January 15, 2020
"Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails" (Proverbs 19:21 NIV). This week I'm writing from San Diego, California, where I'm attending our denomination's annual training for New Worshiping Communities Coaches. Our speaker for the week is MaryAnn McKibben Dana, author of God, Improv, and the Art of Living. MaryAnn is a Presbyterian pastor who (among other qualifications) has studied improvisational theater at the famous Second City Training Center in Chicago. She's been teaching us how to apply the principles of improv to ordinary life and ministry, not with the goal of turning any of us into comedians, but with the very sober recognition that life rarely goes according to our plans. The wisdom of Proverbs 19:21 comes from an honest recognition that our plans often fall apart, so we take comfort in God's ability to bring about a better outcome: "Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails."
The first and simplest rule of improvisational theater is to say, "Yes, and . . ." On stage, it requires paying attention to what the other actors with you have already said and done. It can't be changed. So you start improvising by accepting what's already there ("Yes . . .") and then adding something new that builds on or changes the story that's already going. Reminding us that in Jesus Christ "every one of God’s promises is a 'Yes'" (2 Corinthians 1:20), MaryAnn gave us a picture of God as one who meets us in the moments when we don't know what to do next and helps us improvise a new path forward. No problem we face or failure we've had makes it impossible for God to say, "Yes, and . . . " to us. With that assurance of God's grace and the hope of Christ's resurrection, we can dare to say "Yes, and . . ." to even the greatest changes of our plans. Such improv isn't about entertainment, but it is about finding a way forward. And with God as our partner, we can continue to move through our stories, not knowing how they'll end, but daring to take the next step.
Grace and Peace,