Last Sunday, May 20, 2012, the Sunday after the Ascension, in the Gospel reading from John, Jesus prayed for his disciples—us included—acknowledging that while “they are in the world… they do not belong to the world.” In our weekly staff meeting on Wednesday mornings at diocesan house, Bishop Smith always challenges those of us who will be preaching the following Sunday to not only talk about “what” the Gospel calls us to do, but to answer the silent question that pervades the minds of people in the pews: “Tell me ‘how’ I am to go about doing what the Gospel calls me to do? Give me an example of how.”
Taking this to heart, last Sunday I was honored to be the guest preacher at Trinity Cathedral in Portland, OR, and I felt called to preach about being “in the world… but not of the world.” Rather than offer a list of moral imperatives, “Do this… Don’t do that,” figuring that would not be useful, I opted instead to tell a story, a story of one way we can be in the world, but not of the world. In my sermon last Sunday, I told the story of a friend of mine (and of so many others in this diocese) who does just that, by the way she lives and serves from her strengths and passion, the way Jesus calls us to serve.
Sam is a mom, widowed about a year ago, and guardian of her thirtysomething son who has intellectual disabilities. Twelve years ago, Sam had this idea. Sam teaches theater at Phoenix College, and she wanted to create a way of doing theater that would include people with disabilities, because—as she repeats like a mantra: “The Arts should be accessible to everyone.” So Sam created Detour Company Theatre, an award-winning, Phoenix based acting troupe for adults with disabilities. For the past twelve years, Sam and the actors of DCT have been providing wonderful theater performances in which all the lead roles and other principal actors are persons with disabilities. Some non-disabled persons appear on the stage, but they only function as extras in the performance, to help support the singing a little, and serve as coaches to provide a little help (or a reminder) to any actor who needs it, in getting to their place on time and on cue.
What’s so great about Detour Company Theatre is that it makes people who often are invisible in our society VERY visible—in fact, you wouldn’t be able to enjoy the production without them. Sometimes in our culture and in our world we don’t see people with disabilities; oh, we may see them, but only to look past them onto someone else more interesting, or we see them in order to not run into them, but often we don’t “see them,” as in see them to notice them, or experience them as human beings, only different. So Sam (a lifelong, active Episcopalian) has taken this idea of Detour Company Theatre and has introduced all these wonderful people with disabilities to the people of Phoenix and its surrounding communities.
For the past three years my son Jonathan, an eighteen year old young man with Down syndrome, has acted in DCT. When he first started, being the then youngest member of the troupe, he got all the “little brother roles”: Winthrop in “Music Man,” Randolph in “Bye, Bye Birdie,” and Benjamin in “Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” With every performance, his acting skills improve, little by little. While the acting and singing of a DCT performance is indeed a miracle, the real miracle occurs in the audience. In truly seeing (perhaps for the first time) these people with disabilities performing on the stage—for two hours or so, impossible to ignore—the miracle occurs, and “something like scales falls from [their] eyes” and sight is restored, the heart is lifted to a new height, and a mind is stretched a little further never to snap back to its original shape. I think it is impossible to attend a Detour Company Theatre performance and not be moved in the deepest part of your being.
In this, Sam is doing what she sees Jesus doing; including the marginalized, bringing in the outcast, welcoming the stranger, the lonely, and ignored of our generation. Loves pervades it all. And to me, that is one way of being in the world, but not belonging to the world. Because we know how the world wants to treat people with disabilities; Detour Company Theatre says otherwise. Just like Jesus says otherwise.
The most encouraging thing we need to remember is that Jesus prays for us, prays for our success at this. When we step out in faith and courage to do what seems an impossible thing—be in the world, but not of the world—Jesus prays for us. I’m thinking the prayers of Jesus probably have a good chance of getting answered, so we should just move forward with confidence that Jesus stands with us, no matter how crazy things might get. Jesus prays for us, prays for us to be like him.
So there you have an example of being in the world, but not of the world. This is one way to do it, among others.
Take heart and have courage to allow the Spirit this season of Pentecost to guide you into your unique way of being in the world, but not of it, as it has Sam and so many, many others. God bless you in you efforts.
(By the way, the next Detour Company Theatre performance will be Rogers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific,” on June 15, 16, and 17, at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts; admission is on a donation basis. For more information, go to the Detour Company Theatre website. See you there!)