How Rochelle Gave Me A Christmas Carol in September

Philadelphia, 2020

A CHRISTMAS CAROL, by Charles Dickens, has, as it were, haunted me for almost my entire life. From as early as I can remember having memories, anyway. 

I’m certain as a ten-month-old in 1969, I must have scooched too close to the television a time or two while Alastair Sim’s classic portrayal came into our living room on Christmas Eve. Baby’s first Christmas and all that.

I don’t know exactly when I became possessed by the story, but I do know I have always found it exciting, fascinating, thrilling, terrifying, and the most profound story of the experiential reality of God and the transformational power of that reality I know.

(Okay, I haven’t *always* known that last part. Or maybe I did, but didn’t know I knew it? I don’t know; I forget more than I remember, these days).

What I do know is that the story became inextricably connected to Christmas for me at a very young age and has shown up to me in different incarnations throughout my life. 

In high school, Mr. Steinmetz (may I call you Ted, now? Nevermind. That seems weird, I think. I’ll stick with Mr. Steinmetz) let me be a part of the “morning announcements.” 

If you went to Shawnee High School in the 1980s (the one in Medford, New Jersey. There’s more than one Shawnee High, but that’s another great story for another time!), you’ll remember those morning announcements came at you in the form of a morning *radio show* produced from the school’s main office and broadcast throughout the building via the speaker system. 

We played cool music, gave the weather, did the sports, announced upcoming events, played more music. It was a really terrific thing Mr. Steinmetz (Chemistry teacher/part time DJ moonlighter) put together for the school. It made every morning so much more interesting for everyone and turned out to make a tremendously profound impact on my life.

I believe it was Christmastime in 1984 when, during the morning announcements for the last week of school before the break, Mr. Steinmetz played a radio-play version of “A Christmas Carol” from 1926, starring Basil Rathbone, over the speakers at the very end of our program, just before the first bell.

He played about five minutes of the twenty-five minute long drama each day, spread out over the five days before we would say, “See you next year!” to each other, the way young people do when they want to lean in on the literal meaning of things, even in jest.

When Mr. Steinmetz (you know what? Ted is much easier to type, so I’m just going to call him Ted. Because I’m fifty-one, and I’m lazy now. Is that okay with you, Mr. Steinmetz?), when Ted saw how taken I was with this production, he secretly dubbed me a copy of the entire performance on a cassette tape and surprised me with it on the last day before the winter recess. 

Also Philadelphia, 2020

That Christmas Eve, our family made an addition to our yearly, family devotional. After a reading of the Christmas story from the scriptures and the singing of carols and hymns, we would all gather around the fireplace and listen to Basil Rathbone as Ebenezer Scrooge—and a supporting cast of players whose voices are etched in my heart for all time—in “A Christmas Carol.” 

I carried that tradition with me when Malisa and I married, and started a family of our own. Our children were raised on the story, and the tradition of experiencing the tale grew for us as a family as we found other new adaptations and productions to hear and see. 

The power of God to transform the human heart has always been the main theme of the story for me. The hope this story gives me—that every human being has the potential to be forever altered for the better because of an encounter with love itself—has remained with me for all of these years, despite my many self-destructive actions which now seem like attempts on my part to prove that very hope to be an entirely false proposition.  

In the early 2000s, I went online and found a copy of the cutting Charles Dickens himself used when he would read the story to live audiences, both in England and on at least two tours of the United States. 

People lined up around the block to buy tickets to hear Dickens read this tale. It was like trying to get tickets to see “Hamilton” today—lotteries, long waits, performances sold out months in advance, women hitting each other with their purses, that kind of thing. 

I took Dickens’ cutting and adapted it into a one-person play, and have now performed it dozens of times. In 2013, I even made an audiobook version (more on that soon!)

Actively participating in this story in some fashion every year—either as a performer or as a spectator—always forces me to realign my mind and heart with the overwhelming feeling of gratitude I experience when I am made to realize that God is not done with me yet. 

And if God is not finished with me, then God is not finished with you, either. Or your family, or your friends, or your acquaintances, or your enemies. 

Everyone is deserving of grace, no matter where they are in the world, and there are forces beyond ourselves actively working to help us realize this every minute of every day.

Bristol Borough, PA, 2020

There’s this woman I know. I’ll call her Rochelle Scudder. We’ve been friends for a few years now, and I just think she’s a super person. 

The other day, she made a post on Facebook that started out with some version of, “If you believe such and such…” and I thought for sure was going to end with the “then un-friend me now” conclusion that’s been in fashion for some time now. 

I had worked myself up to be saddened and discouraged because those kinds of posts sadden and discourage me. But then, a small miracle happened. 

(Btw, I’m calling it a small miracle because that’s what it was to me, and everyone gets to decide what a miracle is to them. That’s how miracles work. Try declaring a few things miracles today. You’ll like it, I think.)

Instead of, “then un-friend me now” she wrote, “Please don’t unfriend me now…[instead] let’s have a respectful, one on one conversation about it.” 

That was not at all what I expected, and I instantly got misty-eyed, which made it very difficult to write a comment on the post and drive at the same time. 

(That’s absolutely not what happened, at all. I had the cruise control on, so I was fine.)

Rochelle’s post gave me hope. I had been getting so discouraged by what we’ve all been seeing around the country. The division is real and can often seem like too great a chasm between two sides that couldn’t possibly be brought together, no matter how hard we might try. 

Even though this division is real and cannot (must not) be denied, it is not the only way of the world. There is an undeniable force at play in the world right now, working desperately to show us that grace, forgiveness, acceptance, and love are the only answers to our fear and pain and sadness and feelings of lack.

I texted my friend Rochelle mere moments after I had had this encounter with her beautiful attitude and efforts toward seeking first to understand. Her heart came shining through in that post and cast a light of hope onto my heart which had been temporarily hidden in the shadow of doubt. 

I told her she had been God to me in that moment, and I was grateful to know her.  It takes courage to say no to fear and misunderstanding, and shine a light of hope to the world. 

We are not *like* God’s face to the world, to the *other,* whoever they might be.

We ARE God’s face to the world. 

You are the ONLY manifestation of God that will ever exist in the particular way that is you. God literally experiences the world uniquely through you and through me, and through your family and your friends and your acquaintances and your enemies. 

All God wants is for your will and the will of God (Love) to be one. Well, the fact is, they already are one. God just wants us to continually rediscover that fact and to trust it, to hope in it. 

When someone else can bring an awareness to you of the eternal, everlasting presence of the experiential reality that is God, they are actively performing the role of God to you. Literally.

The way God “shows” God’s-self to us is by having others do actions that move us toward grace and forgiveness and love instead of fear and selfishness and cancelation. 

All the while, God is prompting us to pay attention to those moments as they are happening, and they are happening all the time, everywhere. 

The story of “A Christmas Carol” is a reminder to me that the Holy Spirit is constantly moving. She is constantly doing the work of showing me that I am worth the trouble, that transformation is not only possible but is at the heart of God’s continuous work in the world. 

You are worth every effort, dear friend! Please, know this!

Look around at others and see how they are God to you. Pay attention and use your imagination. You’ll see it. 

It won’t take long before you witness an act of loving-kindness between strangers, experience a piece of art that shakes you up, or read a Facebook post from someone you hold dear you that leads you to suddenly realize you’ve been having an encounter with God all along – that your entire life is one perpetual encounter with God.

Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, referencing his love of Christmas, speaks about it this way:

“I have always thought of Christmastime, when it has come around, as a good time—a kind forgiving, charitable, pleasant time. The only time I know of in the long calendar of the year when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow travelers to the grave and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”

My “Fellow Travelers,” your presence is valuable in so many ways you cannot even imagine. That nudge inside you to choose love instead of hate, to think of others before yourself, to offer grace to someone when you want to *cancel* them, is from the very heart God. 

And God has chosen to wear God’s heart on your sleeve and mine.

And it’s a permanent gig.

That’s how important you are!

Peace to you.

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