Imagine yourself sitting in a theatre waiting for a play to begin. The lights dim, the curtain is pulled, and the first actors emerge on stage and start to deliver their lines. The first thing you notice is that although these actors are saying the right words and the dialogue makes sense, there is no spark, nothing that draws you in and captures your attention. After a number of minutes, your mind begins to wander and you start glancing around to see if others are enjoying themselves. Everyone seems to be watching the play with a bank stare. Soon, you are completely distracted and thinking about where you want to go for a drink after the show is over.
What this imaginary experience describes in an encounter with deadly theatre. In his classic book on theatre called The Empty Space, Peter Brook delivers a powerful indictment of deadly theatre. He identifies deadly theatre as performances that are dull and boring, providing no transcendental experience or immediate encounter with truth and beauty. In his book, Brook traces out several reasons why deadly theatre happens and why it persists.
- Deadly theatre happens when all the stage directions are prescribed, leaving no room for improvisation and creativity.
- Deadly theatre is content to be conventional and follow the rules.
- Deadly theatre is imitative rather than innovative.
- Deadly theatre approaches performance from the perspective “that somewhere, someone has found out and defined how the play should be done.”
- Deadly theatre persists because it does not adapt to a changing culture and expectations.
- Deadly theatre persists because people are most concerned about what makes money (consumerism) rather than what is interesting (creativity).
The list could go on, but hopefully you are getting the point. Deadly theatre is boring, uninteresting, repetitive, traditional, conventional, standardized, regulated, and consumeristic.
If you read The Empty Space and substitute Christianity for theatre, the results are stunning. In fact, if you are Christian, you have probably experienced more forms of deadly Christianity than you have deadly theatre. To paraphrase one of the statements above, deadly Christianity approaches the Christian life from the perspective that somewhere, someone has found out and defined how to understand God and live a godly life. Deadly Christianity proposes to have all the answers and a clear script to follow, without any need to adapt to changing circumstances and improvise in complex situations. Deadly Christianity is performing the faith without creativity.
Of course, avoiding deadly Christianity is much harder than defining it. The Holy Spirit plays a critical role here, but so does the active, creative imagination and a community of people committed to opposed to deadliness. I could offer several suggestions for practicing a living Christianity, but I would love to hear from you. What stories encourage you to live with creativity and imagination, avoiding what is merely conventional or consumeristic? In what areas does your own Christian community struggle with a deadly faith devoid of creativity? Are there daily practices you would encourage to foster a lively faith?
If you are reading this post as a non-Christian, allow me to add just one more thing. If you have experienced deadly Christianity, this is not the way it is supposed to be! Christianity is not a straight-jacket constraining creativity, but an exciting way of life in which creativity takes on a whole new meaning.