Friday, October 17, 2014

Prophetic Theatre OR What does Theatre of the Oppressed have to do with Jesus?

Imagine a theater in which the very presence of God mingles with the audience, a grand, mystical, magical mess! Oh, what merriment! Imagine a theater in which an audience goes expecting to see one thing and encounters so...much...more! Oh, I'm not talking about bait and switch. I'm speaking of desires and expectations EXCEEDED! The Jesus I know is a God of excess. Why should it be any different as he steps into a theatrical space?

The following are the lyrics from a song I wrote many years ago, encapsulating much of my passion for this industry. (Note: The line about nations bowing down is less an image of spiritual servitude and moreso a representation of glad reverence to a God who is oh so good.)

"I want to see heaven open,
And you're healing pouring down!
I want to see hearts unbroken!
Whoa-oh! Oh! Oh!

I want to see the dead reviving,
And the nations bowing down.
I want to see the culture thriving.
Whoa-oh! Oh! Oh!

Come and savor God's great favor.
Comfort all who mourn.
Crowns of beauty instead of ashes
Our heads he will adorn.
Oil of gladness, no more sadness,
Praise and not despair!
We'll grow strong as righteous oaks.
God's splendor we declare!"

For a further foray into my heart for the theatre and its connections with theories behind Theatre of Liberation (aka Theatre of the Oppressed), I invite you to read the following paper that I wrote towards the end of my Advanced Theatre of the Oppressed course at NYU last semester.

Theatre of the Prophetic:
A Spiritual Perspective of The Rainbow of Desire

by David Ello

Augusto Boal believed in the power of discourse to affect lasting change, arguing that
dialogue can help those involved in the conversation to come to new or heightened
understandings with potential to lead to a better world. He believed that all of this could be
accomplished through the language of theatre, relying on images and words where dependence
upon words alone sometimes fails at realizing what is there. “We are conscious of something
when we are capable of explaining it---however well or badly, totally or in part” (Boal, 1995, p.
34). When there is a problem at hand, whether internal or external, it cannot be solved until the
nature of the problem becomes clear in the consciousness of others, and I believe Boal's
therapeutic theatre methods described in The Rainbow of Desire provide useful insights for the
amelioration of human problems on both the physical and spiritual plane. My introduction to
Boal's more therapeutic branch of T.O. known as The Rainbow of Desire mirrored many of my
own beliefs about transforming human brokenness, and I am excited to further explore the
connection between Boal's work and a type of “prophetic theatre” that calls out the best in others.

Reading The Rainbow of Desire, I was reminded of why I first got excited about Boal's
work when I learned about it years ago: the theatre's potential to change an old reality into a new
one, moving aesthetically from what was and what is to what could be. In this book, after some
eloquent discourse on the actor's ability to conjure the worst parts of the inner self to endow a
character on stage with malevolent attributes, Boal flips the idea around, proposing that through
acting, humans can all awaken the best in themselves, even that which is hiding underneath the
surface (Boal, 2005, p. 38). Whatever is needed within a person that has not manifested in
present reality has the potential to be called out through theatrical discourse, as in Boal's example
regarding fear and courage: “I am afraid, but inside of me there also lives the courageous man; if
I can wake him up, perhaps I could keep him awake.” Beginning with a more individualistic
approach, then branching out into the communal, The Rainbow of Desire techniques continually
point towards what could be, presenting numerous possibilities of hope to participants who
desire to change, to be more than what they have been. “Our personality is what it is, but it is
also what it is becoming. If we are fatalists, then there is nothing to be done; but if we are not,
then we can try” (Boal, 1995, p. 39).

As a man who has spent considerable time and energy conquering my own fears and
internal limitations, enjoying the deep rest and freedom that comes as so many internal obstacles
are dismantled, the theatre's potential to affect such positive, relational breakthroughs resonates
with my heart on a very deep level. While the personal breakthroughs I experienced preceded my
knowledge of Rainbow of Desire, I can see several parallels in the way that this work brings
hidden obstacles to the surface to begin the process of overcoming them, especially as it relates
to my experiences as a follower of Jesus.

The charismatic, Christian culture with which I identify the most is replete with language
that calls upon individuals and groups to overcome obstacles and rise up to their true identities,
ones which may not be visible in the present moment but are nonetheless what they believe God
to be calling them to. This kind of encouragement we refer to as “prophetic,” given its tendency
to look beyond the limitations of the present and declare an experience of greater freedom that
has yet to be tasted, whether it be freedom from fear, from feelings of inferiority, from jealousy,
or from another oppressive state. Similar to Boal's language about awakening the deeper
qualities of good in a person, the Bible offers several invitations for people to rise beyond their
present limitations, calling upon greater strength from within, such as this encouragement from
the apostle Paul to his protege, Timothy:

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the
laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us
power, love and self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1:7 New International Version)

I also think of Jesus' words to his disciples, a rabble made mostly of uneducated
fisherman, a tax collector, a political zealot, and a few others. Jesus declared prophetically what
he saw them to be once he brought the greatness out in them, which was still to come: “You are
the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no
longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot” (Matthew 5:13).

Unfortunately, it would appear that the latter part of Jesus' prophetic words to his
disciples have come true as much as the former, given how tasteless the actions of so much of the
church has been in its relation to the world at times, not always embodying the flavorful,
preservative mineral that Jesus intended his disciples to be, then and now. But what if more who
subscribe to Jesus' teachings, myself included, were to carry a positive prophetic attitude, calling
out the best in others as Jesus did in this case, rather than pointing fingers and casting judgment
based on so many externalities? Regardless of where an individual stands on issues of faith and
morality, anyone could reasonably argue that we could use more love in the world, and if I can
emulate more love through a prophetic theatre practice that calls forth the best in people, I
believe others will benefit.

Although Boal did not write his Rainbow of Desire techniques from a Judeo-Christian
perspective and they are not intended for use as a pseudo-spiritual practice, I nonetheless see
other parallels in this work which inspire me to ponder the spiritual implications that this or work
like it can have in settings where prophetic theatre is the intention. One such parallel is the idea
of “Metaxis” which Boal defines as “the state of belonging completely and simultaneously to
two different, autonomous worlds: the image of reality and the reality of the image” (2005, p.
42). He describes how participants of Rainbow of Desire techniques create a theatrical image
which at first represents the image of reality that participants drew from—their past or present
experience—while taking on a life of its own in the theatrical space: “The oppressed creates
images of his reality. Then, he must play with the reality of these images...The oppressed must
forget the real world which was the origin of the image and play with the image itself, in its
artistic embodiment” (2005, p. 44). So too, in prophetic spiritual practice, one is aware of the
present reality but must put what is seen aside in order to envision what is unseen and begin to
speak and act in reality as if that unseen realm is visible. In this regard, Rainbow of Desire feels
very prophetic to me, though its intentions are not spiritually aimed, and whether or not one
chooses to frame the oppressions in a spiritual light, it excites me that Boal has written so
thoughtfully about this delicate balance between playing in two realms at once. In a similar vein,
speaking of the renewal of the inner man, the apostle Paul writes, “So we fix our eyes not on
what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is
eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).

One of the most exciting connections between Rainbow of Desire and the prophetic is
that the two realms of play are connected, whereby action taken in one realm bears upon the
other. Boal writes, “He practices in the second world (the aesthetic),in order to modify the first
(the social)...If the oppressed-artist is able to create an autonomous world of images of his own
reality, and to enact liberation in the reality of these images, he will then extrapolate into his own
life all that he has accomplished in fiction. The scene, the stage, becomes the rehearsal space for
real life” (Boal, 2005, p. 44). Taking this idea a step further, what if the action accomplished in
the fiction by a theatrical participant is not simply rehearsing for reality or acting in fiction but
actually shifting reality on another plane? Historically, some Jewish prophets would not only
make verbal declarations of what they believed God to be telling them would happen in the
future but would actually act out the prophecy as it was given, such as the prophet Ezekiel who
the Biblical account records as staging a siege using a block of clay, an iron pan, and a few other
props (Ezekiel 4: 1-3). What if the act of performing a prophetic word was part of the means
which God was using to bring that word into a spiritual reality—in other words, starting with the
physical to affect the spiritual? What if participants of Rainbow of Desire techniques are not only
shifting their inner worlds as they work through oppressions that they face in the real world but
are actually altering the atmosphere around them such that their rehearsal for reality has a greater
opportunity to take root when and if applied in an actual oppressive scenario? These are
questions that I have begun to ask in my exploration of Rainbow of Desire and which I plan to
delve into further through actual praxis, both with those who subscribe to a particular faith and
with those who do not. Boal's techniques have provided me with new tools to explore the idea
that “faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews
11:1, King James Version). Or in Boal's words, “Actors search the depths of the soul and the
infinity of the metaphysical. Bless them!” (2005, p. 37). May we search on, given his blessing!

Works Cited

Boal, A. (1995). The rainbow of desire: The Boal method of theatre and therapy. London and

New York: Routledge.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Playing with Poetry from 2009

This is a revision of a piece I wrote and posted on here back in 2009. I may revise it further, but here's what I've done with it this evening. Enjoy!

We are...the fruit of his lips
He, the root of our tree,
the legs to our hips.

We are...his ripened harvest,
the velvet liquid,
pouring from his bottle,
sloshing in the glass.

He is...

We are...the cotton of his candy,
the lolly of his pop.
We are, the chocolate chip
in his cookie dough.

He is the oven.
We are the bread.

We are the oven.
He is the bread.


You are...the raindrops on my window,
crashing gently,
trickling with violence,
demanding to come in.

Ra-tap, ta-tat tat....tappa tap tip!
Ba-dip ba dip ba dip...
da rop...drop...

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

In Praise of the Plow: On Dirt and Difficulty

Let's pretend that your life is dirt...very valuable dirt at that, precious earth to be cultivated for the sake of a harvest. Some like myself believe that the first man that ever lived was formed out of dirt, after which a Creator God breathed life into him. Whatever you think about that, I think we can agree that in dirt and in life, cultivation of some kind is required in order for the best fruits to grow. And parts of that cultivation process can be painful, especially when it comes to preparing the soil, a process that is known as "plowing." I came across a proverb this morning, and I felt that God gave me some insights on this plowing process that may also prove helpful for you. Let's start digging, shall we?

The proverb that stuck out to me this morning said, "Sluggards do not plow in season; so at harvest time they look but find nothing." -Proverbs 20:4 (NIV)

While I do not consider myself lazy like the sluggard in this proverb, I have experienced times when I thought there would be a bountiful harvest based on seeds that I had planted, yet found little fruit where it seemed there should be. I think I am beginning to understand why that is.

To plow involves the breaking and preparing of earth so that the soil can receive the seeds when they are planted. There may be plots of land that have never been tilled or other fields which, while fertile at one time, have grown hard and unfertile through the changing of seasons. In either case, plowing is necessary. And while plowing can be painful, we would do well to welcome the process for the sake of the most fruitful harvest. If the soil is not prepared before the seeds are sown, the harvest will be minimal or else non-existent. How can we recognize potential plows in our own lives so as to ensure a bountiful harvest in due time? Here are some ideas:

1. Hardship. There is nothing like difficulty to break open our lives to the possibility of something new that may be coming. Any of you who have played sports, studied hard in school, or have simply endured some kind of suffering, can attest to the fact that when we persevere through the difficulties of life, it produces strength in us which makes way for future victories, in the long term or the short. James, the brother of Jesus, had this to say of hardship:

"Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing."
-James 1:2-4

I'd go so far as to say that the hardships we endure actually prepare us to both receive and contain the good fruit that is coming later. Without the endurance that hardship produces, we might not be in a heart state to properly steward and keep what we have sought so hard to gain.

2. Change. If you are like me, there are some changes that you welcome and some changes that you absolutely hate. Change often requires growth, adapting to new circumstances or challenges. Yet the adaptability that change brings forth often prepares us to be flexible where needed so that new seeds can grow. Imagine a seed trying to get into hardened soil, saying, "Let me in! I want to put down roots and provide you with a tasty fruit tree!" But the soil says, "No, I'm fine the way I am. There's no room for you here. I'm cram-packed together. I'm not crackin' for nobody!" (Funny how the seed has proper grammar and the soil in this example does not. Perhaps that's another area of growth for this particular soil. Ha!) Do you think much is going to grow here? No. But if the hardened earth has been gradually getting softer as a result of the plowing process, in this case, many changes, there is room to receive the seed and to allow it space to do its own work. Where in your life might you need to flex to provide space for new things that God or others want to plant there?

Some of you reading this may not believe in prayer, but I encourage you to go with me on this for the sake of the exploration. I believe that prayer is one of the most powerful change agents, since it has to do with the unseen, and much of what happens within the human heart is unseen. We can see the effects of the human heart from a person's outward actions, but rarely do we see what is happening on the inside of a person in full detail. Many of us feel like kings or queens in our own right, and at times, no amount of hardship or change will prepare our hearts in the way that they need to be prepared for the seeds to produce their harvest. But God can change our hearts, make us ready. Another proverb that I love says, "The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord. He directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases." -Proverbs 21:1 Are you suffering from a hardened heart or know someone who is? Are you perhaps so burnt out by the hardships and changes that you have endured that instead of opening your heart, they have caused your plot of earth to harden even more? In those cases, seeds of hope and life have little chance to grow. This is where prayer can be so helpful. You or someone you know can pray to God to change the heart, to redirect it like a course of water, wherever God pleases. And if you're praying to the God that I know, the one who makes chai and so many other good things, the destination of his pleasure is going to be a good one.

Really, anything that produces an openness or softening of our hearts can be a plow in our lives. This is so encouraging to me because it means the seemingly pointless struggles that we go through can actually be God's way of preparing us for a bounty of incredible fruitfulness in the next season. And without that plowing process, we might sabotage the very harvest that we seek to sow into. I have been going through a tough season lately, much of it fueled by being "homeless" in New York City for the past month and looking for a new apartment for even longer. Yet this morning, after reading and processing that proverb, I began to thank God for however he is plowing my heart in this time of couch surfing, apartment hunting, and seeming instability. Though I cannot see all that he is doing in my heart, I am confident that this process has been necessary in order for me to enjoy whatever he has for me in the next season. Come harvest time, I'm going to enjoy the fruit that springs from the surface, knowing that the plow made the promise possible.

"So let's not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don't give up." -Galatians 6:9 (NLT)

I know it's hard, and sometimes you just want to faint under the heavy heat and hard labor that plowing requires. But as other translations of the above verse say, faint not! You and I will reap our harvest, and this plowing season shall end. Should you think you might faint regardless, join me in looking to the one who never faints, and in so doing, we can become like him.

"Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
" -Isaiah 40:28-31

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

How to Deal with Delay, Part Deux...or What to Make of Detours

I had an epiphany while I was in the shower this evening. (Isn't it funny how epiphanies come in the shower? Maybe they don't for everyone, but they certainly often do for me.) In my last post, I used a metaphor of making chai and the readiness of that chai being delayed to convey different options we have as we experience delay in our own lives. In that post, I looked at three options, focusing primarily on the third, which I felt was the best. Check out the post below if you haven't read it and want to bring yourself up to speed. Tonight, I felt I was given a fourth option, and it has to do with the subject of control....or giving it up.

So, continuing the chai metaphor, we have first have three options when dealing with delay (there could be more, but I chose to look at three in the last post):

1)Decide you were given the wrong recipe and wasted time and resources and throw the chai out. It was all a waste. Pity.

2)Realize that you were given the right recipe, that whatever goal you were striving towards (what that chai represents) was in fact correct, but it's just going to take longer to thicken, so keep stirring. The problem here is that you can go stir crazy checking the chai and waiting for it to be ready, whatever that end goal, desire, or dream may be.

3)Get out of the kitchen for awhile and let God stir the chai (it has to be watched over or stirred, otherwise the milk will boil over) while you enjoy the other things he's prepared in the next room. He'll call you if he needs your help stirring, and he'll let you know when the chai is ready. Getting out of the kitchen helps get your mind off of what's not yet and enjoying what already is.

But here's where the fourth option comes in! Are you ready for this?

4)Realize that you were never in charge of making the chai to begin with and just trust God to complete the work from start to finish. Let go of control and just enjoy whatever chai God is making in there, because if he's the one making it, it's going to be good!

Let's look at this another way. Say you have a dream, a vision, a goal, a plan, and you really want to see that happen. You even feel like it was God-given, so it's important for you to stay the course. When things go wrong or not according to plan, if you are like me, you begin to fear that the plan was wrong all along or that you had the right plan but that you have to maintain the course in order to keep everything on track. It's God's plan, but he gave it to you to steward, so you're partly in charge, right? Right? Hmmm...How much are we really in charge of these things? Now, don't get me wrong. I do believe that we get to co-labor with God, that we partner with him in different ways to get things done, and our part is important. But with that said, if God has a specific plan for something really big in our lives, one of these pots of chai we're intent on stewing over, doesn't it stand to reason that he will accomplish it well, whether or not we are getting the full picture/recipe/whatever?

Here's another way to view it. Let us say that you view your life as a story, and you feel like you see a certain storyline about to play out that you need to keep on top of. You're on a quest, an adventure, and you can see where the story is going. But then the story begins to take a turn, and though you know detours can often lead the hero back onto the original journey, the fear sets in that you might actually find yourself at a different destination. So you remember your story, re-tell it to yourself, and convince yourself that the ending is just what you thought it would be, just what you thought you heard, even though that ending has yet to be told. Granted, sometimes, many times, I believe we are given the ending. This is what is often refer to as prophecy, and it's something I've experienced in my life: God telling me things that are yet to come, and those things happening. HOWEVER, and this is the biggie, why do we have to hold such tight control on our story in the first place? While I believe it's important to have a proper view of the story we're in (and I may write a post on that eventually), why do we have to clutch at the details to ensure we know exactly where the story is going when the narrative we expected seemingly starts to derail? I think it has to do with two words: TRUST and CONTROL.

We either TRUST the Storyteller, the one who is writing the story and causing it to unfold, or we try to CONTROL the story. Who can write the better ending? Many would say that they know the best ending to their story. I certainly feel that way about some things. But I'm realizing that if I really trust that the Storyteller, the one who is making my story and allowing me to write certain parts in myself, has my best interest in mind, then the major destination points are going to be to my benefit. He's good, and he has a GOOD story for me to live. My need to be right, to KNOW everything so precisely, will hopefully feel less important as I trust that this Writer is writing something really good for me, as he has proven to me again and again with the way other parts of the story have played out. That is not to say that there haven't been low points in the story, but all of it works together for good. (Sound familiar?)

Do I care if I got the chai recipe right? Do I care about my story ending the way that I think it should and want it to? Yes. But what if I release greater control in the process, trusting that whether or not I get every detail right, the Chai Master himself, the grand Orator, is going to serve up something that caffeinates the soul like nothing else ever could? I'm mixing metaphors, but I think you get my point. The chai, the story, is his...HIS. So we can relax and let him cook it up, write it out. We can just BE. And trust that whatever else comes along that doesn't seem to belong in the chai or add up to the right ending will somehow work out in the most masterful of ways.

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it."
-Isaiah 55:8-11


Saturday, May 24, 2014

What to Do When The Chai's Not Ready...or How to Deal with Delay

Have you ever been waiting for something, then realized in the process that the thing that you're waiting for may take a lot longer than you had planned? Have you ever been so sure about something and felt so confident about your timing, then realized that whatever you had been brooding over would not necessarily be finished in the time you had allotted? Let's get more practical here. What are you to do, when you've been confidently pursuing a goal, a direction, perhaps a promise from God---if you believe like me that God speaks to humans---and you suddenly find yourself on a steep slope of indefinite delay? While I do not claim to have all of the answers, I do feel like I reached a breakthrough in this area this morning, and I'm eager to share it with you.

I was talking to God about this---actually, I've been talking to him a lot about this off and on---and this morning, I felt like he gave me a helpful key. First, let's look at two that I'm finding not so helpful. I'm going to frame this with the metaphor of chai, since that's how Jesus spoke to me this morning.

Imagine that you're making a big pot of chai, and you plan for it to be your best chai yet. You're confident about the recipe, the ingredients are fresh and in order, and as you proceed with each step, the aroma of the heavenly brew begins to stimulate your senses! "This is going to be an amazing chai!" you might say. You know that it's going to take some time, as it's a huge pot of chai, and the spices need to simmer long enough for their potent qualities to permeate the golden liquid. So you wait, you stir, you give it the time it needs, and more and more, the manifestation of chai becomes apparent before your eyes. It's time to remove the spices and pour in the milk! (I skipped the description of the previous steps, such as brewing the tea, so as not to turn this into a post on how to make chai.) Fast-forward. The beloved substance before you now looks like chai and smells like chai, and you've given it enough time, seemingly, for more of the water to boil out such that the milk takes its proper place to create a creamy consistency. The consistency should be right by now, so the spices can be removed and the sugar added. But wait! It's not thick enough yet! It's too watery! All of this time, and it's still not ready? What are we to do?

There are two options, no three, for how to proceed in the face of disappointing delay.

Option 1: Give up on the chai all together, concluding that the recipe was all wrong, and all of the time, energy, and ingredients invested were spent on a lost cause. You got it wrong. Pour out your progress, and count your losses, since you don't believe more time will really help. The recipe's wrong, remember?

Option 2: Keep believing, keep stirring, just give that chai more time, and test the consistency periodically to know when it's ready for the next stage. You got the recipe's just going to take more time than you thought. Stick with it, thirsty for chai though you may be, and neglectful as you might operate towards the other needs in your day.

I'll share Option 3 right after I expound on these first two. Option 1 is in some regard, the safest route, since if the recipe is indeed wrong, more time is not necessarily going to help things. It will just end up in more wasted time and greater disappointment after further hope and time were invested. But it's also the most wasteful option if indeed the recipe turns out to be right and what's needed really is more time. Option 2 is a good bet, as on many occasions, more time and patience is what's needed, though the fast pace of a high-speed, instant-everything society can make that difficult. Even so, if the recipe is right, then the ingredients are fine, and it's important to give the process its due.

But there's a problem with Option 2. Continuing with the metaphor of chai-making, this second option keeps one stirring and staring at the brew that is becoming, leaving the maker very thirsty and wanting in the process, and neglecting other needful activities that would have otherwise made for a very good day. You've heard the term "stir-crazy?" Well, I'd say that in some cases, that's an appropriate descriptor of what this option can do to a maker of chai who does not know how long it will be until the consistency is right. Having made many chai's myself, I know what it's like to stew in front of the pot, stirring, waiting, checking, tasting, waiting some more...And the thing about chai is that you can't simply leave it to simmer on its own, not the way I do it anyway. Somebody MUST remain with the pot at all times, lest the milk get too hot and boil over. But we don't want to go stir-crazy either, do we? So what's the solution? That's where Option 3 comes into play! Ready?

Option 3: Continue stirring for a bit, realizing that the recipe is right---you didn't get it wrong---and it's just going to need more time, and when God comes walking into the kitchen, offering to take your place at the stove, gladly accept his offer. Here's how I see this playing out between him and me or him and you:

God: Hey, it smells good!

You/Me: Yeah, I thought it was going to be a really good chai, but I don't know now.

God: My recipe's good. And I saw you getting everything ready. You're gonna be fine. Just give it some more time.

You/Me: That's what I was thinking too, that it just needs more time, and I should just be patient. But I don't know. I'm going stir-crazy here standing in front of this stove! I smell the chai, and I see it's going to be good, but I can't have it right now. And I'm really ready for some caffeination!

God: Why don't you let me take your place here, and mosey on into the living room. I made you some tea there, some of your favorite, and there's some shortbread for you too. Go. Take a rest. I'll let you know when this is ready. It's my recipe anyway, remember? You go and relax. Chai is supposed to be life-giving, not soul-sucking.

You/Me: Ain't that the truth? Okay, God. Thanks for taking over. Let me know if you want me to come back and stir some more.

God: Will do! Enjoy!

So, what does this look like practically? There are obviously different ramifications for whatever your particular situation is and depending upon what your particular chai is in this case. But I think these tips are fair across the board:

1. Get out of the kitchen for awhile. Find some space where you're not looking at and smelling the aromas of the chai that's just not ready yet. (In reality, that would be very difficult if making true chai in a small space, but perhaps your living space is larger than mine. This is where the metaphor breaks down, but ah well.)

2. Enjoy the tea that's already brewed and whatever treats are available to soothe your hunger. I find that God is always preparing something for the future, so what did he prepare in the past that finds its future present today? That last question might have felt like a quandry in time travel, so here it is another way: If something's not ready to enjoy right now, what IS ready? What is around you that is perfect for this present season? Go invest in that. The chai will continue to brew, and God will tell you when it's ready or when he wants your help again in the making.

3. The best things take time. Good chai cannot be rushed. Neither can the richest gifts that God wants to give us. If there's tremendous delay, it might just mean that the end result is going to be better than you thought. A baby takes 9 months to grow in the mother's womb, and even after birth, it still has a lot of growing to do. But it's always becoming more complete, its richness revealed layers at a time. Enjoy the process. But if the process is maddening, go back to suggestions 1 and 2 above. :-)

I myself am a dreamer. I don't typically go for the mediocre, which means that I go for the biggest adventures instead, the greatest desires. A great story, however, often requires many chapters, and that will unfortunately involve some delay. But which story would you rather be living? Or to go back to our chai metaphor, which brew would you rather be drinking? Watery and weak, or the creamy and rich, that most beloved substance? I'll take the latter...and I'll gladly let God I don't go crazy. Won't you join me in the other room for some tea and cookies in the meantime?

P.S. If you would like a soundtrack for this post, listen to the song "Run" by Collective Soul.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

An Appetizer of Words...Short Thoughts in Lieu of a Full Post

It has been awhile since I have written a new blog post here, and there have been a few potential posts percolating in my mind. Since I am not quite ready to share those ideas just yet, I figured I would at least provide a few thoughts as an appetizer of sorts, before the next main course is served. The first section is a list of topics that I may write on soon, so as to whet your appetite. Consider this a glance at the possible menu of what's to come. The second section shall contain a few nuggets that I have begun to muse upon. Consider these the actual hors d'oeuvres. Enjoy!

Part 1 (in no particular order):

*A Tale of Two Narrators: Whose story are you living?

*The Fight Against Fear, Part 1: Bat-like Faith

*The Fight Against Fear, Part 2: Cushions in the Tempest

*The Fight Against Fear, Part 3: Worry, Shut-Up!

Part 2:

'Tis better to believe and risk being wrong than to disbelieve for fear of being wrong, for the friend of belief is hope and joy, even if correction decides to follow after. Disbelief has less jovial companions, such as worry, fear, and heaviness of heart, to name a few. I'll take hope and joy, thank you very much!


Our thoughts and words create fruit, whether sweet or spoiled, and we will eat what we decide to cultivate in the orchard of our minds. Put another way, "Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits." -Proverbs 18:21 (ESV) Don't like what's in your orchard? Uproot the trees, and plant something else in their place!


Here's an interesting thought in regard to where we direct our minds: "If you search for good, you will find favor; but if you search for evil, it will find you!" -Proverbs 11:27 (NLT) While we don't get to control everything that happens to us, we do have a tremendous say in what we bring into our lives as a result of our own focus. Where are you looking? That's likely what you will see. ;-)

Friday, February 14, 2014

Seeds, Soil, and Dreaming in the Now

What do you think when you hear the words "dreams," "dreaming," or "dreamer?" Does it conjure images and feelings of things ethereal or distant, or a substance so heavy yet so light that you cannot quite grasp it? Dreams are typically thought of as just out of reach, whether we are talking about the images that flow through our minds while we sleep or the life visions that propel our lives forward through the mundane in pursuit of something better. I, for one, am a big dreamer, and today I would like to explore something that inspired me in a podcast I listened to last night entitled "Living the Dream" by Danny Silk. The idea I want to explore is, <i>What if we could actually experience and give out of the substance of our dream (or dreams) right now in the present?

For those of you who don't know, Danny Silk is a pastor on staff at Bethel Church in Redding, California, and he is one of the many speakers there whose sermons rock my world on a regular basis. You may be wondering at this point, "Wait a minute. Did you just say that a sermon rocked your world? Are you kidding?" If that is you, I'm actually excited that you are reading this because you have an opportunity to experience something incredibly rich and life-giving that you have probably otherwise experienced as dull or irrelevant up until now. Just as there is a good way to cook chicken (insert vegetable of your choice here if you do not eat meat) and a bad way to cook chicken, and as chicken-eaters (or vegetable eaters) all have varying tastes, the same is true for the presentation of sermons. Some are full and juicy, some are bland and dry, in need of salt, and some are in between, neither the perfection of poultry nor culinary disaster. If you want to get a taste of the particular sermon I am talking about, check it out (and many others like it) here: If it ends up taking you to a general page, look for the podcast entitled "Living the Dream."

Now that I have hopefully piqued your interest in exploring the joy of sermons (think of 'em as inspirational talks with incredible revelation and truth packed in), one of the statements that struck me the most in Danny Silk's sermon was this idea that our dreams are primarily for the good of others. Yes, we get to enjoy our dreams, both in the process of pursuing them and in living them out, and that's such a gift, but if we make it all about ourselves and how good we are going to feel as we are pursuing or living out those dreams, we've missed the point, and they are likely to become an unhealthy weight in our lives. The truth is that all of our amazingness is meant to impact others in a positive way, not to simply sit as our own personal reservoir for us to drink from and enjoy. There's a reason the Dead Sea is called the Dead Sea. The salt water doesn't flow out anywhere. It remains within itself. What a waste to the waters around it. The same can be said for our lives and in this case, our dreams.

That brings me to another thought I was pondering with Jesus this morning and the reason for me writing this blog. I thought, "Okay, what is it that I want my dreams to do to others?" (in a good way) "and how can I pursue the heart of that right now even while the fullness of those dreams are not yet manifested?" To put it another way, what is at the heart of my dreams in terms of how they are going to affect people, and what can I do right now, today, to cultivate that in my life and in the lives of others?

I conjecture that we can actually perform the substance of our dreams right now, since the seed of those dreams lies within us, what God has put in each and every one of us, and the manifestation of those dreams just multiplies the scope of how many people we are able to reach with that substance. Let's break it down into very practical terms, using an example from my own life.

David (that's me) wants to revolutionize the mainstream theatre world from the inside out, taking what he sees as a broken system (albeit with some very beautiful working parts) and restoring it, with the help of others, to a glorious wholeness which produces greater life through the art that is created and the way that it is created. David wants to see greater opportunities for actors and other theatre artists of color who have historically been marginalized for reasons unjust. David wants to make high-quality theatre more accessible to the poor. David wants to foster theatre-making atmospheres in which every person involved, from the production crew to the actors with the smallest parts, feel incredibly vital to the community of which they are a part and thoroughly safe to be who they are. David wants to raise up an army of playwrights, producers, and directors who will create works of greater substance, honoring what's good, noble, pure, right, and exposing the very real evil and brokenness that exists in the world. (This means that not all art has to be pretty in order to be pure and potent. Sometimes dark chocolate tastes better than milk chocolate. Both have their place.) David wants to see more work like this get into the mainstream theatre sector, serving as a norm in the industry and not simply the unseen anomaly to be kept hidden underground for a select subculture. No. It's time to change the game. Serve one another and slay the dragon. If theatre became more about serving others than serving the self, it would look totally different. And it will.

So, that is some of my dream, in a nutshell. It actually doesn't fit into a nutshell, which is why there is more of it not even listed up there, and which is why it is a DREAM. Dreams don't fit into nuts...but they do begin as seeds, and grow beyond what at first appears minuscule to become something much bigger. We must not neglect the seeds of our dreams. Seeds need to be cultivated in the right soil before they can grow (most of the time, anyway...Some seeds will grow regardless. How cool is that?). I think that soil is our hearts, and the more we cultivate that soil (or let God cultivate it with us, in his loving way), the more the seed begins to grow and the greater potential that beanstalk or tree has to develop into something MASSIVE.

In this analogy, there are two things that I feel we can do. One is to ask, "What is the seed--not the big tree that the dream will be but the heart of the dream?"

In my case, it's a heart to see worship of God returned to the center of theatre-making, broken hearts made whole, fractured lives mended, and relationships restored. It is to see people step into who they are meant to be as individuals and as communities and through stepping into their destinies, to make the world give the world CHAI! If I could condense all of this into one sentence, one thought, perhaps it's found again in my chai imagery, that I want the chai of God to caffeinate people's souls and awaken them to new realities, brightening the world as they step into their destinies as individuals and communities. I want people to taste Jesus' chai and come to life.

The question here then becomes, "What can I do with this seed right now?" or "How can I pursue these things at this very moment, without the external parts of my dream having taken place fully yet?"

If we continue to use my own dreams as an example for this breakdown, I can call people into their destinies on a daily basis through encouraging them and speaking words of identity over them. I can be a peacemaker in the lives of my friends and others, helping to restore relationships. I can create works of life or simply BE the work of life that God has made me and so allow others to drink of the chai that he has put in me. I can write a blogpost like this!

What about you? What are the seeds of your dreams, and what can YOU do to cultivate them right now? Take a minute and actually think about it. It might just change your whole day. Ha! Once you've done that (or if you need some further help fleshing this out), read on.

The second big right-now thing that we can do is to cultivate that soil I mentioned, namely the condition of our hearts. If that is where the seed is to grow, then we surely want the soil to give it the best potential for growing into the most full expression of dream that it can. Perhaps our hearts determine how far a dream will grow, or if it will grow at all.

So how can we cultivate that soil? For me, it has a lot to do with letting Jesus, Holy Spirit, and God the Father, soften that soil through daily conversation, meditation on the truth (as revealed in the Bible and in other congruent things that have been spoken to me through others), and taking risks where God wants to stir the soil up. If I just remain a sessile piece of earth and say, "No God! No stirring today! I'm just gonna stay right here and you're not gonna move any of this dirt around!" I'll just become a hardened mound of dry soil and clay. And we know how hard it is to work with hardened clay. If, however, I say, "Okay, God, you want to shift things around? I'll let you," then the soil is tilled and things that were hard or were becoming too heavy are aerated and even watered where needed.

This also implies action on our part. Sometimes, we get to till the soil of our own heart along with God. Jesus might say, "Hey, see that patch over there? It needs some water" or "Let's throw some manure over there." And we can say, "What? Water? MANURE?" and resist even stepping in that direction for fear of a mess, or we can say "Okay, I'm not sure about this, but your fertilizer worked well last time, so I'm willing to give this a go. Just help me with the manure part, alright?"

In my life, this looks like reaching out to people whom I wouldn't otherwise reach out to, or considering working with a student population in theatre that brings me outside of my comfort zone but reminds me that it is important to give to people whose differences challenge me.

What about you? Which area of soil is God wanting to cultivate in your heart right now? If you don't believe in God, you're certainly welcome to try to cultivate that soil on your own, and I would applaud you for your noble effort. However, from personal experience trying to fix myself up in my own strength, I can tell you that it's hard to work with the manure from the outside when there's plenty of manure I can't deal with on the inside. Sometimes a whole new heart is the only way to reset the pH levels in the soil. And to quote the title of a song my mom, Cat Ello, wrote, ("Jesus, Gardener of my Heart") "Jesus" is the only gardener that can do that kind of soil transplant. (See Matthew 13 if you are interested in looking further into this imagery of Jesus as a gardener.)

So what are the seeds of your dreams? What is the thrust of them, the heart behind all of the activity? How can you engage in that thrust today, RIGHT NOW? And how is the soil of your heart in which your dreams can truly thrive and grow into all they were meant to be? How can you cultivate that soil, not tomorrow, not in the future, but RIGHT NOW, TODAY? If you need some gardening tips, I've got a guy you can talk to. ;-) Let's get

"Jesus Gardener of my heart,
break this fallow ground apart.
Loosen every layer of the hardness that's in me.
You have plans that I don't know.
Fruitful seeds in me you'll sow.
Come prepare the soil.
You're the Gardener of my heart."
-From "Jesus, Gardener of My Heart" on Cat Ello's upcoming CD of original music.