Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad.
Barukh shem k’vod malkhuto l’o lam va’ed!
Ani Adonai eloheikhem.
Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one.
Blessed is the name of God’s glorious kingdom forever!
Your God, Yahweh, am I.
So begins the prologue of One Voice. So began the unexpected journey of a very reluctant pilgrim. A few years ago, our university president, Dr. Cone, asked me to produce a biblical show. “Something with Biblical themes and values?” I asked. “Redemptive themes? A Christ figure as a protagonist? Something with definite allegorical parallels to the Christian experience? A modern parable?”
“No,” he said, “a real, Bible times, Bible character, biblically true story, dramatized.” (Apologies toDr. Cone for the paraphrase!)
My heart sank. My mind was screaming! “AHHHhh! No…not a bathrobe musical! Shoot me now!”
But he wanted one. If I were going to do Shakespeare or a classic every four years, he wanted a biblical production as in Sight and Sound every four years. I protested we certainly didn’t have the technical capacity to pull off Noah, but he patiently steered me back to what was possible.
I went home, and the dam burst as excuses flooded the turbines! I can’t do cheesy Christian drama. There’s no good material. It all makes me gag. Often, the genre is emotionally manipulative. It’s end result is frequently counterproductive; it’s intended for unbelievers to encounter the truth but instead they’re offended by the method, while Christians remain in their comfort zone. Everything I’ve ever taught about conflict, character, plot, theatricality, and truth will be violated. My students will crucify me. At the very least, they’ll brand me, and I will be forced to join Hester Prynne, wearing instead a scarlet H, a hypocrite condemned to roam the earth to the end of my days!
The boss was not to be dissuaded, so I settled down in my white leather office chair for a blue funk. I didn’t even know where to begin. It was then a wee niggle at the back of my cranium began to tickle. Many years ago, my mentor and good friend, Deborah Craig Claar, had given me a musical she had written with a collaborator, Robert Sterling. She had recently dusted it off for two large churches who had commissioned them to expand it to a full length musical. Twenty years ago, it was one of the few overtly Christian pieces of theatre I actually liked. So I took another look.
Fast forward to this moment with a cast of 27 intrepid players at Calvary, a distinctly Christian University. This is a cast composed primarily of Calvary undergraduates, but in our ranks are a retired Bible and theology prof, a mother getting a masters in education, a young woman with operatic training who once had high hopes of being a nun, two retired Sergeant Majors, an IT specialist, and the list goes on. A disparate group, but one rich in community. We are a family knit together by the deep examination of the richest of texts. A family with a bridge built of questions. A family with a foundation of shared faith. A family who understands what Jesus meant when He asked us to take up our cross daily. A family who desires truth in the inmost parts. A family with one voice.
For years my metaphor for creating story has been undergirded by making the word flesh from John 1. Never have I ever attempted to take the greatest story ever told and give it flesh. Examining the goals and obstacles of these flesh and blood biblical characters has made them come to life for me as no Bible study or sermon ever has. Meditating on their given circumstances, their humanity, and their fears has been a key to understanding my own. And so this reluctant pilgrim ends her journey surprised by joy, humbled by God’s gift, and standing in awe. May it bless you in the same way. Ani adonai eloheikhem!