LGBT and the Christian Story (Part 2) – Might drama make for a better evangelical story?

A few weeks ago I penned a piece that began with Peter Oulds assertion that ‘Evangelicals need a better story’  in regard to how situations of LGBT are dealt with, and the piece ended with my own story of growing up evangelical, and the predominant silence on the issue, a silence which meant that as a young person I had no way of assessing the few perspectives floating around that were predominately negative, and where the churches were represented as being guilty of committing spiritual abuse against individuals. If you want to read that piece it is here: ‘On LGBT and growing up Evangelical- the Silence’

This is the follow up, and tries to respond to Peters original question. One key motivation for me in regard to this piece, is that I was in conversation with a young person recently, and in asking them about ‘difficult issues that they face’ they said ‘well i have my spiritual beliefs over here, and my personal ones here, I go the Pride march locally as I want to support it and am for it, but its as if i have to hide being a christian, or keep my spiritual beliefs separate’. I paraphrase a little. But isnt it a shame that this was how a young person in a local church, growing up evangelical, dealt with what they saw were a divergence of beliefs and values? A better story for them would bring coherence. And i realise coherence isnt everything. But it might help young people growing up evangelical today. Amongst other things.

So, If there needs to be a better Evangelical story ;  Might that story need to be a bigger one? If the only evangelical story in town is to denigrate those who stand with pride marches as having a cartoon faith, and creating an either/or argument, then Peter is desperately right. The tone of the debate continues to sound nasty, and it is evangelicals playing the doom drums.

Where the conversations have been about Vicky Beechings book ‘Undivided’ which is getting alot of positive and dismissive comments.

But if I am brutally honest, when the battle lines are drawn in this debate both lived experience and good humanity become sidelined to bit part players in the great theological conversation. The lived experience, personal ministry and horrific experiences of oppression in the church do have to be wrestled with, are valid, dont mishear me.

If the lines are drawn as ‘lived experience’ vs ‘what the bible says’ then the rut might be stuck in for a while. The tools in what seems a battle have barely move on since i was a teenager. To be evangelical is to still believe in the Bible, yet no evangelical believes in the whole bible anyway, all is culturally appropriated. Thats still not, quite the point.

Yes it has taken 1000 words of preamble, and so this might be the first of a number of posts, but in terms of a framework for using the Bible, and also exploring inclusion, acceptance and participation in the faith – does a Theodrammatic framework help?

Of course, in thinking like this, we have to ask whether we want to find a way that accepting a theological premise that offers acceptance and inclusion with the LGBT community is what we want – if this isnt what is wanted, then no premise will have any affect anyway – because the heels are already dug in and no fancy 2000 word blog is going to change that. But if you humour me a little, and want to work with me to think about a better evangelical story, then read on…

How the Bible is used – is a question that doesnt as often get asked as ‘what does the Bible say’ , neither ‘what is the role of the Bible’ in this or any debate- and this may well be where thinking about Theodrama might also be helpful, in not just providing us with a better story, but also a way of understanding how the bible is to be used.

And one key aspect at stake is the use of the Bible, which, according to the critical piece above is phrased as having no need for interpretation, for only a literal one will do. How the text of the Bible is used is undoubtedly an issue. An issue that isnt picked up on by Ian Paul in this piece, but he does helpful highlight the potential factionary nature of the debates.

but moving on…

Can there be an evangelical story that is the different one that Peter Ould is trying to find?

I am wanting to believe there is.

I wonder whether the limitations described by Peter in his piece on ‘The Christian story’ are also related to the notion that ‘Story’ itself has limitations as a descriptor, its something I have talked about before here in this piece: ‘Does a 3 way Drama help?’ and I suggested that the limited nature of story is that it restricts the participative nature of God in the current story of humanity. It can feel as though what is described is as if the separate story of man and God only connects at certain points. And I am not sure thats Biblically or theologically accurate.

I wonder whether Theodrama helps to create a better story? Where it is not Story, but Drama that is the descriptor, and metaphor that is used to describe the Christian narrative, mission, expectation and purpose.

There will be references to Theodrama at the bottom of this piece, if you want to read further, but for the content of this piece I will try and keep things as fairly simple as possible. Thats if you’re not lost already, please try and bear with me on this.

In thinking about Drama, Balthasars original descriptions evoked Shakespeare (all the worlds a stage) and also Greek Philosophy, in which theatrical language was used to describe the human condition and place in the world. What Balthasar did with it, in 5 volumes was to suggest that the field of Theatre was both underused and devalued by the church, and that it had much to offer that had been sidelined. In particular Balthasar focussed on the nature of the relationships that occur between the script, the author, the playwright, the director, the audience and also the actors on the stage. Principally describing that the actor has both the freedom to perform on the stage, with knowledge of previous performances, the written script, (thats been tailored from the original piece of literature), their relationship with the author, relationship with the director – and also that their performance is being realised on a stage in front of the audience. I think we can get this in terms of a metaphor for the Christian life, in which the human responds in freedom to the author, director, audience, fellow performers and tries to act in a way that brings the audience closer in awareness to the script. (Wells 2004, p49, and Von Balthasar, Theodrammatic 1, The Prolegamma). Shannon Craigo Snell (amongst others) have alligned the various aspects of a theatrical performance to that of the Christian drama, with, the world being the stage, God the director/producer, and performer, and humans/christians as also actors on the worlds stage.

As with this analogy, different methods of theatre in your mind make give this metaphor variety. If you have improvised or interactive theatre, then audience participation and improvisation is high (as is the skill of the actor to incorporate massive disruption and divergence), the more bourgeoisie theatre with clearer boundaries (except when the audience is involved in a panto scene) permeates a different image of what performance is expected. Boals descriptions of Theatre for the Oppressed are helpful here, and I have not done theatre studies. But there’s a glimpse here on how Theatre has possibilities for a metaphor, especially as interactive and improvised theatre suggests that drama as Wells suggests celebrates and embraces an open and social future in a time to be explored. Theology in the Drama engages with time in its openness. (Wells 2004, p50)

A number of people have written further, using the metaphor of theatre as a way of bringing together free will, the creator/creature relationship, the answerability of Man to God, (Balthasar), the church (Nicholas Healy, Craigo-Snell, Wesley Vander Lugt), Trinity (Balthasar/Vanhoozer) calling and salvation (Vanhoozer, Balthasar), Ethics (Samuel Wells) and maybe as importantly for the discussion about the christian story, The bible itself (Craigo-snell, Balthasar, Vanhoozer, Wells, Vander Lugt, Trevor Hart)

Imagine for a moment that the Drama is the descriptor for the Biblical narrative and not story. And so, in that dramatic imagination, think about the historic and present timeline of the Biblical action, whilst there is a bit of a small dispute (and its not worth a discussion) on how many acts there are to play in the drama, for me its easier to think of the framework as five acts of God, four that have happened, and one that is in the future. These being

  1. Creation,
  2. Covenant,
  3. Christ,
  4. Church, and
  5. The Consummation

Hopefully, this still feels evangelical. The Bible contains reference to all of these in the canonical text, and what this time line also does, as Samuel Wells describes, is that it put us is in our place  – being in act 4 of 5 – and thinking about this is below. God is at work in all 5 of the ‘acts’, they are the acts of God that permeate through the Biblical text and these key moments. Though in this description Wells described adequately the chronology of the Biblical narrative, it is laking reference to the Biblical themes, and an alternative is suggested by Vander Lugt who presents it as:

  1. Formation (creation)
  2. Deformation (Fall)
  3. Transformation emerged (Isreal)
  4. Transformation Embodied (Jesus)
  5. Transformation Empowered (church)
  6. Re-formation (new creation)

This carries with it something of the impetus of our current situation. For, as people in the ‘church’ act of the drama, our prime role is of having been empowered to witness, empowered to sustain the faith, empowered in christlikeness and empowered to cultivate and make disciples. And transformation is expansive enough to include other salvific acts such as reconciliation, ransom, adoption, victory, liberation and justification..

This post is not about a theological understanding of LGBT per se, It is meant to be a way of re thinking the Christian story, to drama, and Gods Drama (Theodrama) that might ensure that the Evangelical Christian story, does itself have a better and i hazard a though, more accurate story.

So, for the remainder of this already length piece Ill focus on the question – If there is such a thing as a 5 part Theodrama – what part in this metaphorical drama does the Bible play? And as a result, what is the Bible for, especially given that literal uses of texts (albeit subjectively used) are often weaponised in an LGBT theology-off.

Within the Theodrama, it might be that the Bible is easily determined as the script. But not so fast. For the script of the Bible rarely corresponds to current events, neither do the current actors regimentally act it out. Indeed, the whole theatrical methaphor might itself be under threat in the questioning of whether the Bible is a script or not (Vander Lugt, 2014, 92-93) Although there are many compelling reasons for suggesting the bible as the script, Vander Lugt suggests that it is better to think of the Bible as  a Transcript and a Pre-script. Vanhoozer himself deviated from his original thinking on the bible as a script between Drama of Doctrine (2005), and Faith Speaking Understanding (2014).

With the Bible as a transcript, Vander Lugt paints a picture of God (the playwright) who has a comprehensive view of the whole drama, but guides certain writers in transcribing a long series of improvised performances in interaction with his own performance. Not all is recorded, only those which are events, interactions and notes that contribute to a cohesive story (the OT), and this theme continues by the disciples who improvise with earlier performances and then interact with God playing a lead role (Jesus), and then following this the playwright includes letter from assistant directors ( peter, john, Paul)  to their companies who provide creative ways of performing  in various situations guided by the producer (Holy Spirit), and all these become adapted for future performances, and some even include how the play will end – so actors are required to reincorporate by memory what is transcribed while pre-incorporating with hope and imagination elements from the ending. (A slight rephrasing of Vander Lugt, 2014, p94)

Actors therefore have freedom to improvise within the structure provided by the playwright, protagonist and producer, with God also involved in the ongoing, immediate and present – as he is and was always (it was only written down afterwards) . Scripture may not be a script, but a transcript of what was that serves as a pre script for ongoing fitting and appropriate performances in the future.

I cannot continue this piece any further. It will get longer than the Bible itself.

What I hope that thinking of the Christian story as Theodrama does is bring expansiveness of thought to the concept of the biblical narrative, using theatrical language that has this potential, and uses terms that many people who are adept at film/theatre or music fields can understand. It might be accused of over complicating what for decades evangelicals have harped on about making faith simple. The christian religion as Max Harris describes is a religion of the stage, and not just a religion of the book (Harris, Theatre and imagination) . This is not the place to discuss what it might mean to ‘perform’ the text in an improvised way, and neither is it the place to think about passages that are used in the heat of the LGBT text warfare.

In conclusion, The Bible is a central aspect of Gods own performances by which he reveals to us the theodrama and invites us to be participants in it. The Spirit speaks to, and with ongoing performers who respond to the directions and who are capable of fitting performances. Scripture records particular performances that taken individually and collectively provide a trustworthy transcripts of the theodrama and prescripts for continued participation in the theodrama today. Simple… ?  So what does this mean for the christian story? Its a drama where transformation is the impetus and we are improvisers empowered to perform it, in the everyday of now and tomorrow.

Conceived as a drama that requires participation, Theodrama is a drama that has a transcript written and has elements, themes and examples that form a prescript for todays performances- which are to be improvised in the current context, with the actors freedom, creativity and ongoing responsiveness to, as Vanhoozer describes, the Holy Author in the midst. What does this mean for inclusion, for participation in the drama- well its then a matter of who God speaks to and calls, who is directed and prompted, its a drama of participation in the mission and kingdom that requires Christlikeness and childlike responsiveness to obedience to that call. Is gender important? or transgender important – maybe thats for part 3…

Its Theodrama – with God still speaking and acting in the very present – its more that an old old story – but a present that has ongoing participation, responsiveness, action and transformation as its directives. Its a drama yet to be performed. How do we play the next scene? Is it love that compels or judgement?

To many young people- including the friend of mine – drama might bring coherancy, and expansion, to christian beliefs that remain evangelical, in its overall framework, provide insight into how we are participating in Gods drama that is in need of attentive and fitting performances that take into account the script beforehand, as well as the current context, trinity and the theodrama itself, the drama of Gods covenantal love for the world.



Augusto Boal, Theatre of the Oppressed, 3rd edition 2005

Kevin Vanhoozer, Drama of Doctrine 2005, Remythologing Theology 2010, Faith Speaking Understanding 2014

Shannon Craigo-Snell Command performance, rethinking performance interpretation in the context of divine discourse, modern theology, (16/4, 2000) pp 475-94

Samuel Wells, Improvisation, 2004

Wesley Vander Lugt, Living Theodrama, 2014

Hans urs von Baltasar, Theodrammatique 1-5, 1980


Is our concept of participation, in youth ministry, too small?

Why is it that young people are often involved in committees at schools, as young as primary school, given responsibility in ‘anti-bullying’ campaigns, tasked with being peer mentors, and encouraged to have their view on school councils within school – and yet in churches they’re often just given a picture to colour in and an activity to do? 

Thats a statement I say alot. And it is not completely true of course. Sometimes children and young people do have some responsibility in a local church. But it must be dis-orientating for them, and or the rest of us, that they are respected and given space to have participation in one space, and then a group of adults in their social gathering ( who aim to be even more righteous/holy) close the spaces down. It must feel weird. Thats just the introduction, and if you havent thrown your device against the wall so far, then great, the rest of this piece asks whether our view of participation in youth ministry is too small – or at least- there is a view of participation that encompasses something mysteriously large to fathom, that has been chosen to ignore.

The situation above one of the key moment in youth ministry where we might have a conversation about the role young people have in the faith community, I have written extensively on this before, (just search ‘participation’ in the categories) and the common framework for this theoretically is Harts Ladders of youth participation, (again not to be repeated here – see other posts), in which the sliding scale from token participation (or non participation)  to ‘young people decide, adults follow’ is at point 9. But this is classic and basic to the practice of youth work, and so these other posts might be worth your time (theyre in the references below). Its when only token participation is repeated and young people find meaning they can participate in elsewhere, that they leave any form of non-participatory faith group/event for something more meaningful elsewhere.

But I wonder – is our view of participation too small?

For, its one thing thinking about the way in which a young person ‘participates in’ the culture, structures and process of an organisation, to the point in which they are influencers, creators and contributors (in no particular order)- but is this enough?

Andrew Root puts the nail on the head when writes this, in faith formation in a secular age (2017): 

‘we seek strategies and practices that plug the drain in the sink, hoping that there are pragmatic actions we can use to keep young people from subtracting church participation from their lives’ (Root, 2017, p98-99)

In short, the dilemna faced in the church is to prevent the leakage by keeping young people involved, helping young people not subtract church, leaving it. For the church is that these strategies enable us to experience less loss. Yet in reality, the issue is not, as Root says, that people have a God-gap that needs filling. Participation has become the plug, the ultimate aim of all the faith forming programmes and activities – get them in, belonging and so they can be involvedParticipation becomes the end game of a strategy, (if it exists). But as Root discusses, what does this say about Faith – and for us, here, has this made participation too small? 

There used to be a book (its still around) titled is your God too small? – I wonder if this is the same with the use of and concept of participation.

From the very beginning, the human person was a participant in the actions of God. Tasked with naming the animal and tending to the land, creation pictures involvement in the divine action and a need that God had, or at least space within the action of God for human to be involved. This continues throughout – from conversations between Abraham and God, then Moses, David, Ruth, Mary (spoken to by an Angel no less), and then the ongoing participative requirements that Jesus gave the disciples. It would not be an exaggeration to suggest that the drama of the Biblical narrative is about the ongoing participation of humans in it, to the point in which they may be involved in as a fourth person in the trinity. But these thoughts are not new.

Both Pete Ward, and Danny Brierley pick them up in their work, Youthwork and the Gospel (1997), and participation in ;Joined up, (2003). An attempt to understand participation theologically is not new, but it might be worth reflecting on further if it is new for you reading this. What might be new is to think of faith as participation, and develop what this means for young people. (and us all)

A way of thinking about the ongoing narrative of the Christian story, is that of a drama, and as continual ongoing performances within the closing act (4) of a five act play that has the prophecies of revelation as the fifth act to be played out. Again I have written on this before, and the resources for this are in the ‘Theodrama’ category, but unlike story which only has tellers, drama has participative performers – who in word and deed perform interpretation and improvisations of the gospel in the every day, doing so along with God who participates in the ongoing act. Drama ‘just’ adds a encompassing level to the ongoing need to be involved and participating.

Roots view of Faith, is taken from emphasising Paul who emphasises not subtraction, but deduction of a personal nature to participate ‘in Christ’ – Faith is an act of deduction, of giving up. It is not just about participating ‘in’ the activities of a local church, (as these culturally have been negated, (p134-140) , faith is about being a participant in the ongoing story of God (Root, p145).

Participation then, is something far far bigger that institutional involvement.

Faith, true faith, for young people is not sufficient if it is about an add on to their lives (back to MTD)  It is that they become deducted of their own life, giving up, to become performers and participants in the actions of God in the whole world. 

In a way, this is no different to what Pete Ward was saying in 1997.

But what we’ve tended to focus on is how to keep young people in church through participating activities – and not think for a moment what faith is about, and how this has a larger view of being a participant in Gods ongoing actions.

So – what might all this mean? – If young people are given the keys to unlock the stage, and realise their role and ongoing performers, what might this look like for being faithful in those actions. For Root, this about helping people be ministers and be ministered to. And this then includes, for us, about how we might help young people be ministers in the kingdom, how we might help them ‘reduce’ their reliance on the stuff of daily life (and fasting/monasticism/meaningful faith is becoming more popular), giving up prophetically in a world of stocktaking and increasing – and ministering to others – all activities planned or spontaneous being prompted to by God in the midst. Faith formation and participation is about recognising the voice of God in the midst, who has the ongoing speaking part, and acts alongside. We participate in, as God participates in us.

Young peoples acts of social justice are not an aside to faith – they are faith. 

Young peoples response to God in their context might mean risk taking and be dangerous and prophetic – and who knows what it might look like. 

What would it be like to give this away – to help young people see themselves as meaningful performers in Gods drama, and that their participation in the world (and the church in the world) is the task of faithful meaningful performances of the gospel?

Its not enough that God loves young people, but that God might also think them worthy of participative parts in his play- and for many young people, they might not have had the opportunities in school to be ‘special’ or involved. Our task is as acting coaches to help young people find their parts, to find their location in the drama, and to recognise the voice of God prompting in the midst. Faith is about participation, and Gods drama is mysterious and massive, and young people, all of us, are invited into it as participants.

If our view of God is too small, then the stage needs to be expanded,

If our view of participation is too small, then young peoples faith suffers as a result.

Theres an expansion of Godly participation required in Youth Ministry.



For all my other posts on participation click here  if you’re interested in Theodrama click the category above.

Root, Andrew, 2017 Faith Formation in a Secular Age

Shepherd, Nick, 2016, Faith Generation

Ward, Pete, 1997 Youthwork and the Mission of God

Brierley Danny, 2003 Joined up; Youth work and Ministry

Vanhoozer Kevin, 2005, The Drama of Doctrine, 2010 Remythologising theology, 2014, Faith Speaking Understanding.


I still might not have found what im looking for, but finding might be in the searching

Bear with me (non U2 fans) , but now im post 40, i can quote U2 lyrics…

I believe in the Kingdom Come
Then all the colours will bleed into one
Bleed into one.
But yes, I’m still running.

You broke the bonds
And you loosed the chains
Carried the cross of my shame
Oh my shame, you know I believe it.

But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for.

“The process for faiths search for understanding- seeing, hearing, engaging and reflecting upon,’ what we have seen and heard’ through reading is itself a matter of high drama’ (Vanhoozer, 2005, p19)

This one of three aspects of thinking of Theology as a Drama, is explained by Kevin Vanhoozer, in effect he is saying  that there is drama in the search for faith – in the search for God and understanding. On one hand it is the least of the three aspects of theology as a drama that i focus on in most of my previous writings on Theodrama. But in reality- it might be one of the more profound. God is in the search. Less the destination. Finding is in the searching. Trying to find something, but not know if we found it is something we’ve all experienced. Participating in the search might be enough.

Often we are told in Christian culture that – ‘when we seek we find’  and this is a paraphrase from Jesus own words in Matthew 7- ‘keep on asking and you will receive what you will ask for, keep on seeking and you will find’  Note however that this is about a continual searching, a continual looking. Its almost as this is about our very nature to be seekers, searchers and curious (something implied in the creation of nations in Acts 17; 27) . We find in the process of being those who are curious, being those who participate in the searching. Not what we might find. God is less in the answer of the prayer, than the prayer itself. Yet the temptation is to think that God is in the destination of what is found, rather than in the finding.

Participating in God’s overall drama – The Theodrama – is about the ongoing search – the ongoing curiosity – and because it is a drama – and not the predictability of the maths that underpinned much of early philosophy- or the predictability of science and rationality – the search is a drama in itself.   Is Aslan good? – yes – but he isnt tame – said Lucy. Predicting the prowling Aslan, is only possible because of the signs, the winter starts to melt away. The Drama takes a new twist when Aslan is on the move.

The ongoing search is a drama in itself. It is fraught with danger and distraction all the time, we may have access (because of the cross) but it is still a drama to attune to God, still a drama to participate in the search after God – still a drama because God herself might not be as predictable or predicted. To search after God, to seek, may just be to participate in the drama, Gods drama itself, what we find might not be what were looking for. Some are still not finding what they look for.

Because, finding is in the searching.

Will the good man find the lost sheep – when he leaves the 99? who knows.

Will the woman find the coin, even when the others are in the tin? it might have been stolen.

These are metaphors Jesus uses for the Kingdom of God – maybe the kingdom is found in the searching itself. Not the finding. That trauma of having lost something and knowing it.

So, whilst the overall Drama of Gods redemption is taking place towards the fifth and final act of the ‘Return of the King’ – in this in between time of the emergence of the church since the ascension – we are left to search for God in the midst, and respond to prompts, signs and symbols, a search that is dramatic in itself.

Even if we ‘know’ the truth – it still has to be found, and re-found and re-lived again and again. It is an ongoing drama, an ongoing search, of shaping character and gaining knowledge, and faith barely exists outside knowledge. There is struggle and drama in the reading – how many distractions are there instead of reading the bible – or even tempting – just to hear our own voice in the scripture – and its specific or worldwide context or interpretation. Drama is a collective search – it is mysterious and artistic – and it is performative – it is in what we do – acting with God in the search for God.

Thanks to Richard Passmore, for his post here: and those on the subsequent facebook discussion, for helping to stimulate some of these thoughts.

References, On Theodrama

Vanhoozer, K , 2005, The drama of Doctrine, p19 

(and if you’re new to ‘Theodrama’, there are many others in the links on the tab to the right)

Learning to improvise within Christian Youth work & Ministry.

One of the Key stereotypes of a youth worker is their underpreparedness. Turning up late for meetings, with no notes. Planning the youth group on the way there in the car, so that no one knows whats going on.  In the following video, there are a number of youth worker stereotypes, the ‘tardy’ youth worker is often the one that most people relate to.

On a good day the youthworker might be able to ‘get away with it’ and there are those who view this kind of approach as one that involves ‘where the Spirit leads’ – however, you dont need me to say quite how many issues there are with this. Yet, the stereotype exists because its still common. What an under-prepared youthworker might say is that they are improvising within their practice. I completely disagree. It is not improvisation to hope something happens just because you turn up into the space. Thats almost just lazy. Under-preparedness might lead to a form of spontaneity, but it does improvisation a disservice.

In thinking about Improvising in youth work & ministry, and its something I have written on before,

this post explores the churchs future as one that requires it: ,

and the following post talked about making the transition from scripted and programmed to improvised youthwork , and how this occurred for me in a personal way.

What I havent explored further is the notion of what improvisation is, what it isnt, and how this is helpful in developing work with young people. especially as it is something that it might be worth taking a short detour into the world of theatre, for this is obviously where Improvisation comes from. The following I am going to look at improvisation and what it reveals to think of it theatrically,theologically and sociologically, hopefully it will be of insight to you in youth ministry and working with young people. Some of this is from my dissertation which explored this theme in more detail, at least it looked at Performance as a metaphor for Youth Ministry.

Theatrical Improvisation

Theatrical improvisation recognises that maintained within every live performance, the actor is completely free in how they perform. For, despite knowledge of the script, directing by the actor and awareness of their cues of others- they can put the entire performance, from Shakespeare to Mamma Mia! in jeopardy should they in full freedom ignore all of these, make a rude gesture and storm off. Or if they do not make the proper preparations. And this is in a relatively tight performance – the actor will have cues from other actors, music cues, stage and lighting ones. They would need to be obedient to the director, and also raise their performance to accomodate the live audience.  Even with all of these, they are still free. Free that is within a relationship between themselves, the script and the director. One that they to maintain a performance adhere within, normally.

Jerzy Grotowski, amongst others, re-develops the notion of a poor theatre, not unlike the original interactive and community theatres. Saying that in a stripped back existance, theatre is just about an encounter between persons. He makes the claim that putting actors onto a stage with a scenario they have created, then their performance will be as good¹.  What Grotowski argues for is the development of skills for the actor so that they are able to improvise within this kind of open space of the stage. He uses the picture of the sculpture and the block of stone, saying that the rock already contains which is needed, it just need to be shaped. Rather than the artist and the empty easel. What improvisation is about is the revelation of the person within the situation. The real self. The actor in this type of ‘poor’ theatre who undergoes the processes of self discipline, sacrifice presentation and moulding throughout the improvisation process, and not afraid to take risks, attains a kind of moral authority and inner harmony and peace of mind, as opposed to the ‘rich’ theatre actor who maintains working through pretence.

For Augusto Boal “Improvisation is life” ², and though he does not reference Grotowski, he describes the interactive theatre as a space for the oppressed to protest, provoke and picture a new way of being. And suggests that there are series of games that can be played to enhance the skills of the actors as they improvise. He also recognises that interactive theatre breaks down the walls between stage and audience, all are potential performers, restricted only by personal choice, not social convention. (2008 edition , p111)

To improvise on the stage, there must still be a story, however it is created. Some kind of source material. And the persons involved must have some knowledge of it. The Audience may participate when they understand enough to also participate. If they have no idea of how to contribute, they remain passive. Often this is the young people bewildered by not knowing what is going on.

Theological Improvisation

As you might know (if youve been a follower of this blog for a while) the links between Theatre and Theology have become common, and a number of references to this are below. Both Samuel Wells, Wesley Van der Lugt and Kevin Vanhoozer make references to Improvisation in regard to the ongoing performance of Theology in the everyday. For Wells, Improvisation means to be on a continual process of accepting or rejecting the offers that are made by others within each interaction. For Vanhoozer, improvisation is what the church needs to do to be faithfully different and respond in each context. On an individual basis, to improvise is to use the cues and prompts in each context and faithfully act performances that are fitting to the context and the overall story of the Theodrama – that is the narrative of the Bible in 5 dramatic acts. These cues, include the  knowledge of God, the theodrama itself, the trinity, mission and ecclesiology – as well as the in the moment speaking and prompting of God – all given to the Human person in complete freedom to be obedient to the many cues. But what is also required is knowledge of the context, creation of a suitable stage/place in which audience participation is likely because trust is given.

Sociological Improvisation

Erving Goffman³, in thinking about persons in their interactions as akin to Theatre suggested that in the presentation of ones self in situations that ‘persons act better than they know how’ – that people because they have complexity have the capacity to act into a situation even if they have no knowledge of being in the same situation. Improvisation is possible, and needed. What is interesting about all of this, is that in 1967, youthworkers were saying something similar. For what George Goetchius and Joan Tash discovered is that they had to develop strategies of working with young people from the point of interaction, they improvised youthwork within the conversation. And so, this brings again to the fore the skill of the youthworker, to be aware of possibilities, questions, space and for the environment to be created in which, in interactions improvisation occurs.Image result for improvisation

No doubt it necessitates great skill to be able to improvise in the moment – but this is possible if in the space there is capacity for genuine conversations. Wesley Van der Lugt uses the term ‘Disponibility’, it means to be formed at the same time as performance, its not too dissimilar to ‘experiential learning’, and be attentive and ready in each moment to receive new information to make an action. It is a call to be ‘fresh’ in every situation. But it means that in the moment of improvisational acting that learning is occurring through the process. We might in youthwork say that we are disponible in the moments of interactions as we learn ‘in action’ reflection and act accordingly, but beyond this, in faith we might also act guided by a faith story that might be constructive, provocative and challenging as it suggest not just reactionary responses but ones that challenge societal status quo and other stories, and help young people become participants in a whole other drama, one of the way and movement of Jesus.

In the example above, in the clip, it all looks hurried as the teaching style is one of formality, one unrecognisable to the maybe more conversational/open style of many youth clubs, in that situation being unprepared is shown at its worst. Though an open session still needs preparation, maybe theres a theme, or opinions to be sought, maybe there’s something put in the environment to draw attention, a picture, notice or artwork. Items in the scene can affect the performance, as they act as stimulus for the improvisation, might as well make the most of them.

So, improvising in youth work and ministry – its distinctly better than under preparedness. It involves being formed to hone in on the cues and being obedient in the midst of the interaction, to ask questions, take risks and explore with young people in the space. Being courageous to go to a new place where they might lead in conversation to where neither have been before. The young people become the key actors in the scene we may have created, and we take a step back to watch and learn, listen and guide them to be attentive to the same cues.

There may be some offers we reject, some we accept, it depends on what kind of performance each session of improvised youth work might take. We need to be skilled and prepared to improvise, being led by young people, directed by the Spirit and the Story and free to be obedient to the voices of God prompting in the midst.

Instead of under-preparedness, an improvising youth worker might need the following ‘skills’ in the toolkit for performing youth work in this way.

  1. Creating the right kind of space – think like jazz- a space where young people can ‘riff’ themselves in conversations, and where interjections by us are acceptable
  2. Having a bank of questions, and tools for conversations, that allow for tangents and flow
  3. Being able to pick up cues, being discerning, and aware than there are competing motives.
  4. Have thought ahead to creating possibilities that questions often ask of young people – so if we ask ‘if 4 of you were in a group to do something to change the local area’  its worth thinking ahead with a ‘bank’ of resources that might help the process, or space for young people to lead it,  resources that may or may not be needed. Its like having a full picnic of goodies, but not necessarily needing them all.
  5. It is building the discernment to be able to accommodate offers of young peoples interruptions into the overall ‘play’ (of Gods redemption and reconciliation- not just ‘this youth group’) – and having the skill to be accommodating and use it as a marker along the way. This takes skill. Not every interruption by a young person is meant to be disruptive, often its a misguided cue of someone who might want to join in the action. Think audience to actor.
  6. Trust in conversation – but as informal educators we should know this already – believe that young people are shapes fully created that need moulding, not empty vessels to be filled.
  7. Go to each conversation fresh with possibility, each moment with a young person has meaning, and life.

As Vander Lugt affirms, Improvisation is a culture making endeavour, culture making is an ongoing process of implicit and explicit actions, of crafting and enacting a script for the drama of existence, it is what we all participate in in daily life. We create culture with the space of youth work, in every interaction, session and moment, and this requires us to be disponible, and ready to improvise.


¹Grotowski, Jerzy, Towards a poor Theatre, 1968

²Boal, Augusto, Theatre of the Oppressed, 1974

³Goffman, Erving, The presentation of the self in everyday life, 1970

George Goetchius, Joan Tash ; Working with the unnttached youth; 1967.

Wesley Van der Lugt – Living Theodrama, 2014,

Kevin Vanhoozer, Drama of Doctrine, 2005

Samuel Wells Improvisation , 2004

8 Reasons for youthworkers to watch La La Land

This blog will inevitably contain spoilers! You have been warned, so if you are heading to go and see La La Land, look away now. However, if you want to know why you should go and see it, and dont mind hearing a little about what its about then read on.

This week, as a bit of a celebration for getting a part of my dissertation completed I went out on a 2 for 1 deal at the local cinema to watch the multi oscar nominated La La Land. Outside of a High school musical (3) it was the only the second musical I have seen at the cinema, having been to see Evita in 1996/7… (hmm) Anyway, La La Land it was, and it served up a distraction of colour, vibrancy and music compared to the events in the world right now. But here are 8 reasons why youth workers should go and see this film.

  1.  Because evLa La Land (2016) Posterery now and then go and see something that might be different, a change from the normal might provoke something, an emotion, a reflection – Musicals probably wouldn’t have been my thing up until recently, then probably undergoing many many repeats of High School musical and Disney films with my daughter, then the films with music like School of Rock, Rock of Ages, Les Mis, and the magnificent Sing Street (sadly overlooked at the Oscars) , musical films have become family favourites, and personally something uplifting, poetic and yes emotional. That’s not a bad thing. Doing something a bit different is good for us. Shakes us up a bit.
  2. La La Land isnt meant to have Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers as lead roles, but two ‘ordinary actors’ uplifting themselves to these parts, as if ‘normal’ people being enveloped by song, and dance, they arent meant to be perfect in every routine, and this is refreshing its a reminder to us in the roles that we have with young people. They take what they have and work and practice and develop their skills and gifts.
  3. La La Land required months of rehearsals, but theres a number of ‘one take’ scenes. Youthwork is like this, in the present moment there might be only one opportunity to ask the right question, do the creative thing, in effect perform, but that ongoing reflections and rehearsals are important for the active live moments.
  4. At the heart of La La Land is a story about Jazz, about improvisation and so its only appropriate that there were some long ‘takes’ which had the freedom of the actors acting with the music and the scene. Improvisation is part of being a youthworker, it is part of theology, as Benson says: ‘in the beginning, there was improvisation’, we need to reflect on reacting and hearing the music from the context we are in, on responding to the cue of God in the midst, of improvising from being prepared. To offer into the space our piece, and to receive from others. (Wells, S, 2005)
  5. ‘The reason you can’t be a radical, is that you’re too much of a traditionalist’ was a line from one musician to another in the film.  When it comes to enabling young people to be radical and take risks – how radical are we going to let them? What traditions of our own practice, heritage, faith, culture might cause us not to take radical steps in youth work ?   Do we hold on the beautiful things and miss the heartbeat of a new walk, a new tone, a new colour.
  6. It was a story about creating music, about creating theatre, about performing and sharing creativity and not always worrying about who will see it, but doing it because it is a vocation, our youth work practice is an art, unpredictable creativity a performance of our vocation. How might we help young people develop their creativity or have space to play their 8 bars in the jazz performances of youth groups.
  7. It had all the hall marks of an old film, the dance numbers, the technicolour, the music – the story in itself was not revolutionary or modern, but it connected because it was played authentically, the characters weren’t flawless, or perfect, but real. Their relationship wasn’t Hollywood, but had ebbs and flows, their career choices weren’t without disagreement, they had stony silences over the dinner table. It evoked something authentic about real life. Something old wasn’t made relevant, it was made authentic. As youth workers, the faith story we help young people navigate within is to be made authentic through us.
  8. Just watch it, it was good enough without it being all these things as well. Take a night off being stupidly busy, get yourself some decent food and have a night to yourself.

Apologies for the spoilers and for anyone who knows far more about theatre and Jazz than i do, there was much that resonated with me in it, is it deserving of the oscar nominations, hmm not sure about that one, definitely some very good performances in its, and it was a positive, bright distraction – but hey this isnt a movie review blog…


Entrances and Exits

This morning i was listening to the recent podcast by the fine chaps of the church of the wittertainment , hello to jason if thats an in-joke you’re aware of, in the recent podcast one of the presenters had to start the show before the other was in the studio, and so half way through a sentence Mark Kermode sort of interrupted and joined in. Ironically they then recalled an incident when Meryl streep appeared as a voice from a different room, but on the live show (they were expecting her, but delayed by press responsibilities) – she also then appeared randomly half way through a pre directed section.

As I reflected on these situations from a radio/media perspective – the not so drammatic, – but unexpected entrances, it took me to the situations described where Jesus ‘appears’ to the disciples – especially the post-resurrection ones which all have some unexpectedness about them. Yes they were unexpected because Jesus himself wasnt being sought for, but also his entrance itself was somewhat dramatic, revealing himself in his communication;

In John 21: Jesus stands on the beach as the disciples’ boat heads back with the empty nets – was he watching them all night long?

In Luke 24; the disciples are walking an in conversation when Jesus joins them in conversation, then they realise he is revealed in the conversation

Later on in Luke 24 as the disciples are talking about the incident above ; Jesus again appears “suddenly standing there amongst them” (Luke 24:36)

Post-resurrection- this Jesus has an uncanny knack of appearing in the midst of conversations, of entering the space and turning the conversation in a place where he is revealed and discovered.

His entrances communicate his being amongst them, maybe always being with them, but not knowing that he is there, and yet dramatically being revealed.

What might happen today if in our conversations with people they encountered a dramatic entrance of Jesus in the space. What if we respond to the Holy author in our midst?  Might the space of conversation be a place narrated in Godliness? And if this is Jesus chosen method of revealing himself- why not the same now in the conversations we have between friends, spaces created where the empty place might be unexpectedly filled with an appearance of Jesus.

No sooner does Jesus enter – does he exit- leaving the disciples on the beach, and the road, and the room, the exit stage left followed by a bear moment. If Jesus can enter as he pleases- like the Aslan lion that cannot be tamed- then he must also leave, and leave us on our own to perform in the space without him. Note Jesus doesnt intervene, or interrupt, but interjects, waits to be welcomed.

Its as awesome that Jesus would enter unexpectedly, that he also leave us to act without him, trusting us in performing with the Spirit as guide. The divine entrances and exits of God in the ongoing drama of redemption.

Being part of church to change the local world

Ive got to admit, the last two football seasons have been a nightmare in our house. We have 2 1/2 Middlesbrough fans (I’m the 1/2), two seasons of hovering around the play off places all season, or being nearly at the top, every game is important, every game is tense, every game means something, every game support is required and either I or members of my family shout and scream at the radio, or at the ground in the hope that it will make a difference.

In those moments, like the concept of playing the game itself, we lose ourselves and focus on the trials and tribulations of a game, and partner with others, especially at the ground, to encourage, shout or scream. Theres not much like the atmosphere at a football ground when its on the way up, where games mean something, and there is collective hope.

As a contrast, I wonder not whether collective hope has been lost in church, but the individual church’s collective desire to be part of something that changes the world, and give people who participate the same opportunity to be part of that change. If the result of church that supports the individual (or a youth ministry that does the same) is that its only about personal spiritual growth, then its a personal choice to attend, and a personal opinion as to whether this has happened. In a culture where, from schools, even to hospitals, or even the obvious examples of goods and technology can be shaped around personal choice, has the church adopted the clothing of society to stay relevant, or should it act in a different way?

Healy (2001) suggests that Church should be practical and prophetic, acting in the space of the world to speak to it, and act in a practical way to alleviate its pain and suffering. For Vanhoozer the church is to be dramatic in the world being the theatre of the gospel, being good news in Gods hope to be redeeming world. (2005;416)

Without an understanding of the purpose of the church in the context of the ongoing story of God Drama of redemption- what purposes does the church seek to fulfil?  Maybe valid ones for its own organisations sake – but what of the costliness of the cross, and the ongoing acts of the practical and prophetic in the world.

What if, as Samwise says to Frodo in ‘The Two Towers’ – “there is good to be fought for” – but not in the battle kind of way, but that there might be a cause, a purpose and collective hope for practising and performing church. I’ve discussed here (search ‘rehearsal’ above) about the nature of the church, in its actions being akin to a rehearsal, how actions occur on Sundays as foretastes of the nature of the mission it performs, and embeds in behaviours.

Yet what of the mission that it performs, a mission that is both practical and prophetic, that stands over the rhetoric and damage of say government policies (and doesnt just take advantage of them), a cause, an alternative, a belief in peoples humanity, in collective goodness and flourishing- life to and in all its fullness for the whole of society. That might be the dream, but as church this is what we might be fighting for, acting towards and if we do, gathering those who want to believe this too.

The place of being practical and prophetic in the world might just be the call to the church that saves the church, and transforms the world as a result. If church gathered to perform goodness in the world, there would be a collective reason for being part of that change, its a play we all involve ourselves in. Alot of the rest of the stuff of church is just things, some of which will pass away, but love, hope and faith will remain, and all of these will change communities.