“Spring” fueled by vulnerability and emotion.

spring awakening

Top left, Adam Cerny and Anastasiya Newkirk as Melchior and Wendla. Top right: Aaron Lord as Moritz and Tina Hayz as Melchior’s Mother (and all other female adults). Bottom right: Cerny as Melchior

When I saw Spring Awakening for the first time, I had no idea what to expect. I knew that it was ‘R’ rated. I had seen on Wikipedia that some of the songs have adult language, and that it is about teenagers exploring the very adult themes of sexuality, suicide, abortion, faith, and doubt. I knew not to bring my daughter, but I had no idea what I was in for.

I had no idea that I would be treated to one of the most emotionally charged, passionate performances I have ever seen. That was 2014, when the Center for Living Arts presented Spring Awakening for the second time. I was so dumbfounded by the performance that for the first time in my life, I saw the same show again on the following weekend.

This time when I saw it, on Opening Night 2016, I had no excuse to be surprised. And yet shocked I was.

Shock is a dangerous word to use when describing art. There is a lot of art out there that is designed to simply shock. It has little value other than to cause disgust, hoping that it draws eyes in the same way that an auto accident draws gapers.

And while there are moments that can be described as shocking, that is never the point. Yes, lyrics like “totally f-ed” (which is sung with passionate, emotional, perfect articulation of a word that rhymes with ‘ducked’), and “it’s the bitch of living,” might give you a jolt. But the point is not to swear – it is to express a rage that rises under the weight of suppression and finally boils over in, dare I say, a climactic release.

Yes, watching a young man beg his Dad for another minute in the bathroom is a little uncomfortable. But the point is to show that the shame that the adults have attached to sexuality. It is to show that privacy is precious, and sometimes hard to come by.

Yes, watching the female cast explore their (totally clothed) bodies with their hands as they sing “Touch Me” made me feel a little like a dirty old man watching something I shouldn’t be watching. But the point is not to arouse. It is to reveal that there are things going on inside which they do not fully understand. Set up by the agonizing first scene of a girl’s mother unable to give even the most basic information about sex and reproduction to her daughter.

Yes, watching the main characters finally give in to their bodies in a passionate moment in the hay loft could be described as shocking. But the point is not voyeurism. A particular choice made by amazing Director Dino Hayz was made to show that these are two young people who care about each other and are doing something that feels natural and good. They are feeling something real for the first time in a culture that has told them over and over again that feeling anything is dangerous.

All of these moments, and more which I did not describe, are incredibly intimate. There are times in the cozy Center for Living Arts theater that some of the actors are literally inches away.

There’s not a moment that the actors can hide. They are there, exposed, even while fully clothed. They are so vulnerable that it brings you to the edge of discomfort. Some highlights:

Myka Waljasper, singing “The Dark I Know Well,” crushes me. Every time. She puts on the character of Martha like a well-worn coat. In both the 2014 and 2016 versions she sang the song beautifully. In 2014, I remember Martha more as brutalized and frightened. This year, she projects bold defiance to survive in the face of brutality.

Noel Huntley plays one of my favorite characters, Ilse. Her “Blue Wind,” comes right after a heartbreaking bit of nostalgia between her and Moritz. We all wish we could go back to their childhood. Back to a simpler time and play pirates. Ilse, who escaped one abusive home to find only an abusive community, sings of the blue wind of autumn, cold and sad. The misery of a lost childhood is clear in both her song and acting. In doing research for this review, I learned that she is 16 years old, and once again – almost a week after seeing the show, I’m shocked.

I imagine that someday I will see a production of Spring Awakening that does not include Aaron Lord as Moritz and Anastasiya Newkirk as Wendla. Frankly, it will be strange.

Lord’s Mortiz is the nervous, hyper-anxious friend of Melchior. The weight of expectations is too much for him. Lord, reprising his role from 2014, makes it feel as if all of Mortiz’s anxiety travels up through his eyes and oozes into his hair. He channels the pre-1995 punk intensity of Billie Joe Armstrong. I half-expected him to break into, “Sometimes I give myself the creeps. Sometimes my mind plays tricks on me,” from Green Day’s ‘Basket Case,’ which was an anthem of my own youth.

When Newkirk is on the stage, it is almost impossible to stop watching her. From her first scene, when she defiantly tells her mother, “You don’t think that I believe in the stork, do you?” to her last, she reveals the heart of the show. The changes she experiences are the emotional center of it all, and Newkirk carries it well.

Adam Cerny gives Melchior a bright-eyed optimism that I hadn’t seen before. In the story, he is the voice of truth. He questions authority, sticks up for his bullied friend, and sees the world for what it could be. Somehow Cerny is able to make this teenager who is wise beyond his years at the same time naïve and joyful. His emotional scenes with Wendla are believable, and his agony and turmoil in the second act is gut-wrenching.

In the end, all of these performances matter only because of the story. It is a story that needs to be told. It is a story that I, as a pastor and father, need to hear. It is a reminder that winds change, no matter how much we wish they wouldn’t. Faithful begin to question. Boys grow into men. Girls grow into women. Grief heals. Grace abounds. And yes, winter turns to spring.

So we must be ready. We must embrace the change, not with lies or easy answers. We must face the truth of pain and struggle if we are ever to live with hope. In the end, the cast sings of the Purple Summer, when the butterfly sings and opens its wings. The Purple Summer, when we can look out in wonder. The Purple Summer, when we can hold onto one another, and allow grace of new life to flow.

Good art makes you feel. Great art makes you change. The story of Spring Awakening is a reminder that I cannot hide pain of change from my girls. I cannot shy away from the tough questions of the youth I am charged with leading. I cannot be another weight of expectations and judgment upon kids who are already shackled.  I can decide to either be a part of the cold blue wind, or hold onto the hope of the warm purple summer. I choose grace. Purple has always been a favorite color.

Spring Awakening is playing on Friday and Saturday, March 18 and 19 at 7:00 p.m. at The Center For Living Arts, which is located at 2008 4th Avenue, Rock Island Il. Go to http://centerforlivingarts.org for more information. You can go to the Spring Awakening Quad Cities Facebook page, as well.

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Pulpit Fiction Episode 157

This week in the Pulpit Fiction Podcast, we talk about one of the most beloved of all Jesus’ stories, the Prodigal Son. The word prodigal means ‘wasteful or extravagant.’ We ask the question, which person in the story was the most wasteful? The first son who wasted his inheritance, the second son who wasted is position in the family, or the father who wasted his dignity and place of power?

Rob Leveridge pulled double duty with the Voice in the Wilderness and the featured song. Both were great.

Pulpit Fiction Podcast Episode 157 PF Ep 157 FB

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Music, Art, and Speakers for Peace, Justice, and Hope

The fourth Lion and Lamb Festival is coming back to the Quad Cities on September 17, 2016. Musicians, artists, and speakers are coming together for a full day of inspiration. From its inception, the Lion and Lamb Festival has endeavored to bring people together to talk, learn, sing, and grow together. Its purpose is to create community, and to encourage people to put their faith into action. At its foundation is a love of Christ, and a belief that faith should matter to people. Faith in a God of love, justice, and mercy should inspire people to take action. We are called to do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with God.

Apply to be a part of the Lion and Lamb Festival

I’ve been to every Lion and Lamb Festival, and without exception, what I remember most is friendships. At each one, I met extraordinary people. I met authors, musicians, parents, and people of faith who are growing. I met people who wanted to experience the world, and make a difference. I’ve created lasting friendships with people I met at Lion and Lamb Festival, and that is why its happening again this year. We want to create a place where people can come together and connect to each other and to God’s higher purpose on all of our lives.

In September, we will gather at Camp Milan Retreat Center for the second time. Camp Milan is a part of the Quad Cities, only a few miles from Moline and Rock Island. There will be a full day of concerts on an outdoor stage. A large grassy area is shaded by huge oaks. There is a small playground for kids and volunteers will lead kids activities inside, too. There’s even a basketball court to blow off a little energy. Local food trucks will be invited to provide great meals and sweet treats. Inside  the retreat center, speakers will share their stories. They will talk about their work, their service, and their ministry. Artists will be given a chance to talk about their inspiration and sell their work.

The Lion and Lamb Festival is named for a part of Scripture where Isaiah describes a time when peace will transcend even the natural laws. There will be a day when swords will be beaten into plows, and even mortal enemies will lie down together. The Lion and Lamb Festival looks forward to this promise knowing that the arts are our best way to get there. The arts are a way for people to be connected, and to imagine a future of peace. Creators, dreams, and those who believe that music and art can change the world, you are invited to come and be a part of something. It’s not something big – at least not yet – but it can be something great.

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Pulpit Fiction Podcast episode 155. Jesus’ sorrow for Jerusalem, and more

Click on the link below to listen to the latest episode of the Pulpit Fiction Podcast. This is the podcast for preachers, seekers, and Bible geeks. Rev. Eric Fistler and I spend about an hour each week with the readings from the Revised Common Lectionary. We have two main Bible study portions as well as segments from special guests, music, and whatever else comes to mind. You can listen directly here, or you can go to http://PulpitFiction.us to get all the show notes, links to what we talk about, and download the podcast to your mobile device and listen anywhere you go.

This episode is for the second Sunday in Lent. The two main readings are the Pharisees warning Jesus and his subsequent sorrow over Jerusalem, and the promise God makes to Abram. Our Psalmist in the field, Richard Bruxvoort Colligan, examines Psalm 27. There’s also a great song by talented artist Amy Cox. Click on the link below to listen now.

Pulpit Fiction Podcast Episode 155

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“Breaking the Silence in Church” downloadable brochures

I have created three brochures. They are free to download and print. While they have United Methodist imagery and information, I believe that they could be useful in any congregation. I have placed copies of these brochures in our bathroom – a place where someone could take one inconspicuously, and in our regular information display.

The brochures are pdf files and ready to print. They come in a bundle. Just click on the link below.

Breaking the Silence brochures (three brochures, six total pages)

 

Breaking the Silence Sermon Series

Mental Health: Silent No More

Suicide: Nothing Separates

Domestic Violence: Call Police, Not Pastor

 

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Pulpit Fiction Podcast episode 154. Jesus tempted in the wilderness, and more

Click on the link below to listen to the latest episode of the Pulpit Fiction Podcast. This is the podcast for preachers, seekers, and Bible geeks. Rev. Eric Fistler and I spend about an hour each week with the readings from the Revised Common Lectionary. We have two main Bible study portions as well as segments from special guests, music, and whatever else comes to mind. You can listen directly here, or you can go to http://PulpitFiction.us to get all the show notes, links to what we talk about, and download the podcast to your mobile device and listen anywhere you go.

This episode is for the first Sunday in Lent. The readings include Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness and the ceremony for entering the Promised Land. Click on the link below to listen now.

 

Pulpit Fiction Podcast Episode 154

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Breaking the Silence (part 3): Domestic Violence

Domestic ViolenceThis is the final part of my three part series called Breaking the Silence. It was an emotional set of sermons, each dealing with important topics that have too often been ignored in the Church. I am in the process of creating brochures to go along with these three sermons, so that others can get the facts and help loosen the stigma that so often keeps people from getting the help they need.

For domestic violence, there seems to be an important Biblical understanding that needs to be addressed and reshaped. The nature of marriage and divorce has often been used to keep people, especially women, in abusive relationships. The sermon below goes into more detail, but it should be said that the Biblical understanding of a marriage is that it is between two people who are in a covenant relationship to be mutually submissive. When some cherry-pick Scripture to read “wives submit to their husbands,” they often leave out the surrounding paragraphs which are inevitably about love and kindness. The Bible describes relationships built on mutuality, not hierarchy. Secondly, a divorce does not end a marriage. Violence ends a marriage. A divorce may be the legal ending of a marriage, but a covenant relationship of love, respect, and mutual submission is broken not with a signed document, but with spiritual, emotional, sexual, or physical abuse. There are other ways that a marriage may end, but in regards to this issue, too many women have been trapped inside a destructive relationship in the name of “saving a marriage.”

If you are in an abusive relationship, I implore you, save yourself. The marriage is already destroyed. Call the police and get out, then call the Pastor to seek healing.

Breaking the Silence Series

Mental Health: Silent No More

Suicide: Nothing Separates

Domestic Violence: Call Police, Not Pastor

 

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Star Wars Mystery Menu Dinner Party

IMG_3900

The menu for the Star Wars mystery menu dinner party.

For my daughter’s 7th birthday, we threw her a Mystery Menu Dinner Party. It is a three-course meal. Each course includes four items. The menu then consists of 12 different things, and all three courses must be ordered at the very start of the meal. No switching after the orders have been placed. The catch? The 12 items are not named clearly. The menu has simply clues as to what the item might actually be. In addition, three of the 12 items are their utensils.

The first time we did this, the kids had a blast. I promised the kids at the beginning of the dinner that all 9 food items were common kid-friendly foods. I also told them that, for tonight only, they were allowed to eat with their hands. They would be given unlimited napkins, and if they made a mess, it was okay. One of my favorite moments of that first dinner was when a little girl’s first course include animals crackers, a knife, a fork, and a spoon. Two courses later she was given a plate with Jell-O, spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, and pudding.

For her 8th and 9th birthday parties, we have done the same thing. Some of the kids have now been to three consecutive mystery dinners, and they love them. This year, we added a twist. The menu had a Star Wars theme, and I added drinks. The menu consisted of a total of 15 items – 9 foods, 3 utensils, 3 drinks – and three courses. For one of the courses, one of the kids ended up with a plate, a spoon, and three drinks. Earlier though, he became the only kid with the sloppy joe and the bun in the same course. He was quite proud of having an actual sandwich. Here were the menu items, and what the item actually meant.

  1. Sarlacc – Gummy worms
  2. Bantha Fodder – Sloppy Joe
  3. Princess Leia’s Hairdo – Hamburger bun
  4. Dagobah Swamp – Applesauce
  5. Ewok Fingers – Cocktail wieners in barbecue sauce
  6. Tie Fighters – Cheese and crackers, put togehter on a toothpick to resemble a Tie-Fighter.
  7. Rancor Legs – BBQ Chicken legs
  8. Thermal Detonators – Cuties (small, easily pealable oranges)
  9. Light Sabres – Pretzel Rods dipped in green-colored almond bark.
  10. Hydrospanner – Spoon
  11. Tusken Raider Spear – Fork
  12. Driod Antennae – Toothpicks
  13. Darth Vaderade – Fruit Punch
  14. Bantha Milk – Milk with one drop of blue food coloring
  15. Hoth Soup – Water

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star wars menu

You can download this and paste it right into a doc to print your menus.

Princess Leia Hair, Light Saber, Dagobah Swamp, Sarlac, with Darth Vaderade to drink.

Princess Leia Hair, Light Saber, Dagobah Swamp, Sarlac, with Darth Vaderade to drink.

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My girl enjoying with some Hoth Soup, Darth Vaderade, Bantha Fodder, a Droid Antenna, and a Thermal Detonator.

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Prayer of Confession for Mental Health

This is a prayer of confession that we used during our three-part series called “Breaking the Silence.” It covered three weeks with three different topics of which the Church has not, historically, been helpful. Mental Illness: Silent No More; Suicide: Nothing Separates; Domestic Violence: Call Police, not Pastor.

 

All: Holy and gracious God, we confess to you our role in harming those who are already suffering. Stigma is an ugly word, and it is one that we have created with our cold shoulders, lingering stares, and unhelpful whispers. Forgive us for creating a world where those who suffer fear the very help they so desperately need. Enlighten us with new understanding, empathy, and compassion. By the power of your healing Spirit, help us to stand with the most vulnerable among us. Lead us to shalom.

(Pause for silent confession)

One: Hear the Good News: Christ came so that we may have life, and have it abundantly. In the name of Jesus Christ, we are forgiven.

All: By the grace of Jesus Christ, we are forgiven. Amen.

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Suicide: Nothing Separates

This is my sermon from January 24, 2016, preached at Two Rivers United Methodist Church in Rock Island, Illinois. It is about the importance of compassion and care for those that are both contemplating suicide, and for families who have endured it. Any conversation about suicide must begin with the truth that “nothing [not even suicide] can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”

If you or someone you love is struggling with suicidal thoughts, call 1-800-273-8255.

Breaking the Silence Series

Mental Health: Silent No More

Suicide: Nothing Separates

Domestic Violence: Call Police, Not Pastor

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no matter how much

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