The Make-Believe Major (or… People Say the Darndest Things) – Part II

This week’s blog is a continuation of a discussion I began last week which focused on criticisms typically leveled at those who pursue theatre as a profession.  What was so surprising about that initial post were the reactions it generated from a variety of individuals in vastly different professions.  I received emails, blog responses, and Facebook comments from many wonderful people who shared their struggle with similar naysayers.  I found it both heartening and disheartening: heartening to know that others understand what we endure in theatre, disheartening to know that this sort of criticism is widely used across numerous disciplines disparagingly.

So let’s face the grumpy cusses together and tear down two more reproaches this week.

These two go together because they are aimed at the common sense and intelligence of those who tread the boards.

1.    But you’re so bright!  Wouldn’t you rather be a (insert “nobler” profession here)?
2.    Well, all I know is that there is no way you could do what I do, which is (insert profession here).

Exhibit C: But you’re so bright!  Wouldn’t you rather be a (insert “nobler” profession here)?

This one actually tickles me because it assumes that theatre is peopled with idiots, and it’s a complete waste to channel your God-given intelligence into a creative field.  There’s also the subtext of: “No one who has a shred of wisdom goes into theatre.”

But the theatre is actually peopled with brilliant minds – historians, poets, wonderful dreamers who create world-changing art, truth speakers who nourish our soul, and motivators who unite and guide hundreds under a single vision.  There are Pulitzer Prize and Nobel Prize winners.  There are designers who stretch the limits of engineering and technology.  Just imagine our libraries without the works of Euripides, William Shakespeare, Molière, Aphra Behn, Anton Chekhov, Susan Glaspell, Federico García Lorca, Tennessee Williams, August Wilson, Henry David Hwang, Sarah Ruhl, or Lynn Nottage.

Russian playwright Anton Chekhov practiced medicine his entire life, but his greatest love was writing. Chekhov’s plays continue to be widely studied, performed, and adapted.
He’s also extremely good looking. Am I right, ladies?

Choosing theatre isn’t a safe choice.

That. Is. Fact.

But just because you take the risk (even if you fail in the end) doesn’t categorize you as stupid.  Sure, it might be unwise financially or unwise for job security or unwise emotionally because of the rejection you will face time and time again.  But I’ve seen engineers squander their wealth into bankruptcy.  I’ve seen high powered executives get ousted from their jobs.  I’ve seen lawyers disbarred and doctors sued.  And life brings rejection to everyone sooner or later, whether in love or in a career.

So, let’s not label someone negatively for pursuing their dream.  Rather, let’s call them brave.  Or courageous.  Or daring.  And maybe, if we give them a lot of support and a little push, they just might do something memorable and amazing.

Exhibit D:  There is no way you could do what I do, which is (insert profession here).

You’re absolutely right.

But chances are, you couldn’t do what we do either.  We aren’t all called to be politicians or professional athletes or health practitioners or corporate officers or even parents.  Yet, in the great scope of things, isn’t variety an amazing gift to humanity?  The Bible talks about different gifts both in Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12.  Howard Gardner, a world-renowned psychologist and Harvard professor, has identified multiple intelligences and their importance in education.  We are all made to contribute to the world in unique and wonderful ways.  Why must we continually be striving to have the most worthwhile pursuit or the best career plan?  Why can’t we appreciate the hard work and sacrifice others experience in their own field?

Because we have placed a lot of our self-worth, as a culture, in career investment and success…  and that’s hard to battle.  Society has this unsettling power to determine whether or not we fit into this neat little box of acceptability.  If my career doesn’t “look” safe and successful, it must not be worthy.  But that’s not true.  The body of Christ is made up of so many varied talents and gifts, who are we to say that one isn’t useful? Or important?  Or valued?  Or wise?  Or commendable?

Yet we continue to seek affirmation and approval from those around us and, as a result, often decide against something that is actually very right for us.

I will candidly admit that even this post reveals my own need to have my choices affirmed by the masses.

Yet, ultimately, my worth should be found in Christ alone, who made and formed me as this unique individual.  It’s a hard thing to believe sometimes when society says otherwise.  Nevertheless, I’m grateful I have chosen to use my gifts to serve Him and those around me in a profession “less traveled.”

Let us be ever mindful, though, of how a little arrogance can disorder so much goodness and light in the beauty of our differences.  You each have great value.  Don’t forget that this week.


Frank and Ace

It’s been an honor to share with you this semester.  Thanks for reading.  I wanted to leave you with a Christmas thought for this final entry.  Blessings to you all.  Hope you have a wonderful Christmas!


I’d just marked Thanksgiving off the calendar when suddenly Santa Clause and reindeer and wise men and shepherds marched into my neighborhood.  A plastic Joseph and Mary and baby Jesus even showed up across the street. But on this particular morning, none of the good cheer or “peace on earth, good will toward men” could penetrate my Scrooge-like armor.  This may have been because I’d just finished teaching Sunday school, and my wife was dragging me to Target to buy a gift for a bridal shower she was attending later in the afternoon.

I was hungry.  But Sharon was ready to shop. I feared lunch was going to be a long time away.

We entered the store and headed to the gift registry computer where Sharon typed in the bride’s name.  The machine spit out seven pages of possible gifts.  In situations like this, my buying strategy is simple. Get the list.  Locate the cheapest gift.  Buy it.

My wife’s approach is, of course, profoundly different.  First, Sharon examines the list and comments on the various items—“Oooh look, she wants sterling silver flat ware.  And steak knives with cherry wood handles.  Oh, and look at this, a Hamilton Beach blender . . . and she wants a red one!”

After commenting on each possible purchase, the browsing begins.  “We’re shopping,” she explains, “not hunting.”

I picture myself hunting.  I picture myself in the great outdoors cooking lunch over a campfire.

My wife’s voice pulls me back to reality.  “We’re looking for the perfect gift,” she reminds me.  Then she asks if I can hold the seven page printout and mark off the items we’ve examined so far.

About an hour into our excursion, my Sunday morning just-taught-Sunday-school smile was beginning to fade.  And when we finally approached the check-out line with our gift selection, I had only two thoughts left in my head: How much is this going to cost me and where are we going to eat?

We left the store and headed for a cafeteria down the street. We entered the restaurant only to confront a line winding around the aisle dividers reaching all the way to the front entrance.  I was not in a good mood.  A family near the front couldn’t make up their minds whether they wanted their fish baked, grilled or lightly breaded.  My stress level was escalating.  And then I heard a voice behind me.  I turned around and saw an older gentleman wearing a powder blue jump suit.  “I was trying to beat the church crowd,” he explained, “but I don’t think I made it.”  I acknowledged his comment by mumbling something indecipherable and then refocused my attention on the slow-moving line.  My plan was to ignore the man in the jump suit.  My wife, however, had other ideas.  Sharon turned around and struck up a conversation.

I listened half-heartedly.  And after about five minutes, Sharon asked the question.  She voiced it suddenly and without warning.  And it went something like, “Would you care to join us for lunch?”  Those eight words lined up like the box cars of a swiftly moving freight train, and before I could derail them, they rumbled over the tracks right past me.  But then something extraordinary happened.  I watched as the man in the powder blue jump suit grabbed each one of Sharon’s words and held onto them tightly.  The invitation was a treasure to him—a precious gift.

His name was Frank.  He’d been married twice.  He lost his first wife to cancer after 25 years of marriage.  And his second wife of 34 years had just passed away.  Her death had left him reeling.  I asked him if he went to church, and he said that he didn’t anymore.  He was having a rough time making sense of the loss.  And he was having a rough time making sense of God.  Then he said quietly, “You know, my boy—my only son—he told me the other day, ‘Dad, you just seem mad at the world.’”

I looked at Frank and wondered what it would be like to be 84 years old and suddenly alone, and during the Christmas season, no less.  The sadness that settled in my chest tightened its grip.

But then the conversation brightened.  I looked up and Frank had a smile on his face for the first time.  Sharon had asked him if he had any pets.  He did—he had Ace—a white miniature schnauzer.  “In fact,” Frank explained, “Ace goes everywhere I go.  He’s in my truck right now.  I leave the engine running with the air conditioner on to make sure he stays comfortable.  It eats up all the gas, but it’s worth it.”  The tone of his voice seemed almost cheerful, and his eyes danced a bit as he talked about his little white dog, the only companion he had left.

After lunch, we all walked outside, and Frank invited us to meet Ace.  When we got to the truck, he opened the driver’s side door.  There, with feet planted firmly on the leather seat, stood the little schnauzer.  Sharon reached out to pet him and Ace snapped at her hand.  She screamed and we all laughed.  Frank dared me to try.  I approached Ace with my hand outstretched in a non-threatening manner, the back of it turned toward him.  Ace sniffed my hand.  I felt smug.  But when I attempted to stroke his head, he went for me too, with bared teeth and a gutsy growl.

The little thing was protective.  But it made sense.  After all, Frank needed protecting—he’d been hurt and was suffering deeply.  As we said our goodbyes, Frank climbed into the truck, and Ace settled onto his lap.  Sharon smiled, waved gently, and said, “Merry Christmas, Frank.”  He looked at us one last time, and softly closed the door without saying anything.  I watched Frank back out of the parking space and drive away.  Suddenly I wanted to run after him—I wanted to yell out—“God loves you Frank.  No matter how mad you are.  No matter how far or fast you run, God’s love is running after you.  God’s love wears sneakers Frank, and that love won’t rest until it catches you.”  Sharon and I both stood in the parking lot until Frank’s truck was a distant speck on Loop 281.  Finally, Sharon took my hand and we walked quietly back to the car.

On the drive home, as we passed Christmas lights and nativity scenes, I thought about God—the giver of gifts.  And I pictured God commenting on each item on His gift list—meticulously choosing the best ones for us.  I pictured Him as a shopper, not a hunter. And I thought about that first Christmas 2,000 years ago when God gave us the ultimate gift—not under a tree but in a manger.  Not wrapped in red and silver paper but in swaddling clothes—“good news of great joy for everyone” (Luke 2:10).

So, Frank, if I could see you again, I would tell you, “God is so in love with you.  Accept His gift this Christmas.  Open it.  Embrace it.  A Savior.  The Lamb of God.  The Wonderful Counselor.  The Prince of Peace.  Peace, Frank.  Real peace.”