Thursday, November 08, 2007

I so want to be in Stephen Colbert's religious education class

Here's a snip from Rocco's blog, Whispers in the Loggia, on Stephen Colbert, talk show host on Comedy Central (who, by the way, is standing in solidarity with the Writers Guild of America strike), Catholic, and Sunday school teacher. How many religion teachers and catechists thought to teach about the papal conclave and qualities of leadership in such a cool, fun way?


Keeping with things late night, just on a lighter note, much has been made of the Catholic sensibility as fleshed out by Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert--so much so that there's even a website (and a great one at that) devoted to the "yes-and" approach of the comic's marriage of faith and art.

A religious ed teacher as time allows in his New Jersey parish, during a recent pre-show warm-up with his audience, Colbert talked about his brief stint as Camerlengo...for a conclave of elementary-schoolers.

As questions were being tossed from the crowd, then in the midst of his fleeting presidential bid, the satirist was asked what his first executive order would be.

His answer: "Be kind to each other"... which led to his account of the decree's genesis, reported by an audience member:

[Colbert] didn’t teach Sunday school last year, because he was too busy with the show; but he substituted, and he was subbing on the last day before summer vacation — when the kids didn’t really want to learn anything. And Pope Benedict had just been elected, so they decided to hold a mini papal election.

He and his daughter made a paper-maché miter, with a glitter cross, and then he “very seriously” locked the door, put the key in his pocket, and told the kids, “Okay, nobody leaves here until we elect a Pope.”

They started by making a list of qualities that you should have to be a Pope: ‘knows the Bible’, ‘good person’, etcetera. “And nobody said ‘must be a man’, which made me happy.” Then it came time to vote, but one kid said “Hey, I’m gonna vote for me,” and another said, “I’m gonna vote for me!”, and it looked like trouble.

(Stephen digressed at this point to speculate that all the cardinals probably do this on the first round. “Hey, might as well, who knows, there could be a groundswell…”)

Daughter to the rescue: “Dad, make everyone vote twice.” That way they would all vote for themselves and someone else. The winner was a kid named Gregory (and his daughter had predicted “It’s gonna be Gregory, because he always knows all the answers in class.” Stephen’s daughter sounds like such a cool kid).

So they brought Gregory up to the front, put the miter on his head and the cloth over his shoulder, and said, “Now that you’re the Pope, you need to pick a name; what name are you going to have?”

And the kid goes, “Urban III.” (”He really knows his stuff!”)

What will be his first papal injunction? Gregory holds up his hands (here Stephen holds up his own for a moment, to demonstrate, and then brings the mic back to his mouth), and says, “Be kind to each other.”

At which Stephen went, “All right, that’s it, we’re done, everybody go home!”

...and that's today's word.


And from Colbert's Knox College commencement speech from 2006, here's some great wisdom about trusting enough to say, "yes." I couldn't help think of young Mary, sitting in her room, going about her own business, not knowing that Gabriel is at her door just about ready to lead her into the greatest improv skit of her life. (My brother does improv. I tell you, it's not easy.) But for us with faith, there is nothing better than to say "yes-and" to all God gives us.

Click the link above to read his entire speech. I laughed through it all.

But you seem nice enough, so I'll try to give you some advice. First of all, when you go to apply for your first job, don't wear these robes. Medieval garb does not instill confidence in future employers—unless you're applying to be a scrivener. And if someone does offer you a job, say yes. You can always quit later. Then at least you'll be one of the unemployed as opposed to one of the never-employed. Nothing looks worse on a resume than nothing.

So, say "yes." In fact, say "yes" as often as you can. When I was starting out in Chicago, doing improvisational theatre with Second City and other places, there was really only one rule I was taught about improv. That was, "yes-and." In this case, "yes-and" is a verb. To "yes-and." I yes-and, you yes-and, he, she or it yes-ands. And yes-anding means that when you go onstage to improvise a scene with no script, you have no idea what's going to happen, maybe with someone you've never met before. To build a scene, you have to accept. To build anything onstage, you have to accept what the other improviser initiates on stage. They say you're doctors—you're doctors. And then, you add to that: We're doctors and we're trapped in an ice cave. That's the "-and." And then hopefully they "yes-and" you back. You have to keep your eyes open when you do this. You have to be aware of what the other performer is offering you, so that you can agree and add to it. And through these agreements, you can improvise a scene or a one-act play. And because, by following each other's lead, neither of you are really in control. It's more of a mutual discovery than a solo adventure. What happens in a scene is often as much a surprise to you as it is to the audience.

Well, you are about to start the greatest improvisation of all. With no script. No idea what's going to happen, often with people and places you have never seen before. And you are not in control. So say "yes." And if you're lucky, you'll find people who will say "yes" back.

Now will saying "yes" get you in trouble at times? Will saying "yes" lead you to doing some foolish things? Yes it will. But don't be afraid to be a fool. Remember, you cannot be both young and wise. Young people who pretend to be wise to the ways of the world are mostly just cynics. Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don't learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. Cynics always say no. But saying "yes" begins things. Saying "yes" is how things grow. Saying "yes" leads to knowledge. "Yes" is for young people. So for as long as you have the strength to, say "yes."

And that's The Word.

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