Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Amazing Grace is for Wretches

Amazing Grace is one of the most popular songs in the English-speaking language. Written by John Newton and published in 1779, it remains a treasured part of Christianity. Of course, it can be interpreted in many ways and means something different to everyone. Newton, being the author, wrote it as a lonely, foul-mouthed sailor participating in the slave trade, who suddenly received his calling from God. He spent most of his life at sea and prided himself on the fact that he could produce such profanity that no one had even heard of at the time. He lived a dangerous life, having near death experiences far too often. After one night at sea during a rigorous storm, he shouted, “If this will not do, then Lord, have mercy upon us!” This was the first time that he reached out to God to protect him, and it left him pondering. For the next eleven hours he steered the ship, contemplating what he had said and how God and Christianity had come into his life at that very moment. When he reached land, an enlightened Newton dedicated his life to the religion. He proposed to the love of his life, stopped sailing, and settled down in a small town to study theology.

John Newton wrote the song and connected to it in a very literal way. For him it meant that forgiveness is possible, even given the sins you may commit, and that a person’s soul can be saved from despair through the grace of God. He probably referred to himself as a “wretch” because of his destructive lifestyle as a filthy sailor and a heartless slave trader. Everyone, however, interprets this song differently. Many people also experience life changing events such as being almost killed, which make them reconsider the direction their life is going in.
This song has the capability to inspire people to realize their potential.

It certainly inspired journalist and playwright David Templeton at the ripe age of eleven. This is when he decided to be a “Born Again” Christian. Interestingly enough, he also decided against it years later. Today he still holds true to Christian values, treasuring the parts that still resonate most with him. He has written a one man-show called, “Wretch Like Me” which explores his experience with the religion throughout his teenage years. The comedy conveys what it was like growing up in Southern California, with a suicidal lounge sister for a mother and trying to fit in to the Downey High Jesus Club, all while struggling with the idea of what it means to be a good Christian.

The show has been called, “relentlessly funny,” “charming,” “magical,” “hysterical,” and “unforgettable” by a variety of theater critics. Templeton says that he became obsessed with the song at an early age and even memorized it front and back. When he turned 20 however, he turned his back on Christian fundamentalism asking himself, “Is it really a good thing to train ten year-olds to believe they are wretched, worthless, unworthy?” Templeton also states that the reason he chose the phrase “Wretch Like Me” for the title of his show is because it embodies the struggle he has had with the religion. He believes that it is his job to help create the world that Jesus had envisioned, “a world where everyone knows they are loved by someone, and no one ever has to feel like a wretch”.
“Wretch Like Me” is playing:

• August 5 & 6 at Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma
• August 26 & 27 at Santa Rosa Junior College
• September 9 & October 19 at Main Stage West in Sebastopol

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