The Ultimate Word

"The ultimate Word is not a paragraph but a person. If Jesus is the Word of God incarnate, then the heart of proclamation is personal and relational, not propositional."

Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki * God, Christ, Church, page 135

Sunday, June 09, 2013

FCS: Special 2013 Tony Awards Edition

Happy Tony Awards Day!

It's like Easter for the theater community!

I thought about doing a post like this - in celebration of this most blessed day - last year, but didn't get around to it.

But first, a few words of background:

As I've often said, I'm NOT a theater insider.  I'm just a guy who loves to see shows.  I haven't seen everything, but I have seen many of the nominated shows.  I also tend to follow theater related news fairly closely, so I have a pretty decent working knowledge of all of the shows - even the ones I haven't seen.

Now, a word about my process for this post:

I filled out my "ballot" from the New York Times and these are my choices.  It's a mix of predictions and wishes.  In some categories I've selected the recipient that I expect to win because of the buzz I've heard.  In some categories I've selected the recipient that I hope to win because of my strong feelings.  I'll try to note which selection is which as I go along, along with maybe a few comments here and there.

In each category below, the title or name in italics is my choice for the award.  Once the winners are announced, I'll update the post so that the actual winners appear in bold.  I'll put an asterisk (*) before shows/performances I've actually seen.  Won't it be interesting to see how many I get right?!

The Tony Awards are the ultimate "From the Cheap Seats" experience - my seat is right in my living room!

Don't forget to tune in on CBS at 8:00 pm on the East Coast!  (Pre-show festivities can be viewed online at - red carpet arrivals at 6:00, pre-broadcast awards at 7:00)

So here's my ballot:

Best Musical - I think it's going to be the Matilda year in the musical category

Best Play - I LOVED The Testament of Mary, but I really think it's going to be Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical - I sort of doubt it will ACTUALLY go to Laura Osnes, but I really wish it would.  She was a dream in the role of Cinderella.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical - again, it seems sort of unlikely, but Rob McClure was brilliant in this short-lived, but delightful show.

Best Original Score - again, it's the Matilda year...  But I have at least heard bits of the recordings of all of the shows, and I could see that Matilda should get this one.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play - this one isn't just a hope, but a sort of prediction.  Not only was Cicely Tyson brilliant and completely deserving, but she's getting old.  She's 89.  This may be her last chance to win a Tony, and I think the voters may take that into account.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play - the fact of Tom Hanks' star power, and the fact that he is so generally beloved, and so rare to live theater makes for this prediction
  • Tom Hanks, Lucky Guy
  • Nathan Lane, The Nance
  • Tracy Letts, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
  • David Hyde Pierce, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
  • Tom Sturridge, Orphans

Best Revival of a Musical - this is more of a wish than a prediction.  If I were to "predict" in this category, I'd probably say Pippin.  But any result other than Annie will please me.

Best Direction of a Musical - highly unlikely that I'm right on this one, but I can't decide between the other three.

Best Direction of a Play - I haven't seen any of them, so I'm just going with buzz, here...
  • Pam MacKinnon, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
  • Nicholas Martin, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
  • Bartlett Sher, Golden Boy
  • George C. Wolfe, Lucky Guy

Book of a Musical - again, it's the Matilda year

Best Revival of a Play - obviously I just chose the only one I saw, but it WAS great!

Best Performance by an Acrtress in a Featured Role in a Musical - this would be a bit of a coup, if I'm right, but she was an outstanding member of that cast.  And even though the show wasn't excellent, and didn't do well at the box office, it was better than it got credit for being.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical - I'm pretty sure I'm wrong about this one, but he was superb in Drood.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play - a total shot in the dark, based on buzz.  But at least you can see that I'm not just picking the shows I saw...  haha
  • Carrie Coon, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf
  • Shalita Grant, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
  • Judith Ivey, The Heiress
  • Judith Light, The Assembled Parties
  • *Condola Rashad, The Trip to Bountiful

Best Lighting Design of a Play - okay, maybe this time I'm just picking the one I saw...

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play - you know how I keep saying it's the Matilda year on the musical side?  Well, I think it's the Vanya... year on the play side.
  • Danny Burstein, Golden Boy
  • Richard Kind, The Big Knife
  • Billy Magnussen, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
  • Courtney B. Vance, Lucky Guy
  • Tony Shalhoub, Golden Boy

Best Sound Design of a Play - So.  Sound Design isn't really something that I usually pay a lot of attention to.  But it was SO good in Testament... that I noticed it.  I'm pretty sure I even wrote about it.  Since that's so rare for me, I can't imagine that any of the others could have been much better.

Best Sound Design of a Musical - WOW! A musical category where Matilda doesn't get a nomination! Weird! haha...  But as to my pick - just picked the one I saw.  No idea, really. (see above - this isn't really my category...)

Best Lighting Design of a Musical - I've said it before...

Best Choreography - part of me thinks my choice here is a long shot, but in reality, the acrobatics in Bring It On were amazing.  I'm surprised the show didn't last longer than it did.

Best Orchestrations - I haven't seen the others, but the orchestrations in Cinderella were superb.

Best Scenic Design of a Play - totally a biased wish.  I have a friend who worked on The Nance in this department.
  • John Lee Beatty, The Nance
  • Santo Loquasto, The Assembled Parties
  • David Rockwell, Lucky Guy
  • Michael Yeargan, Golden Boy

Best Scenic Design of a Musical - It will probably be Matilda, but just a shot in the dark for me...

Best Costume Design of a Play - again, just pulling for my friend's show, even though this wasn't directly his department.  Though this is high on my "to see" list.
  • Soutra Gilmour, Cyrano de Bergerac
  • Ann Roth, The Nance
  • Albert Wolsky, The Heiress
  • Catherine Zuber, Golden Boy

Best Costume Design of a Musical -  this one isn't actually a shot in the dark, just picking the one I saw sort of pick.  The costumes in Cinderella were beyond spectacular.  Not just that they were beautiful and appropriate to the setting, but they actually contributed to the story telling through the transformations of both Cinderella and the Fairy Godmother.  I'll be disappointed if I'm wrong on this one.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

You stretched out your arms of love...

Second Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 4C

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

One of my favorite prayers in the Book of Common Prayer is on page 101.  It’s one of the “prayers for mission” that’s part of Morning Prayer.  It begins: “Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace…”

I’ll admit I don’t really like the transactional nature of this image - perpetuating the idea that Jesus’ suffering and death were the only acceptable terms by which we might enjoy salvation.  I know that’s a common and historically significant interpretation of the Christian tradition, but I fear it oversimplifies the saga of our being drawn ever deeper into relationship with God by many means through the millennia.  The crucifixion played a major role in that saga, but so did the resurrection.  And so did the rest of Jesus’ life.  And, God was working to bring us closer long before Jesus, and God continues to lure us into a deeper relationship even today.

So while distilling the whole history of humanity’s relationship with God to one day’s transaction on the cross may be an easy and effective way of talking about our faith, we are mistaken if we start to think it’s the whole of our faith.  The story is much more complex and far reaching than that.

So - oversimplified transactional theologies aside - I still love that prayer.

I love the way it takes the image of suffering and death and sadness, and transforms it into an image of love.

I love the counterpoint between the “hard wood of the cross” and warmth and softness of an embrace.

I love the way it bursts open the too-often closed doors of our expectations about Christianity and paints the picture of an embrace so wide that everyone fits inside.

“You stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace…”

I love the poetry, and I love the message behind it.

Two weeks ago, we heard the story of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit birthed the church into the world: stretching the arms of Christ’s love even wider.  Now, we hear a story from the life of Jesus reminding us that this stretching forth isn’t just the will of the Holy Spirit and the commissioning of Pentecost, but that it’s always been a part of the Christ-vision.

In the early church, the followers of Jesus often argued among themselves about whether the Christian movement offered salvation to everyone, or only to the Jews.  Or, perhaps non-Jews needed to convert to Judaism as a first step in their conversion to Christianity?

For some reason, the method by which salvation might be achieved has always been a significant concern for many Christians…

But really, to answer that question, one really only needs to look as far as the life of Jesus.

Jesus celebrated faith whenever and wherever he found it.  He celebrated goodness in people whenever and wherever he found it.  There were no pre-conditions attached.  Not race.  Not nationality.  Not gender.  Not religious tradition, or even an absence of any religious tradition.  No matter what, he celebrated the goodness that was the underlying truth in people.  He didn’t let the dominant social pre-conceptions of his time stand in the way of seeing that.  He didn’t let the prejudices perpetuated by the religious leaders of his time stand in the way of his message of a wide-ranging embrace.

That’s what I hear in the gospel lesson this morning.

It’s a fairly ordinary story, as the stories of Jesus’ life, go.  He’s wandering about with his disciples.  They stop in a little fishing village on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee.  Capernaum.  It’s the hometown of Peter - one of the disciples, and Jesus spent a good bit of time there.

Because it was a small town, and because of Jesus’ connections there, and the amount of time he spent there, you might expect that his reputation preceded him.

So when Jesus came back, and this Roman leader heard about him, the centurion had a spark of hope.  One of his slaves was sick and might soon die, and he had heard about Jesus’ power to heal.

The Jewish leaders of the town took the case to Jesus on the centurion’s behalf.  They made the case that this Roman was one of the good ones.  He had dealt with the Jews of Capernaum respectfully and peaceably.  He had even been responsible for the building of their synagogue.

Jesus was moved by the story of this Roman - the foreign occupier of the Jewish people - and he set out to answer his call.

But before he could get to the centurion’s house, the centurion sent a message of humility.

He was a leader of the Roman army.  He commanded the movement of troops and slaves and whenever he ordered anyone they obeyed.  But in the presence of Jesus he felt small.  He was powerful, but he recognized that his power paled in comparison to that of God.

So he sent his people out to meet Jesus and to tell him all of that.  As if in an effort to not trouble him he said, “only speak the word, and let my servant be healed.”  ‘You don’t need to bother to come.’

The centurion - this Roman outsider - had impressed Jesus.  He wasn’t the “right” kind of person.  He wasn’t a Jew.  He didn’t follow the right rules, or associate with the right people, but even so, Jesus could see the goodness within him.  And Jesus celebrated that goodness.

His ‘arms of love’ could stretch wide enough to include even that Roman soldier within the reach of his saving embrace.

Just as the early church wondered about how the process of salvation could work and who it would work for, too often we, too, in today’s church, try to impose our own limits on God’s limitless love.

Too often we preach that certain kinds of people are outside the reach of God’s saving embrace.  People who go to the ‘wrong’ church.  Or people who have the ‘wrong’ nationality.  Or people who are the ‘wrong’ race.  Or the ‘wrong’ gender.  Or the ‘wrong’ sexuality.  Or the ‘wrong’ faith.  Or whatever else.

But the problem isn’t that other people are wrong.

The problem is that our minds don’t stretch as wide as those arms of love.

Jesus sees the good.  Jesus sees the faith.  And he celebrates it.  Even when we can’t, he does.  His arms of love are stretched out widely enough so that everyone might come within the reach of his saving embrace.

Even the Roman centurion.  Even you and me.  Amen.