In one of my classes this semester, Proclamation in a Virtual Reality with Dr. Joy Moore, we’ve been exploring how a new generation of preachers is to proclaim the Gospel in today’s world. We’ve been reflecting on how technology shapes us and our views of the world, how the biblical story challenges the default stories of our culture, and how we are to proclaim the biblical story to a generation whose imagination has not been shaped by it.
One of our recent assignments was to write a modern day parable. I hope you find it to be challenging and edifying.
There was a playwright and director who was known throughout the nation for his magnificent works. People received them with great fanfare whenever and wherever they were performed. He loved traveling and sharing his works with new people. So one day, this man moved to a new city and put out a casting call to all in the community. He put fliers that included details about the audition in storefront windows downtown, on windshields of cars in store parking lots, and in the hands of everyone he came in to contact with.
Many in the community responded, and amazingly, the director found a role for each of them in the play. This was his normal routine, for as he traveled to different cities he would always adapt his most famous script to fit with the region, their customs and culture, and the number who responded to the casting call. The cast practiced nightly for many months. The first few weeks they all simply read through the script and practiced their parts aloud. The director told them his thoughts and feelings behind the script, how they should say each line, and why he crafted the words as he did. After this, they began staging. The director carefully placed them on stage for each scene and directed their movements. Finally, they did weeks of dress rehearsals until the director was pleased with everything.
At this point, the director began placing fliers all over town and inviting all the new friends he had made to the show. He encouraged his actors to do the same and for weeks they went around telling their friends and families how much fun they had had preparing and rehearsing for the show and how excited they were for them to come see it.
On opening night the show was packed. People had begun waiting in line that morning in order to make sure they got tickets, and the box office sold tickets until they were sure the fire marshal would shut them down. Children sat in their parents’ laps. Young people stood along the walls so that the older people could have seats. And the place was buzzing with excitement. The director came on stage and thanked the community for their hospitality, their support of the arts, and for their attendance. And then the show began.
The actors performed flawlessly and had the audience following their every word and move with undivided attention. Throughout, the audience was laughing, crying, and sitting on the edge of their seats. No play like it had ever been performed in the community. And as the curtain dropped upon the final scene, the crowd gave a five minute standing ovation. Backstage, the director commended the actors for their great work, and they all celebrated their performance together.
Late that evening, a few of the main characters in the play were hanging out at a bar celebrating. They sparked up an old conversation that they had had a few months before during one of the rehearsals.
“Don’t you think the crowd would laugh even harder if in that scene the punch line was about a bull rather than a donkey?” one actor said to another.
“Oh for sure, and don’t you think the crowd would respond better if we changed why Jeremy is killed in the last scene?”
“No question. Let’s do it.”
The next night, at the second, and final, showing of the play in town, there were even more people in attendance. The director had talked with the fire marshal and arranged for more chairs to be brought in, and attendance was hundreds more than it had been the night before. And many returned to see the play again. The director gave his standard introduction and the show began.
The actors performed magnificently and had the audience following their every word and move with undivided attention. Throughout the play, the audience was laughing, crying, and sitting on the edge of their seats. The changes that a few of the actors made to some of the scenes were received even better than the original scenes had been the night before. As the curtain dropped upon the final scene, the crowd gave a standing ovation for over ten minutes. Everyone in the audience who had seen the show the night before exclaimed that the changes the actors made led this show to be better than it had been! And many promised that they would travel to the next show, which was to be the following night in a nearby town.
Backstage, the actors celebrated their performance together. While some had been surprised by the changes during the show, largely they were in agreement that these had made the show even better. The director arrived in the midst of their celebration, but without a smile beaming across his face as it had the night before.
He said to them, “I can’t believe some of you disregarded the script and everything that we had rehearsed in those scenes.”
The room was quiet for a moment, but then one of the actors spoke, “We knew that the people would get a kick out of the donkey bit and that the change in the death scene heightened the story. And the audience loved it!”
The director replied, “The script was not put up for discussion or change. It is my masterpiece that I allowed you to participate in. Everyone who took part in the scheme tonight to change the play needs to agree to not do this in the future, or you need to leave this celebration and not return tomorrow.”
“But didn’t you see the audience’s response? You don’t know the audience as well as we do. We can perform the play without you!”
“That’s right!” some of the actors quickly added.
To these actors, the director responded, “Leave this celebration right now. I wrote the script. I casted you for the parts. I am the director.”
After a number of the actors departed, the director reworked the script to account for the parts of those who had left, he celebrated with the others, and he told them how excited he was for the following night’s show in the nearby town.