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Thursday October 19th 2017

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Who Would I Shelter?

BY PATRICK CABELLO HANSEL

If you looked to the southwest as you were arriving for La Natividad this past December, you could see just the briefest hint of the sun’s last rays. It was the darkest part of the year for us in northern climes; for many of us, 2016 was one of the darkest as well. From Zika to Aleppo, from thousands dying in the Mediterranean trying to seek shelter from war and abject poverty to an election characterized by fear and hatred, from shooting of black men by police to the shooting of police, this past year had its share of darkness.

La Natividad tells the Christmas story from the perspective of an immigrant family in our neighborhood seeking posada, or shelter. Many of the actors and volunteers this past year will be directly affected by the new administration’s strategy on immigration. After a year in which immigrants were demonized, the question remains: Will we provide shelter to those who are already here, and those who will come?

La Natividad is a partnership of In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater and St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church on 15th Avenue. Usually we abbreviate the name of the church to St. Paul’s Lutheran, but in this climate, maybe we should dwell on the “evangelical” for a moment, as the sun makes its slow journey north. Evangelical comes from two Greek words, meaning “good” and “angel” (or “messenger”). Doesn’t Phillips need to hear from a good angel? Don’t we need a message, not of Making America Great Again, but of recognizing the great love that we already bear within us?

In La Natividad, María hears from two evangels that she is to bear the Holy Child into the world. First a dancer with bells on her feet—who is in charge of a sometimes unruly flock of little angels—physically serenades María with a beautiful Aztec dance. Then a mysterious angel, masked as the whole of heaven, brings soundless words to her. María is shocked, then wondering, then accepting this good news: she will bear this child. She will accept this gift.

Oh, what a good message, right? But then, humble María faces anything but good news. A fight with her fiancé, José. A call from the empire to be counted (a registry of people from the Middle East perhaps). King Herod who wishes to stop María and José from entering the community that has gathered to welcome them. The very literal cold and piercing wind along 15th Avenue.

St. Paul’s and Heart of the Beast have been working to make 15th Avenue into the Phillips Avenue of the Arts: a celebration of the beauty and talent of the community. Often during 2016, the work felt more like just holding onto the avenue of survival. With human trafficking, violence and crime increasing; with powerful voices in our nation telling people “you don’t belong here: you’re the wrong culture, the wrong religion, the wrong color, the wrong sexuality”.

And yet we walk. Neighbors disarm Herod’s guards not with force, but by calling to their families on the other side of the bridge: Mother! Tia! Sister! Primo! The star leads the way to an old church, where the heating pipes creak and the roof sometimes leaks, but where there is hot soup and bread, music and loving arms to welcome not only one child, but all the children of the earth.

This year, people who attended La Natividad were asked to write words on Post-Its and place them under questions like “Who would I shelter?” and “Who would shelter me?” The bright colors made for a kind of paper heaven in the banquet hall of St. Paul’s. A heaven that calls us to question, calls us to welcome, calls us to be light in the midst of deep darkness.

Patrick Cabello Hansel is a Co-Pastor at St. Paul’s EVANGELICAL Lutheran Church on 15th Ave.

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