Monday, August 14, 2017

It wasn't exactly Broadway.

A Manalapan church chartered a bus to Sight & Sound, located in Lancaster, PA but couldn't fill it. They opened the outing up to the PCUSA congregation in my town, and I signed on. I received scant specifics about the day, despite some effort on my part to learn the details and, as a result, missed the departing bus by a minute or two. Fortunately, I was able to board at the host church's location in Manalapan which meant I had a seat in the very rear of the coach near the pastor's teenage grandchildren and their friends.

The movie shown on board to pass the two hour drive time was Heaven is for real, which is something I was interested in seeing but wouldn't necessarily make any effort to. I like Greg Kinnear as an actor even though I've only seen him in Little Miss Sunshine. I always wanted to see his Sabrina remake but haven't. Sitting where I was, I caught only snippets of the movie here and there. I was already under the impression that the factuality of the events had since been denied by those involved but I may be confusing it with a different movie. Either way, I substituted any "beyond belief" experience as I watched and just pondered the characters' various reactions. I wondered whether the heavenly host's prolonged laughter at the boy's request to hear "We Will Rock You" was some slight on the popular notion of various rock stars jamming together in heaven. As if angels need any mortal's help.

Our first stop after reaching Lancaster, or more specifically, Intercourse, PA, was at Kitchen Kettle Village. The woman leading this church outing was shy about using the bus public address so I approached her personally after exiting the bus and asked, "What are we doing now and what's next on the itinerary?" I may have still been smarting from the experience of being left behind earlier in the day. So she told me to explore the shops and return in 90 minutes. I looked around for a Birkenstock outlet but there was not one at this location. Failing that, I shopped for locally-made souvenirs and found them few and far between. At a Christmas-themed store, I picked up a 2017 wood tree ornament and a small music box. I also got an Amish nativity (which Jeff joked was Orthodox Jewish, eh) and, feeling guilty about being away from home on my son's birthday, a personalized bottle opener.

I had a small book with me and after making my purchases, sat down to read. Soon enough, we were back on the bus heading to our meal at a family-style restaurant. We were way early for our late afternoon reservation. Some became vocal about their hunger and thirst, showing restrained impatience. The staff seated us and brought out pitchers of iced tea and lemonade, plates of homemade bread, applesauce and a relish that someone called "chow-chow" but was more like Giardiniera. Where condiments are concerned, of course, there are many recipes under the same name.

Now, let me say that the table manners required for family-style eating have apparently fallen into such disuse that some folks cannot call them up even on occasion. So, for instance, a man picked up a slice of bread from the serving platter, then changed his mind and put it back. I waited until someone else helped themselves to that slice before I had one. A woman passed me her glass for some iced tea but when I asked her for some lemonade she ignored me. The teens at our table did not know to pass the serving plates but they did as we asked. The same man who put back food also taught the young girl next to him to load up the middle of her mashed potatoes with corn, in other words, to play with her food. It's entirely possible that I'm too fussy about it, actually, but I was so busy passing food to others that my plate looked like this:

Starting behind, then, I was the last to finish eating. I decided either this parable is pure wishful thinking or this is hell. Still, I'm asking myself, "What's the hurry? Why the race?" For heaven's sake, enjoy the meal.

We left the restaurant and arrived at Sight & Sound just as the matinee show was exiting. We were 75 minutes early for the evening performance. Maybe if we had stalled another 15 minutes at the restaurant, it would have given the visitors at the theater's earlier show a good chance to disburse. But the restaurant has high turnover. So instead, we waited on the bus, watching the people leave on the one hand and the storm approach with its flashes of lightning on the other.

My first visit to Sight & Sound and a companion took my picture:

We were encouraged to take our seats 45 minutes before the show began to avoid any potential bottlenecks in the case of late arrivals. When they come by the busload, you know. I noted at intermission that the theater was not full.

Sight & Sound has a style all its own. I could not put my finger on it, exactly. Is the theater's facade inspired by Italian church architecture? Does the interior make one think of Egypt ... or the Holy Land? Both and yet neither, definitively.

I'm no theater critic, certainly. I'm not about to draw any comparisons between the two and a half hour live production and the four chapter biblical story. Suffice to say, there's embellishment. To suggest that Jonah's reluctance to preach in Nineveh stemmed from their having killed his father, Amittai, eh, you know, it added dimension to him. The fabricated characters, sister, mother, grandparents, who knows? In the end, these are apples and oranges. The biblical tale stands on its own and this theater production is its own work, too.

I liked the personality of their Jonah, as different as he was. The special effects were drawn out so that they could be enjoyed for all their worth. I laughed out loud when the mariners' ship hull opened to reveal Jonah peacefully asleep in a hammock amidst the raging storm. I was a bit disturbed that as soon as he was cast into the sea, the raging ceased. And when all the mariners converted on the spot, I thought Jonah could quit while he was ahead.

There was, in some subtle sense, the idea that Jonah, in criticizing the Ninevites, becomes just like them. When Jonah is running from the Lord, not even his fellow Israelites will aid him. This perturbs him. But, when he changes course, he is mystified by their overwhelming kindness. What's the message? At the end, I think it's Jesus who walks out to Jonah and proclaims that obedience brings blessing but not salvation, or something like that. So, to the oft-heard objection, "if salvation is by grace, why obey," the answer is "for the blessing." Consequently, I found the theology on display to be a therapeutic dose of psychology as motivation for practicing Christian morality. "There is something in it for you, right now!"

Nothing was particularly "anti-Catholic" in the production. In fact, on the contrary, the drawn-out forty day period of repentance and prayer that the Ninevites observe had a strong Lenten feel: the scene was repeatedly bathed in purple light and some characters wore purple and black.

On the ride back to New Jersey, the "Moses" video was put on but I couldn't make out much. We dropped off at the Manalapan church first before returning to our town, primarily because it made sense for the bus driver, but I had concern for the teens as well. I was pretty sure that few would make it to church services the following day. And they gave themselves a fine excuse.

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