When life hands you lemons, make lemonade. Turns out there's a deep theological principle at work there.
I'm reading Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics by Samuel Wells in preparation for my presentations next week. Wells, the former dean of Duke University Chapel, uses the rules of improv as a lens for viewing God's work in the world and our response to it. There's a good summary here.
Wells calls the things that happen to us "gifts." Of course, not every gift we're offered is a happy thing. I think he means to use the word literally and neutrally: a gift is a thing that is given. But he's also nudging us to try to see the potential in the gift---that there may be something positive that can be imagined from this unwelcome (and even downright crappy) circumstance.
Wells offers us three options when we are given gifts, and these come out of improv, and it turns out, the scripture story itself.
You can block the gift. You can simply refuse to receive what's being offered. You could argue that the people of Israel do this in the wilderness when they construct the golden calf as an object of worship, rather than relying on the God who brought them out of Egypt in the first place. Blocking, it turns out, doesn't work so well.
You can accept the gift. You can receive it, picking it up but doing very little with it. Think of Jonah after the big fish. He finally accepted the call to preach to Nineveh, but he didn't exactly put his shoulder into it, did he? One sentence of prophecy and then he pouts when the wicked city repents of its sins.
Or you can over-accept. This is how Wells describes the experience of accepting a gift and then building on it. I don't like the word, because it doesn't connote its meaning well, but in any case, it's a fancy way of saying "yes-and," which is the basis of improv. There's lots of yes-and in scripture, including the pivotal event for Christians, Jesus' life, death and resurrection. Jesus' message and his movement led to his execution by the powers and principalities. He did not block this outcome, nor did he merely accept it. Instead he over-accepted, proclaiming forgiveness and grace from the very cross that was meant to humiliate and defeat him. And of course, the resurrection story is the ultimate yes-and.
Our little church is witnessing a yes-and right now. An over-acceptance so beautiful, it hurts your eyes to look at.
I've written before about the family who lost not one, but two sons to the same terrible childhood illness. It is an awful, wrenching thing. I cannot call those losses "gifts" except in the most absolutely literal sense: a thing that is offered. Some "gifts" should be fought against. Some should be blocked, if they can be blocked. In fact, the family and the boys fought this illness fiercely and valiantly. But Eric died, and three years later, Jacob died as well.
To accept the circumstances is all anyone could ever ask or expect. To come to terms with the loss and to keep living. But the family is determined not to accept, but to over-accept. To yes-and.
Within the next several days, two little ones from the Ukraine will arrive in Newark, along with a couple dozen other children from that country. The brother and sister will travel on to Dulles Airport, where the family will meet them and host them for a few weeks. When the way be clear, hopefully within the year, they will become a forever family.
Leslie is a wonderful, honest, thoughtful writer, and has started a blog about this process. (If you want to read their story thus far, there are links to the CaringBridge sites. Yes, that's plural.)
The title of the blog, Invincible Summer, comes from Albert Camus:
In the middle of winter I at last discovered that there was in me an invincible summer.
Yes there is. There is.
Image: KL Bailey