A comparison of voluntary agencies:
The Theatre , An Association for the Intellectually Disabled, The Church
This is a list of a variety of topics showing how three formative places at which I volunteered as a teenager helped influence my personal development: 1. theatre, 2. a group of volunteers assisting the intellectually disabled, and 3. the church.
High school/Community Theatre is a temporary family of strangers who become friends united in telling a story full of emotions and moral lessons.
Within the intellectually disabled group, one becomes a parental figure to help guide ‘clients’ as they were called in my youth, participate in activities, a formal but rewarding relationship and experience.
The church is an extension of the family except that one has to apply the ‘Sunday Best’ outfit to go there.
The world of theatre is a place where fantasies are magically brought to life through illusion.
Working with so called ‘retarded children’ in the early 1970s meant relating to innocent and naive people who often exist within their own fantasies.
The Presbyterian Church requires members to believe in an abstract non-sequitur: a monotheistic trinity.
Theatre insists on collaboration.
Children require love.
Church demands faith and money.
Theatre makes artificial facades that are built as needed with theatrical makeup, lumber, canvas, acting, gingham and tweed. All of that: acting, scenery, lighting and costuming is applied to tell a unified story. Facade has a purpose here that is independent of the individual ego, it is a device used in storytelling.
The intellectually disabled have no facade, no mask to confront the world through artifice, so a volunteer’s task is to guide the clients toward behaviors that protect them in the world.
Maintaining one’s own facade is something to do at the church. Facade has an ego based foundation here: the presentation of self in conformation with the Presbyterian breed.
Theatre is about sharing excellence. There are conventional means of telling stories in theatre, but those conventions are meant to be stretched and reformed as needed.
Unconditional love is what the intellectually disabled are all about. Each person you encounter provides a window into unsullied humanity.
Church is about a person’s relationship with a triune deity: a man, a ghost and a god (in math that would be expressed as 3 = 1). Their relationship is narrowly defined by doctrine and spelled out in rules. Your ‘personal’ relationship with the trinity has already been codified.
An artist’s job is to bare their soul. Each production and performance is a new opportunity to fail as well as succeed. Theatre people are always vulnerable to published critics or anyone who buys a ticket.
We observe almost pure vulnerability with the mentally challenged, therefore, we can allow ourselves to become vulnerable too. The level of intellectual discourse is low but the level of emotional discourse can be profound. A volunteer’s defenses can be comfortably lowered to connect at that primal level.
A teenage Presbyterian was once asked to read a passage from the Bible during a regular Sunday service. He looked at the congregation, began to read, then he instantly froze solid, his rigid body tipped over the railing of the lectern with a thud, like a statue knocked from its plinth, then his body relaxed and he rolled down the steps to the altar. He had found himself, at that initial moment, face to face with a congregation of well managed facades. “I can’t bare to be judged by that!” he thought, so he left the room and his body for a few minutes. He was fine, physically, but he never should have been put in that emotional position; his young father had died of a heart attack in that very church several months before.
This guy was completely guileless; he had no clue about facade management. He was willing to speak (be vulnerable) in memory of his father, but he wasn’t interested in artifice at all. He simply couldn’t manage his own protective shield, so, when faced with the wall of judgement inherent in public speaking he collapsed. The meek may inherit the earth, but perhaps, the meek shouldn’t present their vulnerable, honest selves to the Presbyterians.
Theatre is always broke, couldn’t care less about what you do and who you screw as long as you make the opening curtain. Don’t mess up their story-telling and you are just fine by them.
The agency for the intellectually disabled has basic legal strictures. Nothing beyond human kindness is necessary and it does not cost you anything. A scandal or misbehavior would be the only reasons to exclude someone.
Of the three, church is the most divisive. You either accept the dogma or you don’t. Promises and money are required. You will be excluded if you do not comply. If you are gay you are not welcome. If you are gay you are hated.
The Theatre is accepting of all permutations of love. Love is Love
The intellectually disabled offer their love unconditionally. Love is Love
Religion places conditions and restrictions on love and the expression of love, this is called:“Christian Love.” The hymn: ‘They’ll know we are Christians by our love’ sounds altruistic but it refers to the exclusive version of love, not the normal connotations of Love. Christian love is the exclusive restricted Country Club version.