{Another mug for another day in Lent 2017. If you’ve landed here without knoDSC07382wing the rationale for this odd series of reflections, you are on your own.}

When I contributed a modest financial gift to the performance space created in an old firehouse, I got this mug as a thank you. The Schorr Family contributed a huge gift and got the place named after them. I’m happy with the mug.

I wind up at the Firehouse Stage a couple of times a month on average. There are jazz jams, comedy and magic shows, concerts, and plays, all in a fairly intimate space, with the audience at tables where wine and cheese, coffee and Cokes, and popcorn keep stomachs from growling during the shows.

Across the parking lot from the old firehouse is the hulking Goodwill Theatre building, a long-dark auditorium built in 1920 by a generous local shoe magnate George F. Johnson. His thousands of shoe workers enjoyed George F.’s parks, carousels, health services, even a golf course, as well as the massive Goodwill Theatre with its vaudeville acts and concerts. Through its years, the venue became a commercially-owned movie house renamed the Enjoy Theatre (1932), at first promising family-friendly films, but in its final days relying on X-rated movies to sell tickets. Closed now for decades, the building is slated for renewal, not the urban kind that tears down, but the artistic kind that restores or renovates for new purposes. Until that happens, the Firehouse Stage serves as a sign of both promise and commitment.

Perhaps you’ve noticed that these Lenten reflections on coffee mugs are lodged in my blog entitled “Peace, Grace, and Jazz.” As a fan of all three, I do write about jazz now and then, and rarely miss the jams that bring together local (and sometimes regional) jazz musicians. Most of these performers are professionals, some local instrumental music teachers in schools, others having toured with big bands or well-known jazz artists. A piano-bass-drums trio might play a ballad, and then be joined by a vocalist and sax player, and then just about every musician in the house might join in a spontaneous big band blast. I love it all. And I fantasize. I admit it. I think, what a kick it would be to sing with that band!

But I am not a singer. I’m not a musician. My only contribution to these jams is buying a $10 ticket, nursing a Coke, tapping my feet, and applauding the performers. It’s way too late in my life for regrets, but I do lament not sticking with those junior high trombone lessons. I didn’t try very hard to master the instrument back then. I have been plagued with a serious malady since childhood: a lack of self-discipline. Maybe it would have worked out better if I had some musical aptitude to begin with. Apparently it’s not genetic. My Dad was a drummer in high school, and my Mom played sax. Mom’s mother played piano. Me? Not one of my gifts.

I’ve sung in choirs, and had a rather decent, at least passable, bass voice. But it was best that I blend in and not stand out. Probably appropriate for an introvert anyway, right? Performance is just not my thing. At Firehouse jazz jams or anywhere else. I can wish it were otherwise, but as they say, “If wishes were horses…”

Still, as a pastor-preacher certainly I was a performer of sorts. I played a part, enacted a role, each Sunday there in the pulpit. “Preaching” is not natural, you know. The script we follow is, one would hope, a well-written sermon,* and in seminary we learned to “deliver” that message with some degree of drama, some flare, emotion, sensitivity to the text, and empathy with our listeners. Droning on as if we were reading the now-proverbial phonebook would be unfaithful to the call to effectively articulate the power of the Gospel. If this is Good News we preach, and we whole-heartedly believe it is, then the use of voice, gesture, facial expression, and even that dramatic “beat” (pause) contribute to the next step in the Sunday morning play: moving the congregation to become performers!

The strength of the church’s mission is in the performance of those who act out the love they proclaim with their lips, the compassion they hold in their hearts. There is no guarantee that anyone will applaud their actions, or otherwise reward them. But if we treat love as the verb it is, and if we act with grace, and if the music of our lives is set to the rhythm of God’s heart, certainly the performing of acts of peace and justice will make the world’s stage a better venue for our life together.

Many years ago, somewhere in a Pennsylvania city, I happened on a troupe of actors and musicians who were performing in a small park connected with a shopping mall. There they were, probably scheduled but unannounced, doing an extended skit about how time rules our lives. The production was obviously well-rehearsed, and designed for an open public space, where passersby might stop by and watch for awhile. Some folks stayed for the duration, while others, perhaps more ruled by time, took notice but hurried on. I was impressed by the singing voices and the acting chops of these thespians, as well as their willingness to engage their audience in conversation after the last applause had died down.

Perhaps these days we would call what that troupe did a “flash mob.” I prefer “street theater.” It may sound new, but it’s old hat for the Church. In the Middle Ages, this was known as vernacular drama. Villagers saw miracle plays, morality plays, and mystery plays. That Pennsylvania cast was part of a very long, though interrupted, tradition: teachable moments or inspiring stories acted out on whatever public stage is available. It grabs peoples’ attention. They then tell someone else about the experience, and the word spreads. Maybe it even becomes a “thing” going viral in the Internet. And what fun for a church’s youth group. Or, an intergenerational troupe. As long as they’re not introverts. Maybe they’d be the writers.

I’d better end this now. I have to brush up on the lyrics to “Bim Bam Baby,” in case they call me up to sing at the next Firehouse Stage Jazz Jam.

*I wrote that line recognizing that not every sermon is written out, word for word. I’m a better communicator when the Spirit moves me to write rather than leaving me to ad lib.