On February 27, at Calvin College, I had the opportunity to see a theatre production titled, This Is My Body. In the format of verbatim theatre the play script was a mosaic constructed of word for word interactions by an interviewer and the interviewees. The interviews were reflective of the Calvin College experiences of alumni, staff, and students. The director, playwright, and facilitator of the verbatim is David Ellens. He works for Calvin College in the study abroad office, which affords him time to really connect with students and faculty. He has his finger on the pulse of what community is at the college. This was an important aspect of the casting. I was struck by the passion to heal divisions; a perspective on bringing together and not on what divides. The play did not separate the audience from the dialogue. Astonishingly, the sustaining force of the play was that stories of life, death, hurt, and brokenness brought the audience and actors together.
The actors in this drama sat on chairs on a sparse stage and the numerous crowd sat around them. Kelly Elders (spouse of M. Div. student Trent Elders) in her character faced death, leading her to discover her place in God as she described the essence of the gift of communion as something to be grasped and not just taken. Doug Chu’s (M. Div. student) character was emblematic of those who face the challenges of depression and trauma. After the play, Doug shared that he wanted to do the character justice. He did this by not projecting himself into the production. Instead, the audience saw the character and heard the person’s pain through Doug’s voice. The actors embodied these stories of vulnerability. The play presents the shedding of pretenses and portrays the oft neglected connections between brokenness and communion.
The admirable quality of the play is the running theme of embodiment. How can Calvin College embody compassionate community? What does the Christian Reformed Church embody? What does a larger picture and more inclusive idea of Calvin Community embody? For me, the picture that this play created was of a community that was founded on compassionate empathic listening. The scope of the play was pastoral care to the hurt and deconstructing the facade of people who never hurt, so the church really does remember communion. I really appreciated the key theme of brokenness leading to hopeful communion. For the non-Christian it is important as well, because this is the church amazingly being vulnerable with each other and God. The notions of distortion drop, since Dave Ellens crafts a communion table, which is tangible for all to see Christians being Christ; letting down our guard and false pretenses to establish that this is how the church works out salvation, with communal fear and trembling. A deep lament, deep discourse, brings deep harmonious Christianity. One knock against the play could be its length: at three hours it took some patience. However, the idea of communion should never be rushed, so I did not feel like I wanted the play to end. I wanted more real church community to blossom before my eyes on the stage.
This is the import of This Is My Body: that people can say of Christianity that the church is real life because they let people into their real life. That there are no pretensions and no trappings, just openness and vulnerability to me, to Christ, to hopeful communion with each other. Only the rare person could ever say they do not hurt or have never been broken. This is the true essence of communion, where people are together remembering brokenness–Christ’s broken body– and His love bringing his followers together, which heals divides so Christian community flourishes. a