God rejects the Goodyear Blimp’s PR
A weekly religion columnBy Rev. Jack Van EnsVail, CO ColoradoIf God desired to make an impact marking the first Christmas, why didn’t he take his cue from the Goodyear Blimp? Circling above huge stadiums during the football season, this famous dirigible doesn’t get lost in the clouds. It catches cascading rays from the high-intensity lights illuminating the playing field below. A myriad of landing lights bedeck the blimp. When sports fans peer into a dark sky, they easily see Goodyear’s logo splashed across this zeppelin. Goodyear for decades has sponsored this blimp. Few miss the company’s PR emblazoned on the airship’s skin.Why didn’t God use similar advertising ploys? He could have lit the horizon with lights bedazzling Earth. In this radiant panorama, God could have made a stirring announcement. With burning bulbs making huge lettering in the sky glow, God could have announced: “I’m landing on Earth.”Instead, God sent a baby born in Bethlehem. Wild-eyed shepherds and, later, mysterious Persian stargazers noticed this child. The rest of humanity missed Jesus’ birth. Why was God’s PR subtle rather than spectacular like the Goodyear Blimp’s is? Giant words lighting the sky about God’s Earthbound trajectory wouldn’t have made the impact God chose. He, like Shakespeare, knew we forget bloodless abstractions.Words sound sterile when juxtaposed with striking drama. Portraying in 18th century costumes Thomas Jefferson and the colonial preacher Jonathan Edwards, I experience what impact drama makes on an audience. It’s far more intense and lasting than mere words I use to write about these historic figures in newspaper commentaries. A dramatist elicits an audience’s attention using an array of special tools a skillful writer lacks. In drama, an actor relies on body language, facial expressions eliciting tears or laughter, volume and tone registering disgust or elation. A thespian spellbinds an audience with vocal pacing and dramatic surprise. A writer peering at a blank computer screen recognizes how words don’t provide resources dramatists use to register an impact.What’s written the mind may forget, like a spent arrow lost in a forest. When the same words written are dramatized, they sink deeply and spread widely in our minds.Jonathan Edwards, one of the characters I play, noted there’s a huge difference between describing honey and tasting it. We read words. Drama invites us to taste and see them.God used drama. He didn’t merely announce his arrival on Earth. He made his entry real, through the smell of lanolin rising from baby Jesus’ skin. This fall, amid flaming red-and-orange maple trees, I visited Williams College in western Massachusetts. The college’s renowned 19th century president Mark Hopkins delineated in his 1836 inaugural address the vital difference between learning words and having drama entice students.”We are to regard the mind,” Hopkins taught, “not as a piece of iron to be laid upon the anvil and hammered into any shape, nor as a block of marble in which we are to find the statue by removing the rubbish, nor as a receptacle into which knowledge may be poured; but as a flame that is to be fed, as an active being that must be strengthened to think and to feel – and to dare, to do and to suffer.”Christmas tells us how God appeared on Earth as a baby. He did his work through an infant’s vulnerability. He identified with our suffering through Mary’s labor, which painfully produced a baby born in Bethlehem.”Education is not filling a bucket,” William Butler Yeats taught, “but lighting a fire.” Mere words fill buckets of ashen facts. But drama involved in Christ’s birth is incendiary. It enlightens memory and brightens devotion to God.French aviator turned author Antoine de Saint-Eupery realized how drama profoundly impacts our lives. This spring, I visited Provence in southern France, near where Saint-Eupery flew some risky pioneering flights. He mastered more than flight manuals. His reputation soars on Earth as the first prose-poet laureate of the skies. He recorded harrowing adventures in primitive aircraft with classic books “Night Flight and Wind, Sand and Stars.” “The Little Prince,” a beloved children’s book, he wrote and illustrated. Saint-Eupery sensed how God shuns the spectacular PR the Goodyear Blimp pumps. An author creates rapport with readers by taking vague words circling above us and landing them on runways leading to our hearts. Top-notch authors invent dramas played in our minds. Our brains become a stage. We see the words. We imagine their story line. Words dressed in dramatic intrigue delight, inform and captivate us.In the first week of June 1940, before Paris fell to the German advance, Saint-Eupery flews sorties against the enemy. To columnist Dorothy Thompson he asserted, “If I did not resist with my life, I should be unable to write. … The Christian idea has got to be served; that the word is made Flesh. One must write with one’s body.” He did more than write about the war. He walked the talk. Saint-Eupery shot German aircraft out of the sky. He put his life on the line.”The Word became flesh,” John 14:6. God left his celestial spaceship and landed among us in the form of a squirming baby. Here’s dramatically effective divine PR. The Rev. Jack Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth Ministries, which enhances Christian worship through lively storytelling and dramatic presentations. Van Ens’ book, “How Jefferson Made the Best of Bad Messes,” is available in local bookstores for $7.95.