A Fictional Piece | Camels
What does it mean to give, to sacrifice, to be generous? This fictional piece reminds us of the importance of giving.
For this Christmas season, Pastor Paul asked for the censure of jolly old Santa Claus. According to the young pastor, Santa’s weight was a symbol of excess, and his red grandiose outfit was a symbol of pride. He asked Mary, the church’s graphic designer, to humble Santa Claus into pious old St. Nicholas: a santa skinnier from virtuous self-discipline and pallid from exhausting generosity. But Mary did not approve of this Santa censorship. She advocated a perspective that didn’t see a drop of wine as a sign of drunkenness, and PG still stood for Parental Guidance and not Profaning God.
She couldn’t bear to accomplish the young pastor’s request. When she finished contouring the gaunt cheekbones of St. Nic, she felt complicit in the jolly man’s starvation, a forceful act of fasting. She wanted to liberate Santa Claus. Instead, she created the biggest and jolliest Santa anyone has ever seen; his sack was bursting with toys and food; his red plumpy cheeks were unmatched by even the best mall Santas; Coke’s iconic Santa Claus would have been quite jealous.
That Christmas morning, Pastor Paul stood on stage with tenacity, a stern aura reeking out of his clenched eyebrows; he was eager and ready to preach.
“Would you like to see what true generosity looks like?” He boldly asked.
When he turned on the overhead slide, he was surprised to see Mary’s Jolly old Santa Claus. He was duped in front of many regular attendees and hundreds of devout holiday pilgrims. But with his Old Testament wit, he immediately changed his sermon from ‘The true story of Saint Nicholas’ to the gluttonous tendency of Christmas commercialism. Mary’s Santa became a metaphor for holiday sinning; Santa’s jolly belly became an example for a lack of restraint; a bag full of presents meant a bag full of greed, and Santa’s red cheerful cheeks were transformed into an arrogant drunken grin. Mary should have been fired for her misdemeanor, but ironically, Pastor Paul was praised for his fiery piety and brazenness in attacking worldly traditions; he forgave Mary.
For this Sunday sermon, Pastor Paul was convinced that he should enlighten the congregation about the growing gap between the rich and poor — a sudden impulse of compassion provoked by a heart wrenching commercial of third world poverty, a thirty second preaching between his daily routine of Christian programming. His sermon was about the rich man who flaunted his pious steps but failed the test of true obedience when Christ asked him to sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor.
He was aware about the redundancy of this sermon. Previous pastors have given the message with verbal tenacity; they were the ones who loved to enunciate their P’s and T’s. Experienced churchgoers were wary of the front row when they saw this type of preacher; they feared words like spirit, prayer, and repent, not for their evocative power, but for the unintended spit that may strike them with each conviction. The artist within Pastor Paul yearned for originality; he desired to shock his congregation into conviction, and Pastor Paul’s vision was a particularly odd image that Mary refused to make.
“It’s art Mary! You know better than anyone else, art is the medium of God!” He said, as if he was on the pulpit. Mary couldn’t take him seriously while he habitually flicked his coin up and down.
“God was the one who wrote on Belshazzar’s wall; imagine the typography God used to evoke fear in ‘Mene Mene!’ His directions given to Noah on how to build the ark were pure architecture; the twelve plagues was a fantastic display of power, it was theatre at its finest. Even Christ’s parables were the art of storytelling. So I don’t get what has gotten you all riled up with this particular piece.”
“You’re asking me to squeeze a camel into an eye of a needle.”
“So what? Think of it as surrealism.”
“Surrealism doesn’t emphasize brutality!” She raised her voice unintentionally. She took a deep breath and hunched below the computer screen to conceal her frustration. “I showed you the first draft, and it already emphasized your message. The camel was clearly in the needle. But you wanted more blood, needless suffering.”
“I want the shock factor! People need to see what Christ wanted them to visualize. Those who love money cannot get into heaven, the camel can’t get in the eye of the needle, and even if the animal got in there, it would not be cartoony. It needs to shock! Brutality is shocking; pain is shocking, then the world would understand!”
“What makes you think pain and suffering will make the world understand?”
“Because people respond to pain, we Christians know how to empathize. Can you empathize with a camel who looks like he’s in a really tight corset, or a camel whose truly in pain. Do you want people to laugh, or do you want them convicted?”
“I don’t think the camel is even necessary! Why don’t you emphasize the rich man instead? Imagine this: a rich man surrounded by the poor in the presence of Christ. He’s dressed finely, and those surrounding him are in poor ragged clothes. The rich man seems to have his eyes fixed on Christ, but they’re not. His eyes are focused on the image above Christ. It’s an image within the clouds, an image of heaven; a heaven with pure gold tiles, encrusted with precious jewels. He’s so focused on what’s beyond Christ that he doesn’t see what Christ is wearing. Christ is also wearing ragged clothing. Do you see what I mean? It is harder for the rich to get to heaven because they are blinded by worldly—”
“—Its been done before.” he interrupted.
“When? Name one piece of art you’ve seen that depicts the same concept.”
“Kid’s bible stories,” he teased.
“I don’t think the deacons, or the people would approve of your idea.” This was the same trump card she used in the past but it never worked.
“The pharisees didn’t always approve of John the Baptist and Jesus.”
He flicked his coin high enough to graze the ceiling. As the coin fell, he caught a glimpse of Mary’s smirk, an accusation of blasphemy. “Not saying I’m Jesus or anything like that, or that the deacons are Pharisees… never mind, forget I said that.”
Silenced engulfed them for a few seconds. Mary still thinking of a rebuttal, and Pastor Paul still flicking his coin.
“Let me ask you a question Mary; are you a traditionalist or an artist? Remember, God is an artist. He made this world. This world is a living painting, and the older this world gets without an artist to preserve its original form, the more it’s forgotten. We need to preserve it, but true artists are not traditionalist. We may have the same foundation, the same canvas, but everyone contributes different lines.”
Mary closed her laptop, and looked at Pastor Paul who was still flicking his coin. Mary acknowledged Pastor Paul’s insightfulness, but acknowledgement is not agreement.
“Ok,I’ll email you the final copy tonight”
“With every detail I asked for?”
“Alright!” he said ecstatically “I will see you tomorrow morning”
He got up and left, still flicking the coin up and down.
As she was walking home, Mary saw Pastor Paul across the street. He was standing still, only recognizable from the motion of the coin that he continued to flick up and down. Mary couldn’t see his face, for his focus was on something on the ground. The coin would rise over his shoulder, twinkle as it reflected the setting sun, and hide behind his body once more. Mary found this habit odd, there was no purpose to it, no heads or tails ever called. She watched him stand there for five minutes, wondering what grabbed his attention. Her eyes were still focused on the coin, mesmerized by its movement. Then the coin stopped rising, and Pastor Paul began to walk away. Mary walked towards where Pastor Paul stood and found the reason for his immobility.
There was a homeless man sitting awkwardly. He had long, frizzy grey hair with a tangled beard dropping down his chin. He looked sixty, but was only thirty five. Suffering ages us, she thought; it drives us closer to an inevitable death. Mary had seen this man before, but it was in the blistering Canadian winter, unrecognizable while he was bundled into a ball over a steamy vent. The summer’s heat unveiled the man; he was in a sleeveless shirt, she could see his arms, the sagging of skin over bone, a place where muscle and flesh used to be. He had a habit of spitting, but his dehydration had made spitting dry. Mary noticed the protruding hump on his back, a disability that made him hunch over his crossed legs. He held a cardboard sign with chapped and blackened fingers, inhuman fingers, not hands but hoofs.
What must I do to Inherit Life… Please give and you will have treasure in heaven…
She saw several coins near the man’s sign, and she began to walk away. She felt a hint of regret for her lack of charity, but she only had a hundred dollar bill and no change. Her thoughts wandered back to the task she needed to accomplish, to the image of the camel she needed to change.
Camels don’t need to suffer, she thought.
“Go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21 NIV)
This verse is what inspired me to write this story. When I was writing this piece, I kept asking myself:
What does it mean to give, to sacrifice, to be generous?
If someone else can sacrifice more because they have more, does it make them more generous?
What determines us as rich or poor, is just perspective?
Jesus asked the rich man to sacrifice everything and to follow Him. Is it easier for a poor person to part with a loaf of bread, or a rich person to part with all his riches to follow Christ?
Can we do it?
The Christmas spirit may inspires us to give, after all, Christmas is the season for giving. But it is the Holy Spirit who inspires us to give in every season.