Jesus Phreak’s Return to Richmond
Jesus Phreak is cohosted by the Metropolitan Community Church of Richmond and plays the Gay Community Center on 1407 Sherwood Avenue at 8 p.m. on Saturday, May 30. A $5 donation is suggested.
On the web at www.jesus-phreak.com.
Last year, when Dale Smith performed “Jesus Phreak: The Story of a Very Unlikely Disciple” during the Acts of Faith Festival, he saw mainly straight, white Christians in the audience and didn’t know how they would react. His director had prepared him for the worst warning him some audience members may leave during the performance. He never had one person walk out.
He brings his performance back to Richmond Saturday night at the Gay Community Center of Richmond after touring engagements in Missouri and Chicago.
“I feel I’m going to get more gay people in the audience than I’ve ever had before and I really want them to enjoy the show,” Smith says. “In my mind, they were my audience.”
“Jesus Phreak” follows a church pianist’s personal relationship with God. The idea started as a class assignment when Smith studied at Richmond’s Union Theological Seminary. The project – create your own image of Jesus.
“Before seminary, when I was having my religious awakening, I had a dream about Jesus on Good Friday that always stuck with me,” Smith says. I put together this monologue about a character kind of like me, who has a dream about Jesus that makes him think that he could become a Christian.”
At the time, Smith thought his work was done. Classmates had responded so well to the piece and wanted to know what happened to the character. Smith started to explore homosexuality and the church as he continued the story. In his show, he never uses the word “gay” as the issue comes to light halfway through the show. Instead, Smith uses a metaphor about breaking another rule in the Bible of mixing fabrics.
“There are many verses in the Bible that people just ignore.” Smith says. “Why do we ignore some and say that some must be upheld?”
As a comic show, he also wanted to keep the tone light.
“By using the metaphor of mixing, at first, there’s a confused look, and then some light goes off, and they get it, and then they’re laughing,” he says. “It gives them permission to laugh at a very serious subject.”
For Smith, seminary happened gradually. He started reading a lot of theology in his late twenties and says he started thinking about Christianity in an adult way.
“When I started reading this theology, it started to become more compelling and intellectually rigorous,” he says.
He came out of the closet in college and says he has always had a comfortable balance between his faith and sexuality.
“I never had this ‘I’m gay, God hates me, my church is going to hate me moment.”
“I think a lot of gay people have had it drummed in. Even straight people have issues with sex,” he says. “Then you get to gay Christians and it’s even more compounded. Then gays not only have to deal with sex being ‘dirty,’ but also that it’s a sin.”
“[Finding balance], I think it has to do with being comfortable as a gay person and being out with all the important people in my life,” he says. “It wouldn’t have even been compelling to me if God wasn’t going to accept me as the gay man that I am. The sexuality part just wasn’t an issue.”
When Smith did make the decision to go to seminary, he decided to go as an openly gay man. He says majority of the faculty and students were very supportive.
“I remember having a nightmare before I actually moved to Richmond of people chasing me around campus with torches,” he says. “My very first class of seminary, this woman walks in the room and I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s a lesbian going here.’ She says, ‘I have a feeling, it’s going to be safe to sit beside you.’ We were bosom buddies from that point on.”
He says, although no one was ever antagonistic, the church is not willing to take certain risks regarding gay marriage and gay ordination.
“Although they are supporting you, they aren’t willing to push the envelope or put themselves on the line as much as you wish they would be willing to,” Smith says.
He says a key message of his show is that the church does not have the last word, God does.
“Gay people have abandoned Christianity for whatever reason and I want to be able to give them a way to reclaim the tradition if they want to and see themselves on stage,” Smith said.
While there haven’t been any walkouts at a show, there are apparently other things in church that are touchy subjects according to Smith.
“The only thing people complain about is that my character is a church pianist,” he said. “People are more uncomfortable with me making fun of ‘Amazing Grace’ than me being a gay man onstage and a Christian.”
I want people to leave with knowledge of what their community center does,”March 31, 2015
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