The Commedia dell’Arte of My Church Persona


I learned a great deal from my high school drama teacher, Kathy Breeden. Boistrous, delightful, and sometimes fear-inducing (“Commit!!!”), she was a shining beacon at Chillicothe High School. Aside from being a wonderful Christian woman, she also had an unbelievable command of the history and traditions of the theatre. We spent much of the year in “Drama I” learning about the Greek and Roman roots of modern day theatre. Some of the concepts I learned from her that continue to endure in my mind are:

  • Hamartia is the Greek word for a “fatal flaw.” Generally protagonists in tragedies have a hamartia.
  • Hubris is the Greek word for extreme pride. In many cases, in a Greek tragedy, the protagonist’s hamartia is hubris.
  • Deus ex machina, or “God from the machine,” was a device at the end of some Greek plays where something “miraculous” would happen to “save the day.” Literally,  in some cases, a Greek god would descend to the stage from a crane-like machine and resolve the plot of the play.

English: Commedia dell'arte masks

In addition to these Greek theatrical terms, we also learned about Commedia dell’Arte. Obviously, you can do a quick Google or Wikipedia search and find out more about what Commedia dell’Arte is, but the nutshell version is that it was a primarily Italian theatrical motif that featured a great deal of improvisational humor that was performed by sometimes masked performers who represented caricatured characters. For instance, there would be a “bumbling elderly man,” “typically overblown heroic males,” and “crafty, conniving servants.”

The actors in a Commedia dell’Arte troupe had to be very versatile, able to play any of the stereotypical roles with equal adeptness.

My Christian “walk” had become a one-man Commedia dell’Arte (of sorts) and I had become an extremely versatile “player.” Did our church need someone to serve in the hospitality ministry? I just needed to don my hospitality mask and play the hospitable servant. Did our church need someone to go on mission to Panama? I could whip out the missionary mask and play the part of the humble, evangelical missionary. Did our church need someone to teach a class on Wednesday nights? Hold on…let me just dig out the teacher mask and play the part of the wise teacher who knows the Bible forwards and backwards–well, forwards at least.

Thirty years of experience playing the part of dutiful Christian. That’s what I had. And you better believe that the longer it went on, the degree of difficulty increased as well. I was a “chameleon,” changing my color when the situation called for it. I could transform at the drop of a hat into whatever was needed.

And boy, was I good at it.

Funny thing about my little private Commedia dell’Arte…it was neither comedy, nor art. In retrospect it was despicable. Jesus tell the church in Laodicea:

 I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of My mouth. —Revelation 3:15-16 (HCSB)

I don’t know about you, but that is one of the straight-up freakiest verses in the Bible.  I mean, think about it. Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, says that if we straddle the fence and try to be “lukewarm” or indifferent instead of on fire or cold towards Him, he’s going to vomit us out of His mouth.

Truth was, during that 30-year stretch I went from warm to lukewarm to cool-ish to cold, all while maintaining an “on fire for Jesus” exterior. But no matter how talented a deceiver I was, everything would eventually collapse under the weight of all the lies and trickery I had devised.

And eventually, it did…

Keep coming back as I detail more of my journey from someone with a gleaming “religious resume” to someone who fell into the arms of the Savior, exposing my long period of deceit.

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