Jack R. Van Ens: God’s penchant for theater
Vail, CO, Colorado
God stays employed, even when economies tank. Daily we read about firms slashing staff, Wall Street moguls surrendering annual bonuses, and pink slips descending like a blizzard upon Detroit’s autoworkers.
Christmas reminds us of how God manages to keep His job, even when a deep recession grinds on. What’s His business? What does God do for a living?
He’s a thespian, the Bible reveals. He dramatizes what’s good, true and beautiful. God could have taken early retirement from human affairs if He merely announced He loved us, executed justice, and punished wrongdoers, leaving it at that. But God stays on the job because He dramatizes these truths for living. Because He plays them on life’s stage, we take notice.
If God merely announced His divine intentions about love, justice and mercy, we might hear about them and forget. When making life worth living is dramatized, we sense, feel and ponder. Acted out truths grab our attention, whereas announced maxims get a passing nod before we forget them.
Christmas is crammed with God’s drama on Earth’s stage. For centuries, ancient Jewish prophecies announced God’s fondness for His people. Then an angel appeared to a shy carpenter, so taciturn he never utters a recorded word in Scripture. Joseph, a carpenter engaged to pregnant Mary, learns from an angel that she carries a unique child.
Talk about love all you want, says the angel, but I bring you glad tidings of how God dramatizes it. You can recite love’s formulae and digest pills that make it sizzle, the angel suggests, but unless love intersects life, it’s fuzzy. Hard to fathom.
The angel announces to Joseph how God’s drama will be played out. “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel, which means ‘God with us,'” the angel dramatically reveals (Matthew 1:23).
Lovers who get married know of what the angel speaks. In college we read Shakespeare’s love sonnets. We spend hours in the dorm gabbing about whose dating whom and whether relationships will stick. Love experts on the Web offer handy dating services. We fill in a profile in order to get a perfect match. Then, bingo! Someone special fills a void in our lives. We approach the altar where wondrous themes of love are woven within our marriage service’s pattern. We are joined with our soul mate.
Your firstborn arrives. All the love poetry spoken at the wedding can’t begin to match the feelings that overwhelm you when you hold that whimpering child in your arms.
Love merely announced doesn’t compare with dramatized love we feel.
Newsweek magazine, which is downsizing and getting out of the business of reporting about the week’s newsmakers, has co-opted God’s dramatic way of working. Editor and historian Jon Meacham has offered buyouts to staff. The magazine will be thinner. More resources will aid Newsweek’s Web site where younger readers glean their news. Rarely, Meacham claims, has the magazine summarized all the news that’s fit to print. It’s never pretended to be the “Associated Press on nicer paper.”
How will Newsweek change its format in order to survive in a print business drowning in gobs of red ink? It will run more photos to highlight feature articles. Newsweek borrows a lesson from God. Dramatize. Use color. Feature photos. Inform more than a reader’s mind. Caress their feelings, too.
A new version of the Bible copycats God’s thespian instincts. It creates a dramatic impact with readers who respect Scripture but rarely thumb through it. Swedish advertising whiz Dag Soderberg sells what he dubs a Bible Illuminated: The New Testament. It’s light on print and heavy on pictures.
How? When the Bible tells how God announced His intention to “send my messenger ahead of you to open the way,” the text is illuminated with photos of Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and, even if it is a bit of a goddess stretch, Angelina Jolie.
Catch a reader’s interest with graphics dramatizing truth. This Bible, which has sold modestly well in Sweden, is a religious People magazine, pictorially thick and textually slim. A bit of biblical text read under Angelina’s fetching photo is better than a Bible read not at all.
People ask why I go through all the bother of dressing up as colonial America’s most intellectually stimulating preacher, Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758). Why not offer lectures about his faith instead?
Edwards succeeded at what God perfected. “His peculiar power as a preacher,” writes Pulitzer-winning biographer Ola Winslow “lay in his ability to paint pictures.” Edwards’s prose pictured heaven and hell and the earth in between, with God on a throne above. Worshippers dramatically “saw” God executing mercy and judgment in life, as if Edwards had painted them on the bare walls of their Puritan meeting houses.
Will you join him and God this Christmas, acting out the compassion Jesus modeled? Why? Because drama makes the world nobler and more humane.
The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the non-profit, tax exempt Creative Gowth Ministries (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive. Van Ens’ book, “How Jefferson Made the Best of Bad Messes,” is available in local bookstores for $7.95.