I’m in a bit of a predicament at the moment. My new book hasn’t arrived, and I’m running out of things to talk about with Fear and Trembling. As a sort of filler, I thought I’d put up a scene from a play I’ve just finished writing. It’s about Christianity, and Christian culture – they’re things I’m interested in (surprise), and things you don’t often hear stories about. So this post will be a bit different, but if you’re interested, well…
I’ll also have a brief discussion of some of the themes etc at the bottom – I won’t subject you to it here if you’re not interested. For context, this is a scene set in a church group-esque situation. The protagonist is Penny, and she’s bored out of her mind by what she sees as the banalities of the culture. The play’s called CHRISTIAN. Enjoy!
Lena: Okay – question one. How does the group feel about clapping for the musicians?
Christian 1: I don’t really think it is clapping for the musicians. It’s more like clapping as a way to praise God, you know?
Christian 2: But wouldn’t it make it harder for the musicians if they thought they were being clapped for? They have to be focused on God.
Christian 3: Musicians are like a channel, a window that you view God through. If they’re thinking about themselves, they’re not really praising God. The window gets shut, and all of that praise just goes straight to the musicians. They draw the community into idolatry. It’s psychological. If the musicians aren’t focused, nobody can come to God. The worship is tainted.
2: What do you think, Penny?
Penny: Honestly I don’t think it matters that much either way.
Lena: It’s actually really important. As someone who’s actually on the worship team, it’s a really important question for us – both as artists, but also as worship leaders. We have to be constantly revising and thinking about the process, how to maximise the efficacy of that time. I mean, God does all the heavy lifting, but we want to create the most conducive atmosphere so that the congregation is more receptive to His presence.
Penny: Look – if you’re a Methodist, you’re not going to clap, because you’re ninety and arthritic and organ music isn’t that exciting. Pentecostals clap because they’re basically the religious version of frat boys; Presbyterians don’t because it’s not Scottish to get excited; and Baptists would clap more if they weren’t half asleep. It’s just cultural. Different denominations, different churches – it really doesn’t matter.
1: What about smoke machines?
2: Honestly I don’t see what smoke machines could add to worship.
1: They look really good with the LEDs.
3: Isn’t it just glorifying the event though?
Lena: What are you, a nun?
3: Augustine was hesitant to even allow music in churches. He’d have a fit if he saw a smoke machine in a church.
Penny (to audience, bored): There are nine different types of worship.
1: According to the Bible though, there are nine different types of worship.
Penny (to audience): One of them is ecstatic dancing.
1: One of them is ecstatic dancing. Raves are basically a Biblical imperative.
3: Worship should be about spiritual reflection. If you’re being emotional, you’re just getting caught up in physical sensations when you should be focusing on God. God’s beyond all that physical stuff.
2: Pretty sure Jesus had a physical body.
3: Pretty sure Jesus never went to a rave.
2: He did have emotions though! He wept at the tomb of Lazarus.
Penny: See, that’s actually an interesting question. Why weep if you’re about to resurrect the guy?
2: Because he was sad that his friend died.
Penny: But he was literally about to bring him back from the dead.
Lena: Maybe he didn’t know that he was about to.
1: What would Lazarus think about smoke machines?
So it’s a pretty short extract – the play as a whole will only be about 40 minutes. There’s a bunch of different intentions behind it, many of which end up coming across on the blog here too. I’ll list a few of them briefly:
1. Representing Christianity to non-Christians.
So Christians don’t show up much in media, and when they do show up, they’re almost inevitably assholes. Fuck that shit. I understand that there are significant issues with Christianity as a culture, and I spend all my damn time talking about those issues, but that doesn’t mean that my culture slash religion should get written off or exclusively derided. This is my identity, and it’s worth celebrating.
2. Representing Christians to Christians.
One of my beliefs about narrative is that stories help people to conceptualise themselves. It’s not just that they’re fun or nice or interesting – I think they actually impact our psyche and self-image. The stories we tell about ourselves give meaning to our lives – they organise our experiences and make us feel connected. It’s important for Christians to tell stories about ourselves. Aside from it being a type of affirmation of our culture over and against the people who see us as ‘just assholes’, it also puts the minutiae of our lives at a distance so that we’re able to think more critically about them and therefore more critically about how we practice our identity and faith.
3. Raising criticisms of Christianity.
So while my play is fundamentally an affirmation of the Christian faith – because I think it’s true – it’s also deeply critical of Christian culture. The criticism is levied through humour, which is one of the most palatable forms of bitterness. This particular scene is mocking the self-important smugness of Christian culture (the know-all who went to Bible School, the brat who’s on the worship team (‘actually’)), while also hinting towards more immediate social issues that are often displaced by a focus on relatively trivial issues. None of those social issues are specifically drawn out here, but they are at the core of other scenes.
More generally, the scene also touches on themes of alienation, authority, culture, and worship. Partially I want to draw from my personal experiences, but also I think everybody’s had a conversation like this at one point or another.
So, uh, yeah. That’s a scene from my play. It’s about sex and language and power, and it’s about community and identity. It’s also got jokes about Anglicans, and you know that’s a plus.