Tag Archives: Community

A Fringe review and some reflections

It’s Mad March in Adelaide again, which means the Festival, the Fringe Festival, Writers Week, the now oddly-cereal-like named Superloop 500, Womadelaide and much more. Living in the city is ideal at this time of year, and I’ve loved the opportunity to wander down to the riverbank to see the Symphony for our World (which was an outstandingly beautiful reflection on creation and creativity) and Yabarra: Gathering of Light (which is an engaging and vital project grounding the city in its long history and culture).

In terms of the Fringe, so far I have seen a truly terrible comedian (who I won’t name and shame here) and an absolutely enjoyable choir performance that I have not only been singing the songs from for days, but has also had me reflecting on some deeper themes it touched on.

So, this is my part review and part reflection on The Choir of Man.

Nine talented performers singing well known songs in impressive harmonies is always going to be a recipe for a good night out. The talent on display is pretty remarkable, including a piano virtuoso, a Dein Perry-esque tap dancer, a poet or three, comedic timing, audience participation, multiple instruments and dancing styles, all held together by nine strong voices. Songs covered include those that had the audience clapping and singing along, like Welcome to the Jungle, I Would Walk 500 MilesSome Nights, and the iconic Aussie favourite You’re the Voice; others that showcased impressive soloists telling stories through melody, like Adele’s Hello, Don Quixote’s The Impossible Dream, and Sia’s Chandelier; a heartrending rendition of Luther Vandross’ Dance With My Father during which you could have heard a pin drop; and an almost benedictory traditional closing song, The Parting Glass.

That this performance is set in a working bar, a classic English pub, where both the performers and the audience are invited to authentic fun and engagement (and to a pint or two) and is drawn together by a narrator who reflects on mateship, community, love and loss, adds to the enjoyment, but also leads me to my deeper musings.

“Some pubs have a football team or a darts club,” we are told. “This pub has a choir.”

The show is a bit of an ode to the local pub, the place where regulars can get together for a drink and share something of life. But we are also told it’s not a “boys don’t cry” kind of pub, and the idea of a community where genuine experience and emotion can be shared and supported – whether just by listening or by lending a hand – is significant throughout the storyline. To me, this is mateship. Friendship. What community should be. What for me as a Christian and a pastor, the church should be. My church is currently doing a sermon series exploring ideas of friendship and community, family, work, rest and play together, and so this show resonated with some of the same ideas, both encouraging and challenging me. Encouraging me that the church at its best has something valuable to say to our culture on this; challenging me that we can too often think we have a monopoly on it or hold it to ourselves, rather than championing it wherever we see it and inviting others into it.

This is also a show by, for, and about men. The (male) friend who recommended it to me warned that I might find it “a bit blokey.” And I did. But in a way that I loved. The characters in the pub are all pretty blokely blokes. (And yes, there is a song performed at a urinal). As a group, there’s a lot of testosterone on display. But there are men with hipster beards and man buns, as well as men with six pack muscles and classically strong jawlines. There are also men of less than average height and of over average weight. More importantly, these are not only men who sing and dance together, but men who are unafraid to both laugh and cry together. These are men who provide a glimpse into what male camaraderie and mateship can be.

And while there is some serenading of women in the audience and relationship woes played for laughs, at the end of the night I realised that they had managed to put on a public performance of broad-shouldered masculinity that didn’t need to objectify or degrade women to do so. (Unlike the aforementioned comedian, who the less said about the better). One review of The Choir of Man I read said this was a picture of the “opposite of toxic masculinity” and that’s not a bad description. In a cultural moment where there are certain voices criticising feminism for seeking to emasculate men, these guys affirm that it is a not an either/or proposition. They reminded me in some ways of my brothers and what I love about them. And in a week where unfortunately I had yet again had some (men) devalue what I do simply because of my gender, I needed to be reminded of that.

Of course, these brothers of mine, in my church family and community, go much further than a 90-minute performance. They don’t just meet the minimum standard of “not degrading women,” but champion and advocate for women, make space for us, support us and honour us, all without compromising their masculinity.  I value what they as men have to offer that I cannot, as they value what I as a woman bring. I love doing life alongside them.

As I watched this performance, in the back of my mind was the sermon I had been writing for Sunday. Perhaps that’s what put me in such a reflective mood. Talking about what ‘rest’ and ‘play’ look like for the church, I was challenged to consider how we encourage one another to explore and appreciate creativity in all its forms, and where we are talking about what we see and hear and experience in art, song, comedy, music, where it resonates with the creativity of our Creator, and how it keeps us hearing his calls to life in all its flourishing.

For me, the ongoing questions are how Jesus calls men and women to life together, and all of us to the expression of community, in ways that reflect and point to who He is and what He is bringing about.
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Some thoughts on air travel and human behaviour …

Despite my best intentions, I’ve ended up having a break from blogging while I was away. I wasn’t even able to do my usual Monday travel post this week as I didn’t have a Monday – it was lost somewhere between LA, Sydney and the International Date Line. But spending plenty of time in airports and planes this past week has got me thinking a little bit …

I often think that flying can bring out some of the less attractive sides of human behaviour (mine included). Put a large group of people into the confined space of a plane for more than a few hours and many of us seem to become a bit passive-aggressive, self-focused and/or self-righteous. From people not getting things right in the security queue to the race for overhead compartment space, the challenges of silently negotiating elbow room and knee space, and the scramble to stand up and get off asap … everyone is in a hurry and everything everyone else does is a potential inconvenience. It can feel like flying is a competitive sport, and not necessarily a friendly or non-contact sport at that!

And yet here is what I find really interesting. While all the insignificant inconveniences of air travel are often responded to as if they were major problems, when something actually does go wrong, the whole mood changes. When my flight was delayed for hours due to the snow, strangers in the waiting area starting talking to one another, sharing the latest up to date information, asking one another about connecting flights and onward journeys, even sharing food. When Dallas/Fort-Worth airport was shut down overnight and 4000 people stranded, the airport brought in cots, food and even clowns and face painters. While it may not have all been fun, we can imagine the sense of “we’re all in this together.” Thankfully I’ve never been in a plane that has had to do an emergency landing, or worse a crash, but the stories told from those kind of circumstances are usually ones of people working together, helping one another, supporting, encouraging and caring.

So here is my question. Is one of the key differences between a classic “first world problem” and a true experience of distress that the former tends to isolate us from one another and make us judgmental of those around us; whereas the latter somehow brings people together? I haven’t thought this through so I may well be wrong. But the idea that suffering somehow paradoxically can create community is certainly one that is biblical. Whereas what we in the modern world can sometimes perceive as “suffering” (but is really just inconvenience) can often have the opposite effect. And what does this say about us and our contemporary culture?

These are just the musings of a tired and jet-lagged brain, so I’m very open to hearing how this theory may actually not hold up, but it has certainly got me thinking. What do you think?

Finally, if you haven’t seen this yet, here is the feel good flying story of the year … WestJet’s “Christmas Miracle” happened the same day I was flying home. I guess I picked the wrong airline!!