I’m a fan Fridays!

dannykayeEvery night, during every performance of “Spamalot” at The Media Theatre, I find myself thinking about and trying desperately to channel the spirit of the great, Danny Kaye.

This show is full of brilliantly written comedic moments as well as several opportunities to play with the audience, making it just a little bit different every time.

I think of Danny Kaye for several reasons, but the main one takes me all the way back to graduate school.  As a vocal music major at Oklahoma City University in the mid 1990s, I spent a good deal of time in the library in the music school listening to records, cassettes and CDs (remember any of those ancient things?) and watching videos of great performances.

My first day there, I came across this VHS cassette (did he just say VHS?) of Danny Kaye conducting the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.  It looked interesting, so I popped it in the player and put on the headphones.  After about the first five minutes, I felt a tap on my shoulder.  When I turned around I saw the librarian with a very stern look on her face.  Apparently, I had been laughing so loudly I was disturbing the other students!

This performance, captured forever on video (thank God!!), changed my life!  When I saw this man exude the type of joy that can only come from complete immersion in total bliss, and how he was able to bring everyone along with him on this truly beautiful journey, I knew that I wanted to be as much like him as I could be in my career.

I play a lot of “creepy” characters and villains in my line of work, and I love it, it’s fun and often very challenging.  But, on the whole, I have to say, I prefer making people laugh and bringing them joy.

Some say you can’t teach comic timing.  I disagree completely!

If I have any sense of timing (and my mother says I do, so there!), I owe the vast majority of what I’ve learned to watching Danny Kaye work his magic, particularly in this video.

I present to you, on this very rainy Friday morning here in Philadelphia, one of my rays of brilliant sunshine!  It’s only a clip from the beginning of the evening, so, if you’ve got time later, treat yourself to the entire performance on YouTube.  It’s out of print and can only be found there.

Enjoy!!

Live like you were living

stranger_than_fiction_opening_contact-0-1080-0-0I got to thinking this morning about one of my favorite movies: “Stranger Than Fiction.”  I’ve seen it too many times to count, having used it as a teaching tool in the Humanities class I used to teach, and each time I revisit the film, something new jumps out at me.

I feel like a film has a significant impact on me as a piece of art when a couple of things happen:  First, it’s got to deserve multiple views or reads.  Second, every time I go to it, something new comes to me, some realization, some point of view, some new way of seeing my life, or some confirmation of a thought.

In “Stranger Than Fiction”, Harold Crick is an IRS agent who hears a voice, a voice narrating his life.  When he discovers that he is headed toward his imminent death, he makes a choice to start living the life he truly wants to live.  It’s brilliantly written and brilliantly acted by all.  It’s a story that speaks to me on so many levels.

My favorite line is spoken by Harold’s friend, who is a fellow IRS agent.  He and Harold are having dinner, and Harold asks his friend what he would do if he discovered that he was going to die soon.  His friend thinks for a moment and answers by saying that he would go to Space Camp.  It’s something he’s wanted to do since he was nine.  When Harold asks, “Aren’t you too old for Space Camp?” his friend responds with my favorite line in the whole movie,

“You’re never too old for Space Camp.”

I mention this because I sometimes wonder if I’ve been living my life waiting for what’s going to happen tomorrow and sometimes letting today go by.  I wonder if I’ve been sacrificing what I can do today because I somehow seem to think that tomorrow is going to bring my dreams right to me.  Tomorrow will come, as far as I know, and always brings with it enough trouble of it’s own.  That just takes me to the next tomorrow, where I start thinking about the next day or, more importantly, the next weekend.

The greatest moments of my life occur when I live in the now, the now of right now.  When I’m present in whatever situation or moment I’m in, life makes sense and my world is all right.

Do you plan for the future?  Do you save and make arrangements for your family and loved ones?  Of course you do!  Do all of those things.

But don’t waste a moment.  Don’t give in to your restless anxiety for a minute.

See your family and friends.  I mean really see them.

Appreciate them.

Love them.

Hug them.

Kiss them.

Not because they may not be here tomorrow but because they are here today!

“Life is too short.” Ok, so that’s a phrase you could use.

“Live like you were dying” is another.

I personally like the saying, “Live like you were living.”  Don’t look at your life in terms of when it might come to an end, but instead, look at it for all it could be now, in the “now of now.”

“Live in the now of now! Live like you were living!”

I like that!  Who said that?

Oh yeah, I did.  Just now.

Peace to you.

A little bit of a lot of Good News

Gospel TractGospel is the shocking, provocative, revolutionary, subversive, counter intuitive, good news that in your moments of greatest

despair,

failure,

sin,

weakness,

losing,

failing,

frustration,

inability,

helplessness,

wandering,

and falling short,

God meets you there–

right there–

right exactly there–

in that place, and announces,

I am on your side!

–Borrowed from, What We Talk About When We Talk About God  by, Rob Bell

We eat ham and jam and spam a lot!

spamaloticonRight now, through November 3rd, I’m having the time of my life playing King Arthur in Monty Python’s Spamalot at the Media Theatre in Media, PA.

Here’s a little, sort of “backstage” look inside the show.  Check it out!

If this world is not your home, then where do you live?

notmyhomeWe’re clearly in the midst of some difficult times here in America.  Our government is shut down, and no matter where you turn, one side is blaming the other.

Then, you hear many of us who are affected by this process lashing out at the men and women who can’t seem to get their jobs done (and let’s face it, who would abide this kind of incompetence in the workplace anywhere else?).

This is obviously very troubling to me.  But what’s troubling me even more is something else I’ve been seeing which seems to be a response to this governmental ineptitude by some people of faith.

I’ve seen several Facebook statuses lately that say some kind of version of the following:

This world is not my home.  I’m just passing through.

worldnotmyhome

Don’t get me wrong.  I understand this sentiment, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with it; it’s not even that bad a hymn, though not a favorite of mine.  What troubles me about using this phrase is that it’s fraught with the potential for us to use it as an excuse to not get involved politically, to turn the other way when we are confronted with enormous injustice and inequality.  When we are afraid to ruffle feathers and decide to simply throw up our hands instead.

Things get rough politically.  We find, sometimes, that our opinions differ greatly from some of our closest and dearest friends and it doesn’t feel good. We want to avoid confrontation.  So, we end up essentially saying, Hey, everything is out of control right now.  I have this desperate need for certainty and I can’t find any right now! 

Out of our need for this certainty and security, we say to ourselves, and others who will listen, (hopefully agreeing with us and validating our position, helping us feel that much more secure) God is in control!

It’s a statement of faith, and I understand where it comes from.  Keep saying it; I’m with you!

My problem is not with a statement of faith.  My problem is that I’ve seen it used as a cop out.

There is evil in this world.   People do terrible things to one another and act in ways opposite of the ways of love.  That happens, yes.

But, there are also people who act in loving ways all over the place.  Nice words are said, helping hands are being lent, generous deeds are being done, and people are being clothed and fed.  That’s also happening.

All of us have likely seen those WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) bracelets the kids used to wear.  When I first saw them, several years ago, I wasn’t sure how I felt about them.  At first I thought, That’s ridiculous!  It’s just another way to try to keep young people “in line”!  How presumptuous to assume we would know what Jesus would do in this case!

After some reflection, though, I thought to myself, You know, that’s not a bad question to ask.  What would Jesus do?  What would someone filled with the spirit of love, the spirit of God, do in this time of turmoil?

If you believe in a place we go after we die, that’s completely fine with me.  I have no problem with you. I know that, for many people, the idea that another place beyond this one can offer an enormous amount of comfort.  When my grandmother was in the very difficult last year of her life, she expressed to me quite often her longing for God to “take her home.”

When a loved one is suffering with cancer or Lou Gehrig’s or any other terrible thing that is out of our control, we want desperately to know that something beyond ourselves has it all figured out, that someone has a plan in place.

I’m not here to argue against that.  That notion can bring a great deal of comfort, and comfort during times of suffering is something I pray for on a daily basis.  What worries me is that, during times of crisis politically and socially, the notion that “God is in control” is played out by saying to ourselves and the world, I’m just going to throw up my hands because I just don’t know what to do.  God will handle it all in the end.

I just don’t think that’s a very good answer to the bracelet question.

Our government is letting us down right now.  No matter on which side of the political fence you’ve planted your lawn chair, I’m pretty sure we can agree on that.  And, while we may not agree on the best way for our elected officials to bring this crisis to a resolution, I think we can ultimately unite on some WWJD principles.

Are you prepared to act if there actually is no “plan”?  Are you prepared to stand up in defense of the poor and the sick and the desperate and the downtrodden? Would Jesus do that?  I think Jesus would do that, yes.

But how?  What would he do?  What would he do right now?

That’s a good question…

I’m a fan, Fridays! (Sunday edition!!)

bestillMan…ok, so it’s Friday morning and the next thing you know, it’s Sunday!  But, I didn’t want a week to go by without sharing this amazing piece with you.  Aoife O’Donovan has become one of my favorite singers, and her team-up with Dave Douglas and his band is nothing short of brilliant.

This song, Be Still My Soul, is quite possibly my all time favorite hymn. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve played this version of this piece when times have been tough over the last year.  This performance of this very song has been, and continues to be, one of the great sacramental experiences of my life.

I hope it brings you the kind of peace that it has brought me time and again.  Enjoy!

It’s a gift that keeps on giving all life long

hollow-breadSacrament.  I love the word–it’s fun to say…

More than that, however, I love what it means.

A Sacrament is essentially anything finite through which The Sacred (or God or The Spirit) becomes present to us.  So, while the sacraments with which we may be most familiar- Holy Communion, Baptism, etc.- certainly function in this way, there is also room for, and a need to acknowledge, the validity of experiences of God in our everyday lives by anyone and everyone who is open to such experiences.

A long run (if you’re a runner like me), or an especially wonderful yoga class, or watching your children play on their own, or a brilliant time with friends (please insert your own finite thing or activity here_____) can all be sacramental in their function if we are open to that possibility.

Recently, just after a long run, as it would happen, I happened upon a brilliant performance of an Antonio Scarlatti piano sonata played by Vladimir Horowitz on my iPhone.  I had it set for a post-run shuffle, and as I walked to cool down, the piece began to play.

I let the solo piano flow through my ear-buds as I walked along the sidewalk on my way back to my front door. I was completely transported.  For five minutes, I was dreaming, imagining, immersed in listening, and baptized in the connectedness of an audience (me), a performer (Horowitz), and a composer (Scarlatti).  We were connected in a profound way by something much greater than any single one of us in this transaction.

The art of music was a sacrament for me in that moment.  Scarlatti’s piano sonata re-awakened me to the very presence of God.  I knew God was present with me at that moment and was honored to be reminded of that fact.

And that’s one of the things that sacrament can do–remind us of the very presence of God.

I was reminded of how valuable and important I am to the Spirit and felt an unexplainable notion that I was being given a very special gift in that moment.  The feeling that filled me next was one of complete gratitude.  I was so grateful to have been able to experience such beauty and connectedness.

I never, for one moment, felt like God was giving me something so that he could charge me with doing something else.  I never felt as though God was saying, “You want more of this?  Then do more of that!”  I just felt that I was being given a gift, a sacramental moment, a “thin place” as the Celtic Christians used to say.

I think the only thing required of me was that I was open to receiving this gift. Period. What I did with it afterward was my business.

I want to be in the business of being a part of as many of these moments as I can for the rest of my life and rejoicing with others when they can do the same.

I wish you peace and joy!

 

I know that I don’t know what I don’t know…

blindnessOk, so you’ve got your “Salvation” worked out? (whatever that means)

You’ve got the answers and it’s your mission, given to you by God, to help others find the way that you have found?

I’m sure I can hear you now…”I don’t think I’m better than anyone else!  I’m just trying to humbly do what God has asked me to do in this world.  I want as many people to go to Heaven as possible!”

Ok, I hear you.  Fair enough.  And, frankly, I’ve heard it all before.

But, what if you don’t know what you think you know?  What if there is a deeper calling that is welling up inside you, and you keep tamping that voice down farther and farther because it is actually becoming a threat to your security?

What then?

Could you dare to see differently than the way you’ve been seeing?  Could you dare to be blind so that others might see?

What follows is a really interesting story about what it means to be blind, but not blind in the usual way.  Most stories of enlightenment move from darkness to light, from blindness to sight.

In this story, one might reflect on what my own children inadvertently (ok, sometimes it’s inadvertent and sometimes it’s not…) remind me: the older and wiser I get, the more I realize how much I don’t know.

Enjoy…

 BLINDNESS

Near Jerico, a great scribe was sitting one day quietly reflecting by the roadside.  As he contemplated life and faith, a large a noisy crowd stumbled by.  The scribe became so intrigued by all the activity, as this was a relatively relaxed and quiet place to sit.  So, he called out to one of the passers-by.

“What’s happening?”

The man he addressed didn’t stop, but shouted excitedly, “Jesus of Nazareth is approaching the city!”

The wise man had heard much talk of Jesus, and so he eagerly joined the crowd.

After some walking, everyone came to a halt, and silence descended upon the crowd.  As the scribe looked up, he saw Jesus walking through the masses, talking with people and healing them.  As he watched, a cry welled up from deep within him, and he began to shout, “Son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner!”

Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but the scribe shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

As Jesus came near, he stopped and asked the man to approach.  When the scribe came near, Jesus touched him and said, “Your faith has healed you.”

At that moment, the scribe was blinded and began to cry out like a fool.

When all the people saw what had taken place they were horrified, but Jesus paid no heed to them.  Instead, he put his hand on the shoulder of the scribe and whispered, “You will be blind for a while.”

To this, the man replied with a smile, “Oh Lord, it does not matter in the least, for the moment you touched me I saw all that I ever needed to see.”

Story taken from, “The Orthodox Heretic” by Peter Rollins