Two weeks ago Julie and I celebrated our wedding anniversary by attending a performance of As You Like It in Piedmont Park. The experience reminded me of a few things that might be applied to the church. Here are three.
1. When insight into human nature is combined with humor, the impact can be profound. Some say Shakespeare is inaccessible because the language is unfamiliar to modern ears. They complain that it’s hard to understand and boring. I”ll be the first to admit that until we get familiar with Shakespeare’s vocabulary and rhythms of language, it can be difficult to read the words on the page. But when those words are skillfully acted out on stage, it’s a completely different story. Even then, the unfamiliar language could leave the stories inaccessible if the stories and characters didn’t connect with us on a fundamental level; but they do!
Shakespeare had a genius gift for portraying characters with depth and true to life emotions, fears, temptations, jealousies, and hopes. While watching As You Like It, I was struck by how closely the humanity of the characters on the stage resembled my own. Equally intriguing was the sharp wit of the characters. Humor and a keen insight into what makes us tick can make a lasting impression on an audience.
At church we tell stories that many people argue are inaccessible. People say they don’t read the Bible because it’s hard to understand or boring. And that might be true if the stories and characters didn’t connect with us on a fundamental level: but they do!
The good thing about the Bible is we have characters with depth and true to life emotions to work with. And we have the chance every Sunday, through skillful storytelling, humor and insight to connect the humanity of Holy Scripture with our own humanity–the chance to leave a lasting impression for Christ. As Christians that is both our obligation and our privilege.
2. The more things change, the more they stay the same. A lot has changed in the last 400 years. But what was funny in 1600 is funny now. What was true then is true now. What was beautiful and gallant and charming then is beautiful and gallant and charming now. What was evil and duplicitous and wrong then is still wrong now.
Technology changes. Language changes. Customs change. Clothing changes. Professions change. Economies change. Governments change. Family systems change. But Shakespeare’s stories remind us that right and wrong don’t change. Love and lust; pride and greed; valor and selfishness; sin,forgiveness and redemption all continue to rule our affairs in more or less consistent measures.
The outer identifiers of life change all the time. But the human heart remains the same. Jesus’ words continue to be as relevant and challenging today as they were when he first spoke them because we continue to be as torn between selfishness and selflessness, justice and grace, as we’ve always been.
3. Excellence and artistry need not be inaccessible to the masses. In fact, when creative work can’t be widely understood and isn’t widely appreciated it usually signals a shortcoming in excellence, artistry, or both. What does it take to connect with the wider world? Shakespeare reminds us that we don’t need to dumb down our message or appeal to the lowest common denominator to reach the masses.
Shakespeare wrote for princes and paupers, for servants and kings. One way to find broad appeal is to aim for popularity. That can work. But there’s another way–aiming for excellence. Excellence is a language common to us all, universally recognized and appreciated. Excellence has a lasting appeal that the purely popular does not.
At church we have the most excellent message to share. In Christ we are given the key to a most excellent adventure. That message–and our Savior–deserve excellence in worship and Bible study and fellowship and community and preparation and prayer. God is excellent, so when we are excellent, people will see God in us. And, I promise you, God in us has broad appeal. Excellence will always be popular.
So that’s what I was thinking about while reclining on a blanket on a perfect Friday night in Piedmont Park. Great thoughts for an anniversary celebration–I’m a hopeless romantic, I know. But that’s not all I was thinking.
I was also thinking how lucky I am to be married to the most wonderful girl in the world. God is good. Very good. Excellent, even. Happy anniversary, Julie!