Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Friday, May 29, 2009

A Wedding Story...

Last night I went to Seattle Public Theatre's west coast premier of "A Wedding Story". A friend is in the play and, as is usually the case when I attend theater, I walked through the doors with a complete vacuum of expectations. A few short minutes into the play, however, I knew that this was going to be profound and meaningful at many levels, and covering a wide range of topics including:

1. children caring for aging parents
2. the challenges of holding the nuclear family together in a mobile society
3. our longings for sexual pleasure
4. the seasons of marriage
5. our ambivilance about commitment
6. Alzheimers disease and it's devastating effects on everyone touched by it
7. healthy and unhealthy ways of coping with disruption and loss in our lives
8. homosexuality (not a major theme, but certainly a sub-plot)

As my wife and I headed home afterward, I realized that I'd just walked through a slice of the issues we pastors deal with on a weekly basis. We're trying to help people navigate life's tumultuous waters by drawing upon both the revelation and strength of Christ, and even the caring and shepherding is fraught with it's own challenges, as I learn nearly every week.

I'm learning that theater is a powerful medium for exposing people to truth and the poets of our day, the musicians, filmakers, playwrights, should be among the mediums that we who follow Christ should digest. Yes, this play has more than a few points that are wildly divergent from the Christian world view, so know that going in (language and promiscuity, for example). I've written elsewhere about why I think such is setting can be appropriate for Christians, but for now I 'll just note that, when Paul walked across the hillside in Athens, looking at the idols and carefully reading their inscriptions, history tells us that he was gazing at idols which, by today's standards would surely be called pornographic. It also tells as that Paul was provoked by the encounter, even as I was provoked (and deeply touched) last night. The play draws the patron in to the lives of each person involved in this family as they deal with aging, brokenness, longings for intimacy, and how we rise up to the moments of challenge, or don't.

I get angry when people quote verses glibly, in response to another person's suffering or their choices. Christians rage against homosexuality who have never spoken with a gay person. We offer verses about the body wasting away while the spirit is being renewed as a means of comforting those facing terminal illness. Our approach is sterile, clinical, lacking empathy.

The theater is a safe place to learn how to empathize with gay people, with those struggling with sterile marriages, with those whose bodies are in rebellion and slipping away, and those whose cynicism regarding commitment has grown in the real world fires of betrayal and abandonment. If your ethics are pure theory, hammered out in a classroom, or on a mountain with a Bible... you need to start meeting people. But if that's too much, at least go to the theater, and start learning there. Either way, your approach to people will change - your convictions might not change (or they might), but your approach will change. You'll learn to weep with people over their brokenness, over their failure, over their sense of alienation.

"As your own poets have said..." - we'd do well to pay attention to them


At 30/5/09 23:43, Blogger Brooke said...

Thank you for this post, Pastor Richard.

It is rewarding for me to hear your response to the play.

It is hard trying to pursue a career in the arts when it seems so much easier to choose another path with less resistance and more income.

Yet, theatre is what gets me excited and passionate about life! It has the potential to move, create discussion, and allow people to think about situations/people/behavior in another light.

So - thank you for the blog of support :)

At 31/5/09 22:12, Blogger Greta said...

BAAAAAH, I love this topic!!!

Historical geek-out moment: theatre actually has very close ties with the perpetuation of Christianity. Way back in the Roman days, Constantine the 1st outlawed theatre after he became emperor (or maybe after he converted to Christianity) because the plays and gladiator sports were so effective in ridiculing/killing Christians, and he was like, "Hey yo, stop this business, that is MY Lord you be greasin'." (My paraphrase.)

THEN theatre made a come-back in the dark ages, because everyone was ILLITERATE... and "men of the cloth" realized that the best way to communicate the gospel to people was by turning the stain-glass window pictures into live action.

People gradually had more and more fun with the little scenes, and eventually, leading into the renaissance, "Pageant Plays" were THE BIG DEAL to go see-- the whole town got involved! All the different town "guilds" put on the scene from the Bible that was most closely related to their profession: the bakers did the loaves and fishes scene; the carpenters did the crucifixion; the black-smiths recreated Hell, and so on. (Hell was very exciting; lots of pyrotechnics.)

And THEN... because of the Church of England break and allllll the violent controversy there, Queen Elizabeth decreed that theatre could NOT be of a religious nature, because of just HOW POWERFULLY it incited people. She was like, "All you religious folks need to just COOL it. Let's just have a love story or two, alright?" (My paraphrase.) So then Shakespeare wrote "Romeo and Juliet," and steered clear from Samson and Delilah.

Point: theatre has extremely close ties to Christianity throughout history, and has been both outlawed and incorporated because of how incredibly effective it is in communicating the gospel.

Can you tell I paid attention in my theatre history classes in college? :)

At 31/5/09 23:03, Blogger Brooke said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 31/5/09 23:06, Blogger Brooke said...

Wow - I wish my memory would allow me to geek-out like that - Love it!


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