Why Leadings?

Not to lead, but to be led            -- by the Holy Spirit.

See Leader, Servant, or Slave? in the section below, "Walking the Walk".

Jack in Denali National Park, 2012.

God's Wrath

Why was Sodom destroyed? Ezekiel tells us in chapter 16, verse 49: "This was the sin of your sister, Sodom: Pride, full-ness of bread, and abundance of idleness. Neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy."

That's also why Jerusalem was destroyed.

And now, with greed as our national virtue, what hope is there for the United States of America? We are afflicted by imperialistic pride, obesity, and entertainment addiction, and we are all called to do our part to "strengthen the hand of the poor and needy".

"Strengthen the hand" is the King James wording. Modern translations say "help the poor and needy." And there's a world of difference between the two. Helping the poor = as little as throwing some cash in the Salvation Army bucket at Christmas time. That's charity. It's doing for, not doing with.

My Grandmother was right about charity. On a below-zero day, she went out on the back porch with a skillet to throw hot grease on the back-yard snow. She shivered as she re-entered the kitchen and said, "Wooooh, colder than charity."

Strengthening the hand is much different. We get personally involved with another person who needs help, and we work with her or him to get the needed help. That's risky. You're vulnerable. It takes prayer, time and patience. You need knowledge and wisdom from the LORD. There are great rewards, however. You get a brother or sister.

Strengthening the hand is great work for our churches -- which we ignore far more often than we perform. Why? Because we're afflicted with the Ameri-can curse of individualism. Christians are to be a tribe -- a tribe that takes care of each other. In Galatians 6:16, Paul calls us "the Israel of God" -- the new 13th tribe.

Jesus said, "The poor you shall always have with you." He didn't mean that as a curse -- the notion that the poor are an inevi-table nuisance and expense, to be hidden in the slums. Rather, He was saying, "You shall always be among the poor."

When you strengthen hands, you fulfill Deuteronomy 15:4-5: "However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the LORD your God . . ." It's a glorious responsibility and promise.

And how do prosperous Americans fulfill that promise? Generally, by making sure they have no contact with people who are poor -- and we have been that way from our beginnings in the 17th century. Early villages in Massachusetts solved the problem by out-lawing poor people. Today, we deal with the same problem by confining the poor in urban reservations, our slums.

As the Supreme Court Bailiff says at the beginning of each session, "God save the United States of America..." 



Uta Hagen and Paul Robeson in Othello

So I'm a playwright.  What experiences in my life justify that?

Theater was part of my growing up. At seven, my parents took me to Comedy of Errors. I was delighted. It's a good play to see when you're seven. An eight-year old would be too sophisticated.

At eleven in Ann Arbor, they took me to see Othello with Paul Robeson and Uta Hagen. Staged by the Theater Guild, Othello was a radical civil liberties statment. The production was the first time an African-American played Othello with a white cast on an American stage. 

Did this production stimulate me to write plays, campaign for civil rights, or dedicate myself to the theater? Not really. I was eleven.  I didn't realize I was viewing a historic event. And I slept through a couple of scenes.

In senior year of high school, I took my best college course -- in drama.  In class, we read and discussed Agamemnon, The Merchant of Venice, Hamlet, She Stoops to Conquer, and Death of a Salesman. In November of '51, I caught the flu and missed seven days of school. During that time I read 32 plays. To my delight, I discovered Bernard Shaw, and his example has warped my playwriting ever since.

In college and law school, I regularly attended plays in New York and Boston. My favorites were Man for All Seasons and Hogan's Goat.

I had two roles in summer stock in 1955 at the Red Barn Theater in Saugatuck, MI.

In 1965, I had the lead in Mr. Roberts with the Glens Falls Players in Glens Falls, NY.

In 1967, I received Jesus at a Campus Crusade evangelism training program in Oklahoma City.  In 1969, I was baptized in the Holy Spirit.  As a result, I've done lots of Bible study since and realized that, for most of us, Bible stories feel inert.  They're just there -- sort of like flies in amber.  We don't feel the awe, passion, terror, confusion and humiliation that people experienced when our Father, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit invaded their lives. So, I was inspired to write plays -- mostly Biblical -- about these familiar stories.

Familiar to whom?  To Bible students.  For many in our congregations, Bible stories about Ruth, Ezra, Rhoda, or Eutychus are unknown countries.  My hope is that my plays will stimulate people to dig into Scripture. 

Since retirement in 1999, I've been primarily a playwright.  I've written five full-length plays and many short plays, plus Bible improv sketches for most major characters in Scripture.  I'm currently finishing a book of Monologues from Mark.

In 2005, I audited a class in playwriting at the University of Cincinnati.  I learned much, but did not discover the difference between a play's production format and literary format. That discovery came later -- painfully. A Nativity play I'd submitted in competition was left unread because of its literary format.

Note that I didn't act in college theater productions, and I've never had university theater education.  I have no idea how much these absences have stunted my growth.

In 2007, a friend took part in an evening of Christian improv at a Cincinnati mega-church, so I attended. Short-form improv is unscripted, unrehearsed, fast, funny, and usually raunchy. This performance left out the raunch. But it was no more Christian than it was Jewish or Muslim. It was just family-friendly improv. But I begain to wonder and experiment. Could we do Christian improv, Bible improv?

In 2008, I attended an impro master class in Chattanooga with Keith Johnstone, who brought imrpo from Britain to North America.  Let's put this in perspective: Imagine that a person in the 1740's had fooled around with a pipe organ for two months and then went to Leipzig for a master class with J. S. Bach. That's the situation I was in – way over my head.

But, my experience with Keith gave me boldness to go ahead with Bible improv. On 5 X 8 cards, I printed sketches on gaps in Scripture.  Why the cards?  So the actors' scripts differ with the conflict built in.  The actors' assignment is to learn the plot, tell the story, and react to each other with real feelings -- and thus present exciting drama which is still faithful to Scripture.  They do all this with one or two rehearsals.

That is, I wrote confrontations that must have happened -- or could have happened -- but were not recorded in the Bible. I discribed the work to an experienced improv actor/director.  He replied, "I admire what you're doing, Jack, but don't call it improv."

That stiffled me a bit until I made a discovery. I was listening to a tape of Derek Jacobi narrating a history of theater. He related that Commedia dell'arte players pinned script outlines to the back of the curtain to refresh their memories before going on stage. Commedia players did wild and extravigant improv. And that's what we did too. I was applying Commedia methods to the Bible without realizing it. Yes, I was writing Bible improv. Of course, I was also troubled to discover the Commedia heritage.  Why?  Because I thought I had invented a new theatrical form.

In 2009, I worked with the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company on the production of Cymbeline.

I'm a member of CITA, Christians in Theater Arts.

Three weeks after coming to Seattle, I joined the Seattle Playwrights Collective and was active for eight months until its meeting time conflicted with my congregational worship.

I have continued to read and attend plays throughout my life. For example, I'm currently a subscriber at both Taproot Theatre and the Seattle Shakespeare Company.

With both monologues and Bible improv, we've done several chancel drama presentations for our congregation, Emmanuel Anglican Church in Ballard.

If my work is good, I can’t claim credit. Later, when I read it, I’m often astonished. I find it difficult to believe I could ever apply myself to write such a play -- and then to rewrite through 10, 20, 30 versions. So, if it’s a good play and appeals to an audience, the Holy Spirit gets the credit.


Purpose of this blog is to compile a book for my grandchildren to read in 25 years.

Copyright © 2013 by Jack Towe


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