Have you heard about the history of the stage? Specifically about the theater just after medieval times, in the era of Shakespeare? You may know that women were not allowed to be actors, so men played all of the parts. I’m not going to write about gender issues today, but that is one of the calling cards of the theater at that time. There is another tradition that may not have gotten its start in that era, but it was prevalent then; throwing rotten fruit and other foods at the actors when you were unhappy with their performance.
If you attend a Renaissance fair today you will see this tradition continued. I remember throwing tomatoes at an actor at one such fair when I was a boy. I enjoyed it immensely, and I suspect that the actor did too, it was what he signed up for, and he provided the tomatoes.
But can you imagine the first person who decided to heave their produce at an actor? What would it take for someone to decide to empty their lunch pail because they didn’t like how an actor was performing? And what about the other audience members who witnessed this? What must they have thought and/or done? Can you imagine being an actor on the stage reciting your lines and suddenly with little or no warning you get popped in the face with an apple core?
We hear plenty in the news these days about people who act outside of what we consider acceptable. They are often called “one bad actor” (having nothing to do with theater).
At that theater where the first bit of rotten fruit was tossed the people must not have responded negatively. Someone probably laughed. It doesn’t seem likely that anyone else joined in. But in time this fruit throwing became an option, and eventually it became a tradition.
I believe that if the other people in the audience had confronted that one bad actor, if they had shamed him, or even had him expelled or arrested, perhaps this rather rude theatrical tradition would have never come to be.
The way that people respond to the bad actions of others affects what our culture and society become.
Moving on from the fruit at the theater, what could we say (or what could we do) when people act out in racism? Or political hatred? Or road rage? Or vandalism? I think that our society has unintentionally embraced a number of bad actions and tendencies because some small number of people acted that way and the community around them didn’t speak up or confront them.
My greater fear is that if we were to start to speak up now (after these actions have become common place) we are the one who gets confronted and shamed for not acting the way that our culture accepts as appropriate. We have allowed bad acting to become so prevalent in our society that we no longer have the credibility to speak against these things.
I think that is what Jesus was warning us about in Mark 8:15 when he told us to “beware the leaven of the Pharisees.” He was saying that the people around us rub off on us, and the way that they want to be is not always the way that we want to be or the way that Jesus wants us to be.
That may be the society that we live in today. One where people have rubbed off enough that our general acceptable behavior is far from a life that is pleasing to God. How can we go back? What can we do to make things right?
I believe that we need to start by establishing our own foundations of truth and righteousness. And then we need to find a kind, credible, loving way to begin to speak up in favor of a God honoring life instead of the life that is celebrated and accepted in our current culture.
Jeremy Alger is the pastor of the New Cumberland Church of the Nazarene. They meet in person and online every Sunday. For more information please visit www.newcumberlandnazarene.com