In our ongoing series of guest posts about, “What I Learned From My First Job,” we’ve been getting some laughs and some schooling along the way. Today Becky Garrison drops in and tells us what she has learned from her job as a religious satirist. Her work for the now defunct Wittenburg Door was masterful, as she balanced sound doctrine with a tongue firmly planted in her cheek. Thanks in part to that early work, she’s now the author of six witty books and numerous articles. And today, she’s our guest. Want to join in with your own reflections? E-mail me here.
Laughing Through the Pain
In the documentary Before the Music Dies, soul singer and song-writer Erykah Badu made some astute observations about the music industry that can be applied to any creative enterprise. She noted there are three kinds of artists: (1) those who hurt to do what they do; (2) the one who imitates those in pain (these are often the rich ones); and (3) those who do what somebody tells them to do.
I definitely fall into the first category. A friend once told me, “Becky, you make people very uncomfortable because you remind them of the pain they’ve been trying to hide.” I applaud those who can put up with me when I open up my guts and give birth to a book. In the process, a few people I thought were friends and fellow travelers bolt and head for the hills.
At times I wish I could join them. Seems I can never unpack my personal baggage without having my junk strewn all over the place. What some call “passion” others dismiss as “pain in the rear end.” More often than I care to admit, I end up throwing a full-blown Calvin-styled temper tantrum when I should be demonstrating more Hobbeslike wisdom and restraint. (Where is cartoonist Bill Watterson when we need him?)
Also, my suitcase never seems to close properly, so I can’t stuff myself back in, all neat and tidy, and simply move on to the next adventure. I’m the one walking around the hallowed halls of Christendom with theological toilet paper stuck to my shoe. During these moments when I feel like some dog in desperate need of a flea bath, I take comfort in Mike Yaconelli’s messiness — for he seemed to have a similar packing problem.
On a whim, I took a class at Yale Divinity School in which we acted out Bible stories. (I have no clue why I signed up for this, but my gut told me I had to do it.) Our final project was a performance of the Bible. I remember leaving some classes in tears over the taunting a few students gave me when the teacher wasn’t looking.
“You really lack any stage presence and rhythm whatsoever.”
“Let me show you how it’s done.”
“Maybe you should visit the writing tutor.”
Fortunately, Professor Peter Hawkins was in charge of casting the show. He assigned two roles to me — Isaac, the sacrificial son, and a grandmother who tells the story of her two prodigal grandchildren.
When I performed those pieces, somehow I was able to silence the spiritual snots and simply inhabit the roles. For a brief period of time, I connected not with the words I was saying but with the soul of the characters. Afterward, a few people came up to me almost in tears. I just stood there, wondering what the heck happened that night. But the spark to write that had been brewing inside me began to smolder.
The embers didn’t catch fire until a few years later when Mike Yaconelli and Robert Darden took me under their wings and opened The Wittenburg Door for me. Somehow, they saw my light during that period when I groped around in the dark. Mix together my constant cravings to put pen to paper with my disgust for undivine dorks — and thus marks the unexpected birth of a religious satirist in 1994.
A similar dynamic happened two years later, when I connected with my improv teacher, Gary Austin, and his wife, Wenndy MacKenzie, who later became my vocal coach. They taught me how get out of my head and into my heart. By not thinking about what I want to do but simply responding to what’s happening around me,
I can get in touch with the essence of who I am — junk and all.
These reflections are excepted from Jesus Died for This?: A Satirist Searches for the Risen Christ (Zondervan, 2010). Follow Becky on Twitter @Becky_Garrison
So how about you? For the next couple of weeks I’ll be highlighting voices from around the world, reflecting on what you learned at your first job. Send me a note here and join in! Click here to subscribe and not miss a single post. The Archive is here.