The Senior High Drama Program at our school did Fiddler on the Roof recently and it was good. It was very good. Well, let’s be honest: it was very good just as it was. Put that in the context of a program only five years old in a school of less than 250 students, total, in a community of about 875 in rural Alberta and it’s nothing short of amazing.
Okay, I’ll acknowledge my bias. I’m married to the director, I know the teachers she works with and many of the students. And I was playing the piano for it. Yes, that’s a lot of bias.
But hear me out, because I just what to talk about one of the many, many reasons it was amazing.
A few weeks back, before the performances, I started to find that I had to really focus in rehearsal - yes, I know I should be anyway - because I was being distracted by the play. Just to be clear: I was distracted by the play, not the players or the set or anything else. They were telling the story so well that I was drawn into it, especially in the very emotional second act.
There’s nothing “lite” about this story: challenging tradition in a time of change, love, discrimination, this is a mature play. And high school students were telling it.
And that’s what was so amazing about the performances. They moved people. Sure, there were lots of proud parents and relatives, but there were a lot of people who quickly put aside that they were impressed by young people and engaged a deep and meaningful story with lots of applause, lots of laughter and many tears. They went home, not just entertained, but moved and taught by essential truths that meant something to them, told in a story that took place over a hundred years ago in a society very different, in a place far away.
I wonder if we do church as well as they do. And I mean more than just talking to God as often as Tevye does in the play. I mean, are we moving and teaching people with an experience that means something to them or just saying words and reiterating old sayings and stories that people can’t really connect with?
Here’s a thought about this week, which is Trinity Sunday. It’s a day we acknowledge the belief that God is a trinity: the doctrine that God is one, but is three persons, traditionally (there’s that word “tradition” again) referred to as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but we have developed other descriptions, too, such as Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer or Parent, Friend and Comforter or God-in-the-world, God-among-us and God-within-us or Lover, Beloved and Love Between. There are many others.
For centuries, we’ve described the Trinity as a mystery, a relationship that we didn’t understand. As if, somehow, 1+1+1=1 and we don’t need to know why, it just is. But I don’t think that’s true. Since the beginning, we have needed to know why and we’ve explained it many times, in many ways, in words and symbols that each new era might understand.
And there, I think, is the problem. No relationship is just about words, but about relevant, interactive experience that means something to us. Just as understanding isn’t only about explanation, it’s about acceptance and belief. Past the surface explanation that God is present in all creation, expressed in Jesus and lived out with the Spirit, is the continuing and constantly changing experience of that idea. We believe that God is present in all things because we experience it lived out through the life of Jesus as we live that life, empowered by the Spirit which is the energy of God present in all things. That experience is love.