Friday, August 28, 2009

A Horse of a Different Color

Nashville. A city of lights, business suits, taxis, corporate catastrophes. . .wait. Wrong description. Ahem. . .Nashville. A city of hole in the wall coffee joints, celebrity sitings, electric melodies, looking the part, and anything and everything else musical. Weekdays are good for catching up on bill-paying, running errands and becoming a vegetable after a long day's work. But in Nashville you can be transported to new worlds in an instant, so why waste time flipping channels only wishing you were in one?

Enter: August 27th, sunny skies and Centennial Park. Enter: the Nashville Shakespeare Festival.

Shakespeare in the Park. To some, an appealing ad in the Nashville Scene but to me, an opportunity to become culturally and artistically aware for the price of free. (A $5 donation is suggested, but who has time for suggestions when fingering pieces of lint in empty pockets?) Lawn chairs in tow, I head to the park with a friend to take in the experience only a select few Nashvillians have experienced.

We arrive at the park a couple hours early. One hour early for the pre-show and two hours early for the debut of Shakespeare's best- The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged). This is just enough time to assemble our lawn chairs, sit in our lawn chairs and wait. While we are waiting, eavesdropping and people-watching become a most interesting pastime.

Some of our observations are as follows:
A) A couple arrives in the arena with four bags, two couch cushions, and a blanket. The couch cushions appear to have gathered mold (and we hope, for the sake of the owners, that these cushions were recently acquired on a curb during a dumpster dive and are not, in fact, the primary seating within the home of the aforementioned party).
B) The man a lawn chair's length away from me, buried in his 007 novel, cites his reason for not donating as "I would love to but I already gave all my money to a homeless man today." Not to be judgmental, he is either a very noble man or a very poor liar.
C) It is Mary's 6th birthday. Mary has been to 11 shows put on by the Nashville Shakes (clever, ain't it?) and is celebrating her happy prelude to first grade with free Shakespeare t-shirts, a bumper sticker for the car she may own in 10 years, and a night of entertainment, all for the wonderfully optional price of $5.
D) The couple next to Rachel were reading together. Well, separate books, that is. Does that still count as reading together? Bonding of sorts?

We are able to separate the newbies from the seasoned Shakespeare loyals by a distinct aroma that fills the air. As sub sandwiches, homemade pudding, sushi and nachos fill the arena, as does the distinct scent that can only be created by the combination of such varied foods. As their babble and smacking grows louder, the rumbling in my own empty tummy grows angrier.

At 6:30, approximately one hour from show time, a bubbly Shakespeare T-shirt wearing lady approaches the microphone. "I regret to inform you that our pre-show, Biscuits and Gravy, will not be able to make it tonight. I'm sure you will be able to occupy yourselves with whatever comes naturally in the park."

My friend Rachel and I look at each other and start laughing. "Whatever comes naturally?" What the heck is that supposed to mean?

A few couch cushions and picnic blankets later, our show begins.

Three men are up to perform all 37 of Shakespeare's plays. How will they ever do it?

Scene: Romeo and Juliet, performed briefly as two actors run around in different wigs and costumes and one strums an electric Fender and pretends to play the keys when sound effects are heard.

Up next, a delightful rap of Othello? Or maybe that was the cooking show hosted by the amputees? Or was that the football game in which the crown was tossed from hand to hand representative of the throne changing hands so many times. Then there was the giant comedy in which all of Shakespeare's comedies were combined into one and the three players held up faces of celebrities on popsicle sticks in rapid succession as the characters grew in number and the plot in complexity. Act I ended with one player running off stage and driving away in his car around the arena and out of sight. Two corny jokes later, an intermission was announced and I was left wide-eyed and mouth gaping in my seat.

With my stomach's prompting, and having nothing to do with the quality of the performances, I thought leaving early for a late dinner may be in order. Packing up our chairs and treading across the lawn of Centennial, we couldn't help but smile at the excitement the night had brought us. All I had anticipated was a little Shakespeare but instead I was able to witness, up close, an entirely foreign subculture of Nashville.

With SATCO as the remedy for our hunger pangs, our evening in Nashville came to an end. But as the kind lady at the microphone said, "We only ask you donate $5, which is the price of a sandwich, and while a sandwich only lasts a short while, this experience will last you a lifetime."

I still have quite a bit of time left in my young life, but I am certain this memory will not soon leave my mind. You never know, maybe one day you'll be craving a sandwich and will be teleported instead to the world of Shakes, where picnics and theater collide, actors go traipsing off-stage unannounced, and sitting in the park never seemed to come more naturally.

*I'm not knocking this festival or the participants. They were great actors. The script was a bit on the corny side at times, but deep down I think it's great that Nashville is so immersed in the arts and this kind of entertainment is available to the community so readily and so cheap. (That was me being serious.)
**My words and views in no way represent Rachel's views. Just clearing her name, there. :-)
***check out the group

Friday, August 7, 2009

Time is Running Out

God has been talking to me a lot lately. Or maybe I just now cleaned out my ears so I could hear Him. One of the main things He has laid on my heart recently is a sense of urgency. The phrase “time is running out” keeps popping into my mind and consuming my thoughts and in turn, my actions.

For example, I have always loved quality time with people (Facebook will tell you that is my love language. . .not that I rely on facebook quizzes to dictate my spiritual life). I LOVE getting together for coffee dates, even though I don’t drink coffee. I have had the opportunity to meet with new friends and old friends recently for lunch, “coffee” or just to chat under the pretense of food. Lately, however, I have felt a need to connect with people individually and to thoroughly appreciate the people God has placed in my life. I keep having the sense that I am running out of time and that any time not spent with people (or a productive, necessary activity) is time wasted.

I am not saying that this urgency is God warning me that something catastrophic is going to happen and so I better cram in everything I can and, oh yeah, ride Fu Man Chu while I’m at it. But then again, something catastrophic could happen at any moment and all of my “somedays” and “maybe laters” will be dust in the wind.So here’s the crux: isn’t living with urgency how Jesus lived on earth? He made time for people – went out of his way for strangers as well as friends. He was a vagabond, a traveler – he did not have a home. He went around teaching in temples, prophesying at the dinner table and spent time fasting intensely, healing people and raising people from the dead. I mean, c’mon! This guy did not mess around.

Jesus knew a time was coming when He would no longer be in man’s flesh, able to sit down in our homes and teach our children. So He took the town by storm and gathered a team of men to help Him spread His message of love and redemption. He revolutionized His world, not pursuing His own pleasures on earth, but rather by serving man, taking time to invest in others, and teaching how to love completely.

I do not know why exactly God is placing this sense of urgency on my heart right now but my prayer is that I will always live with urgency and I may be a more effective Christian because of it. Once we grasp how incredible and infinite and complex our God is, it will revolutionize our own life. Then we become a catalyst in our world and are empowered to drastically change the world of those we share the earth with. Let’s hold each other accountable to be this kind of catalyst so we can get with God’s incredible plans for our lives, our cities and our world.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Who Could Ever Learn to Love a Beast?

A couple years ago, my school performed Beauty and the Beast, the classic Disney fairytale about a beautiful young woman who falls in love with a soul matted by an outward, beastly appearance. My director’s favorite quote and theme of the musical was taken from the narrator’s introduction in the opening scene – Who could ever learn to love a beast?

Let me give you another illustration: A man dripping with guilt and shame and fear and selfishness walks into an empty church, and somewhere inside his soul is a longing that beckons for a Higher Power. Somewhere within is the innate faith, however small, in a Power unseen. So he walks, burdened by his fear and guilty stains, beastly in his wretched sin, and stumbles towards the altar where he cries out for love, for someone to care for him despite his wretched appearance, his shortcomings, his decrepit form. He calls out for someone to rescue him before it is too late, because he is dying. If he does not experience true love before death, before “the last petal falls,” then he will be trapped in his beastly, spiritual prison forever.

He feels dirty and unworthy, but out of the void comes a Savior who delivers a love the man so desperately needs yet doesn’t deserve. How many times have you been that man? Have I been that man? How many times have I come broken before the Savior, wallowing in filth and shame, beastly – undeserving of grace – only to have Jesus remind me again that He loves me? I am a treasure in His sight.

I know sometimes it gets old hearing phrases such as “Smile, Jesus loves you” or “God loves everyone,” but the truth is that He loves the beast inside you and me. Loving is not as easy as Hallmark makes it out to be. It is not a comfortable feel-good emotion, but instead a daily challenge to put others before self. Imagine your best friend right now, or role model. Picture your attempts to serve that person and put them before yourself. Even that becomes a chore, right? Now imagine someone else that seems “beastly” to you. Imagine the perpetrator of a horrendous crime, one with a beastly, savage reputation. Could you love that one? God can. And He does. And the interesting thing is we are just as beastly as those we judge as beasts… yet He loves us still.

Ephesians 3: 17 is Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians in which he asks that they, “being rooted and established in love, may have the power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.” Christ’s love far exceeds our own selfish limitations of love. Paul testifies once more in 1Timothy 1:15-16 telling us that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display His unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on Him and receive eternal life.” From this, we gather the goodness of Christ in extending mercy to those of us stuck in shame.

Remember, God does not see beauty and the beast, but beauty in the beast. And that, my friends, is grace.