Roger Coleman isn't the typical pastor. He runs midtown's Pilgrim Chapel, a tiny stone church at 38th and Gillham that's open every day to people of all faiths. (A former Lutheran Church for the deaf, it's also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.)
The last time Coleman caught The Pitch's attention, it was for writing new lyrics to "Silent Night" for a recording by Kansas City musician Tom Hall. Joe Miquelon (of the Elders) did the arrangement, and a gospel choir from Swope Parkway United Christian Church joined for the bridge. Renamed "Silent the Night," the 2004 composition ended up being a plea for an end to the city's violence, expressed in Coleman's stark, all-too-real poetry:
Silent night, holy night
Shots ring out, flashing lights
Each day measured in human life
Suffer the children to pay the price
We live our days in fear
We live our days in fear.
"I started writing it as a protest of the war in Iraq,
and there was so much violence that year in Kansas City," Coleman told us a couple of years ago. "But I
couldn't get anyone's attention." The city doesn't seem any less violent, but at least Coleman tried -- and earned respect with lyrics that belied the unrealistic message of the holiday
standard and a song that pleaded, through its gorgeous arrangement, for humans to
please stop killing each other. ( right-click and save-as to download it.)
Now Coleman has a new project. At first, an illustrated children's book seems as if it might be in an entirely different vein than "Silent the Night." But The Pope and the Snowman: A Christmas Tale (AuthorHouse, 74 pages, various prices for hardback, paperback and e-book) maintains the same subtle subversiveness -- which is essential for such trying times on earth.
The setup: On the day of his most important speech of the year, the Pope has
awakened on Christmas Eve with writer's block. To complicate
things, it's snowing in Rome -- a rare occurrence that portends
Cynical adults will not be surprised that, as hard as he tries, the Pope feels "very empty inside" and "can't find a darn thing worthy to say on this Christmas Eve night." Children, however, will simply recognize a problem that needs to be solved -- and a solution, thanks to inspiration provided by the Frosty-like character who, to the Pope's initial annoyance, shows up in his private garden.
Predictably, the snowman asks lots of innocent but pointed questions that help the Pope focus again on what's important. Not so predictably, the Pope's initial defensiveness makes for a subtle critique of the Catholic Church, such as when he asks the snowman, "Are you implying that I, the pope, look backward?"
At other moments, Coleman has silly fun with this critique: Challenged by the snowman to really open his eyes and look around at the world, the Pope sees lots of snow, trees....
"And birds -- there are so many, many birds. What kinds of birds are those -- those brown ones with the red wings?
Those are cardinals.
Cardinals? They can't be cardinals. Cardinals are bright red.
Those are female cardinals.
I see. I guess I've never noticed them before.