A few years ago, my pastor’s group (the Mountaineers) went to Chicago together to do breath work by doing Improv comedy. We spent a week playing in Chicago, but also doing some serious work learning to take a deep breath and jump into the deep end. There were a couple of lessons learned on that trip that have stuck with me, and many of them have been helpful in this first week of my sabbatical.
Forget your fear (of course, in the world of improv comedy, that phrase would be a bit more colorful–if you catch my drift)…that is one of the lessons of improv. You just have to jump in and start going with it. Often times this leads to improv comedians treading into cultural borderlands and dealing with topics that are edgy and have the potential to step on toes. It is also a reminder that the tame and well-tread ground is often far less interesting. That has definitely been a learning from the first week of sabbatical.
Day one was rough…red eye flight that got into NYC JFK at 5:30 am–can’t check into the hotel until 3pm, Moth event that I have to line up for at 5pm. That was tiring. It was also tiring to be back in such a big city. I quickly remembered my Chicago days and basics like navigating the city, but being in this atmosphere takes a lot out of you! In some ways you have to be a bit more on guard, simply because there are so many more things happening around you. Between the overwhelming stimulus and the exhaustion of the overnight flight, fear was a readily available emotion. However, as I was walking around the city (suitcase in tow and looking every part the tourist), I started to remember that trip with the Mountaineers and the “Forget your Fear,” sentiment. Perhaps it was that I was a little punch drunk from the lack of sleep, but I moved into that outlook pretty readily and quickly found myself venturing out in ways I often wouldn’t. Perhaps the best example of this was standing in line for the Moth.
Being the introvert that I am, I don’t often start conversations out of the blue with others, but wait for someone else to engage. People are often surprised when I reveal this, as it is something I readily do when in the role of pastor; however, I often find engaging new people to be draining. As I stood in line at the Moth, I decided to “forget the fear,” and started to engage others in conversation. I quickly created a little community with an Austrailian and his wife and a woman from London. We hit it off and ended up talking for about and hour and a half as we waited for the storytelling to start. We ended up taking over the balcony of the bookstore that was holding the event, and pretty soon our group grew, as a gay couple jumped right in, and so did a couple of local women from the Bronx. Pretty soon there was this little community formed up in the balcony that was having a delightful time before one word of story was even uttered. One of the women from the Bronx ended up having her name drawn to tell a story, and we immediately became her cheering section.
The night was lovely! But just as easily as that community had come together, at the end of the show I watched as the group slowly dissolved through the front doors and trickled back onto the streets of New York, never to be formed again. Sad in some ways, but in others, beautiful. To see something like that form so easily was joyous. To see it come from that attitude of “Forget your Fear,” even more so!
Supposedly, it says “Be not afraid,” 365 times in scripture (I have never counted, but have read that on more than one occasion). In other words, there is a be not afraid for every day of the year. That is a lot of times for anything to be said, so perhaps it is something to which we ought to pay attention. Not only that, but it means that should be pretty fundamental to our theology and our outlook of the world. To be sure, it is incredible what can arise when we put aside the things that cause us fear.