Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Very Mandisa Christmas

I guess I am more like The Griswolds than Martha Stewart when it comes to Christmas. If one poinsettia is festive, than a church altar decorated with 10,000 poinsettias must be cheerier. Gloria in excess, baby.

This was my first Christmas without my dad, who passed away in May, and the first Christmas that I didn't go to a Catholic mass. Those two things probably aren't coincidental. Still, I didn't feel like I could be totally secular about this holiday, so to break myself out of my blah humbug state, I decided to drive 30 miles to deepest Orange County to see an American Idol sing for free. Yes, I attended the Christmas Eve
"Hour of Power" at the Crystal Cathedral. I wasn't looking to be saved, but I was looking for some amazing Christmas tuneage and seasonal cheer beyond what I could find in spiked eggnog. The ginormous glass temple did not disappoint.

The Cathedral had, like, six Christmas Eve services, one after the other, all officiated by Rev. Robert H. Schuller and his son Rev Robert A. Schuller (famous to non-evangelicals as
the dad of one of the Laguna Beach girls). I attended the 6pm service which was broadcast on TV. The altar was fully decked with poinsettias and trees, and fake snow fell just like at neighboring Disneyland. There were a variety of musical performances - a full orchestra, impressive piano solo by octogenarian Roger Williams, a children's choir, and several soloists including American Idol's Mandisa. Mandisa was brought out for the finale, and she belted "Oh Holy Night" with enough verve and passion to convert Anton LaVey. Mandisa looked stunning, with perfect hair and makeup, and she radiated brightly enough to charm those of us way up in the rafters. I wished she had been able to sing more than one song, but, hey, there were lots of Christians in line outside waiting for the next service. I pictured her hanging out in the green room all day, listening to Jordin Sparks on her ipod, confirming tour details with George Huff, waiting for the call to sing "Oh Holy Night" every 90 minutes.

Thankfully, the service was long on music and short on preaching. The younger Schuller read the relevant gospel passages about Jesus' birth, and the octogenarian Schuller gave a slightly discombobulated yet oddly charming five-minute sermon which included the malapropism: "Just because you don't believe in Jesus doesn't mean he loves you anyway." This was great, as I got a dose of Catholic guilt and was reminded of every Christmas mass I ever attended where the priest would invariably say, "It's nice seeing the church so full today - you know, you are all welcome to come every week not just today and Easter, wink wink nudge nudge."

If you find yourself in need of a little Christmas spirit, right this very minute, or next year, I definitely recommend attending the Crystal Cathedral's Christmas Eve service or its spectacular "Glory of Christmas" show. The service is free, but the "Glory of Christmas" costs money - but then it's got live animals and Cirque de Christianity angels that swoop down from the rafters. It runs til January 5th.

Or you can pick up Mandisa's Christmas EP. It's gotta be better than Clay's Christmas album.

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