Sunday, April 24, 2011

#319: Why Do You Seek the Living Among the Dead?

Too many angels...
And as they were afraid, and bowed down [their] faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead? ~ Luke 24:5

This wasn't today's Easter gospel lesson, but it is one of my favorite parts of the story, along with the scene where Mary mistakes Jesus for the gardener. Even after all they had been through together, when the moment of truth (TRUTH) arrived, the disciples didn't recognize Jesus when they saw him. I don't think we're much different from they were.

I was really looking forward to Holy Week this year. What with having come back from the dead and all, I thought I would have special insight, that the season would have special meaning for me. I anticipated praying the Stations of the Cross, the foot washing on Thursday, the somber grief of Friday evening and the bells and first joyful "Alleluia" of Saturday's Easter Vigil. It's the holiest season of the year, and the most beautiful liturgy of the church year. I couldn't wait.

Then, on Tuesday morning the phone rang.

My friend was directing a play, and one of the actors had fallen very ill. Could I cover for him? I didn't have to think twice. Julieanne was an angel to me during my illness. She was a faithful friend and visitor. She made it her personal mission to give me a reason to stay alive by producing a staged reading and rehearsing it slowly over several months to give me time to recuperate and prepare. I didn't consider refusing for an instant.

Of course, after I agreed, she told me there was just one hitch. The play was opening in two days. Maundy Thursday.Damn. But, a friend is a friend, and a promise is a promise. I told her to email me my lines, and I would be at the theatre in time for her to show me where to stand.

Adult themes. Not for the faint of
heart. But then, neither is life.
The play, The Happy Hour, by Sterphen Currens is a world premier.It is about Seth, a young man living through New York City's AIDS holocaust of the 1980's. I play his mentor, Gordon, an old, gay professor whose platonic, fatherly love helps to inspire and guide Seth along his journey through the hell of self destruction, judgement, and ultimately, redemption. It was an easy role for me to wrap my mind around. I have had many such teachers over the years. And there's enough of Gordon in me that it wasn't hard to put him together.Teh playwright has crafted some lovely moments for the role, particularly one scene where Gordon tells Seth about what it was like to grow up in a world where gay men had to be fearful of violence, the law, even one another. I'm lucky to be the first person to play this beautiful part. But as it turns out, this is more than just another chance to get on stage.

I lived in New York during the 'Eighties. I remember the painful lunch in a favorite diner where my friend revealed his positive test results. Mrs P and I attended the memorial services. We cried with our sick friends and prayed for our dead ones. I remember the beautiful, talented young men, so full of life, who faded from a world that didn't know quite what to make of losing them. The American stage was decimated in ways that we may never really appreciate. When it was time for us to leave the city, and I saw an opening at a theatre in Lexington where Mrs P's sister and her family lived, I jumped at the interview. Once I found out the kind of work they did at Actors' Guild, I was sold. They were committed to contemporary theatre. Their plays were rarely more than five years old. Consequently, much of their repertory touched on this contemporary crisis, the AIDS epidemic that had taken so many of the people I loved. It was a story I wanted to help tell.

Old Soldier, Larry Kramer
That was a long time ago. AIDS is still killing people, but it has long since stopped being the disease du jour in fashionable circles. I recently read an interview of playwright and activist Larry Kramer in Salon where he lamented the new generation's changed attitude towards AIDS in particular and the gay community in general.
I don't know why so many gay men don't want to know their history. I don't know why they turned their back on the older generation as if they don't want to have anything to do with them. I would like us to get beyond that.
Yeah, I know. It kind of sounds like one of those "What's the matter with kids today?" speeches that old guys are always spouting, but there's something important here, too.

The story isn't being told.

Like so many in our culture, the gay community is losing track of its history. The pride and strength that we all can find in the struggles and triumphs of those sometimes heroic, but always human warriors for dignity and justice is being lost. Their story must continue, no matter how painful it is to hear.

I moved from Brooklyn to the Bible Belt to help tell that story. It's been a long time since I've had a chance to do that on stage.

So what does all this have to do with Easter? A lot, I think. The dead have taken over so much of our world. Our stages are filled with the works of dead playwrights and warmed over versions of cartoons - characters that never lived at all. Seemingly brain-dead politicians and demagogues preach worn-out gospels of fear and division that encourage cynicism and weakness. Athletes we don't know playing games we can't play are used to sell us shirts and shoes we don't need. We spend time and money - we spend our lives - seeking inspiration from the dead, when real inspiration, real love lives and walks among us every day.

Jesus Appears to Mary Magdaline
Lavinia Fontana
Like Mary in the garden, we look into the eyes of Christ every day and see a bum, a fag, a socialist, a fascist, a fat pig, a tree hugger, a wet back, a terrorist. For thirty years - my god, can it be thirty years? - we have looked into the eyes - or is that avoided the eyes?- of men and women dying of AIDS and asked, "What have you done with him? Tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." And all the time, the body of Christ lay bruised and broken right before us.

The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.That phrase first appears in Psalm 118: 22, and it is repeated in the New Testament over and over. What the world rejects, God uses to build the foundations of God's kingdom. The teenage mothers. The fatherless children. The deadbeat dads. The abused and the abusers. The unemployed. The unpopular. The untouchables.

The story has to be remembered for God's sake, and for ours. The story has to be told. Just as Julieanne's love helped to bring me back from the edge of death, God's love, working through us, can help to redeem all of God's suffering children. And who among us is excluded from that group?

I love my Bible. I say my prayers. I rejoice in worship and praise. These things connect me with the communion of saints, the "great cloud of witnesses" who testify to God's loving grace throughout the centuries. But when the hymns have all been sung and the communion cups washed and put away for another week, Christ is still among us, waiting for us to serve the living. As Gus, Seth's therapist in The Happy Hour tells him as he struggles with his own sense of purpose and identity:
Peace begins with you. Love is a gift from God. Justice is elusive.
We may never know a just world. But with God's help and love, we have to capacity to live in peace, with our Creator, our neighbors and our selves. Christ doesn't live in prayer books and hymnals. He lives in the eyes and hearts of our sisters and brothers. That is where we must seek him. That is where we must serve him.

That is the story I want to tell. That is why I make theatre. When I woke up on Tuesday, the opportunity to do that was already waiting for me.The stone had rolled away in the night, and I didn't even hear it moving.Strange as it seems, I believe this is the reason God redeemed me from death's grasp. I may not make a bit of difference in the world, but in serving my neighbors, I serve the God who loves them.

May God grant all of us such a mission and, when we need them, such lucky servants.

Peace and Alleluia,


No comments:

Post a Comment

Label Cloud

mrs p Cancer running lifting weights LIVESTRONG at the YMCA treadmill weight nutrition depression God Living Strong at the Y injury YMCA dogs mom walking radiation Weight Lifting cardio friends program theatre body fat long slow run love One for the Five aches elliptical race resistance bands stretching 5K Acting Jeff Galloway chemo doctor family mental health Church Pittsburgh Marathon bluegrass fundraising inspiration patience personal trainer recovery Flying Pig Marathon Jesus Johns Striders Race Report Run the Bluegrass Half Marathon bipolar frustration kentucky knees measurements morning promatx yoga Christmas Marathon Pennsy's Greatest Hits cats clothes heart rate hope lance armstrong life molly poetry rest side effects steelers swimming 10K Actors' Guild of Lexington Blog CT Scan Coach Carrie PET Scan cross training exercise fear feeling good groin healing ice cream livestrong nausea powerlifting run/walk/run stair climber surgery Cancer Fighter Cold Gear Hills Iron Horse Half-marathon Job LSR Mum Nike+ Shamrock Shuffle 3K achilles advent arboretum bmi bodyweight exercises changes charity circuit training cycling dad deadlift diabetes encouragement experts give up goals horses interval training jake kettlebells lean body mass new rules of lifting pacing personal best plateau prayer recumbent bike research shoes sleep strength teeth therapist toe video Blood Easter Endurance Funeral Garmin 405 Homecoming House Insurance Juicing Keeneland Legacy Night PR Pennsyltucky Pittsburgh Relapse Run This Town TRX Training Values aflac arnold ben-gay bench press chafing christian compression shorts dentist dreams faith fat fatigue foreclosure good day half marathon hospitality javarunner john's run/walk shop lou schuler new year nurse pains peg tube powercage progressive resistance. racing rain rapture reboot runners world squat sun block supplements team pennsy tired weather will rogers work #3rightThings 9-11 ACSM AIDS Aquaphor Blessings Bluegrass 10K CSN Cancer Boy Cedar Hill Charles Dickens Class of 82 Classes Colby Road College Compassion Courage Crowdrise Cystoscopy Dee Diet EFM Epiphany Fall Fartlek Fat Man Fat Sick and Nearly Dead Frankfort Gadgets Gramma Grampa Gratitude Grete Waitz Guest HITT HIV Hell Holding Hands Holy Saturday Homer Horse Capital Marathon IVP Ice bath Jacuzzi James Taylor Jesus wept Joe Cross John Izzo Joy KY LaDonna Leg Day Lent Lessons Lexington Little Pennsy Mental hospital Midsummer Night's Run Mindfulness MobileFit Negative Splits Old Frankfort Pike Pilates Podrunner Pre-race Priorities RICE Railrunner 10 Miler Random thoughts Resurrection Reunion Run Bob Run Run Report Run Review Run for the Gold 3K Running Form Running for Sabrina STUPID Shakespeare Skip Brown Speed Spinning Summer Of Speed Sunrise Supersets Tao Te Ching Thank You The Wall Three Right Things Toxic Passenger UK UK basketball Urine Urologist Victory Walk of Shame Warrior Westminster Whole Foods Wind Words Zumba ace bandages addicted agony alwyn cosgrove america anger antibiotic anxiety awake back baseball blood clots blood pressure body glide bonhoeffer books brad calories chinup colonoscopy consistency crazy cycles dentures dip dr. google dumbbells elevation facebook failure farts feet fight for life fitness forgiveness frankenpennsy fun getting started glucosamine glutes goal gremlin grenz grumpy hair hamstrings hiccups high school hot ice incarnation indian food jogging john lennon joint legacy trail liniment lunges machines maker's mark medicine ball meds mercy motivation motley fool music nature neighborhood new balance nike noah numbers pennsyltuckian periodization persistence phlebitis postmodern prison professional boundaries progress psychiatrist pullups pushups quads ramble rememberance renewal road running ronnie coleman rowing safety sauna scan-ziety sexy shopping shorts shower sick sleepless snow socks spandex star trek statistics steam room steroids stiff strained muscle strap strength training supination support surgeon survive swackett swiss balls table technology tempo terry bradshaw testicular torsion text thai food that's fit the five thighs walk breaks warm up water fitness water jogging weak wedding ring wellness wife winter workout writing yardwork