Theater educator brings faith, scripture to acting in book

Setting the stage for this post is rather simple. I was beginning my second year of graduate school at, what it was called at the time, Central Missouri State University, in Warrensburg, MO. Along came a new instructor for the theater department….

BACKGROUND…

John Wilson has been an instructor of theater at the University of Central Missouri (formerly known as Central Missouri State University) in Warrensburg, MO, for nearly 20 years.

He began in the fall of 2000, and in 2015 he became chair of what has now expanded to become the Department of Theatre and Dance at the university.

Before coming to the “little ‘ol town of the ‘Burg,” Wilson was an adjunct instructor at Colorado Christian University from 1997-1998. He directed two shows, Romeo and Juliet and Much Ado About Nothing, while teaching a few classes. “I taught a playwriting class, motivational drama – which studied a lot of motivational speeches in all genres of dramatic literature – and I taught a movement class.” he said.

He did this all while he was still working in a grocery story. “I was just starting to get experience where I could,” Wilson said. “But I was also professionally auditioning and got my equity card through the regional premiere of ‘Visiting Mr. Green‘ by Jeff Barron.”

He earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in performance from Arizona State University in 1990. In the early 90s, he attended the National Theatre Conservatory in Colorado, obtaining a Master of Fine Arts in performance in 1993.

The purpose of this post, really, is to highlight Wilson’s book. You see, a few years ago he published his first book that took several years to create the idea, formulate that idea, and time to write the book – The Actor As Fire and Cloud.

THE GERMINATION OF AN IDEA…

In all his years as an educator and theater artist, Wilson was contemplating an idea. This idea was bringing Christian values and faith to the secular life. “It really happened ever since the enlightenment,” he began. “We get this idea you can have your sacred life and then there’s your public life. You can believe whatever you want, just keep it out of my business. Then this growing, silent agreement for the past 300 years that we don’t bring that sacred into certain professions and into certain work places.”

So the idea began forming more than 10 years ago, since about 2005-2006. He said it started as conversation pieces for trips and things with his wife, Jill, but then didn’t really get around to it until 2013. “So in 2013 I would have been in my 14th year of teaching,” Wilson said. “I could look back and realize I got a number of believing students come through the program and ask me all sorts of questions – ‘As a Christian, how do you feel about swear words?’ ‘As a Christian, how do you feel about sex as a topic in a scene?’ There’s a chapter where I kind of cover that. And it came from all those questions that I was fielding for quite a long time from students.”

Therefore, he contemplated further. His thinking – “I am a Christian, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.” He thought God has given him gifts and talents, so there must be a way to bring these things together, faith and craft. “I think God purposes us and equips us to do everything that we do. So part of it was looking for connections,” he said. “Being able to go into God’s word and try and find connecting dots and ligaments that help me make connections between faith and acting.”

Businessman looking at faith door

But there was also another connection that had to do with his wife. Through their previous conversations, there was a time when Jill was in graduate school and her professors were having difficulty finding any kind of a textbook that dealt with those two items. “It just didn’t exist. They would be like read this book that’s kind of about this and then just try and translate it the best that you can. Or maybe read this article or what have you,” he said.

Then the real thought process and imagination spurred about writing this type of book about acting. He realized there wasn’t really anything on the market, so through conversations with his wife more ideas and thoughts stirred. Wilson said his wife was really the inspiration for the idea. “We bounced a lot of ideas off of each other,” he said. “I started writing when I was on sabbatical. I got through a show and some commercial work and then it was spring break in the educational calendar and I was like ‘I’m off until August.'”

IN THE BEGINNING…

So he set out to start writing. However, he has never written a book before. The process is somewhat similar to writing a thesis or other educational piece of writing. But with a book, it’s a little more grander in scale as far as content. “I think the writing process is similar. It’s just a matter of volume,” he said. “How much you’re writing when you write a book as opposed to a thesis or a paper. I felt the process was similar to how I would go about writing anything academic. I just needed to be really well organized about it. I needed to collect a lot of my resources. But I don’t think my approach was necessarily different than any other academic writing I’ve done. There’s just so much more to do.”

09-10-17-daring-faith-six-phases-god-uses-to-grow-your-faith

The idea for writing a book like this needed to actually be in the book. So eventually that material became the first chapter, he said. He set out to work and there would be short days of about eight hours, and his long days would be about 12 hours. He would explore the Bible and then work on a draft, completing a chapter, and then a lot of “prayerful consideration” and other reading as to what the next chapter would be.

“I wrote the majority of it in six weeks,” Wilson said. “And then I spent two years going back and revising, editing and fine tuning and expanding and adding. And it felt really inspired, like it poured out of me. That’s a lot of material to write in six weeks. I was easily done before the spring semester was over. I started in March and was done before commencement.”

As any writer could probably tell you, it’s a process.

But then the more difficult part came in the writing project, editing. Editing is also a process. And as they say writers don’t write, they rewrite. It’s true in a sense. “I had to go back and think about structure and vocabulary and train of thought,” he said. “I worked with one of Jill’s friends, whom I never met.”

Miranda Dunning was attending the same school his wife, Jill, was attending. She was in the MFA program for performance. Dunning was also a lawyer, according to Wilson. She does a lot with law but is also an editor. So Wilson asked her to come on board because she had writing skills and was an MFA actor. So it was a “great, phenomenal, serendipitous opportunity” to send the manuscript to her.

He said they only had phone and email correspondence through the editing process. But it still worked for them. He felt he had something with her when, regardless of any grammatical errors, etc., she would write back and say “conceptually this chapter is kind of blowing my mind.” Sometimes she would say, on the concept level, “I get what you’re saying but I think you could make it clearer,” he said. “So she would be really honest and challenge me.”

He not only brought scripture and faith into this book, he also intertwined his own experiences or Jill’s experience into it as well. Additionally, he included different plays he read. “I kind of felt like my career as an actor and educator just kind of prepared me for this moment,” Wilson said. “I could have been inspired to write this book in 2000. And I would have no clue what the heck I would be writing about. In fact, I think that’s why it took me so long. I think I wrote it at the right time. I don’t think I was the actor or educator or the Christian back in 2005 or 2006 to write this book.”

THE FINAL STEP…

The final step was to get a publisher. That, for Wilson, also became somewhat of an obstacle. He contemplated self-publishing or going the traditional route. He said if self-publishing would have been more affordable at the time, he would have done that just to get the book out there and complete the project. And by a year or so later, there just didn’t seem to be anyone interested in the book.

Finally, after some thoughtful prayer and consideration, an answer emerged. “I happened to come across a Christian writing conference at Wheaton College, outside of Chicago,” Wilson said. “I thought I got to do this. I got to meet people who know what they’re doing. I need to network. I need to figure this out. I hadn’t spent a lot of money at this point, so I went. I made an investment. That was the game changer.”

He was able to meet several writers and the conference was being hosted by publishers. He signed up for two half-hour pitch sessions. One session was with Bold Vision Books, not quite as big as the other one, but still a good one. “They were both really interested,” he said. “But Bold Vision, at the time, wanted to start developing a new brand and that would focus on the arts. They would do art, music and include theater and they started with this book to launch this new brand,” he said. “I didn’t hear back from them until September or October of 2014. And then we spend another several months editing and then it came out in April or May 2015. Almost two years to the month that I had finished the first draft.”

He was happy and pleased the project was complete. He had much support from his wife and others, but the most important help came from somewhere else. “It was all the Lord,” he began. “I don’t even know where I even started. What I even Googled out of my desperation. But when I found Christian writing conferences, I thought that’s the answer.” With that, he knew that was it. All of the time in prayer and peaceful thought resulted in this discovery. “I felt like once I committed to doing something, then I think the Lord really brought me to it. It made perfect sense. Obviously I found the right one,” Wilson said.

FINAL THOUGHTS…

His final thoughts on the project still remain with God. It was such an important part of this whole process for him. “No matter the subject. When your main resource is the bible, then you’re in it every day,” he said. “I found that to be all I needed.”

He spent considerable time in the Bible to connect faith and craft because faith is connected to God’s word. “God was really telling me something in whatever passage or chapter I was reading. Like that was really a tough psalm, or that was a Proverb that pierces.”

Of course, he said there were also some favorite authors, apologists, and theologians he would read to become inspired through the process.

What’s next for Wilson? Of course he’ll continue being an educator.

As for writing… well he might look to another type of challenge.

“I’m still inspired by playwrights today. Probably the next thing I’ll write is a play,” he said.

Leaner-challenges

There’s also an option of creating a second edition from his notes if that opportunity presents itself. “But playwriting and screenwriting are phenomenally more difficult than a book. Coming up with the plot, character, and story is difficult and to me, that’s the next great challenge.”

Renewed Spirit

A couple of weeks ago at my church (of which I have been getting involved with again), there was a mission. It was a three night series and was designed to get back in touch with God. It was a great experience and was led by Fr. Ron Hoye, a Vincentian priest of the Congregation of the Mission. They are based in St. Louis and conduct missions across the country. The Catholic church I attend brought him to lead the mission. And in presenting this post I am not in any way establishing one way to look at things or one thing to believe. If you have differing beliefs or thoughts, that is fine. I am just presenting my thoughts, my beliefs. This, by all accounts, is my journey.

Background

Let me preface this by telling a bit more of myself. I was born and raised Catholic and always have had a belief in God, but not because it was what I was taught, it’s what I believed. But I guess it is, sort of, in a way because of what I was taught. But anyhoo, I always kept that belief and I’ve always had my faith.

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I carried that faith with me through my youth, through college, and then adulthood. There have been periods where I have felt I “lost my way,” and was looking for ways to get back in touch with my faith. I went back and forth like this in my early college years, and then in 1995 I transferred to the University of Central Missouri (then Central Missouri State University) in Warrensburg to finish my undergraduate college work, and eventually my masters.

I was able to get back in my faith by going on a retreat about mid-way through the first semester. It was an eye-opening experience for me. I never experienced anything like it before. I attended several of these retreats as staff to help others maybe gain an awesome experience as I did on my first retreat. For a while I stayed true. After college, I went back and forth for several years with my faith and attending mass when I finally stopped again for about another seven years.

Leaner-challenges

This year has been a year of changes for me. I moved out, away from my marriage (4.5 years at that point) and slowly began to find myself again. I have been attending weekly mass again and have changed jobs. I am much happier now than I was during the last half of my marriage. When this mission was announced, I decided to attend.

The Mission

The mission was entertaining, informative, spiritual, and uplifting. It brought me back on the path toward God and having a relationship with Jesus. That’s what the mission was about, developing and maintaining that personal relationship with Jesus.

Fr. Hoye was wonderful as he presented stories about personal experiences that challenged and strengthened his faith. He was personable to his audience and brought a recurring theme to mind when I attended those retreats in college. That theme was “Let go, let God.” Believe that in God, all things are possible.

The Main Thing

Something he did during the three days he spent here was at the end of the first night. He brought along several notepads of sticky notes. He told us to write three things down that we’re thankful or grateful for from the day before going to bed. Then, upon waking up in the morning take the note off and stick on the bathroom mirror (or some place where it would be accessible). Additionally, he said it has to be three different things each time. We can’t double up. It would be for about 25 days, because that is how many sheets of paper were possible in the notepad.

The exercise becomes more difficult to do as each day passes. I am a little more than half way through. It really makes you think and does put your priorities in perspective. In doing this, it also puts my faith in check. It keeps me on the path to do all I can to maintain that personal relationship with Jesus, despite what life brings my way. Even though I may get busy with work or other life issues (as has happened since the mission), I still stay true in my continuing journey with God.

One more thing about Fr. Hoye. He has written a book called “Awake.” It is intended for those who would like to grow more closer to God and have that more personal relationship. The book contains short stories and reflections on faith and following Christ. It is an enlightening and spiritual addition on the journey with Jesus.

For more information on parish missions, visit http://www.parishmissions.org.

 

Election 2016: This Year It’s Real

With the current state of affairs with the two-party system, coupled with this election year, I thought I might take a look at a brief history of the evolution of political parties in the United States.

U. S. Political Party History

The first political party formed around 1787 by Alexander Hamilton and other leaders who wanted a strong central government. They called themselves the Federalists. By 1796 some grew against the Federalists platform and a group of followers, led by Thomas Jefferson, started a party called the Democratic-Republicans. They believed in a smaller national government, while leaving the governing power to the states and local governments.

When Jefferson came to the office in 1801, the Federalists were losing power to the Democratic-Republicans. Although the Federalists hung on as a minority party for 20 years, the differing thoughts and values through the developing United States (which ultimately led to the Civil War) paved the way for new parties.

When Andrew Jackson was elected and served two terms, the party was renamed to Democrats, thus making Jackson the first Democrat president. Former Federalists joined in opposition to the Democrats and formed the National Republicans, or Whigs. The Whigs enjoyed four presidents in office – William Henry Harrison, who died while in office in 1841 (the first president to do so). John Tyler filled in and remained in office for one term. In 1845, the Whigs lost to a Democrat, James K. Polk, only to regain the office in 1849 with Zachary Taylor. However, he died in office 16 months later. Millard Fillmore became president and was out of office in 1853. Democrats took the office for the remainder of the 1850’s.

The issue of slavery rose to the forefront of the political stage leaving little room for other issues. The Whig Party began to fall apart, due in part to members leaving to form Northern Abolitionists, who wanted to abolish slavery. A new Republican Party was formed and by 1860 there were four major parties – Northern Democrat, Southern Democrat, Republican, and the Constitutional-Union Party. With slavery a strong issue, Republicans secured their first president Abraham Lincoln. States’ rights began to be an issue with slavery and in 1861 the Southern states seceded and the Civil War began.

At the conclusion of the Civil War, the two parties – Republicans and Democrats became the major political parties – took their turn with the presidency. During this time, third parties also began to appear like in 1872 a woman, Victoria Woodhull, became the first woman to run for president. She shared the Equal Rights Party ticket with African American leader Frederick Douglass. The People’s Party of the U.S.A., also known as the Populists, gained their support from the common workers and farmers. Republicans split and formed a group called the Progressive, or “Bull Moose,” Party in 1912. After the Second World War, Southern Democrats formed the States’ Rights Party in order to fight for the civil rights of African Americans. The Libertarian Party, formed in the 1970’s, was for individual rights. The 1990’s saw the rise of the Reform Party, led by Texas businessman Ross Perot. The Green Party has formed to take on the environmental movement.

The Presidents

Below is a list of the presidents with affiliation, and length of presidency:

George Washington – Federalist (1789-1797)

John Adams – Federalist (1797-1801)

Thomas Jefferson – Democratic-Republican (1801-1809)

James Madison – Democratic-Republican (1809-1817)

James Monroe – Democratic-Republican (1817-1825)

John Quincy Adams – Democratic-Republican (1825-1829)

Andrew Jackson – Democrat (1829-1837)

Martin Van Buren – Democrat

William Henry Harrison – Whig (1841)

John Tyler – Whig (1841-1845)

James K. Polk – Democrat (1845-1849)

Zachary Taylor – Whig (1849-1850)

Millard Fillmore – Whig (1850-1853)

Franklin Pierce – Democrat (1853-1857)

James Buchanan – Democrat (1957-1861)

Abraham Lincoln – Republican (1861-1865)

Andrew Johnson – Democrat-Union (1865-1869)

Ulysses S. Grant – Republican (1869-1877)

Rutherford B. Hayes – Republican (1877-1881)

James A. Garfield – Republican (1881)

Chester A. Arthur – Republican (1881-1885)

Grover Cleveland – Democrat (1885-1889)

Benjamin Harrison – Republican (1889-1893)

Grover Cleveland – Democrat (1893-1897)

William McKinley – Republican (1897-1901)

Theodore Roosevelt – Republican (1901-1909)

William Howard Taft – Republican (1909-1913)

Woodrow Wilson – Democrat (1913-1921)

Warren G. Harding – Republican (1921-1923)

Calvin Coolidge – Republican (1923-1929)

Herbert Hoover – Republican (1929-1933)

Franklin D. Roosevelt – Democrat (1933-1945)

Harry S. Truman – Democrat (1945-1953)

Dwight D. Eisenhower – Republican (1953-1961)

John F. Kennedy – Democrat (1961-1963)

Lyndon B. Johnson – Democrat (1963-1969)

Richard Nixon – Republican (1969-1974)

Gerald Ford – Republican (1974-1977)

Jimmy Carter – Democrat (1977-1981)

Ronald Reagan – Republican (1981-1989)

George Bush – Republican (1989-1993)

Bill Clinton – Democrat (1993-2001)

George W. Bush – Republican (2001-2009)

Barrack Obama – Democrat (2009-2017)

Lesser of Two Evils

Political parties in the United States have seen and wide and varied existence since the Federalists were formed in the late 18th Century. Today, this election year, the two major parties – Republican and Democrat – have given us candidates Trump and Clinton. Two seemingly polar opposites and both appear to be wrong for this country. I’ve heard people say they’ll vote for the lesser of the two evils. But which one is that?

There have been discussions where Trump is the lesser evil, but also that Clinton is the lesser evil. My opinion is that Clinton is the lesser evil of the two. But sometimes it seems hard to tell. It is difficult to see. Clouded is their future. The shroud of the dark side has fallen and clouds everything.

Okay. I digress.

Back to Trump and Clinton. It seems some, or most, of America does not approve of either candidate. That’s when they say they’ll vote for the lesser of the two evils. But again, which one is that? I guess some people don’t seem to take the time to look for other options. That’s where third and fourth parties come in. The trouble is they don’t get a lot of publicity until late. But this year, right now, there is a third party candidate on the Libertarian ticket that is making headway. Check out Gary Johnson and his running mate Bill Weld. Green Party candidate Jill Stein is supposedly still in the race, but is not getting numbers like Johnson is. So come September in the first presidential debate, there might be a third member on the stage with Trump and Clinton, something that hasn’t been done since Ross Perot in 1992.

Johnson/Weld

If you don’t like Trump or Clinton, look into the other candidates. There is plenty on them. Johnson and Weld are both former Governors and both former Republicans. Check them out. Here’s an introductory ad for Johnson/Weld:

Johnson/Weld Ad

You can listen to an interview with Johnson below:

Gary Johnson Interview

A vote for Johnson, if (and hopefully when he gets there), will not be a wasted vote. Check out their website: Johnson/Weld 2016

Let’s give America another choice. This election year is too important to just check a box in order to check a box.