Tag Archives: Constitution

Line Gisters and Line Nazis

Balak said to Balaam, “What have you done to me? I brought you to curse my enemies, but you have done nothing but bless them!”

He answered, “Must I not speak what the Lord puts in my mouth?”
Numbers 23:11-12 (NIV)

I have found among actors that there is a rarely discussed spectrum. It parallels the ongoing legal debate about our Constitution here in America, between those who interpret the Constitution as a “living document” versus those who interpret it in context of its “original intent” as written.

On one end of the on-stage spectrum are those who memorize their part of the script and present the general gist of a line. They call it good. Let’s call them the “Line Gisters.” At the other end of the spectrum are those we will lovingly refer to as “Line Nazis.” Line Nazis are rabid defenders of the script, word-for-word, as written.

The playwright wrote these words for a reason,” a Line Nazi will passionately admonish his/her fellow actors. The Line Nazi then explains that changing a word or two here or there can change the entire interpretation of a line (and thus the play itself, and the intent of the playwright).  In my experience it’s at this point that the “Line Gisters” proceed to roll their eyes, the Line Nazis grumble in frustration, and the rehearsal continues.

I’ll confess to you that I have spent most of my theatre journey at the Line Gister end of the spectrum. Then, I actually wrote a couple of plays and had the privilege of watching them being produced. For the first time I began to feel personally what my Line Nazi brethren had been preaching to me all along. I was suddenly on the other side of the spectrum seeing things from a different perspective. Line Gisters would memorize and deliver a loose version of the words that I had written. Sometimes it wasn’t a big deal, but other times I had specifically crafted that line for a reason! Just getting the “gist” of it didn’t cut the mustard.

In today’s chapter, the mysterious seer Balaam continues his cameo role in the story of the Hebrews wilderness wanderings. King Balak of Moab hires Balaam to curse the Hebrew hoard camping on his borders. Multiple times Balaam speaks the words God gives him, and each time it is not what Balak paid Balaam to say. Rather than cursing the Hebrews, Balaam blesses them.

Must I not speak what the Lord puts in my mouth?” Balaam asks his prophetic patron.

Balaam understood that it was important to deliver the line as written.

God’s Message is just like the Constitution or any playwright’s script. Words can be interpreted in context or out of context. Lines can be quoted verbatim or butchered in an effort to communicate the gist. The words end up in the hands of the expositor and out of the control of the originator and/or author.

As a reformed Line Gister I confess that my years on that end of the spectrum were rooted in a generous portion of laziness and a general lack of discipline. This morning I find myself appreciating Balaam’s fidelity to deliver the words as given to him by God, heedless of the reaction of his patron. I find it honorable. I’m not sure you can call me a full-fledged Line Nazi (still working on that laziness and self-discipline), but it is a character trait I increasingly desire to exemplify in my own life, both on stage and off.

(Line Nazis Unite!)

Music that Educates

Schoolhouse Rock!
Schoolhouse Rock! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All this happened so they would follow his decrees
    and obey his instructions.
Psalm 105:45 (NLT)

Those of younger generations reading this post will have to forgive my “old man” reminiscence this morning, but reading this morning’s psalm brought back some enjoyable memories of childhood.

When I was growing up, television had four channels (ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS). Cartoons and children’s programming were reserved primarily for Saturday mornings between 7:00 a.m. and noon. My childhood ritual was to be in the basement in front of the television somewhere around 6:30. I would endure the final half-hour of U.S. Farm Report before my weekly cartoon binge would commence.

Even in those days parents complained that a five hour smorgasbord of television would rot our brains. So, one of the networks began airing a series of short cartoons called Schoolhouse Rock which taught lessons of history, math and grammar by packaging them into catchy songs with accompanying cartoons. I loved them, as did my entire generation. I’ll never forget my 8th grade Social Science class in which one particular test was to write out the preamble of the U.S. Constitution word for word. I can still remember an entire room full of kids muttering the Schoolhouse Rock song as they wrote out the words.

Using music as a mnemonic device to remember things has been used since ancient times. In fact, psalm 105 is a ancient version of Schoolhouse Rock. It was intended as a survey of Israel’s history in musical form which people could sing and remember. The song even ends with a nice little moral, calling people to obedience in light of all God had done.

Today, I’m thankful for my childhood, for Schoolhouse Rock, and the way that music can not only entertain but also educate.