Monday, October 3, 2011

The Power of a Living Voice

We had an incredible time on Broadway. Ever since I can remember, I have been a huge fan of the live theater. For a small city, Grand Rapids had a fairly live theater scene, and I was privileged, growing up, to see quite a few shows. Since then, Pittsburgh and its grand theaters have filled the bill on our visits there.

Though I had been to Broadway once before (in its seedy days), I had never gotten to see a show. Through the generosity of some friends, we were able to see not just one show, but three. It was an awesome experience. At one, somehow I managed to get front-row center seats --nothing quite like that. At another, I got to be in the same room with Brooke Shields --Brooke Shields! The third was a lark --we had finished dinner on Monday night, and decided to go to the TKTS booth to see what was available. Most shows are dark on Monday, and we got there about 7:35 (most curtains are at 8). Nonetheless, at that time, the tickets are cheap, and the seats were grand --just one look and I can hear a bell ring, one more look and I forget everything... Pretty fun show.

What is it about live performance that makes it so compelling? Yes, movies can be awesome and profound, but there is something magical about live actors on the stage. Actors develop a dynamic between them and their audience, something that is missing from a screen (and perhaps in acting in front of a camera). Feedback is instantaneous. There is laughter and applause. There is a sense that they are with you or they aren't.

Some have hypothesized that the great revivalist orator George Whitefield was a frustrated actor. There are some similarities between acting and preaching --the great allure of being the center of attention of a crowd. The feeling can be very much like this:

The costumes, the scenery, the makeup, the props
The audience that lifts you when you're down
The headaches, the heartaches, the backaches, the flops
The sheriff who escorts you out of town
The opening when your heart beats like a drum
The closing when the customers won't come...

There is a drama to good preaching, to be sure, and preachers are human and like some measure of notice and acclaim --though of course we shouldn't be in preaching for notice or acclaim.

God puts his word on a printed page for a reason --so it might be a fixed verity, a point of truth, a standard, like the official weights and measures kept under lock and key by the government so they will not be altered.

But, he gives his word a living human voice, in part because he wired us to find this compelling. Ours is not a day of great orators. There are no Bryans on the Platte or FDRs or Churchills on the wireless. Still and all, we love a living voice. Like Nipper sitting on the coffin listening to the phonograph, we recognize our master's voice. "My sheep know my voice and they follow me...another they will not follow."

God spoke through the prophets, and through his son. Now, he speaks through fallible, human spokesmen who are faithful to his word, who can embrace and be embraced, who bleed, who empathize, who fail and make mistakes just like their hearers. On the one hand, it seems so very foolish (1 Cor 1) --but on the other hand, it seems so very wise.

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