Free Play in the Kingdom of God

Staff_McDermott, Tom

I recently started a class here at FUMCFW called “Improv First: Everything is an Offering.” Church members Winn LaRue and Chuck Shanlever are co-facilitators of the group of 25 or so participants. And the first couple of classes have been profoundly telling. Through improvisation, sometimes called “free play,” we are learning to be open and present to one another (and to whatever life throws our way), to discover there are many ways to see each moment and many ways to respond. With only two classes under our belts, even self-proclaimed “terminally shy” people are already engaging with others in high-energy, spontaneous, scene-making fun!

In improve, there is a saying, “all of life is an offering.” In order to see the offering always present in life, we learn to let go of inhibitions, predetermined solutions. We learn to let go of our egos, biases and need to be in control.

I think our faith says something very similar: wherever we go, wherever we find ourselves, God is there (Psalm 139). When we simply respond to others who are suffering, hungry, or in ways that are helpful, we are responding improvisationally to Christ (Matthew 25). We live our life in the midst of God’s life (as John P Newell says). God is always present in this ultimate “free play” inviting our participation to move life forward, to “add to the scene”, and respond in helpful ways with humility, compassion and justice.

By calling upon the core improv skill known as the principle of “yes/and” — acknowledging what each moment offers and adding to that moment with a sense of humility, spontaneity and gratitude in a way that moves the moment forward – we invite further play instead of negating or trying to control the situation and outcome. Whether we are in a challenging conversation, an acting scene we didn’t expect, a confrontation with a colleague, an awkward encounter with a stranger, arguing over which movie to see, or in the midst of a serious personal crisis, improv teaches us to be open to that moment, not simply to go with the flow, but to learn to avoid fighting or competing with the flow. We all bring agendas to the various moments of our day. But being receptive invites us to add something, anything, that seeks to move the moment forward rather than inward, self-ward or downward.

We may wonder where God is when something doesn’t go the way we expect, when things fall apart, when we didn’t do as well as we’d hoped on a project or job or in a relationship, or when we’re grieving a deep loss. But the more helpful improvisational question might be, “Where are we when God is inviting us to be present and open — and to respond to what is offered at these moments, in all moments, with gratitude, wonder, humility, and compassion?”

It can be challenging to find the courage and strength to let go of anger, fear, opinions, or expectations in order to acknowledge the offering of the moment. But we are not alone (nor are we the only one in the room). We are here with one another, our lives in the life and being of the creative, redeeming and sustaining presence of God. And it is in this acknowledgement, “all of life as offering”, we can risk a helpful, invitational, response that suddenly moves everything forward and we discover more wholeness and joy — the “free play” we’re all invited to experience in God’s Kingdom.






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