The Parable of the Debate

          A month ago, I had the great pleasure of working with a small group of actors/congregants from University United Methodist Church in Irvine, California.  Our task was to explore, in the course of an afternoon and via improvisation, some of Jesus' parables and how they might speak to the particulars of our present time.  Especially particulars concerning our upcoming Presidential election.  Especially because Jesus was always encouraging his followers to think in "upside down" fashion.  For that's especially the way of God's Realm.

          Some of the folks in our group had done quite a bit of improv before and some were complete novices.  No matter.  Everyone's input was important.  The improvisations emerged a bunch of ideas and possibilities, and from some of that we shaped sketches that could be performed in Sunday morning worship at United UMC over the course of a few subsequent weeks. 

         One of the texts we explored was Luke 14:7-11, aka "The Parable of the Guests."  Incorporating everyone who participated in the workshop, here's what we came up with.  It's a bit silly, and, hopefully, at least a little bit wise.  The sketch pertains to the biggest thing since sliced bread - THE DEBATES!  Of course.  So in the spirit of what's front-and-center right now in everyone's minds, I thought I'd share this here...and now.

          Before we begin, the Cast of Characters:

          DOLORES TANNER:   Sharp, no-nonsense moderator

          BETTY BROWN:   Middle-aged community leader and small businesswoman (that means she runs a small business; has nothing to do with her actual size)

          MORT JACOBSON:  Rather blowsy big businessman (again, nothing about his actual size)

          SALLY PERKINS:  A third-grader(and 9 years old)

          JENNIFER ALT:  Beatific mother-to-be

          MAVIS HARTWIG:  A bit of an older adult, but not too old

          (Of course, these are not the names of the real people; their innocence is fully protected here. )

          And here's our sketch!         



DOLORES TANNER:    Good morning.  This is Dolores Tanner here of your local national news network here to moderate today’s highly anticipated debate between our various candidates for President of the PTA.  We hope you will find the answers edifying and, especially because we do espouse to be a Christian nation, in the spirit of one of Jesus’ most important parables for the election season:  the parable of the guests.  As Jesus says in Luke 14:7-11:

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Yes, Jesus had quite a bit to say about humility and hospitality, and let’s see how well our candidates can show that to us!  Or should we be looking for a showing of humility and hospitality that’s not so good?  This is going to be quite an engagement here this morning, so with no further ado, let’s get started!

Our first candidate for PTA President is competent businesswoman Betty Brown!

BETTY:    Thank you!  I believe I should be elected PTA President because I have started up a successful business with my husband and have a child who is an excellent student at this school.  I am both competent and grateful.

DOLORES:    Thank you Betty!  Our second candidate is loose-lipped local business mogul Mort Jacobson.  

MORT:    Thank you everybody!  And I should be PTA President because I started up a business that wasn’t successful until I learned the ropes from Betty – thank you Betty – I am endlessly appreciative.  I can only hope my son will one day want to date your daughter.

DOLORES:    Aw, is there bonding already?  This debate is getting Christian fast!  But let’s not get off track.  Our next candidate is a most unusual one, a third grade child who has been nominated because here’s a president who would really know what it’s like in the trenches.  Sally Perkins!

SALLY:    Thank you so very much Mrs. Tanner.  I dunno, I got asked to do this and maybe it might help me win a merit badge – not the whole badge but get some points.  And heck, all I really want to do is grow up to be like Mrs. Brown and Mr. Jacobson!

DOLORES:    And to her right we have a mother-to-be, Jennifer Alt.

JENNIFER (dreamily, rubbing her belly):  I can only hope that one day my child will be as bright and loving as Sally, at at this point that’s the most important thing for us all.

DOLORES:    Our final candidate is a grandmother whose children and grandchildren have attended our school, Mavis Hartwig.

MAVIS:    Thank you Dolores!  I must say all of these candidates are excellent!  So why should you vote for me?  Because I’ll probably die first which will give you the chance to vote for someone else rather soon.  (She claps for all the other candidates, and they all clap at her and then one another.)  

DOLORES:    Okay, I think we’re truly ready to hear what each of our potential PTA Presidents has to say think about the issues facing our schools and students today.  So let’s get started with our first question.  First question:  What is the most important thing needed to raise the quality of education in our community?  Mavis, we’ll start with you.

MAVIS:    If I may be so bold…(she seeks approval from the other candidates, and they give it), I think it’s pretty obvious.  More pay for our teachers!  Especially those employed at lower-quality schools.  

JENNIFER:    Oh yes, Mavis, that’s good!  I’m so glad you said that!  And as someone who lives in the zone of a high-quality school, I pledge to send my child to a lower-quality one so I will continually be encouraged to advocate for the teachers there.  Otherwise, I’m afraid to say, I might forget!  

SALLY:    That sounds like a great idea, thank you!  (Speaks up like a typical candidate.)  I promise if elected I will leave my friends at my current school to attend the lower-quality one that Mrs. Alt will be sending her child to, so that I can pave the way!

DOLORES:    Sally, that sounds a little like you are blowing your own horn here…..

SALLY:    Woops, maybe I am!  Okay, let me try this again.  I will try and go to a lower-quality school if I don’t get too sad leaving my friends and my parents will let me.  There’s only so much a kid PTA President can do, ya know.

MORT:        I know what you mean, Sally.  I would offer to leave my job as executive to a hugely successful business conglomerate that’s actually only moderately successful and become a teacher at a low-quality school, except I’m afraid I wouldn’t be a very good teacher.  And that’s why may I suggest you vote for me – because I am so aware how everyone else here is probably so much better at doing their job than I am or would be.  I’ll be operating out of a place of 100 percent appreciation which can’t help but spur me to pay raises for everyone.  Everyone but me.

BETTY:    Mort, that’s beautiful.  I think the only job I could possible take on at the school is custodian.  And let’s face it, when it comes to feeling totally overwhelmed with the desire to serve your constituents, there’s nothing that gets you into that sacred place like offering to clean their toilet.  Nothing, unless you are cleaning toilets with a friend.  Mort, will you join me?

DOLORES:    Oh my, we are really reaching some highs – or should I say lows – in humility and hospitality here.  I don’t know about you, but I’m about ready to break into a chorus of “Pass It On.”  But before I do, let’s go for one more question.  

Candidates, would you please tell us why we shouldn’t vote for your opponents?  

SALLY:    I’ll speak first so others can say something better.  I think because everyone is older and hence more experienced than I am, I have the most to learn, and advancing learning is what the PTA is supposed to be all about.  So vote for me.

JENNIFER:    Yes, Sally, I think you’re really onto something because I don’t know nearly as much as these elders surrounding me, and while I have less to learn than Sally, I also am the one who be in most need of sleep because of being really pregnant and then having a kid that keeps me up all night.  Because I will be constantly wanting to get away and take a nap while on the job I’ll be most liable to say “yes” to the demands of others, just to get them off my back.  So vote for me.

MAVIS:    Jennifer, I plan on sleeping a lot on the job, too.  In fact sets me apart from everyone else – because at your age you are much better at staying awake (or at least faking it), I’ll be the candidate relying on what comes during the REM state to inform me what the policies of our school system should be.

BETTY:    O boy, that’s a great suggestion, Mavis, I never thought about it because I’ve been so busy trying to be everything to everybody I’m terribly sleep deprived – way more than anyone here – except maybe my pal Mort here.

MORT:        Betty, if you’ll clean latrines with me, what more do we need?  What more does our school system need?  In fact, if I’m elected, I’ will defer all decisions to the rest of my colleagues so I can become the best latrine cleaner this town or nation has ever seen.  And if that’s me being a megalomaniac and sends me to hell so be it.  I’m sorry I just can’t help it right now.

BETTY:    I’m so sorry I didn’t want anything to spur you on to something that’s liable to lead you to eternal damnation.  Please forgive.

MORT:        No, please forgive me.

BETTY:    No me.

MORT:        No me….(etc)

DOLORES:    Well, with all this apologizing I can’t get a word in edgewise!


DOLORES:    That’s okay, you are forgiven!  Even if you sin again!  Because I think we’ve heard from our candidates just the way Jesus would want.  And I think we can all safely say we honor each and every one of them now more than we ever have.

Let’s give them a rousing round of applause.  (Lots of applause)  Actually, that’s probably a bit too much.  (Leads a round of lesser applause)
And remember, come election day, be sure and vote for the candidate you think would be best for the job.  Or, more to the point, not quite as good.  Thanks everybody!