Monday, December 29, 2008

Amy’s Advent Commentary #4 – Simeon.

Hey everybody! Happy few days after Christmas!

My church actually didn’t have services on Christmas Eve, leaving me to join up with Tricia and Iain to attend a service in a shall not be named area in the Valley.

The service was less than inspiring in so many ways. It suffers from the malaise plaguing most churches these days, I imagine. Here’s the scripture, here’s the awful drama sketch about the scripture, here’s the carol about the scripture. Moving on to the next section. It was rote, it was standard (when it wasn’t awful, courtesy of the drama sketches. Like, even a children’s pageant of the Christmas story would’ve been fun. This was just badly written modern day vignettes performed by adults. Like, two guys are talking about how one of them just lost their job. Then he gets a call. He got a job! He’s gonna go tell everyone! Just like the shepherds told everyone when the angels told them about the Christ! Yeah, that bad.) It was killing time on what’s supposed to be a night of celebration.

But my church did have services yesterday, though it was 45 degrees in the church (they don’t have the money for central heat or air in such a big space), and sparsely attended.

But the text was on Simeon, never mind the fact that December 25th is over. Once again, this is not new for me, Simeon was one of the monologues I wrote for my Christmas collection last year. I should be giving props that they’re even mentioning Simeon, but I would’ve given them more props had they mentioned Anna the prophetess, who follows Simeon in the second chapter of Luke, and does essentially the same thing – declares that Jesus is the Christ. But nobody mentions Anna in the Christmas story, do they. Nope nope nope.

For those of us who stop reading the Christmas story once Jesus has been born, Simeon’s story is found in Luke 2: 21-35. Basically, Simeon’s been told by the Holy Spirit that he’s not gonna die until he sees the Christ. “Moved by the Spirit” he goes to the temple just as Mary and Joseph are presenting Jesus to the Lord (I THOUGHT that was code for circumcision. It's not, that happens at 8 days old. At 40days old, he's presented and dedicated. "Here's my boy! He's all yours!") He takes baby Jesus in his arms and praises God for being faithful, this is the Christ, now “dismiss your servant in peace.” And then tells Mary to essentially buckle up, your kid’s gonna cause waves, and it’s gonna hurt.

I actually dug Simeon more than I thought I would. I wrote him as a cranky person (maybe THAT’S why I related) who was old, exhausted by life and tired of people continually coming up to him, asking if they’re the Christ, is this great warrior the Christ, is this King the Christ, and Simeon has to say no, no, no.

Because you have to figure that people knew Simeon wouldn’t die until he saw the Christ. Luke knew it. Mary and Joseph marveled at it, instead of dismissing it as the rant of a crazy temple dweller. The word had gotten out about Simeon.

The people of Israel were expecting a king or a warrior to deliver them, not a baby. So who’s to say they weren’t continually shuffling people before Simeon to see if their guy was possibly the Christ?

So in the monologue, Simeon is talking about how tired he is, how cranky is he that the Holy Spirit gave him this revelation, but it’s actually a pain in the ass, and it’s been HOW long now and nothing and why did you do this to me Holy Spirit, this really sucks. Yes I believe in you, but this sucks.

And I’m tired too. It’s the end of the year, that’s always exhausting. This year has been so full of ups and downs, and if I’m honest, the ups have probably outnumbered the downs, and I’m not used to that equation, so I’m wasting energy waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I’m very close to finishing the next draft of Striped Tiger. I spent a lot of the Christmas holiday working on it. I was up at the housesitting house, with Ginger Puppy and Basil Diva Dog. They both had just come back from the beauty parlor, and looked very festive in their holiday handkerchiefs. It wasn’t until the second day that I noticed Ginger Puppy’s was Hanukah themed, which cracked me up. This explains why occasionally Basil Diva Dog beats up on her. KIDDING.

But yes, I’m tired of writing, my eyes itch, I think there’s a tumor growing on the right side of my brain, there’s a twitch under my left eye AND another one running under the left side of my butt. I’m not sick, whereas a lot of people left in Los Angeles appear to be under the weather, but the only thing I wanna do is sleep. I don’t even wanna watch movies, or read a book, because those both involve vision. I just wanna sleep, and I can’t because this is the only time of year where I have massive amounts of time TO write, and oh by the way, I’m not sleepy. I’ve discovered a new realm where I’m exhausted and not sleepy. Yay!

God has blessed me mightily with a faboo housesitting house, two lovable dogs (when a certain Diva isn’t trying to kill the other one) a recipe for shrimp scampi and the right combination of how to cook filets on the outdoor grill, and I’m grumpy.

God has blessed me mightily with a full time job with benefits, a film in the can that just got accepted into its first festival, a great start to a play that will most likely be produced next year, and I’m exhausted.

I’m such an ungrateful bitch. I’m not like Simeon, righteous and devout. I’m semi-devout, but not righteous, not really. It’s a wonder God doesn’t throw in the towel on me already.

And yet He doesn’t. And sometimes, that makes it worse, because I can’t handle the fact that He loves me, and continues to do so regardless of what I do.

I’m not depressed, people, I’m exhausted. I’m working on it. And I wonder, as I’m sure Simeon must have, when the Holy Spirit’s gonna show up and save the day. Simeon had to wait until nearly the end of his life. I’ll be so pissed if that’s the case here.

I’m hanging on, I am. With a twitching butt.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Amy’s Advent Commentary #3 – The Shepherds.

Well, there’s no way around this one. They talk about shepherds, and so did I in my Shepherd monologue. I named him Frank. Frank the Shepherd, and his buddies were Harry, Larry and Stewie. In Amyland, the shepherds are telling ghost stories to scare each other when the Angel of The Lord appears (Gabriel making a cameo appearance with his bad jokes again.) so they’re doubly freaked out.

I don’t know, this one’s pretty straightforward. An angel appears to you and tells you that something’s happened, yeah, you’re pretty much gonna drop everything and go check it out.

I’m trying to think of a modern day equivalent. Like, if an Angel Of The Lord showed up and said, um, um, there’s a golden burning bush on top of Runyon Canyon, go check it out because it’s a sign about something I’m gonna do, yeah, I’d probably say I’m sick at work and go check it out.

There’s no doubt about what it is, is the thing. The Angel appears, there is no shadow of a doubt that it’s an Angel of The Lord. But He doesn’t work in those obvious ways these days, does He.

Do you suppose when those Shepherds grew up to be like, 80, their kids would suffer silently at the kitchen table as good ole Grandpa told the story AGAIN of the night the Angel Of The Lord told them about a Savior being born in the town of Bethlehem? Yeah, yeah, Grandpa, we’ve heard this one already.

Well. SOMEBODY’S a Ms. Crankypants today, isn’t she.

I’m not really the type of person who gets into Joy so much, so celebrating Christmas is hard for me.

And of course some well meaning twits would say that’s your whole problem right there, Amy. You need to learn to experience Joy. Then you’ll understand God soooooooo much more. Everything will make soooooooo much more sense.

How, exactly, does one experience Joy? I’m serious. Anyone wanna give me some ideas in the comments?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Amy's Advent Commentary #2 – Mary And The Angel

Everyone loves them some Mary during Advent, don’t they. Ooooh, she’s an unmarried pregnant teenage chick who submitted herself to the will of God! How can we possibly relate!? Heh.

And just like last week, where everyone focuses on Zechariah so I focus on Elizabeth, this time around when everyone focuses on Mary, I focused on Gabriel’s part in the Christmas story for my Christmas monologue collection. Because honestly, enough is enough about Mary. No disrespect intended, but there’s been a million sermons, stories, and painfully earnest shorts and feature films about Mary. How many people stop to think about what it must’ve been like for Gabriel, delivering the message to Mary, huh?

Nobody thinks about things like that. Which is why I do.

I talked about the inspiration for Gabriel’s monologue here (so I guess I’ve written enough in the blog if I’m now officially quoting myself.) The monologue went over amazingly well in the Christmas Monologue show that my theater company did at the end of 2006, and convinced me that I should go on to do a series of monologues about the Christmas story from other peoples’ perspective.

But Gabriel was my favorite. (Second runner up was Eugene, the donkey that Mary sat on when they went to Bethlehem.) It was one of those nifty confluence of events where the right actress and the right director took the piece to a whole new brilliant level that I couldn’t have done on my own.

Basically, I imagined Gabriel as secretly wanting to be a comedian, but doesn’t understand that his jokes are really bad. (Despite the fact that Gabriel is thought of as a boy angel, I wrote it specifically for my actress, who did a whiz bang job of it anyway. I like to think of angels as being gender neutral, but whatever…)

So when Gabriel comes down to break the news to Mary that she’s gonna be pregnant with God’s kid without having sex, he opens with a joke:

Hiya Mary! Wanna hear a joke!? Okay, okay, check it out, God says "Whew! I just created a 24 hour period of alternating light and darkness on Earth." So I say, "What’re you gonna do now?" And God says "I'm tired, let's just call it a day." HA! HA! HA HA!

Whoa, whoa, come back! I’m not gonna hurt ya!

Needless to say, Mary does not take this visitation well at all. And Gabriel is starting to panic, so he calls a sidebar with God. The way I wrote it, Gabriel stands off to the side, and stares up at the heavens. But my director gave Gabriel a cell phone to call God, which was much funnier.

Um, hello? God? Yeah, um, it’s not going so well. I dunno, I opened with a joke just like You said. No, I didn’t use that one, I thought...look, God, she’s really upset, You wanna take over? Please? People listen to You, ‘cause you’re, you know, YOU. I’m just an angel who...tells bad jokes. Okay, okay, I’m going.

(Gabriel comes back to Mary.)

Hey Mary? Why did Noah have to discipline the chickens on the Ark? Because they were using FOWL language! FOWL! Get it? HA HA HA HA!

It’s oddly comforting for me to imagine that angels quarrel with God like kids who want more allowance. I’m sure it’s not true. But it’s funny to think of them that way.

So Gabriel goes on with trying to explain to Mary that her son is actually going to grow up and be a really cool rebel dude who heals the sick, stands up to authority, and when he’s crucified in the Temple, the curtain’s gonna be torn in two, symbolizing that his sacrifice is enough to bring people into God’s presence, and they won’t need priests and la la la.

Mary has stopped listening at the phrase “Crucified in the Temple” and is freaking out again, prompting another cell phone sidebar with God.

God! God it’s NOT GOING WELL! Forget the chicken joke! Huh? Yeah, I told her about the crucifixion! Why not!? What’s the big deal, it’s not like He stays dead!

That got the biggest laugh of the whole piece, every single night. It may be one of my finest one liners ever.

In the sermon on Sunday, they focused on the obedience of Mary when Gabriel tells her the news. “I am the Lord’s servant, Mary answered, May it be to me as you have said.” (Luke 1, vs. 38)

You know what? I don’t think Mary was that calm about it at all. No. I refuse to believe that an angel could beam itself into her room, and she’s all Groovykins Cool Hiya, Gabriel and all.

I’m not saying it didn’t happen. I’m not saying that Mary didn’t eventually say “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said.” I’m saying that it’s much more realistic to believe that the authors of the Gospel, whether it’s Luke, or the many scribes who came after him, did a judicious edit to concentrate on Mary’s good side, and eliminate the part where she screamed, threw things at the angel, and climbed the walls trying to get out, before finally giving up on the idea of escaping and listened to the angel, agreed to the plan, and became a bright shining example to the rest of us modern day dumbasses. Be like Mary. Be humble. Be obedient. Submit yourselves to the will of God without a single peep of dismay.

(I also think there was a moment or two when Joseph was in jail for seventeen years where he harbored lustful thoughts after a servant girl or something. History is written by the winners who want you to believe your heroes don’t struggle at all, and why they think THAT would be helpful for us as potential role models is beyond me. My heroes don’t struggle with doubt. The Bible says so. NOT.)

Gabriel’s monologue wrapped up with him saying this to Mary:

I know you’re confused, and scared and none of this makes sense right now, but it’s’s gonna be okay. Trust me. Nothing is impossible with God. There’s gonna be pain, and tears, and laughter, and your heart is going to break a thousand times, because things are going to be so awful and so beautiful all at once. But ultimately, everything is going to be so much better than you ever imagined.

Everything is going to be wonderful.

I still have hope in that. I really do.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Amy's Advent Commentary #1 - Zechariah

I always wondered when I was going to hit the point where I’d have studied the Bible enough that I’d officially know more about the Biblical history behind the text being preached upon than say, the average person sitting next to me in church (who, if I’m not mistaken was Mr. Rocker from the Communion entry earlier this year. AND it was Communion AGAIN on Sunday! It’s a sign! A sign of…something!)

I hit that point yesterday, and it may potentially continue through the monthlong series of advent sermons. Yesterday’s sermon was about Zechariah’s role in The Christmas story. Which I already know all about, because I researched it for a series of Christmas monologues I did last year. Let me just pull it out, I haven’t read it since an acting class read all of them a year ago. That was a fun night.

Ah yes, okay, here we go. Zechariah is a pivotal point in the birth of Jesus, but I decided I was gonna tell his story from his wife Elizabeth’s point of view, because, well, logically speaking, Zechariah can’t talk, so he can’t really deliver a monologue in a series of Christmas monologues.

Even yesterday, during the sermon, it was all about Zechariah, Zechariah, Zechariah. The dude can’t talk! Why don’t you try thinking about it from the woman’s point of view!? What do you think Elizabeth was going through? You know, the one who COULD talk?

Anyhow, so in the monologue, Elizabeth is talking to her nosy neighbor, Naomi, and explaining how it’s possible that Elizabeth’s pregnant when she’s over sixty years old, because Naomi’s been gossiping about it in the marketplace. And Elizabeth is telling Naomi the part where the Angel Of The Lord has appeared to Zechariah in the temple and saying that Elizabeth is going to get pregnant.

...Zechariah said the wrong thing to
the angel, which was, “How can I be sure.” To which the
angel replied, “Umm, because I’m an angel and I’ve got a
direct line to God. Now you will be silent and not able to
speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe
my words, which will come true at their proper time.” And so
here we are. I’m pregnant and Zachy can’t talk. God surely
is amazing, isn’t He?


Because if you ever happen to find yourself in the blessed presence
of an angel, you don’t ask “How CAN I be sure.” You ask
“How WILL this happen.” Not “How CAN.” “How WILL?” Because
if you’ve got a messenger of God Himself standing right in
front of you, GET SPECIFICS! You could get day and date of
delivery, for starters. Ask him what the deal is with the
morning sickness, and how to get rid of the swollen ankles,
and why is my eyesight going, and ALL that fun

Because, Naomi, when it comes to God’s plan, you don’t ask
How Can. Because the answer is always going to be the same.
“How can this happen?” “How can she be pregnant at 60 plus
years?” “How can Zechariah not speak?” The answer is
simply...because God says so. It’s not that you can’t
question God’s plan. But you don’t doubt it when He’s
telling it to you. Or else you find yourself a mute for nine
months! Ooooh, spooky!

We were talking in my Small Group the other night about God talking to us, always a fun fun NOT topic of mine. But if I’m honest, the last time I think God said anything to me was a few months ago, I don’t remember when, I don’t remember what I was doing, though I think it was probably me bitching and moaning to God about what could’ve been one of a billion things: boys, career, Pink Piggy, Roomie Heckle’s girlfriend staying with us for two months and three people sharing a bathroom just doesn’t work (she just left on Saturday. THANK YOU GOD.)

And in the middle of it, I get this thought, this sentence, and all it says is

Your story’s not over yet.

And while my Small Group oooooohed in appreciation upon the retelling, I distinctly remember my own response to it being something along the lines of

“Yeah, I know, but STILL!”

Which could possibly be a parallel between me and our boy Zechariah, couldn’t it. Zechariah says “How can.” Amy says, “Yeah, I know, but STILL.” Both responses aren’t meant to be disrespectful, but both are the wrong thing to say. Zechariah doubted God’s plan when God was telling it to him. I’m taking God’s plan for granted when He might be trying to tell it to me.

Uhoh. Can I still talk? La la la laaaaaa. Yes. Yes, I can talk. I just sang along to “Decode” from the Twilight soundtrack (I’m truly embarrassed to like that song.)

And I can still type. Some days I type more than I can talk. All fingers currently still working.

But I think God is telling me. He’s just not using words. He’s like every great writer, and using EVENTS as motivation, as evidence, as Look-at-what-I’m-doing-for-YOU. Isn’t it really cracked!? Isn’t it weird and warped and wonderful? Damn, did I just jinx it again? Heh.