On Friday night we tried an experiment with our first 4LTR Word show, KISS. Under Brad Wise’s leadership, we had a hunch that telling and hearing stories with one another could work in a very simple, vulnerable and fun way. It did work. At least, that’s my opinion.
I (re)learned some things Friday night that I wanted to share.
1. People Want to Belong.
When entertainment is working at its best, being entertained becomes secondary. There is a certain magic in live theater and performance that cannot be recreated on film or video. It is the humanity and tangibility of it all. Real people in a real room with real performers. In a world full of second takes and green screens, live performance is a shocking return to life lived in the moment. When it really works, the line so blurs between performer and audience that it becomes hard to tell them apart. In those moments, we are given the gift of genuine togetherness. We tap into our basic desire to know and be known. It’s a beautiful, restful awareness of being that only happens when we communally agree to create space for it to happen.
2. Story Really is Primary.
There are many ways to tell a story, and I’ve pretty much done them all—film, video, audio, music, poetry, theater, art, literature, etc. What I love about our live events is our willingness to let a story stand on its own. We may use a prop or a visual cue here or there, but for the most part it’s simply a person telling a story. That sort of storytelling is fundamental. It brings us back to the basics—like the first day of a Gene Hackman basketball practice. The building block of story is one person sharing an experience with another. Somehow in our DNA we know it as a campfire experience. We long for it. To be human is to tell and receive stories. We spend so much time consuming advanced forms of storytelling that there is a shocking realignment when a brave soul stands up in front of us all and says, “Let me tell you a story …”
3. Holy Moments Happen in Vulnerability.
I had the easiest job of the night on Friday. After all of my friends risked being vulnerable for two hours, I was able to wrap up the evening and ask people to express their love to one another in a simple way. (We gave away Hershey Kisses.) There is no way I could have done that at the beginning of the night. We all build up emotional walls. We need to do this to survive, but we get in the habit of keeping our walls up, even when we are in a safe place. The result is that we can sleepwalk through our life and “forget” to say and do the most important things. Only vulnerability breaks down those walls. Nothing else works. Being around vulnerable people is contagious. It’s holy. It brings peace. Our show ended with a microcosm of exactly what the world needs. The good news is that if it can happen at a concert venue on a Friday night in Cincinnati, it can happen anywhere.
4. Life Can Be Lived “Neck Down.”
In many ways our crowd was quite diverse—different races, ages, socioeconomic levels, religions, sexual orientations, etc. (We still have a long way to go. My hope is that we can grow even more diverse as a storytelling community.) I began talking about “neck down spirituality” after a personal breakthrough I had last year. For me, it came out of my struggle/inability to fully embrace theism. I realize that I have never and will never doubt the existence of God from the neck down. My heart knows there is a Mystery at work in all of us—something beyond us. My hands and feet cannot help but do things to help people love and be loved. From the neck up? I struggle. My brain doubts. Neck up faith is very important. Without it, we drift to a strange place full of superstitions, naivety and unaccountability. For me, I could have never experienced faith from the neck down without it starting in my head. While this kind of faith matters, I have come to believe that neck up faith is never, and can never be, where life is truly lived. Life is lived in the heart, the gut and the work of our hands.
What I saw Friday night was “neck down” unity. I know for certain that the many people in that room were not united from the neck up. The room was filled with liberal activists and conservative tea partiers, born again Christians and outspoken atheists, twenty-something urban hipsters and sixty-something suburban grandmas. A “neck up” evening would have been excruciating. But from the neck down, it all worked. We overlooked the semantics of words spoken from people unlike us to seek a deeper connection. We set aside ideology for empathy. We traded arguments for … kisses. And, in my opinion, we brought Heaven to earth.
We’re going to do it again. I hope you can come. If you were there, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the evening as well.
Photo by Darrin Ballman