religion

How to Choose a Church or Synagogue – Review by Kerri Schuster

For most people, polite conversation avoids all things spiritual.  Fortunately, Ruth Laker has no problem sharing with readers her honest and humorous opinions and observations as she searches for the perfect church in How to Choose a Church or Synagogue:  A Twenty-One Pew Adventure.

The daughter of a Presbyterian minister, wife of a “recovering” Catholic and stepmother of two boys involved in Quakerism, Laker herself is a potpourri of traditions.  Not entirely happy with the church she most recently attended, she embarks on a yearlong quest for a new place of worship.  She takes us with her to modern synagogues, palatial holy spaces and humble, no-nonsense places of prayer.  We join her on her personal journey but are welcome to come to our own conclusions along the way.  In fact, she half-jokingly includes a rating chart for readers to customize for their own spiritual shopping.

Each chapter describes an experience with a different denomination.  There is no church she’s not willing to give a chance.  She experiments with varieties of Judaism and with a range of Christian groups from conservative to liberal.  She enters each sanctuary with an open mind and tries to leave behind her preconceived ideas about the people she joins.  Therefore, she is often surprised by what she finds.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t bombard her with their evangelism.  The Presbyterians might have more money than God.  Some churches have convenient parking and clean bathrooms.

One common thread throughout the book is a concern about the role of women in each religion, and Laker frequently questions ministers, male and female, about leadership positions available to both sexes.  More than half the people who regularly attend religious services are female, and Laker seeks an environment in which women are welcomed as members of the clergy and not just relegated to duties in the Sunday school.  The writing on this topic is the book’s most clear, convincing, and heartfelt.

In an account that has the potential to take itself too seriously, Laker manages to write about religion in a way that is both sincere and entertaining.  She has many more positive experiences than negative and shows that choosing a church or synagogue does not have to be weighted down with the political and cultural baggage we might expect.  As she says near the end of the book, “…church people are basically pretty gosh darn nice.”

-Review by Kerri Schuster

Little Lamb

InterActLittleLambRunning through June 28 at the InterAct Theatre Company (2030 Sansom Street in Philadelphia,PA), Michael Whistler’s Little Lamb examines the issues that many adoptive couples face when both members happen to be of the same sex. At the same time, however, it does so much more. In addition to examining issues related to sexual orientation, the play also investigates the ways in which race and religion factor into our notions of justice, ethics, and morality. In other words, Little Lamb offers a thoughtful, complex look at many of the so-called “family values” that are too often over-simplified by the mainstream media.

The play centers on Denny and Jose, a gay couple intent on adopting a child. While at first glance the couple may appear to be somewhat stereotypical — Denny tends to get emotional over rare Ethel Merman recordings while Jose is a former lounge singer with the chiseled physique of a dancer — Whistler’s use of these types is quite intelligent, particularly given the challenge of portraying what might be termed a “gay issue” for a “straight” audience. By beginning with figures that a mainstream audience already knows, Whistler opens a door for further investigation. Yes, Denny likes Ethel Merman, but that’s not the full extent of who Denny is, nor does Jose’s former life as a cabaret singer define him in his entirety. As the play progresses, both characters emerge as complicated, flawed, struggling, hopeful, and (above all) human. The result is that Little Lamb is not only a play that speaks to issues relevant to the gay community but a play that speaks to the human condition.

Bringing Denny and Jose to life in this production are actors Ames Adamson and Frank X, who are more than believeable in their roles. Throughout the play, Adamson imbues Denny with a fitting mix of righteous certainty and insecure bravado while X’s Jose balances out his partner with kindness, compassion, dry humor, and quiet dignity. Rounding out the cast, Cathy Simpson, Kaci M. Fannin, and Katrina Yvette Cooper provide a strong counterpoint to Adamson and X.

As the fulcrum upon which the play’s dramatic tension rests, Fannin deftly navigates the choppy waters between her character’s advocacy for her clients and her own religious leanings. Indeed, if anything in this play came as a surprise to me, it was the even-handed way in which Whistler depicts religion. It would be easy (perhaps too easy) to vilify religion in a play like this — to depict those with a religious inclination as crazy or ignorant — but Whistler never gives into that temptation. Rather, the zeal that moves his more religious characters manifests itself in a way that genuinely seeks to do good. Thus there are no heroes or villains in Little Lamb, only people trying their best to do the right thing — even if “the right thing” is at odds with someone else’s right thing and therefore must inevitably result in sorrow and heartbreak.

Overall, Little Lamb is a moving, engaging production that gets at the heart of what we mean when we discuss things like love and family, as well as right and wrong. For information on ordering tickets, you can visit the InterAct Theatre Company at their website: InterActTheatre.org.