Love

The title of this morning’s sermon was ‘What He did for love”, a message inspired by maybe the most well known scripture there is: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

It was a fantastic message, one that made clear the reckless love of Jesus and filled the empty room with warmth and light.

But music theater nerd that I am, that sermon title took me into the musical A Chorus Line, where we find the song “What I did for love”.

A Chorus Line ran for more than 6,000 performances and held the title of the longest running show in Broadway history for a long time. Its one of my favorites, even though the amount of dancing required prevents me from ever being in it and the…”maturity” of the script precludes me from being able to produce it with youth actors.

The show is about dancers auditioning to be a part of a chorus line. All of the characters are desperate for the job, and all of them are shocked when the director asks them to talk about themselves – a stark conceptual contrast to the uniformity and anonymity of the ensemble they are auditioning to be a part of. The rest of the show follows the characters reluctantly telling their stories of growing up, of learning their craft, and of the various traumas and heartbreaks they have overcome and, in some cases, repressed just enough to get by.

Its a show about dancing, but it is relatable to any performer. You spend your life chasing a moving target – working towards being the perfect talent for a role that hasn’t been written, an art that hasn’t been crafted.

Near the end of the show a character that has become special to the audience falls and reinjures his knee, removing him from casting consideration and leaving open the possibility that he won’t be able to perform again. This prompts the director to ask his now sullen stage of hopefuls “What will you do when you can no longer dance?”

This is the answer:

Kiss today goodbye
The sweetness and the sorrow
Wish me luck, the same to you
But I can’t regret
What I did for love, what I did for love

Look, my eyes are dry
The gift was ours to borrow
It’s as if we always knew
And I won’t forget what I did for love
What I did for love

Gone
Love is never gone
As we travel on
Love’s what we’ll remember

Kiss today goodbye
And point me toward tomorrow
We did what we had to do
Won’t forget, can’t regret
What I did for love

Songwriters: Marvin Hamlisch / Edward Kleban

A year ago, an unforgiving virus entered our world and knocked the performing arts community to its knees. Sanctuaries, concert venues and theaters were ordered empty, but finding an audience was only one problem.

From this singer’s perspective – having spent years learning how to project my voice and use my lungs to power my music – I knew exactly why it was dangerous. We all knew, that’s why it hurt so badly. We knew exactly what was at stake for ourselves and for the people that we sang with. We’d all read the stories that spread like wildfire in the beginning; choirs that did everything right and still became the unlucky example to us all. Every choir director had inboxes full of cautionary tales and encyclopedias of regulations to follow before even a single note could be considered.

What will you do when you can no longer sing?

First, you completely lose your mind. You grieve and ache. You look at stacks of music and unrealized plans and remember lovingly choosing those scores to the specific personalities and talents around you. You realize you can’t just hit pause and resume when things go back to “normal”. You accept that your “normal” will be one of the last ones to return.

So you open the encyclopedia of rules and find out what you can do: You can record. A lot. But you will need to convince a lot of other people to do it too. If you can’t, you will ask again. And again and again. You will try to rehearse online. Some people who miss singing as much as you do will start to sing with you, and your heart will break because you know how hard and different it is for them. Some people who miss singing as much as you do just won’t be able to do this, and your heart will break wondering if there was something you could have done to make it possible.

You will get recordings but need to figure out what to do with them. You will learn skills you never thought of and fill your home with technology you never imagined needing. You will pray that God opens your mind to see beyond the pixels so that you will be a good steward of the efforts entrusted to you. You will never lose sight that these offerings of uploads were created in fear and love to glorify our great God.

You will hold vigil in this “normal”, as life crawls back to a steady pace around you. You will continue to look for the beauty, seek what is unique and valuable, and honor the craft that is before you.

That is where my answer ends, because that is as far as we have come. But I have to believe that when it is all over – when the masks are gone and we lift our voices together again, when we spend our time rehearsing and laughing and performing instead of producing – we will look back and know that, for this season, we did what we had to do.


Won’t forget, can’t regret
What I did for love

Promise

It has become a summer tradition for us to spend a week at the beach with our best friends. Our “framily“, if you will. Altogether, there are 9 of us – 4 adults and 5 kids – and we rent a big beach house and function as a big, loud, happy family unit for a week.

On the earliest trips, when the kids were younger, the ratio of kids to adults meant that there was always a kid convinced that one of the adults had “promised” something to the group. The 4 of us would practically hold staff meetings and develop a party line on the things the kids were lobbying for, trying to seal off the cracks where the kids might insert their own interpretations as much as possible.

But careful communication does nothing to prevent selective hearing, so statements like “we will go to Mister Whippy if its too rainy to go to the beach” or “we can go to the waterpark if it is open” usually ended with someone gravely disappointed. “But Mom promised!” “But Dad PROMISED!!”

‘BUTTTT YOUUUUU PROMISSSEEEEEDDDDDD!!!?!?!?!?!”

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33

I think sometimes we read the Word and pull promises from it the same way my son pulls promises from offhanded comments about milk shakes. I have seen inspirational posters using just part of the scripture above: “But take heart! I have overcome the world”.

But that does such a disservice – not just to our understanding, but to the promise itself.

The promise isn’t that you will never face suffering; to believe that is to end up gravely disappointed, or worse, deeply disillusioned. Jesus knows this, which is why He tells us – “you will have trouble”. No doubt.

The promise is that, despite our inevitable trouble, in Him we will have peace. We will have peace because He has overcome the world.

This is a promise that we will endure; that the worst thing is never the last thing; that surely He will be with us to the very end of the age.

Believe

What do you believe?

To believe something is to accept it as true; to feel sure of the truth of. To hold it. To consider it.

So again, what do you believe?

Your mind might initially go to matters of faith – truly, it may be the question of faith. And it is often a question that many of us can answer with certainty – even if what we are certain of is that we are still on the journey. We spend a lifetime looking for the answer to this question – testing it against our circumstances and our intellect – before we are willing to say yes: this I believe.

But I’m wondering how many beliefs we hold about our habits, our relationships, or ourselves that we assign great value to without testing it half as much.

We are quick to believe that a trait we wish we could change is unchangeable; that someone we love will disappoint us; that we are not worthy of love and Grace.

So as you consider what it is you believe, consider maybe that what you believe isn’t as important as Who you believe. And if you find yourself to be an unreliable narrator in your story, look to the One who knows you by name and calls you His own.

Breath

A year ago, this word would have meant something else to me entirely.

I don’t know that a year has passed where we have considered more the idea of taking a breath; I don’t know that I have ever thought more about the air passing in and out of my lungs.

A year ago the only face masks that I owned were the remnants of a box purchased when I came down with bronchitis the week of Danny’s birthday the year before (and I didn’t want to pass on my germs). I remember carving the complicated Mario fruit structures in a mask and gloves and thinking “wow, this is miserable. I’m glad I don’t have to do this for very long.”

What a humbling year.

As breathing is a reflex that is controlled by the brainstem, if you have never had cause to examine it, you probably don’t think too much about it. We can discipline our lungs like athletes or performers. We can supplement our oxygen when we are ill. We talk metaphorically about something “taking our breath away” to emphasize it’s significance but if you have ever reached for a breath you couldn’t quite grasp, you know there isn’t a lot of poetry in that reality.

Because truly, to run out of air is to perish.

I think this is why hope is compared to air so often. I have heard it said that hope is to the soul what air is to the lungs, and I think that is probably pretty accurate. The soul is designed for hope; our hearts and minds cling to it in order to overcome what is treacherous in our lives.

Gasping for hope is a suffocation of its own.

In the last year I have heard a lot of people complain that they can’t breathe while wearing the face coverings required to do most activities in this pandemic season. It isn’t my favorite accessory by any means, but I find that I do ok getting enough air so long as I don’t exert myself too much. I breathe just fine, but I have trouble trying to catch my breath. It is too much at once and often when I meet the resistance on the inhale, I panic; I end up needing to find a place where I can be alone to lower my mask and get a few deep breaths to recover.

If I am to consider hope the same way, then I need to be very mindful of the hope I exhale. I have to pace myself, knowing that while the end is in sight, the race is still being run.

And should I find that I have overexerted myself, in order to rescue my soul, I need to find a place where I can think clearly and pray earnestly, lower my doubts and fears, and hope courageously to begin to recover.