The Gospel According To Neil Simon

In the last couple of weeks we lost some truly remarkable people- Aretha Franklin, John McCain and Neil Simon. All of our lives have been touched in some way by these talented people who helped to make the world better in their own way.

In January, I had the honor of directing some of the best actors in Birmingham in Neil Simon’s play BAREFOOT IN THE PARK. I truly think that it was transformative for me, the actors and the fairly new theatre company.

Many times I have quoted one of the lines from the play, including in some of my blog posts here- “Some people are watchers and some people are doers.” Imagine my surprise yesterday when our minister quotes the book of James in the New Testament and talks about watchers and doers.

“Our knowledge is only as valuable as our willingness to act on it.” This quote, used throughout the sermon, was one that really stuck with me. It goes to the heart of being a watcher or a doer. Gathering information and doing research is one of my favorite things to do. However, I most often do nothing of worth with all of the information I collect.

Another interesting thought from the service was that before we ask God to change the world, we need to ask Him to change us. Now, that is a biggie! Too often we expect things to go to suit us, without changing anything about us to get it.

In another play from last season, a woman laments that she would do anything to lose weight. Anything, that is, except diet and exercise! It was a joke, but how often have we prayed and prayed for something that we haven’t lifted a finger to make happen? We want a better, different world, but are we willing to change to get it? Can we be better?

One of the most intriguing ideas in the sermon was that of a mirror. Back in Biblical times mirrors were not common. Knowing what you looked like was not as easy as it is today with mirrors all over the house and phones that can show us what we look like with the tap of a screen. When someone back then did have momentary access to a crude mirror, they only got a glimpse of themselves. Once they turned away, they would forget what they looked like before they ever saw a mirror again.

I’ll be honest, that sounds like heaven to me! Not being super secure in my looks, I think I would be happy with no mirrors or cameras to deal with. My head shot is 6 years old and every time I realize I need a new one, I talk myself out of it. Having no affinity for the way I look, I try to forget how I look between times I see myself in the mirror!!!

I have noticed that when I get involved in a book, TV show, or movie, it is usually because I relate strongly to one of the characters. I just finished reading the Crazy,Rich Asians trilogy and then went to see the movie opening weekend. After so much time reading three long books and watching the movie, I was surprised when I looked in the mirror and I wasn’t Asian!

Too often in this world, we all seem to forget who we are. We read and learn how to be better people and then we aren’t. We profess to be Christians and then put our self interests first. We have committee meetings on how to help others and then go home to worry only about our own.

I always think back to a youth parent meeting years ago when a new idea was introduced. To be honest, I don’t even remember what the plan was about. What I do remember was a parent who was super involved in church saying they were not interested in the new plan because it wouldn’t directly help their child. They did not care that it would be good for lots of the youth in the group and might bring some kids from outside of the church in, if it didn’t directly help their child, they were opposed to it.

I think we all forget what we “look like” from time to time. We forget that we are called to be doers and not just watchers. We forget that Aretha Franklin not only sang songs, but work for civil rights and women’s rights. We forget that Neil Simon not only wrote funny plays, but served as a corporal in the reserves for years. We forget that along with being a decorated war hero, senator and family man, John McCain also hosted Saturday Night Live.

We each have the capacity to be a diverse person who not only does what they are gifted to do, but can do for others as well. We can be serious and funny. We can change the world as we change ourselves. We can be more than what we see in the mirror, while remembering who we are and what we are called to be.

I think that is why I hate pictures of myself. I like to think that me being still and smiling for the camera is not me at all. I am not one to be still and posed. I like to think of myself in motion, doing something is what makes me, well, me! I would want to think that none of us can truly be captured in a single, still picture (no offense to photographers.)

One of my favorite pictures of myself is a candid shot of Tim and I moments after we were married, in the breezeway outside of the sanctuary of our church. We stopped for only a moment to acknowledge each other and steal a quick kiss. We had no idea the photographer was even there.

In that photo you can see movement, my hand going to Tim’s cheek, the love shared between us, the fact that we had to keep moving but needed that second to ourselves, the hope for the future and the joy in that moment. Whenever I see that picture, all of that motion s there for me.

Life keeps moving and so must we. We must be doers, not only for ourselves, but for others. We need to learn what we can and then use that knowledge to make the world around us a little bit better. Sometimes we have to be watchers, but whenever we can- let’s strive to be doers. Neil Simon (and hopefully God) would be proud!



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Marietta is a graduate of the University of Montevallo with a BFA in musical theater. She has been performing for over 50 years on the stage and continues to perform, direct and teach. Marietta is married to Tim, has a son named Jon, and a cat named Penny.