The Coolest Little Playhouse
But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her."
July 15, 2022, Words By: Ojii BaBa Madi, Image By: unknown
South Camden has the coolest little playhouse with high-quality seating, sound, and lighting. It is well crafted for the works of famed playwrights like Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neil, and David Mamet. It’s the perfect neighborhood theater, but the neighbors and I have never sat for a performance. South Camden is not exactly Tennessee Williams’ territory, so few locals find interest in the cool little playhouse.
South Camden is the poorest area of one of America’s poorest cities, featuring the daily drama of inhaled environmental racism, with pollutants pumping from sewerage treatment, trash-to-steam, and coal burning plants. The playhouse’s renown among arts patrons from outside the neighborhood cannot rival the immediate escape of street drugs sold around the corner. While the neighbors receive little assistance in dealing with injustice and neglect, the acclaimed critics’ theater reviews may suggest all is fine, now that there is a theater on the corner.
The playhouse is the work of a caring congregation and their beloved priest. This gentle soul has committed his congregation to bringing beauty to a neighborhood famous for blight and dysfunction. Inspired by such a caring heart, his congregation continues to invest in community redevelopment, providing quality housing and the cool little playhouse. Like Martha in today’s Gospel reading, these gracious interlopers have been very busy at work within a black and brown community.
I’m sure Martha busied herself in good work, aiming to be dutiful and hospitable. Likewise, I’m sure the priest and his congregation were truly dedicated to making the neighborhood more peaceful and hospitable. Yet, within the busyness of good works, both seem to have failed to imagine a greater beauty right in front of them: relationship.
My imagination is drawn to Martha’s sister, Mary. I can almost hear her conversation with Jesus, an exchange of life experiences, joys, triumphs, pains, and most wonderfully, desires. Mary, together with Jesus, illustrates the splendors of fellowship, that process of meeting one another wherever we’re at; it takes us beyond busyness and helps us to better imagine those we count as friends and neighbors. Fellowship affirms the full humanity of these friends and neighbors, for the human narrative is shaped by life experiences, joys, triumphs, pains, and most wonderfully, desires. Failures at fellowship serve to mute voices and shape poorly informed narratives.
I hope we can imagine an alternative story for my neighborhood, one where the priest and his congregation truly engage with the neighbors, fellowshipping before installing a single stage light or hanging a curtain. Imagine joyous gatherings, not between damaged black/brown objects and compassionate white saviors with prefabricated solutions, but between fully human friends. I’m sure the exchange of life experiences, joys, triumphs, pains, and desires, would inspire a creativity beyond Williams and O’Neil, a creativity that truly touches the souls of everyone involved and transforms the lived realities of the neighborhood. It certainly could inspire the collective question, “What shall we together imagine, cherish and create?”
Like the priest and his well-intended congregation, Martha missed out. Right there, within the warmth of her home, as the shadow of the cross crept closer, she busied herself with the good work of an orderly house and the preparation of a proper meal. Naturally, she followed the script society had prescribed for her as host. We all generally revert to the roles and expectations we know when we encounter something different. And while good food, cool playhouses, and orderly homes are all worthwhile work, they are also secondary to the relationships that come from true fellowship.
Such fellowship moves us from narratives of damage to narratives of desire and longing. Within the blessedness of fellowship, imaginations of fully formed humans transform into the delights of the beloved community. Within this community, we have a chance to see Jesus, both in ourselves and in others. Mary could testify of special graces, new understandings, and serendipitous joys rising to meet us as we move beyond the busyness of distractions and enjoy the exchange of life experiences, joys, triumphs, pains, and most wonderfully, desires. The Good News — the door is always open for us to follow her example, both in fellowship with the Creator and with all of God’s beloved children.
Dwelling Among Us
Who are those in your community that you identify as friends or neighbors? What does fellowship look like among these friends and neighbors? Are there exchanges of life experiences, joys, triumphs, pains, and desires?