Starstruck

I should be in bed.

I really should be in bed. It’s after midnight and Mass is at 8 a.m. If I don’t get some sleep, my mind won’t be functioning tomorrow, but I am on a theater high again.

I couldn’t resist. I went to GODSPELL at the Black Hills Playhouse again. What incredibly talented young people!

They brought the gospels to life. They interpretted the songs, words and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, in a way that allowed those sitting in the audience to encounter Jesus. I know that sounds cliche, especially to those familiar with evangelical Christianity, but it is true nonetheless.

We live in a nation that has forgotten fundamental Christian values. We have forgotten that Jesus made it clear while he walked on this earth that one measure will be used at the Last Judgment — how we care for those in need (Matt. 25:31-46). Currently, there’s an offensive post making its rounds on Facebook comparing those receiving food stamps with wild animals. Jesus of the gospels would undoubtedly give that a thumbs down, but I strongly suspect many who consider themselves Christians find it clever.

We have forgotten that  Jesus instructed his followers to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them (Matt. 5:44). “If you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?” Jesus asked in Matthew’s gospel. “Do not tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same?” (Matt. 5:46-47).

Instead of turning the other cheek, as Jesus taught (Matt. 5:38-39), and being a moral example to the world, when terrorists successfully attacked the United States, we went to war. We invaded a country under false pretenses as well as embarked upon military action in another which was believed to harbor terrorists. The number of lives lost as a result of this decision far exceeds the number of lives lost as a result of the terrorist attack, but that’s just a small portion of the price our country has paid as a result of failing to be guided by Christian values at that pivotal point in history.

We have forgotten that making the accumulation of wealth a priority in this life is short-sighted. In more than one place, Jesus talks about the danger of this. In the Sermon on the Mount, he bluntly stated, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth … but store up treasures in heaven … for where your treasure is, there also will your heart be” (Matt. 6:16-18).

In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man was told when he found himself tormented in the netherworld (Luke 16:22-23), “you received what was good during your lifetime” (16:25). I’d venture to guess that part of his torment was realizing his priorities had been terribly out of whack, that he could have changed the outcome had he used the gifts God gave him to manage finances to benefit those most in need. But in our country, we glorify the wealthy, even those who prey on the poor, allowing them to stick their names on buildings, and,  indirectly through financially supporting  political candidates, to shape our nation to further benefit them even though it places our nation at risk.

In watching GODSPELL, in following the narrative line which cleverly brings the gospels to life, and in listening to the music, we are reminded that Jesus calls us to go beyond professing to believe in him. We are called not only to believe he died for our sins, but to  live in a way which reflects  what he taught. Anything else falls short.

If we don’t live in love — a love that reflects into this world God’s great love for us — we’ve missed the point entirely. But, when we strive to truly live the gospels, we discover the kind of intimacy with Jesus that we see between him and his followers in GODSPELL.

What a blessing! Thanks to all the awesome young people who reminded me of this by using the gifts God gave them in the Black Hills Playhouse production!

Under God’s Spell

I love God.

He works in such marvelous ways — when we need it most. In my case, it was GODSPELL at the Black Hills Playhouse over the weekend.

It had been a rough week and I was discouraged. I kept saying to myself, “Anything, I said, ‘anything,’ and this is God’s idea of ‘anything,'” but my heart wasn’t in it.

Despite Scriptural evidence and historical anecdotes, my human nature expected — when my heart opened at a retreat last fall and I surrendered completely to God’s will, murmuring over and over ‘Anything, Lord, anything’ — to find the tatters of my life healed and blessings poured into the new skin of a life dedicated entirely to God. Ha! I remained unemployed for another five months and now find myself working at a convenience store.

Granted, that synopsis doesn’t reflect the awesome experience of spending weeks with my granddaughters, which was only possible because I was unemployed, or the way in which hours of prayer during my period of unemployment transformed something within me in ways I’m still  discovering. Still, I’ve worked hard most of my life and lived with poverty during much of it. I was hoping ‘anything’ would encompass a different type of experience, not more of the same in which I would need to say to myself over and over ‘thy will be done, thy will be done’ in order to serve the people who enter the store as though each were Christ present to me in that moment.

Last week I was challenged with both sleep deprivation and staff issues. I wanted nothing more when I finally had a day off than to curl up and sleep — forever. However, remembering how inspired I’d been last  year by the Black Hills Playhouse’s production of JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT, and recalling how much I love the music from GODSPELL, I decided a little theater might be good for my soul.

It was! Three days later, I am still on a theater high. The set was stunning. Enhanced by the lighting. And the musicians were incredible.

But for me, personally, GODSPELL  brought the gospel to life at a time when I desperately needed it — and in a memorable way. I sit here now, listening to the soundtrack — the Broadway cast, unfortunately, rather than the Black Hills Playhouse cast — and images from the production rise up before my eyes.

All those incredibly talented young people! What a testimony of God’s goodness! He is first and foremost a Creator, and in those who have been given creative gifts, he is present in a powerful way. When we turn our backs on those gifts, as I have in recent years, something goes out of us as well as out of our lives.

To be close to God, we need to live authentically. We need to live as though we were created in the image of God. We need to express in this world the gifts of himself he has placed in us — and recognize them in others.

Because God is infinite, the variety of gifts we will see in one another will be infinite. They will be seen in those who produce our food, heal our sick, build our homes, work for peace and justice, care for the environment, and help us navigate our daily lives with the work they do. The whole, each person’s gifts appreciated by others, is what makes us a community, what reminds us that we are a people of God.

The lyrics of one song in GODSPELL, “All Good Gifts,” brought this home to me during Saturday night’s performance. Yes, I’d had a bad week. No, my life wasn’t what I would hope. But those really are minor in the grand scheme of things.

In the grand scheme of things, “All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above. Thank  the Lord, thank the Lord for all his love.”

And he does love us immeasurably.