Matt Watson

War on Christmas waged in unlikeliest of places: Byram, MS

Matt Watson

There’s an inside joke about the big Methodist church on the corner of Henderson and Siwell, just a couple of minutes from my family’s house in Byram, Mississippi. A friend of mine, with her usual sarcastic New Jersey sense of humor, called it Six Flags over Jesus when we passed by it one day. The name stuck despite its irreverence.

Lakeshore Church is a nice church. I’ve been inside it at least once and know a good handful of people who attend there regularly or have been involved there in some way or another. For the record, I always discouraged the nickname Six Flags over Jesus, but I don’t think the inside joke is going to go away anytime soon. Not after what happened a few weekends ago.

For two nights in a row, Friday and Saturday, December 11 and 12, Lakeshore put on a spectacular show in their parking lot called “Live Drive Through Nativity: Starting at the Garden of Eden and continuing through the Birth, Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ,” featuring a drive-thru path dotted with groups of actors playing various scenes from the Bible. At least, that is what we were able to put together from peering at the lot as we drove by, although the high event-related traffic prevented us and all Byram-dwellers (Byramians? Byramites?) who live off Henderson Road from driving by very quickly, or at all for that matter. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to attend either night, but as my brother and another friend sat in the slowly creeping traffic, we attempted to interpret the events taking place.

“I can’t tell if that’s Jesus and his disciples or just some people hanging out in the parking lot.”

“Is this just the Nativity, or are they doing the whole Bible?”

“Is that the Last Supper scene or an information kiosk?”

These were common statements and observations of the night.

Now look. I’m all for Christmas. I really am proud of Lakeshore for putting forth the effort and executing a spectacle of such biblical proportions, apparently attracting something a little like tourism to my small hometown. I’m all for keeping Christ in Christmas, remembering the Reason for the Season, etc. Big, big Christmas fan. I’m with you fellas. Really. Ain’t gotta convince me. Christmas is my favorite time of the year.

Furthermore, I am certainly in favor of our all-American right to a drive-thru Gospel experience. It is truly in line with the great American spirit of ingenuity. It’s just the kind of thing that makes America, especially the South, great, along with gargantuan crosses, churches, peach water towers and jumbotrons. In this City on a Hill where there is a drive-thru for everything from burgers to banking, we have not left our piety out of account.

Sure, some people may criticize these kinds of things. They may accuse Lakeshore for being too lavish or for displaying a theme-park, entertainment-oriented form of piety. I think all these sorts of complaints are somewhat puritanical and portray a general lack holiday spirit.

No, my complaint, however tedious and materialistic, is the following:

The Drive Through Nativity held up traffic. Big time. We were in a traffic jam on Henderson for 30 minutes.

I never thought I’d live to see a real traffic jam in this part of the Home of the Swinging Bridge, much less right upon pulling out of my dead-end subdivision.

I’m not the only one who is complaining. I think the “Live Drive Through Christmas” perdured without riot, arson and general anarchy only because Byramites felt obliged to respect the sacred. Nonetheless, there were many calls to the Byram police complaining about the way traffic was handled, according to the dispatcher a friend who was with us that night spoke to.

When I first got into town, I have to admit I didn’t quite understand the kerfuffle over the Lakeshore Nativity scene, which is what I erroneously thought it to be.

“No,” said my brother. “You don’t understand. You literally drive through an obstacle course that starts at the parking lot entrance off Siwell, weaves all the way through that gigantic parking lot, and exits out onto Henderson. YOU CANNOT GET ANYWHERE! IT TOOK ME AN EXTRA HOUR TO GET HOME FROM WORK. OH, THE HUMANITY!!!”

Road rage is a powerful force, capable even of making a small Southern town launch a war on Christmas. In a free republic of ordered liberty, rights must face checks and balances. The right to a drive-thru Gospel has also to be balanced with the right to expect a cetain kind of traffic when you have chosen to live in a town of 11,489 people.

My suggestion: Lakeshore could stick with the story of the Nativity, leave the other parts for Easter and what have you, and dedicate the extra parking space to visitors. My brother R. Blake Watson, MBA, suggests reaching out to the other church and their gigantic parking lot across the road with some kind of shuttling system, although crossing Siwell to transport visitors might be somewhat annoying.

Something has to be done for next year though, lest Byramites be enraged again and Six Flags over Jesus become the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

December 29, 2015, Byram, Miss.