A much earlier version of this post appeared a couple of years ago on a now-defunct blog. I cleaned it up for you, but I preserved the original comments. You don’t go throwing away your mom’s sniffles.
Before I could seriously do improv, I had to heal from church. Playing taught me a skill I’d totally lost but that I needed if I was ever going to brave church again.
The churches I grew up in were mired in conflict. Not honest, productive disagreement; more like festering resentment. It was the kind of conflict that nobody talked about directly, only through gossip. You never knew what people might be saying about you or your family behind your back.
This led to ugly church splits. (Has there ever been a pretty church split?) When I was in middle school, my parents moved the family to a church that had had no splits in at least decades, maybe ever, because maybe everything would be ok there.
And everything was ok for awhile. The church ran so smoothly because everybody had a deep, unquestioning trust for the pastors. That worked well enough until the pastors fell apart — bickering, gossip, and moral failings* left us without anyone in charge.
By the time I graduated high school and moved away, I had collected a compelling list of reasons not to trust people.**
All this mistrust handicapped me when I started learning improv.
I would decide I couldn’t trust a fellow player because she intimidated me or I didn’t know him well enough, but then our scenes together were guaranteed to flop. According to our directors, the only chance any of us had was to trust one another.
But I already knew that trust is foolish! Trust leads to betrayal and disappointment! Why would I make myself vulnerable to that?
Because that’s the only way anyone would want to play with me. Because it’s the only way I could ever get any good.
I couldn’t start trusting everybody all the time — remember how foolish that is? — but maybe I could try trusting a little. Just these few players, though, and just for 2 hours a week at practice. I can handle anything for 2 hours.
My playing got better, and I bonded with my troupe. That trust bled over into how we treated one another outside of practice. Somewhere along the way, we found we’d grown to love each other.
I’d always thought I needed to be friends with someone for a long time before I could trust them. Now I was finding that, if we trusted each other first, love followed. Some of my deepest friendships are still with people I got to know because we learned to play together.
Some of the friends I made in improv gave me rides to their church, where I found a community of people who trusted and loved each other in real life. I’ve now been a member about seven years.
I am not a preacher, nor do I have of any gifts of healing or tongues or evangelism or any of those big impressive-sounding ones. But I know God has met and healed me through play more than in any other way, and play is something I can teach.
* “Moral failings” is church-ese for addiction or infidelity. Maybe more, but that’s how I’ve heard it used.
** There were bright spots, too. I have some wonderful memories of children’s choir and youth group rattling around in there with the trauma.