Archive for the ‘church’ Category


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This morning I sat in a pew, on the edge of my seat – watching, listening, waiting.

And it happened.

The miracle happened over and over. People of all ages stepped into the water and looked out at us, some smiling, some clutching nervously at the edge. They wore t-shirts mostly, a pastor held their shoulders, reassuring and firm. People I know, people I’ve never met, children who are dear. They stood, and we heard their stories – clear, halting, full of emotion. Simple. True. A few sentences summing up the decision that will define them. Read the rest of this entry »


Written by Sarabeth :: the dramatic

November 25, 2007 at 10:50 pm

Posted in bryan, church, faith, life

sunday morning

with one comment

what’s shaping your life?
what’s shaping mine?

i could look around the room and try to recite
all the unwritten rules that guide our lives

don’t oversleep
go to church
comb your hair
press your shirt
marry the right one
don’t go into debt
keep everybody clean and fed
live on a nice suburban street
it never hurts to keep things neat
so tidy up your little life
keep all that messiness inside
yourself – we don’t really want to know
how you struggle with all those things

like staying with your husband
reaching for a drink
looking at that picture
lying through your teeth

no, all that’s better off ignored

and while we’re ignoring, might as well
ignore some other things too

those messy ones outside our walls
we pretend they don’t exist at all
those ones with addictions and wrecks of lives
unpaid bills and nothing to drive
they live in apartments, trailers, on the street
children with not enough food to eat
dirty clothes, torn up shoes
if only they looked more like me, or you
it’s really their fault
the choices they’ve made

we say to ourselves
in a thousand different ways

now there’s a situation where you turn the other cheek
look the other way
walk right past the weak

because these rules we live by don’t include the messy parts
the parts that look like failing
and we’re not about to start with anything that doesn’t fit or meet the status quo
we’ve shaped ourselves
and shaped our lives
to fit the world we know

and as long as we’re surrounded by good Christians in their pews
basketball for Jesus
the Fox nightly news
as long as we can sit within this bubble we’ve created
and not look in
and not look out
well then, looks like we’ve made it

but –

there still is one more question that should be pulling at our souls

when did Jesus ever say that all of this would make us whole?

if we’re going to live by rules, shouldn’t the rules be set by him?

he says – repent
and – you must be born again

surely you’ve heard that one before
oh, but wait, there’s more

come to me
believe in me
love me
listen to me
abide in me
take up your cross and follow me

these are all too familiar to me
they bounce off the surface and skip away
maybe i’ll change another day

we think we’re doing what’s good and right
what Jesus said to do
but are we?

my life will never change
just stay the same

until I listen, until I choose

to worship God in spirit and truth
rejoice and leap for joy when hated
always pray
do not be anxious
about anything – any thing at all
love my neighbor who doesn’t mow
love my God with all my soul
love even my enemies
hold on to mercy instead of anger
cherish the truth – say yes or no and mean it
do not store your treasure here
but humble yourself through sacrifice
let your light shine for all to see
do this in remembrance of me

these things these things he said to us
and though i’ve heard them all before
it needs to make a difference now
there could be so much more

so i ask
what’s shaping my life?
what’s shaping yours?

Written by Sarabeth :: the dramatic

September 10, 2007 at 9:44 pm

trailer park yoga

with 9 comments

I went to my very first yoga class today, with my friend who is a teeny bit of a fanatic about it. She’s very convincing about things – she got me to try some salad with barley in it once – and after reading about her adventures in Colorado yogaland, I was ready to try it.

In the interest of honesty I should tell you that I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder to start with. This yoga class – which is offered free, twice a week – takes place at a church here in town. Not the church I work at. Not a church I could see myself going to anytime soon. There’s a huge church in a neighboring town that Bryan likes to refer to as Six Flags Over Jesus, and while this particular church isn’t quite as large as that church, it could easily be the Dollywood of the local church scene. We get cards from them every so often, inviting us to a Christmas extravaganza or an Easter spectacle, usually involving a dramatic production paired with a carnival type thing going on outside, complete with rides and XBox giveaways.

It’s – how do I say – a little too WalMart Supercenter for me.

All this profound opinionatedness is based solely on those sporadic postcards, and my keen observations on the two times I had been inside the building, both times for community events that the church had hosted. Their building was bigger than ours, and they obviously had a lot more money to spend on all the things that go inside it than we do.

Not that I’ve thought about it a whole lot. Really.

Anyway, I go into class and as it turns out, the instructor is really nice. Really really nice. Nice enough that you sorta don’t even hate her for being really tall and skinny and pretty (that’s NOT all yoga. Some things just have to be chalked up to great genetics).

And perky. About every minute and a half, she would say my name in class, in a very cheery way, just to make sure I was getting it. The first time she said it – Sarabeth! – she scared me and I kind of fell over. Except that I was already on the ground.

This became a pattern. Sarabeth! we are going to start with a side stretch…Sarabeth! don’t worry if you fall off your bench, we all have…Sarabeth! you may actually die while attempting this next series…

Perky, very perky. And also very kind. She would say things like, that’s ok, just do what you can and beautiful, you’re doing great and you are enjoying this stretch of your lower back / quad muscle / insert any random body part here. These types of encouragements (or, let’s face it, flat out lies) are needed when you feel as though your body is about to betray you by throwing you face first onto the floor.

By the time we were done, I really liked her and I liked the class – this person who was a member of the superficial supercenter church. The same church which allowed us to use their room and yoga mats, blankets, blocks, benches, and bolsters. For free. That’s right, the church bought all that equipment so that this woman could teach her classes to people like me.

In related news, this evening I went to pick up my own new-to-me yoga mat from a fellow freecycler whose husband wasn’t using it anymore. I drove out to get it and ended up in the trailer park where they live.

Really? I thought. Yoga enthusiast lives in a trailer park? I would have never put those two things together.

It’s embarrassing, really, when I run up against these prejudices. Twice in one day – on both ends of the spectrum – my narrow view of the world, of trailer parks, of big flashy churches – got called out of hiding. These are not things I think about with my logical self, they are ugly, petty, jealous, prideful things that lurk in the corners of my heart. And they’re wrong. It’s not like I enjoy admitting this stuff, but my hope is – always – that if I can say this stuff out loud, pin it down on a page, that it won’t be inside me as much anymore.

Or any of us.

Written by Sarabeth :: the dramatic

September 4, 2007 at 11:20 pm

Posted in church, funny, healthy, life

i do, i do

with 3 comments

We just got home from a wedding.

It was so many things that a wedding should be; intimate, with a bride and groom who have seen enough of life to know – well, as much as anyone can – what they are getting into. We stood in a circle around this pair and witnessed this ritual, this ceremony, this covenant, come into being. There is so much fuss, and pomp, and stuff that goes into weddings; this was almost an anti-wedding, it was so simple. They promised themselves, one to another, and the simple beauty of those promises made me cry. That in this world people are still brave enough to make those promises, and that the rest of us are standing around, cheering them on, is a thing of beauty.

We stood in this circle outdoors, on a stone terrace in a park I have never known was there, even though I’ve lived my whole life here. The cicadas sang as the sun went down and the lights of the city came on down the hill below us.

Amid that lovely imagery, did you get the point? We were outside. In August. In Arkansas. It’s been 100 or above every day this week.

It was hot. So very hot.

Thankfully, our time there was beautiful and short. Another friend led the ceremony, a friend I’ve known since the sixth grade (what can I say? It’s a small town and I’ve lived here my whole life. It’s not outside my frame of reference that one of my best friends in sixth grade is now a pastor at my church) and he did such a great job of being simple and true and succinct. Listening to him tonight, I marveled at the person he has become. It was a long way from foursquare.

Then we trouped back to our cars and drove a few blocks to a fabulous old house for the reception. Great food – smoked salmon, pork, roasted vegetables, cheese and bread and fruit and almonds – and music and dancing and laughter. And the people – it’s always fun to go to weddings and play the “who am I going to see here that I had no idea would be here, or who I haven’t seen in a really long time, or that I can’t figure out how I know…” game. Well, I guess sometimes that’s fun – sometimes it can be disastrous. No disaster tonight though, just running into the guy we bought our first house from, about 10 years ago.

For sure, our favorite part of the reception was when Bryan found the air conditioning vent in a corner. A group of us stood huddled around it, basically jostling for the closest position to the cold air. Oh, we held our plates, laughed, ate – but don’t be fooled – it was a competition.

Because we were still so hot.

You just can’t get away from it right now. Every time I step outside, I feel like I’m about to burst into flame. Like I’m melting. You just want to lay around. In some ice water.

Earlier this week, when I was making plans to go to this wedding, I thought to myself, “Why does anybody get married in August?”

And then I remembered that my anniversary is next week.


Written by Sarabeth :: the dramatic

August 12, 2007 at 12:20 am

shout out

with 8 comments

So, this morning one of my friends, a terribly gifted drummer and wonderfully supportive fellow artist, tells me he thinks maybe I was a little hard on this guy. And pretty much, he’s probably right, because mostly what I wanted was to write something and be hard on someone…and what I really needed to write instead, was this.

I am losing a friend.

Two, actually. They’re married, and have three wonderful girls and a backyard with chickens. I love them both. She asks lots of questions and listens intently and does my hair better than anyone ever has.

And he – well he works in the office next door to mine.

He’s who I yell at through the wall, and show t-shirt designs to, and ask “So what do you think about this?” Together with the infamous Donna Hall, we dream, plan, create, cringe, take risks. Stare at the blank whiteboard until we’re ready to beat our heads against the wall. Celebrate when things go really well. Laugh really hard when they fall apart. I know his stories; he knows my pet peeves.

I’ve known him since he was in high school, since he interned for my husband, since I was pregnant with my first child. I have a picture of him holding her – all those tattoos next to new baby skin – and they’re wearing matching snuggy hats. Him just because, and her because he bought her one to match the one he wore.

And because I know, and have known, these things…I know that Josh and Natalie are going for good reasons, into places that will be good for them, places they will serve and love and give just like they have here.

And that’s exactly why I will miss them so much when they’re gone.

Written by Sarabeth :: the dramatic

July 9, 2007 at 12:13 am

Posted in church, loss, relationships

taking myself too seriously

with 2 comments

I went to Chicago two weeks ago for a wonderful conference on art and faith. It’s always good – I get to take acting classes, hear from and be with other artists – but this year was especially thought provoking. There are so many things I’m carrying around with me, but here’s just one.

We got to watch a clip of Bono speaking with Bill Hybels – who is a pastor, a well-known religious leader. The point of their interview was the AIDS crisis in Africa – it’s a great interview. However, this was a clip that didn’t make it into the original video. In it, Bono is speaking about the necessity of being honest as an artist – and he says:

You have to be honest.
A lie can be as simple as who you want to be, rather than who you are.

Then he goes on to say that he found the religious life to be difficult to live honestly as an artist. Too difficult is what isn’t said, but implied. In other points in the interview, he talks about how he has given up on the church for much of his life, and is just now finding some places of connection.

Now, I’m not talking about his faith here. You don’t have to listen to him very long to know that his faith is deep and real, this man knows Jesus and loves him and is trying his hardest to figure out what it means to serve him – in the midst of his life as a rock star. No, what Bono finds difficult is the religious life, which is different from faith. And as much as I would like to say that I have faith alone, that I am not and will never be religious – the fact is that I spend my days working in a church that I love. Which puts me smack in the middle of some religious life.

Bono is a man I respect greatly, both for the art he has created and for what he has done with his life. And his statement made me think – where do I compromise on both ends? How many times have I not reflected the truth of the world I see around me through my art because it’s too messy, because I’m afraid, because I don’t want to push hard enough? And how many times have I backed off from the fullness of my life of faith – especially when I find myself among other artists, because I worry what they might think?

Ironically, those places of backing off, of trying to be safe, will turn me into the very thing I want most not to be: the safe church artist, parroting religiousness. I know it all would be stronger somehow, my faith and my art, if I could live at the farthest edges of both things – reckless in my faith, passionate in my art.

Here’s hoping…

Written by Sarabeth :: the dramatic

June 28, 2007 at 11:22 pm

Posted in art, church, fear, life

not the post that was previously planned

with 4 comments

But then again, these things never are. These things that cause us to stop mid-sentence, hold our heads, and cry.

I was going to do fun today. Interactive. I don’t want to be too reflective, too serious, all the time. Wears people out – I know. It wears me out sometimes.

But then something happened today. So if you’re not in for serious, it’s time to stop reading now. My apologies…

When I got to work this morning there was an email from a list I belong to that sends out news about Ted and Lee Theater Works. It’s a team of two men, Ted Swartz and Lee Eshleman, who write and act together. They tour, mostly churches and church-type events, and perform their stuff, which is largely Biblically based. Their most well-known show is called “Fish-Eyes,” and looks at the life of Jesus through the eyes of Peter and Andrew, who were brothers and also disciples.

That paragraph – the one I just wrote – sums up many of the reasons why I can’t stand telling people what I do for a living. When I tell people that I work with drama, with theater, that I write, direct, and act; well, that’s enough for many nice people to start looking at me sideways. “Oh, really? Well…that’s interesting…” they say. But when I throw in the little fact that I do all this as part of a church staff, I can watch the big Religious Wacko Cornball Warning Light go off in their head. They’re thinking Biblical costumes, bad writing, directing, acting – bad everything – and they try to control the impulse to either laugh out loud or pity me directly to my face. And why wouldn’t they? Who hasn’t been in a few too many Christmas pageants in their life? As I see their face change, ever so slightly, I’m almost tripping over myself to explain… “no, you see, my church uses drama regularly, you know – real life situations – like something that probably just happened to you, and then it ties into the sermon, and, I mean, it’s all right now, not like Bible stories or anything…REALLY, I’M NORMAL. REALLY!”

See what I mean? Some of you have quit reading already – just at the retelling of my poor explanatory skills. What I mean to say is that life, truth, grace, love – are often best understood in the context of story. That we are stories. That if I can somehow speak to your heart, you will open yourself to more – and what greater gift could I give you?

Ted Swartz and Lee Eshleman would agree. Granted, we often come at it differently. They have no problem with Biblical characters, stories, and costumes. As we have seen, I have a bit of an inherent paranoia about it all. But we agree that art done in the church ought to be every bit as excellent as art done anywhere else, if not more so. That acting, done well, is worth so much to the audience and to the performer that it’s worth pushing through all the misconceptions. That stories, even Bible stories, are the gateway to our souls.

Knowing all of this makes it all the sadder that Lee is gone.

The email I got this morning was not their usual bits of news, tour schedule, etc, but a short, sad statement:

It is with deep sadness that we send this email to you, our friends. If you have not yet heard, Lee Eshleman died on May 17, 2007. Lee took his own life after succumbing to a long battle with depression. We have heard from so many of you already, and are grateful for the prayers you’ve offered up for Lee’s family, Ted, and the rest of the people who loved him dearly. You can find out more at, and you can also post your own messages or memories about Lee in the Guestbook.

I sat at my computer – oh no, no no no… My heart has grieved today.

It’s sad for so many reasons. Lee was a great writer, a gifted actor, a genuinely funny person. The characters he played were open-hearted, full of warmth, Gracie to Ted’s George. He had a great smile, a lifelong writing and acting partner, a wife and three kids, a church he loved. People all over the country have been touched by his work – both in live performances and by others performing his scripts. And somehow, in spite of it all, he lost to a depression that he could not overcome.

I emailed them once, just hitting the “contact” link on their site, and Lee was the one who answered. We ended up going back and forth a little, having a conversation of sorts, and I felt that somehow, I had met a friend – you know, in that crazy internet sort of way, when someone writes you back and says what you were trying to say in exactly the way you wish you could have said it.

And that’s the feeling I kept having this spring, when we decided to use scenes from the play about Peter and Andrew, “Fish-Eyes,” on Sunday mornings this spring. Yes, their stuff, their Bible story stuff, is that good – good enough that we would do the very thing we have avoided for so long. Each time we came back to those brothers, each time we heard a story that we’ve heard a million times before – it was new, and it felt like real people, like you just know that’s how those guys were, not these flat feltboard cutouts we learned about in Sunday school. And oh yeah, now that’s the way I wish I could have written it.

My husband played Andrew, Lee’s part in the show. Just weeks ago I directed him and another dear friend in the final scene of the play, in which Andrew has the final line. Today, reading this tribute to Lee, I came across those lines again. It all feels so very close, the losing of this faraway friend.

Written by Sarabeth :: the dramatic

May 22, 2007 at 10:30 pm

Posted in acting, art, church, loss, writing