance given at Duke Chapel, next door to Page, when she felt the need to visit the ladies’ room before things got started. Well, the ONLY public bathroom in the vicinity of the Chapel is inside Page Auditorium. While in Page, she took the opportunity to do a brief tour of the place—of its 1200+ seats, its empty dressing rooms downstairs. She said it brought alive in her mind so many performances. . . so many wonderful memories of Pageants past.

Her story almost brought a tear to my eye—almost.

This Sunday, our church is presenting two much more scaled-back Christmas performances of a lovely musical by Randy Vader and Jay Rouse, Hope is Born, Emmanuel. It will not have the glitz or the strong evangelistic flavor of the DCP but will hopefully result in a more intimate, praise-centered event. So ALL of us involved can take a little time out in this season to worship—and center on Jesus Christ, our supreme hope and joy.

I can’t wait!

Lookin’ up,


Charlie Cannon, Part 2


“Charlie? Is that you?” The guy was the right size, dressed in red-checked flannel shirt, work pants, boots. Mace hadn’t seen the guy since they’d competed in the Carolina Crappie Classic a few years ago, when Charlie’d taken first place in the tournament and he’d ended in fourth.

The gray eyes searched his again, and this time the bearded face wrinkled in a grin. “Yeah, man, it’s me. I thought that was you. How you doin’, Mace?”

Mace pulled him in for a hug. “I’m doing great, bro. I can’t believe it’s you.”

“It’s me, all right.” He scratched his beard. “You still doing any tourneys? Last time I heard, you’d moved to Texas or something.”

Mace gave him the short version of his and Lindy’s move to seminary, the recent move back to the Hope Springs area, the new ministry at Beal Street Church. “No, I haven’t popped a rod in the water in ages. That happens when you get a new place, new job. Hey, you live here in town?”

“Naw, but I come in ‘most every day for business.  Got my cabinet workshop and cabin out on Lake Watkins, with a pier, and about twenty acres to myself. Got everything a man could possibly want.” He paused. “You ought to come out sometime, Mace, get caught up on your fishing. I’ll even take you out on my brand new Nitro Z-9. She’s a beauty, she is.”  The flannel shirt puffed with pride, and Mace heard it in his voice. Usually a low-key guy who kept pretty much to himself, that was the longest string of words he’d ever heard Charlie utter at once.

“Tell you what,” Mace said, reaching for his wallet and pulling out a business card. “Here’s my number so we can keep in touch.”

Charlie squinted and read it aloud, putting deliberate emphasis on each word. “Beal Street Church, Reverend Mason Mitchell.”  Charlie reached for his back pocket and slipped Mace a card too. “That’s funny. Never, ever figured you for a preacher, Mace. Huh, Preacher Mace.  Kinda has a nice ring to it, though.”

Mace felt heat rush to his face. Lord, he’s right about the not knowing part. I never really lived out my relationship with You in front of him. And until I prove differently in his book, I’m still same old Mace.

He held up a hand. “To be honest, I’m not the preacher. Officially, I’m the pastor in charge of praise and worship,” he paused, “and anything else that needs doing. Say, why don’t you come to Beal Street Church tomorrow? We’d love to have you.”

The gray eyes grew wary and went to the floor. “Can’t do that, Mace. Gonna be out on the lake tomorrow. Got a tourney in a week, and I need to get me in some practice time.”

Charlie always had been a stickler for that sort of thing.  It was part of the reason why he took so many tournaments. That, and the man was just a natural. You had to admire the guy for making it look so easy.

Mace stuck out a hand. “Well, anytime you can make it. .  .I’ll be glad to see you there. And I’d love to take you up on your offer to fish together sometime.”

Charlie shook firmly. “Call me and we’ll see what we can do about the fishing part. It was great to see you, man.”

Charlie took his paint can, started to walk away. He stopped after a couple of steps and came back, scratching his beard. “No, let’s go ahead and get this thing nailed down. How’s about next week for you—what’s your day off at the church?”

“Thursday. Our senior pastor takes Friday, so I take Thursdays. Off on Saturdays, too.”

“Thursday, it is. I’ll see you then,” he said, grinning. “Have a good one, Mace.”

“Hey, you too. See you later.”

As Charlie Cannon walked away, Mace couldn’t help but ruminate through the outward-appearing randomness of it all—literally bumping into Charlie Cannon, here in Sloan’s Hardware, in a moment’s time when he, or Charlie, could have been anywhere else on the planet.

But he knew he’d have to give credit, where credit was really due. God, You totally orchestrated this, he thought, laughing in his heart, pushing onto the next item on his list. I don’t know why You chose to hook Charlie and me up again, but I’d say it was definitely one of Your God-things. Thanks for letting me be around to see You do it.