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An epiphany of opinion

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How can a quasi-Libertarian, feminist, pseudo-Atheist, girl-homo get behind celebrating the birthday of a guy many claimed to be the Son of God? In true Biblical style, it took an epiphany.

At the turn of the century, I was working at an animation studio. It was the kind of year that the staff fully expected fingerless gloves and a 9 p.m. Christmas Eve work reprieve as reward for a year of service. We were looking down the barrel at a Christmas that would likely be marred by lay-off notices. The target for the company to achieve a modicum of financial relief was in the sight lines, and it was us.

At the beginning of December, our deliverance came from deepest, darkest Jesusland. Or more specifically, the entertainment epicentre of Jesusland: Memphis, Tennessee. It came unexpectedly, but it came just in time. And it came, I kid you not, in a pair of cowboy boots and a bolo tie. I had heard of this creature, but thought it a myth. I was warned to approach it with sincerity, instead of my usual pith.

It was the Great Christian Entertainment Baron.

Our small Vancouver animation company had earned an undeserved reputation for being the sort of place a Christian company could outsource cartoons about morally upstanding vegetables on a quest for Jesus. This came as a salt of being heavily involved with Joseph: King of Dreams , the direct-to-video follow up to Dreamworks’ Moses tale, Prince of Egypt .

The Great Christian Entertainment Baron had obviously overlooked that both stories featured Jewish kids who made good. He was looking for a studio that would reflect his company’s Christian values and had decided that we were it. The extremely attractive exchange rate on Y2K American dollars didn’t hurt, either. According to the earthier of my two bosses, all we had to do was pass the "sniff test." Did we smell right enough to deliver warm stories about compassionate and caring vegetables dedicated to living the Ten Commandments?

Before the Great Christian Entertainment Baron took up residence in our boardroom, our bosses gave us a "pep" talk. It was the kind of talk that makes your blood run cold for behind the platitudes the message was clear: Offend the Christians and the company was going tits up. The pressure was on.

Under the obscure title of Head of Development, I was responsible for articulating the company’s creative vision – or at least giving my bosses a position to publicly contradict. The morning of the Christian invasion I felt a little like a Druid anticipating The Crusades. I suspected it was going to take more than a blue blazer to pass this sniff test.

Amid a selection of hot beverages and fresh pastries, we met to discuss the emotional arcs of legumes designed to bring family values to impressionable minds without parlaying overt biblical messages. The themes would clearly be derivative of Christian teaching, but there weren’t going to be any zucchinis quoting scripture. I tried to recall what I’d acquired through a handful of random Sunday School days. Then I did what I was paid to do: B.S. in a way that made the client feel that they were a) correct and b) we could deliver what they wanted on a far grander scale for less money that they anticipated.

While I knew that what I was promising was not necessarily possible or even true, after a few years in the industry, I had reconciled having to do this as part of playing the game. Then came a change in the game plan.

The Great Christian Entertainment Baron, looked at me and drawled, "Well, you seem to know your bible. I have to ask, are you a Christian?"

"Yipes!" yelped my inner voice.

My bosses whipped around and glared at me. I was on the ropes. Our accountant, the only truly faithful one on staff, looked upward as if praying for a chasm to open up the floor and swallow us whole.

I cleared my throat and smiled beatifically, "I’m not a practicing Christian, but I do appreciate the philosophy."

Breathing around the table resumed and the discussion continued. What was the tomato’s motivation? Would the cucumber only be played for laughs? Were we looking at a one-off production or something more substantial? Blah, blah, blah…

In the end, the deal went elsewhere for issues unrelated to my beliefs.

But that incident was a turning point. I realized I could appreciate the philosophy without necessarily changing my opinions about zealous fundamentalists and their particular brand of Christianity. I could just appreciate the philosophy. In its purest form, it offers a nice set of guidelines for living a decent, caring life. So come December 25 I’m celebrating the birthday of a guy who was decent, caring and had some pretty solid ideas about community.

Happy Birthday, J.C., you had some rockin’ ideas.

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