09 September 2013

Tragedy and Comedy

In college, I was active in theater. And I was fascinated with tragedy. If I had a choice between tragedy and comedy, I would choose tragedy every day of the week and twice on Fridays.  The first play I chose to direct was Oedipus Rex. I did not choose it because it was a fine display of the three unities of time, place and action.  I chose it because I was intrigued by the descent of a man of nobility. What madness would drive a king to gouge out his own eyes?

My beloved drama director, Patsy Miller, was of a different persuasion. Once we were discussing potential plays that could be produced the following season. Of course, I suggested all kinds of tragedy, both modern and classic. But she repeatedly rejected my suggestions. “Ugh,” she said, “that is such a dark, dark play. I think the world needs more beauty and light. There are so many ugly, dark things being produced these days. Let’s do something beautiful.”

Her words stuck with me but did not persuade me right off. For some reason, I continued to prefer tragedy.

In graduate school, I studied theology and I ran across an idea of Martin Luther’s. He talked about the “two sides” of the gospel.  Before we could grasp the “proper work of the gospel”, he taught, we needed to understand the “alien work of the gospel.” That is, before there is good news, there is bad news.

“Aha!” I thought. I finally had my rationale as to why tragedy was necessary and good for us. So, I was quite happy to put Patsy’s comments away in a closet in my mind and heart. Subconsciously, I do believe I labeled that box “superficial”, while “tragedy” in my mind was more “real”. “We should keep it out on display,” I thought. “It reminds us we are frail and prone to error.” (Happy stuff, eh?)

Over the years, however, Patsy’s observation kept nagging at me. Hers was a script I could not change and could not forget.  Somewhere, somehow--I suspected--she was right.  It is better for us to meditate on beauty, goodness and light; there is enough darkness to go around.

I am now in my forties and I am embarrassed to confess: it has only been in the past, say, three or four years that I have begun to “take on board” the thought that the God I follow is first and foremost about beauty, joy, freedom, peace, and rest.

To be sure, I heard whispers of this when we were living in Madrid. Some friends who just happened to be co-workers taught me about grace. Whenever I felt tempted to play my punishment card, they reminded me to rise to redemption. I thank God for them.

That said, I look back on it now and I can remember resisting the idea that beauty and goodness is something I can really stake my life on. “It’s too good to be true!”

I recognized myself in a friend who told me once that she was “always waiting for ‘the other shoe’ to drop.”

“There is no other shoe waiting to drop,” I reminder her—which is to say, I reminded me, myself and I.

I spoke the words but still struggled to believe it.

This morning, it occurred to me: it is easier to despair than hope. The path of tragedy is the path of least resistance. Believing in beauty, joy and goodness sometimes feels like a battle.  It is a choice.

This is to say: I began PlayFull because I’m done acquiescing to despair. Joy is worth the sweat. Grace may be a harder way, but she is worth dying for.

I sincerely hope and pray that PlayFull will be the kind of initiative that helps many, many people discover the goodness of this life.


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