The theme of the National Communication Association’s 104th annual convention in Salt Lake City was “Communication at Play.” This theme encouraged us to be imaginative, to unleash creativity, and to have fun. My colleague from Azusa Pacific University, Dr. Marcia Berry and I brainstormed a topic, focusing on the concept of a Smiling God who enjoys seeing His children “at play” through their use of language and storytelling.
We contacted other colleagues from Azusa Pacific, Cornerstone University (Michigan), University of Northwestern (Minnesota), and University of Phoenix—all of whom were excited about creating performance pieces on this topic. One of my creativity mentors from Liberty University chaired our performance panel, while my colleague at Vanguard, Dr. Tom Carmody, was our respondent—after all, he was an oral interpreter himself!
When many people think of Christians and the God they worship, they often think of Jonathan Edward’s “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” An angry God with angry worshippers, who are rigid and have absolutely no sense of humor.
But our performance panel challenged that conclusion. Through individually scripted stories, the audience experienced how Christians engage, exhort, challenge, and love one another through humor and playfulness. In the process, we imagined God’s smile as he viewed His children through their satire, self-deprecating humor, self-assessment, churches, families, personal lives, and finally, in observing God’s humorous folkloric poke at a king’s grab for power in the Old Testament. All showed a lighter side as Christianity was at play amidst deep faith.
My personal contribution was a self-authored piece where I compared my artistic gifts and lack of coordination with those of a famous Olympic runner. Eric Liddell, The Flying Scotsman, has always been one of my heroes. After seeing the film Chariots of Fire in 1982, I remembered his character discussed his participation in the 1924 Olympic races with his sister, Jenny.
One quote sticks out in my mind, “I feel His pleasure when I run.”
But when I run, I am not graceful. I will never run with the power and poise of an Eric Liddell, so I do not think that God smiles when I run. I think he roars with laughter! From 1920-era newsreels, I have seen Eric Liddell run with the grace of a gazelle. I, however, saw my reflection as I ran past storefront windows in my hometown many years ago. To put it mildly, I have the grace of a lumbering water buffalo!
But I am convinced that God smiles when I sing and when I write. 🙂
How do I know this? First, Zephaniah 3:17 (KJV) states: “The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.” My heart soars, when I have the opportunity to praise my God in song. There is nothing like hitting high notes on pitch. It doesn’t matter if I sing softly with great finesse or loudly with great passion.
It is exhilarating to express great love for my God and to receive great love from my God. There is such joy flowing from my heart, that I cannot contain it. My joy unites with His joy, when I sing.
Second, like Eric Liddell, I feel God’s pleasure when I write. I joy in putting words together in sentences. It is the one time that I feel in sync with my God in His creative work. Ex nihilo—To create something out of nothing. To call to mind words that integrate into meaningful combinations that teach, inform, persuade, enlighten, and yes, even entertain . . .
To tell a story that changes lives. What a privilege to be able to do that . . . And to teach my students to do the same. To love doing that day after day . . . And to feel God’s pleasure and imagine His smile, when truth and creativity mesh into words of encouragement, love, and exhortation.
You know—That’s better than running—any day of the week!
Keddie, John W. Running the Race: Eric Liddell, Olympic Champion and Missionary (foreword by Lord Sebastian Coe). Darlington, UK: Evangelical P, 2007, 2012. Print.
Watson, Nick J. and Andrew Parker. “A Christian Theological Analysis of the Institutions and Governance of Sport: A Case Study of the Modern Olympic Games.” Journal of Religion & Society, vol. 15, 2013.
Watson, Nick J. and Stuart Weir. “The Development of Muscular Christianity in Victorian Britain and Beyond.” Journal of Religion & Society, vol. 7, 2005.