It was a beautiful morning in the early autumn. Several folks had gathered at the community garden to enjoy the fruits of the sweet potato crop. Up walks Joseph, listing a bit and slurring his speech. I had never met him before. He began talking to anyone who would listen, telling us which nearby bridge was his temporary shelter.
The Bethesda UMC congregation in East Asheville, North Carolina, recently returned to their sanctuary after being located next door in the retreat house/parsonage for over two years. The newly remodeled space, now available for a variety of uses throughout the week through Haw Creek Commons, went through several unexpected delays, otherwise the small congregation would have sought temporary arrangements elsewhere.
Growing up in America in a middle-class white household I always felt safe. I was so naïve and truly didn’t understand there were others that didn’t experience the same things I did daily: go to school and get educated; come home to a decent sized home where both of my parents were waiting; get help with my homework; eat dinner; go to sleep in my warm and clean bed—repeat the next day. Although my parents taught us about responsibility, hard-work, and respecting others, I was never truly put in a situation where I felt unsafe or needed to be brave.
Once there was a group of people. These people lived long ago, and, therefore, far away, but they were not so different from you and me. They loved, hoped, ate, and bickered. They had been following a great leader, but he had left them. They had been instructed to wait, and, like so many who wait, they did so fretfully.
We will be in the middle of a deep conversation, or a story, and suddenly she is silent. No more talking, no more footsteps. I look back only to find her crouched down looking at the smallest mushroom with the most vibrant purple hue. “I should have been a mycologist," she says, looking at me with the utmost sincerity.
On the improv stage, yes can transform two chairs and an empty stage into an imaginative scene of relationship and impossibility. With one audience suggestion, soon comes an encounter of a famous baby doing a book-signing, a law student in relationship with a cursed sorting hat, a couple arguing about giving birth to an avocado.
I really should call this one: Interruption: An Experiment. We talk a lot about experiments at Missional Wisdom Foundation. One thing I know about myself is that I would much rather be experimenting and exploring new ideas than rehashing or managing old ones. It’s one of the certainties and signs to how I knew serving as the pastor of a local church was not the right path for me. Now, even when I’m doing something I’ve done before, it’s generally new to this group. “We’ve never done it this way before” to me is all the more reason to do it: it’s exciting even if it’s uncomfortable. I like comfort as much as the next person for my personal life, but in my work if I’m not a least a little bit terrified, I’m not trying hard enough.
We all stand in different areas of the room, with our faces to the wall. The topic is five major feelings: joy/happiness, passion/desire, anger, sadness, and fear. With one emotion at a time, we are asked to express our feeling, in hand gestures, words and their content, tone and volume of voice, expressive body language, facial expressions.
In the container of improv, anything can happen. Such are the very bones and basis of improvised comedy: it is made up entirely on the spot. Never before has this show been performed, never again shall it be revisited. The epitome of you-had-to-be-there experience, even the performers are unaware of what is about to occur between them when they step out on stage.
A foundry is a workshop for casting metal. My only reference for this is a clip from the movie The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers—but there are no orcs or dwarves in this story. This is about The Foundry House, a new intentional living community in Winston-Salem, NC, of which I am Prioress.
Improv classes are a constant stream of new discovery and activity. A new warm up is taught to the group, we learn it and try it, we practice and stumble. Someone messes up in the warm-up exercise, a rhythm gets off, someone whooshes instead of pows, laughter ensues. After all, we are standing in a circle ready with playful, silly energy.