I went to college to be a high school English teacher who would maybe direct the high school musical. The siren song of the theater department was strong and, throwing all caution to the wind, I changed my major. I never looked at the theater department before I applied to this school. Indiana University of Pennsylvania had been founded as a teacher’s college back in the 1800’s and had everything I would need to land a full time job with paid summers off. The theater department, at first glance, left a lot to be desired. Waller Hall, home of the Theater Department, was originally Waller Gymnasium, the original home of physical education on the corner of the Oak Grove. Once zillions of dollars were poured into the new field house, phys ed moved out and the actors moved in. Except for the marquis over the front door, you really wouldn't know it was a theater. It was a gym…a big empty box with no lights, no stage, no seats, no nothing. I wasn't sure I had made the right choice. It was kind of a dump. Then I met the older theater students who called themselves “Waller Rats” and they filled me in on just how lucky I was to be be a Waller Rat before they decided to spend the millions needed to make a respectable theater out of the old gymnasium.
“Anybody can make magic with money,” they said. “Here you will learn to create everything from nothing.” They were right. I couldn't believe how much I learned from building scaffolding towers, running cable, hanging stage lights, then running them on an ancient two scene preset manual board, instead of one where the computer did everything automatically. I learned to build the stage and the seating. A few years into my education, we were exiled from Waller Hall while the university renovated it. They spared no expense, providing the best architecture, equipment, and amenities. Compared to Old Waller, New Waller was a showplace. Now, don't think we were ungrateful, but we missed Old Waller. Sure it was cheap, dirty, and substandard, but we proved ourselves there, creating new worlds and brand new theaters with each and every show. People did not visit Old Waller for the ambiance of the building, but to enjoy what we learned how to do there. We could not lean on furnishings, equipment and budgets which forced us to truly learn our craft.
As I've written elsewhere, I have nothing against the churches with the finest of everything. Whether it is the mega-church with best band and light show in town or the downtown cathedral with the massive pipe organ and the Tiffany stained glass windows, some churches are an eye full worth walking into. But I like to think of a church, not as a great place for Christian people to go, but as a process through which lives are changed. I've served in beautiful buildings, but that leaves me hollow. We can't depend on that. Rather than people walking in to enjoy the ambiance of the building, I want them to enjoy what we as disciples are learning to do there. Furnishings, equipment, and budgets might help get people in the door, but it is our craft of making and maturing disciples who make and mature other disciples that makes eternity happen for people. Together we learn how to pray, how to risk, how to search the scriptures and hear God through them. We choose to actually talk to each other and live life together with Jesus, rather than hiding behind the videos, curriculum, and technology that we hope will teach faith for us.
One of my favorite quotes from Eugene Peterson's translation of the Bible (The Message) is found in Luke chapter 9:1-6:
“Jesus now called the Twelve and gave them authority and power to deal with all the demons and cure diseases. He commissioned them to preach the news of God’s kingdom and heal the sick. He said, “Don’t load yourselves up with equipment. Keep it simple; you are the equipment. And no luxury inns—get a modest place and be content there until you leave. If you’re not welcomed, leave town. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and move on.”
Commissioned, they left. They traveled from town to town telling the latest news of God, the Message, and curing people everywhere they went.”
He taught them to do stuff that changed lives for the better then sent them out to do it. They didn't need to take anything with them. They had everything they needed. They had developed their craft. That is so Old Waller. It is so Jesus, too.
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