“Don’t look at my creation!”
The line hangs in the air. For a split second, the time between an inhale and an exhale, the audience waits. I wait: what will my partner do?
“I already know that mine will defeat yours!”
Relationship, conflict: the improv scene has begun.
All art requires creativity and risk, but improv theater epitomizes this truth. That’s the draw of it: you go to a show knowing that, whether the storytelling is great or only so-so, you’re watching something unfold that has never existed before. You’re watching people make something out of nothing, out of controlled panic, out of the empty space between actors. And often, what they make becomes something beautiful, thought-provoking, original; always, what they make is something true.
People think that improvisers are specially talented actors, but that’s not what makes a performer great. All it takes is an ability to get wrapped up in a moment with someone else—no filters, no preconceived notions. The human brain is infinitely creative if we only stop constraining it. But most people say they can’t imagine making themselves that vulnerable: on stage, no script, no idea what’s coming next.
The open secret of improv is that the most brilliant stories come from a place of complete vulnerability, and they happen in an instant; but the vulnerability comes from a sense of complete safety, developed over weeks or even years. Anyone can let go of the need for control if they can learn to trust their teammates, their partners in art, these people who have also risked everything by showing up on stage. To an improviser, success isn’t being funny or getting attention or making good stuff happen. Success is giving anything and everything to support the story being told by the team—with the knowledge that everyone else is doing the same.
This week, I’m taking chances with a new team.
It’s a still-forming church: Two Rivers. It’s a lot of ideas that are about to become action. Two of those ideas are the values of embracing the power of creativity and having the courage to be vulnerable. These hopes invite us to imagine a beautiful story unfolding: a group of authentic, open, light-bright people sharing the gifts of creation, taking the risk of making and appreciating art, hiding no more.
But any improv actor could tell you this story isn’t possible without another of our values: creating a fully inclusive community. Without a space that’s safe for everyone, we miss out on the gifts of diversity. Without earning each other’s trust, we cannot expect each other’s vulnerability.
This week is our first public worship service. Every member of our little core team is wearing multiple hats to check off all the tasks required to give our best offering to our neighborhood. Whether we are setting up chairs, singing in the band, or serving breakfast, we are excited and just a bit nervous. It feels scary to invest in something like this and to finally offer it to the world.
I am praying that in this unique moment, our nervousness won’t induce us each to fall back on our own dysfunctional attempts to exert control—those instincts that can ruin an improv scene by blinding a player to their partners. I’m praying nervousness will propel us to greater compassion and gentleness toward our guests, because it feels scary to visit a new church.
Even churches that claim to include everyone can make people feel like misfits. For so many of us, it takes gumption just to walk into a service, senses on alert, fidgeting in the back, wanting to whisper to someone: I’ve heard a rumor God shows up here sometimes.
There are lots of long-winded, super-precise definitions of faith, but for me sometimes faith is just expecting God to show up—even when it seems unlikely. Even when the world is dark. Even when church people scare the crap out of me. Even when I’m nowhere near holy enough to approach God; I believe God is drawing near to me. And maybe if God shows up for me, I can show up for someone else. Maybe I can invest in this hopeful, sinful, righteous, ragtag, still-coalescing group called Two Rivers Church, with all its beautiful dreams and all the inevitability that it will sometimes fall short of them.
We’re inviting all kinds of people to belong here. People who have been made to feel like misfits. People, like me, who sure want to belong—but have been told in the past that belonging comes at the cost of sacrificing who you are.
It’s true that belonging comes at a cost: it takes investment, risk, compromise. But real belonging lets you bring all of yourself. Real belonging doesn’t carve you apart; it lets you be more whole.
In that spirit, we are building a safe place for each other, one risky line at a time. We’re embarking on a journey together, and step by step, we’re learning to trust. We can’t promise anyone that it’s a journey without wandering, without bad weather, or without some good old-fashioned big dumb mistakes. It’s not safe in that it’s free of pain. It’s safe in that we will keep showing up, to hold our pain together, to grow through our mistakes together, to remind each other who we are in Christ.
It’s safe in that God is here, helping us tell a story that is impossible without each of us but bigger than any of us. It’s safe because God holds us together when we’re falling apart, teaching us that we can walk through anything without coming undone. And the more that we risk knowing and being known—the more we find the courage to be vulnerable, and bear all that is sacred and lovely and awful about each other’s vulnerability—the more it might be said of us, with Spirit’s help:
Often, what they make becomes something beautiful; always, what they make is something true.