Background: Looking between the lines
Some time ago I had occasion to help a twenty-one-year-old son arrange insurance on his new second-hand car. When the policy arrived, I realised that I definitely needed new glasses! Talk about "fine print"! I wondered if they really meant you to read it at all.
With insurance we know that it is important to "read the fine print", to understand what is not (as well as what is) covered by the policy. The fine print can be more important than anything else!
Sometimes a member of a church (or other) meeting will complain that there is "a hidden agenda". He has the printed agenda in his hand, but it seems to him that something else is afoot, perhaps too controversial to reveal until the right time!
God is the Revealer of mysteries long hidden. He does not talk to us in fine print. And, while his revelation is restricted to our ability to receive, he nevertheless has no hidden agenda.
Some folk are constantly "reading between the lines" and put far more faith in what they think they see than in what a person actually says or does.
These dramas are written in the conviction that the biblical lines are important in themselves, that they are the bearers of divine revelation. We are looking "between the lines" to help regain historical and personal insights in a way that will throw the lines themselves into sharper relief.
In preparation I have striven for a measure of authenticity - in the midst of creative imagination. The style is quite different from the role-play model and the effect can be destroyed by trying to "ad lib" these lines. Unless a congregation has a regular drama group, it is far better to have these dramas well-read.
In almost all cases no action is required, and the dramatic reading can take place in the service at the usual time for the Gospel reading.
The following notes give information about some of the assumptions I have made, the concepts behind the dramas, questions raised for congregations and suggestions for use. The notes are not comprehensive and are intended to stimulate the creative use of these dramas.
Drama in Church?
"We had a bit of a drama at home this morning," the young mother explains to her friend. "It began when the baby managed to fall out of the cot. Then, right in the middle of me frantic and her screaming, Junior somehow knocked the bird cage off the hook and the whole thing came crashing to the floor..."
A bit of a drama? A piece of action that stirred the imagination and the emotions, that probably had the young Mum asking herself, "How ever did I get myself into all this?"
Sometimes we think of drama as a visual re-creation of some event or situation. Typically, drama presents us a blend of word and action. Word... and action...
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God... And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1.1,14)
"In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son..." (Hebrews 1.1-2a).
Word and action - these are at the heart of the divine revelation. God speaking, revealing himself by his Son, by the Word-become-flesh.
The traditions of the Uniting Church have very much focussed on the written and spoken Word. True, we have said that these bear witness to the living Word who is Jesus Christ, but we are still very "wordy" about it. Some see the need to move towards much more liturgical and sacramental styles of worship and towards a more thorough and consistent use of the various phases of the Christian calendar. Others desire more flexibility, participation and movement.
But we are people of the Word - whatever style of worship we favour. How can the written Word be presented so that it stirs the imagination and the emotions, so that the people truly "hear the Word of the Lord"? In the televisual age, many people have real difficulty conceiving the Biblical situation when it is simply read to them.
Part of the answer to this problem is in more effective reading of the Word. In reaching towards increased lay participation in worship, we have tended to give the scripture reading to the laity. It is sometimes done well, but too often poorly. Our readers need to be carefully selected, prepared and trained.
This book presents for occasional use (say, once a month) the possibility of drama or dramatic reading to accompany the scripture reading.
The idea began when I was minister in the Stanthorpe Uniting Parish. The whole parish was coming together for a combined celebration on a campsite at Storm King Dam. The service was being planned for a congregation that would include all ages from young children to the very elderly. The Sunday School material for the day had some helpful suggestions for combined worship and the Bible passage was from John 15.
Stanthorpe is at the heart of Queensland's "Granite Belt" - a major area for deciduous fruit-growing. In itself, the illustration of the vine and the branches would be more readily understood here than in many other parts of Queensland. Even so, we have become so far removed from the scriptures in our thinking that much of the "feel" of the passage for its original hearers and readers would be lost.
That was when the first of these dramas, The Vine, was born. The passage does not lend itself to dramatisation, but - what went on behind the scenes? The first four to follow Jesus were fishermen, not farmers! What would the sons of Zebedee, James and John, have thought about it all? So the scripture passage, John 15.1-10, was allowed to stand in its own right - and quite properly so. Yet the between-the-lines imaginative snapshot helped the hearers in their grasp of what it was all about.
My ministry moved to the Balmoral Uniting Parish in Brisbane. An ecumenical group, including representatives of Anglican, Baptist, Presbyterian and Uniting Churches, was involved in a team-teaching situation in the local high school. A varied programme was presented to groups of students over three school periods on a Thursday morning. In the course of eleven weeks every student in the school (with the exception of Jehovah's Witnesses and exclusive Brethren) had been included. Wow!
In our first planning meeting, the Anglican minister said that, following the themes so far, we obviously needed to focus this time on the Holy Spirit. Quite simple, he explained. Just a matter of following the kind of pattern he used with confirmees - a segment on the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, then something on the Holy Spirit in the teaching of Jesus, then the Holy Spirit in Acts, the teaching of the Epistles and something on the Holy Spirit in the church today.
Now, I believe in the Holy Spirit. And here was I, the newcomer who didn't yet know the young people in this district, but... it sounded like "lead balloon" stuff to me! Our deaconess was allocated the Gospels and I was to follow through with Acts.
Pentecost was written. The deaconess and I became Miriam and Matthias - earlybirds to the prayer meeting on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. We read the parts - no attempt at memorisation, because our purpose wasn't role-playing but teaching - and we covered what Jesus taught about the Holy Spirit, followed by a short reading from Acts 2 and comment on the Holy Spirit in the early church.
During ten years at Balmoral the remaining dramas were written, some at the call of a particular situation, most from the conviction that the imagination and emotions need to be stirred in the reading of the Word.
On a very few occasions lines were memorised and the characters were in costumes. Mostly, however, the participants were dressed normally for Sunday worship and stood together with their scripts undisguisedly before them.
Some congregations have a particular drama group. We didn't, and some participants had noticeably less dramatic experience than others. But with a little practice and encouragement it was amazing how people took on the characters and the reading came alive. We learnt to use the talents available to us and not to be so dramatically ambitious that we didn't attempt anything at all.
In a very few cases the male/female or adult/child characterisation may be important. But here again, in most cases, there was no problem at all in using available people of whatever gender or age. Occasionally a name might be changed, but even that was not always thought necessary.
Between the Lines is restricted to the Gospels and Pentecost. I am sure the style could well be applied to other passages of scripture as well. They are to be used to enliven, but not to replace, the reading of the Word. They have been written in response to practical need. I trust that other congregations will find them useful too.
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