Church refuses to let the mystery be
Life was good for Pastor Paul.
Take a look around him. As the Head Pastor of his small congregation he has created a following of his gospel now comprised of several thousand followers eager to listen to his interpretation of the word of God.
So what was in that sermon about good, and bad that raised so many eyebrows. Pastor Paul didn't think this sermon regarding evil and retribution was really any different from his other sermons.
If only he had known his talk about punishment, evil, hell, and the afterlife would cause all hell to break loose in his mega-church.
Playwright Lucas Hnath, and the interpretation of his play The Christians playing at the Hippodrome Theatre tells a riveting story of church creating more questions than answers in the upcoming final week of Hippodrome performances.
Hipp Artistic Director Lauren Caldwell has stripped the stage clear of props, theatrical gimmicks except the clever use of hand held microphones giving the impression of the actors talking to the church congregation about this story of faith, relationships, and the integration of church into our civilized lives. After all what could be more interesting than a personal look at an individual's relationship with God.
Viewers discover quickly Pastor Paul, (JOE DITMYER), believes he has created a perfect sermon for his congregants describing the love of God being all encompassing, including for sinners. Pleased with his example of a non-Christian teenager saving the life of his sister rescuing her from a burning home, burning to death in the process, unfortunately the teenager did not have the Christian beliefs the teenager would not be allowed in heaven.
Pastor Paul rationalized to the parishioners would a loving God -- with unconditional love for all people -- deny this youth a place in heaven, sending hm to a life of burning in hell.This question becomes the overriding driver in this exploration of faith.
Hippodrome designers Michael A. Eaddy, and Warren Goodwin's two tiered stage eerily creates a tribunal like forum for the different members of the congregation to systematically question Pastor Paul's ideas of Hell, and his 'alternative sounding ideas' of heaven and Hell
In Greek Chorus like impersonation different groups of church members are symbolized by actors on the stage awaiting their turn to question the pastor's uniquely different idea, explanation of his perception of heaven and hell:
Joshua, Church's Associate Pastor: Young excited about understanding God's word Joshua believes in a literal explanation of verse and bible readings.
Elizabeth , the Pastor's wife: For Elizabeth it was love at first sight with Pastor Paul many years ago. Elizabeth was one of the first recognize a change in Pastor Paul's interpretations of life and the here after.
Jenny, The congregant: Jenny anted answers as to why she was seeing changes in her church emanating from the pulpit, impacting her religious beliefs.
Jay, Church Elder: As the leader of the church's advisory committee Jay was seeing changes happening within the church causing consternation among the advisory committee.
The debate on the hereafter erupts when Associate Pastor Joshua, (MARQUIS D. GIBSON) raises concerns with the Pastor's interpretations of Bible verses and meanings. This disagreement of faith puts Joshua agreeing with the Churches Elders ( V CRAIG HEIDENREICH) and a more traditional belief of the hereafter.. Unable to agree with Pastor Paul's version of the bible the Associate Pastor ultimately decides to leave the church and start his own church with followers from Pastor Paul's congregation.
In a poignant scene a Jenny, (RENATA EASTLICK), a frequent church attendee confronts Pastor Paul questioning his sudden change of biblical interpretations. "I have friend who asked me if I found it surprising these bible interpretations started happening after your church mortgage had been paid off Pastor Paul?"
More importantly was Pastor Paul was now hearing concerns from his wife questioning his religious intentions as well?
The fun part of reviewing an excellent performance like THE CHRISTIANS is the debate, discussion, sharing of ideas about of the story we just witnessed. After the Sunday matinee performance the cast and director of the show held a 'talk back' to discuss the ideas behind The Christians play.
In the Talk Back Actor Juliana Davis made an enlightening observation for me in that perhaps the play wasn't so much about the individuals in the church but more so how this community of individuals actually sets the tone of belief in the church. Not the Pastors belief, or the Associate Pastor's belief, but a congregational, unifying belief they can all relate to.
Thus the action of community engagement, fellowship is the religious drug, (opiate?) of the day. Thank you Ms. Davis for your smart observation allowing me to derive an answer from a story with very few obvious, easy answers.
And now good GLOBers I am coming off of my soap box to leave you with this cogent message of community, coexistence, and child like faith from songwriter Iris Dement:
Everybody's wonderin' what and where
They all came from
Everybody's worryin' 'bout where they're gonna go
When the whole thing's done
But no one knows for certain and so it's all the same to me
I think I'll just let the mystery be
- Let the Mystery be
-- Iris Dement
EDITOR'S NOTE: Special thanks to the Hippodrome's Rachel Jones for her images. The Hippodrome's The Christians continues with performances through May 13 on various days, times. FOLLOW THIS LINK for more information