Talk About The Passion #1 – Perfect Words and Perfect Actions

carterblokeMY NAME IS SIMON, and I’m a writer.

Mostly, I write plays. I’m not a famous writer – it’s unlikely you’ve heard much about me or seen anything I’ve written. This doesn’t mean I’m a rubbish writer. I scrub up well. I’ve had some quite lovely reviews and everything, but never had that ‘big opportunity.’

I’m peaceful about it because I’ve only ever  written for the joy of creating things that might be funny, thought-provoking, or maybe even (gasp!) meaningful for some people, and to make an audience feel differently about something really important when they’ve finished watching.

I set myself high standards and take my writing seriously in case Spielberg turns up. I’ve written thousands of lines of dialogue, and I’ve wanted these to be impactful on audiences, so I’ve spent a long time trying to construct perfect combinations of words. ‘High standards’ in these terms, of course, means ‘impossible standards.’ Nobody’s perfect, right?

I’ve found, in all my years of effort, that there is no such thing as a perfect combination of words, certainly nothing that any one person could commit to paper that was so extraordinary, so powerful, it would not only resonate with all people, everywhere, at all times, for all time, but actually change the world. Not just theoretically. Actually. Actually change how people think, change how people behave and treat each other, for the betterment of everyone, for the benefit of everyone, forever.

There are no perfect combinations of words in plays and stories even if you’re Shakespeare (I’m sorry, English teachers everywhere). And there are no perfect combinations of words in life – in common use, out there in the world, every day. 

I wish there were perfect combinations of words, because they would solve so many problems.

  • With one perfect combination of words you could give such overwhelming encouragement to someone consumed by personal struggle that they wouldn’t be struggling anymore once you’d said those words, because struggle would be over.
  • With a second perfect combination of words you could heal a heart that was breaking, make someone’s despair utterly disappear, because your words will have defeated despair.
  • With a third perfect combination of words you could stop someone from having to cope with the agony of loss or grief, because loss and grief would be banished at once with the passing of those perfect words from your lips.

Also, can you imagine a perfect combination of words alongside a perfect combination of actions?

  • With one perfect combination of words and actions you could cure cancer, end poverty, restore and reset a broken world.
  • With another perfect combination of words and actions you could make the blind see, the lame walk, the dead come back to life.
  • With a third perfect combination of words and actions you could instantly convince everyone there was a loving God and transform their lives forever. 

But on the third of these, I guess, I’d first have to find that perfect combination of words and actions for myself, because I’ve had so much doubt about spiritual things.

Please don’t run away screaming if you think I’m going ‘all religious’ on you. I’m not about to start preaching. I would have lured you here under false pretences if I did. That would be dishonest, and I promise I’m going to be completely honest with you.

Passion Play 1aTruth is, I’ve often felt there can be no God at all, certainly not a trustworthy or loving one, when there is so much wretchedness and suffering everywhere. Presumably God would have the power to do something about all of that if he was really there and he really wanted to. He could just take all the bad stuff away entirely, right? I mean today. Right now.

I’ve accepted that it can never be that simple.

In faith terms, I have been all at sea for a long time. I’ve found no perfect words to help me with the doubt, disappointment and, very often, utter fury I’ve felt about God, about church, about religion. I didn’t become all happy-clappy when I was baptised ten years ago. Quite the reverse. Many truly horrible things happened to me (and to people whom I love more than life itself) in the years afterwards and these things made me, at least for a time, decidedly unhappy-crappy. I didn’t run away from my faith, or completely depart from church when these things happened, but in fairness I only hung on by the slenderest of threads.

I’ve kept searching throughout it all and (you may be relieved to hear) have had some joyful times along the way. I’ve read lots of stuff on the subject of faith because I’m interested, and I want to know more. Greater theological minds than mine have attempted to explain away the problem of pain down the ages and why it’s all supposedly part of some ‘greater plan.’

So many minds. 

So …. many … books. 

Passion Play 2aBe careful. The books can do your head in. I flung a hefty C.S. Lewis across the room last week. Not the author C.S. Lewis, who’s been dead since 1963. I didn’t fling C.S. Lewis across a room. It was one of his books on Christianity which was frustrating me. Don’t get me wrong. I love Narnia and Aslan (spoiler: Aslan is Jesus), but I’m not sure about some of the author’s thoughts on some aspects of the Christian faith.

Mention of God’s so-called ‘greater plan,’ a ‘greater plan’ that you and I can never fully comprehend, certainly not in this life, has challenged me so much in moments of grief and tragedy, I  have struggled to accept the idea. How does this ‘greater plan,’ how can this ‘greater plan’ possibly be served by the trauma and devastation of suddenly losing a loved one? How can it possibly be served by a terrifying cancer diagnosis in the love of your life? How could any ‘greater plan’ possibly and reasonably permit the seemingly inexplicable suffering of innocents alongside the rise and prospering of real evil in this world?

Maybe the answer is that there is no God at all. But at the core of me, I know this doesn’t feel true. 

It may feel true for you if you have no belief in God at all, or in any God at all, or you’re just undecided, or you don’t much care because you’re making a Pot Noodle right now.

I’m not saying I’m right about life’s big questions, and you’re wrong. None of us can know for certain, no matter how passionately we articulate our position. The one thing I’m reasonably sure about, though, is that we’ll all find out one way or the other at some point, by which time it will be far too late for ‘told you so’s.’

Passion Play 3aBut for the avoidance of doubt you should know that I have a faith. I’ve realised that I’ve mostly considered faith matters through the prism of the impact these have on people and the practical, wordly issues we have to deal with. I’m all over the people perspective. Other human beings, and me.

Me, me, me.

Grr.

Given what I’ve been through, and the pain I’ve known and felt, my perspective has often been that of a frustrated, despairing human being, raising a fist to the sky and remonstrating to God about how bad everything is and how rubbish he must be at being God if he just lets it all happen, and maybe he could just show up and explain it all to me, please, because I’d really like to know.

Oh! The injustices of this world! Why, exactly? 

I’ve realised more recently that I’ve never properly considered what God’s perspective must be on all of these things. His view of the world hasn’t really preoccupied me much before now, mainly because I’ve been shouting at him far too much about my own perspective.

Thing is, something’s just happened to me. Something that feels really important to me – and it seems I now have no choice but to try to look at the world from God’s perspective, and try to bring across something of what that perspective might be to audiences.

Because, in a few months’ time, I’m going to play the part of Jesus Christ in a theatre production in Nottingham. It’s called The Nottingham Passion at it’s on at St Mary’s in the Lace Market.

Nottingham Passion poster

I’m also a performer, you see.

I’m not a famous performer – it’s unlikely you’ve heard much about me or seen anything I’ve been in. This doesn’t mean I’m a rubbish performer. I scrub up well, and other recycled prose from paragraph two of this blog. 

There was an audition I went to back in November last year, one which I very nearly got cold feet about because my self-confidence had taken a real bashing. I went to the audition because I wanted to find a way back into some kind of faith life, find a way back into a church building somehow, and find a way of doing some good with this ‘gift’ of communicating that people keep telling me I have. 

I didn’t know what I was expecting.  I hadn’t done any kind of audition in years. Pontius Pilate, maybe, because I have a Roman nose.

Passion Play 4aBut reading for the part of Jesus and then being cast as him? I guess if there was a shortlist of people in human history who you’d think had come closest to speaking perfect words and taking perfect actions, Jesus would likely be on that list somewhere.

So here I am, staring down the barrel of playing the part of Jesus. I want to do the very best job I can. There’s no way I’m taking this lightly, because doing this is among the privileges of my life. So I’ll prepare properly and thoroughly, and I’ll try to see and show the events of Passion Week from Jesus’ perspective. It’s a great script, with a great director in the Reverend James Pacey, and many strong voices across the whole cast. Plus it’s live theatre and storytelling, which can be so very powerful in ministry. Here’s what James has to say about the subject.

So, as I consider the various ramifications of that monumental, world-changing few days in Jerusalem two millennia ago, I’ll aim to share some thoughts about how the events of Passion Week might have felt whilst being stood in the shoes (sandals?) of the central figure in all of it.

Jesus is a complex and divisive figure. There’s no real dispute about this, and we sugar-coat him at our peril. I don’t think this production will be pulling any punches.

Matthew 10

Jesus was divisive then, he’s divisive now. Whether you consider Jesus, as Christians do, to be the son of God, both fully human and fully God, or you consider him instead to have been merely a human being who offered some sound moral teaching we can choose to accept, reject or simply ignore, the common ground surely is that Jesus must have been, at the very least, a good and decent man with the very best of intentions. You’d want him on your side, for sure. You’d want him to have your back.

Maybe we could even agree that Jesus was a great man, with hugely important things to say about the human condition, about human struggle, about life, about relationships, about love, about hope, about morality.

Maybe we could agree that he was an immensely courageous and determined man who took unimaginable personal risks to say what he felt needed saying to bring about the possibility of radical change in people and hope for the last, the least and the lost. The truth bombs Jesus dropped about institutional corruption, hypocrisy, and abuse of position and privilege, made him powerful enemies in the religious and political authorities of his day. It was these people who became so hell bent on silencing Jesus and destroying him.  

Jesus was great enough and impactful enough that people are still talking about him some two thousand years later, and whether or not you believe that Jesus was the son of God, history nonetheless appears to record that this man took a series of planned and deliberate actions, over a period of around three years, which he knew would lead to his public humiliation and execution, all with the apparent endgame of saving human lives, human souls, and making all things well, in the end. 

Passion Play 5aLike it or not, welcome it or not, the fella appears to have chosen to die for the human race and, last I heard, that includes you and me. Doubt his authenticity, doubt what motivated him, doubt his state of mind if you like, completely turn your back on the whole concept of it if that’s your choice, but Jesus’ very specific decision appears to have been to die for everyone, whether we wanted him to or not. 

What we make of all of this is up to us. I can’t make you pick up a Bible if you don’t want to. Sometimes I struggle to pick up a Bible myself. That choice is yours, and that choice is mine. But for me, what’s got me searching again, what’s got me passionate again, is the chance to explore this story in a way I’ve never explored it before, learn a bit more about Jesus myself, and show something of who he was and is to anyone who wants to come along and see the show. The tickets are on sale now, and you can get them here.

So, this initial salvo will turn into a series of articles as thoughts and insights occur, and as the rehearsal process develops in earnest. Just so you know, beard growth has been insisted upon.

Thanks so much for staying with me this far already. 

copyright (c) carterbloke, 2023

Links – Nottingham Passion