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  • Ross Moughtin

He's behind you!

Without warning the oversize drawers of my son-in-law fell down to reveal his multi-coloured tights. An accident but even so, we all loved it. Everyone cheered. And he carried on dancing regardless.

Yes, it was the annual village panto and the morning after I find myself writing this blog on an unfamiliar computer deep in rural Cheshire.

There’s something very English about the pantomime. As actor Roger Allam observes: “You are in a strange world in pantomime, where you are allowed to step out and talk to the audience and do silly gags. Sometimes I feel like a cartoon character.”

It’s all very silly, of course with a barely believable plot which often peters out long before the final curtain drops. And wonderfully there is no clear distinction between those on stage and the groundlings as we all shout “He’s behind you!” and “Oh yes, he can!” We’re all in it together as we join in the sing-along. No passive onlookers here.

Last night’s cast was composed of about 20 young teenagers along with Tim who played with considerable zest the pantomime dame. heavy with make-up and a ridiculously big wig.

And whatever they did the audience loved it. You forget your lines (everyone does): no big deal. Your body microphone falls off. No problem, you just pick it up and pick up where you left off. Or your drawers fall down in full view when you are dancing: it happens all the time!

For the wonderful thing about panto, especially in a village like this where everyone turns up for a good time: you cannot make a mistake. It is hugely affirming.

In real life, of course, we fear making mistakes. It can cripple us. I’ve blogged before about my appalling bad French even though I endured 40 minutes of French classes every day for five years at Waterloo Grammar School.

Faced with a real-time emergency, such as a train about to depart, I invariably search for the correct tense. I rack my brain for the future anterior tense for IR verbs, knowing if I get it wrong I get a rap over the knuckles. And so I freeze.

“Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little” philosophised Edmund Burke.

Of course, making mistakes is part and parcel of life, something we need to teach our young people – like the cast of the Wizard of Oz stepping out into adulthood. A wonderful opportunity to perform in public knowing that they can’t do anything wrong – the audience will love them even the more if they do!

We all need to be affirmed – to be valued for who we are rather than by what we do. As the apostle Paul teaches the wayward Corinthians: “God affirms us, making us a sure thing in Christ, putting his Yes within us. By his Spirit he has stamped us with his eternal pledge—a sure beginning of what he is destined to complete.” (2 Corinthians 1:21f, the Message)

For as the panto there is no distinction between those on stage and those in the audience; we are all in it together, whether we are doing or the receiving end of ministry. We simply decide to encourage each other, whatever the context and however we may be feeling.

Strangely I always enjoy preaching, giving the talk, on Christmas morning. The congregation invariably is in a good mood, ready to laugh and always very forgiving. You can sense the vibes. You know they are with you – and that makes all the difference.

There again to quote Morecambe and Wise, there are those services which are like facing the Thursday matinee on a rainy afternoon on Blackpool pier. Grim, and draining: there are dementors abroad.

Just thinking of the audience at Bunbury village hall yesterday, they were willing the cast to succeed, hands poised to clap. I guess for many of those young performers it was their first time they had stepped onto a stage in front of a live audience. Hugely formative and no doubt the effect will ripple right through their lives.

So we are all called to encourage. As it happens I have just read my Psalm for the day: Psalm 119! And there in verse 41 a lovely phrase in the Message translation: “Let your love, God, shape my life with salvation, exactly as you promised.”

As disciples of Jesus we decide to allow his love to shape our lives as we bank on his promises. For he delights in us, he longs for us to succeed in whatever he calls us to do. Invariably he ensures that we have all the resources we need; it’s his promise.

But not just me but my fellow disciples, for me to encourage them with the encouragement that Christ has offered to me.

So going back to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul writes: “(God) comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.” (2 Corinthians 1:3).

As far as I am aware there is no direct reference in scripture to a panto audience willing the performers on but the writer to the Hebrews uses a similar metaphor of the crowd in the athletics arena: “Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it.” (Hebrews 12:1)

And they’re behind us.

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