Catching Laughter is Sacred Space (book or show!)

by Steve Carpenter

I was at Ohio Mennonite Conference’s annual assembly at Bluffton University in early March and had the pleasure of seeing Ted Swartz perform “Laughter is Sacred Space” before an audience of more than 300 people – in a space that maybe seemed not so sacred. The venue was an old gym with bleacher seating extending to the edge of a worn basketball court – not exactly Carnegie Hall. Yet, Ted was engaging and the audience was enthralled. This was my second time seeing Ted perform “Laughter” and it was just as funny and poignant the second time as it was the first time.

TedSoldOutShowI’m sure many of you have seen Ted perform, perhaps as one-half of “Ted and Lee,” or more recently as the lead actor of Ted and Company TheatreWorks. He and Lee were perhaps best known for their roles in Fish Eyes which debuted in 1994*. In it they portray Peter and Andrew, disciples and brothers who walked with Jesus in his final days on Earth. However, when Lee took his own life in May of 2007 Ted lost his business partner and best friend. “Laughter is Sacred Space,” the show and book, tells the story of Ted’s struggle with that devastating loss and his faith journey through the mist of overwhelming grief. In this one-man play Ted recounts the first time he met and worked with Lee and of their growing friendship and business partnership. Though props, photos, and reflections, Ted describes how he and Lee honed each other’s skills and created a drama company capable of bringing fresh insights into biblical passages while providing them both with a respectable living as theater professionals.

Ted will be back in Ohio to perform “Laughter” again, this time at Central Mennonite Church, on Friday April 4 at 7 pm. For information about this and other upcoming performances check out Ted’s web site at: Ted and Company TheaterWorks.

For those of you who have not been able to catch a live performance of “Laughter is Sacred Space,” I recommend reading Ted’s book by the same name, available in two different covers:

In September 2012, Ted paired a live performance of “Laughter is Sacred Space,” to a sold out crowd at Court Square Theater in Harrisonburg, VA where Ted and his wife Sue live, with the launch of the book. Since then more than 1600 copies of the hardcover book have been sold, along with nearly 750 sales of the electronic version. Both the book and audio download, which is performed by Ted, are available through MennoMedia’s store.

This was my second time at Ohio Mennonite Conference’s Annual Assembly and both this year and last Eliot and Seth Nofziger, two brothers from Ohio who perform original skits under the name The Living Script, have put on dramas which introduce a scripture passage for further reflection by the delegates. These men are young, Eliot is a student at Bluffton. Ted has been doing drama in church settings for more than 37 years. Seth and Eliot’s work seems to have been inspired by Ted and Lee in that both teams use humor to bring a fresh interpretation to scripture. It’s good to see the vision of one generation pass on to the next. It’s even better to see how both The Living Script and Ted and Company have been used of the Holy Spirit to cause audiences to take a fresh look at familiar Bible stories and laugh in the process.


Have you seen Ted or the Nofzinger brothers perform? What did you think?
Have you read Ted’s book? Which parts did you connect most deeply with?

*For those in Virginia: Celebrate the 20 year anniversary of Fish Eyes, an unforgettable and funny series of detours through the Gospels, with Ted Swartz as Peter and Jason Hildebrand as Andrew. Fish Eyes will be at Court Square Theater in Harrisonburg, Va., on April 10, 11, 12 at 7:30 p.m. and April 13 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance, $18 at the door. Seniors, students and groups (10+) $12 in advance, $15 at the door. More information here.

Forty Days of More-with-Less: What is so convenient about your food?

Ben and Heather Kulp’s 40-day Lent journey to cook exclusively from More-with-Less Cookbook. *(Be sure to read to the end for a special invitation to comment and have your name put in a drawing for a free copy of More-With-Less.)

By Ben and Heather Kulp

While visiting a chef friend in San Francisco last year, we learned a new term: “fast fresh.” The term demarcates those restaurants that are not the traditional burger-and-fries fast food joints, but still offer customers counter service and cheaper food than a sit-down restaurant (think Chipotle, Freshii, Chop’t, etc.). The “fast” is supposed to appeal to those who don’t have a lot of time for lunch during the day, while the “fresh” is supposed to appeal to those who want healthier food options than meal-deals and 99 cent menus can provide. Usually, the target market for fast fresh is young and middle-aged health-conscious professionals—just like us. And we have fallen into that trap again and again, especially when we forget to bring lunch to work or are out running errands during a meal hour.

But what fast fresh and traditional fast food share is the very thing that makes them both tempting and flawed: they are not actually faster than eating food you cook yourself. The draw of such food is in the idea that you don’t have to “work” to get it. Someone else is, very literally, providing for you. This triggers feelings of safety and comfort, even if only for a few moments when you sit down and get exactly what you want.

So what happened this week without the option to engage in this kind of emotional convenience eating?

Last week, we discussed shopping our pantry, and this week, those skills came in handy. We had one evening in particular where nothing was planned for dinner, yet we needed to eat quickly. Thankfully, More-with-Less gives us a tool—the “TS” designation—that indicates recipes that can be made in 30 minutes. Instead of ordering in or grabbing something on the way to the next meeting, Ben proposed making breakfast for dinner (“brinner”).

pancakes Fifteen minutes later (and with plenty of time before the next activity), we had a hot plate of Whole Wheat Buttermilk Pancakes (p. 73) and a side of high-protein eggs and cheese. It was faster and cheaper than takeout and created space for us to have a conversation over the dinner table.

Speaking of dinner table conversations, home-cooked convenience foods allowed us to have more conversations about More-with-Less itself. We traveled to visit Ben’s mother in Vermont for a few days—our son’s first trip out of town. We had planned poorly for our four-hour trip to her house and hadn’t eaten a proper lunch. Normally, we would have stopped to grab fast food; instead, we were surprised with a snack along the way. We stopped briefly at Ben’s sister and brother-in-law’s house to nurse and catch up. Instead of buying a box of our favorite chocolates as a host gift, we made the Whole Wheat Orange Bread (p. 80). whole wheat orange breadEven though it was for them, they immediately sliced it and shared it while we talked. They discussed how they were transitioning to a simpler, “cleaner” diet and were using cookbooks like More-with-Less for inspiration.

We when arrived at Ben’s mother’s home, she had a steaming bowl of Corn and Bean Chowder (p. 202) made for bean corn chowderAs we ate, she described the first time she heard about More-with-Less. She was at a farmworkers gathering in Detroit in the 1970s and a Catholic who heard she was a Mennonite approached her. “Have you heard of that great cookbook your people published? It’s revolutionary.”

Then Ben’s mother brought out her battered, stained 25-year-old copy of the cookbook.

gado gado 2We flipped through it, understanding how many stories must be contained in those recipes. We can’t wait to hear more. Then she made us the truly fast and fresh Indonesian Gado Gado (240) that night.

gado gadoThis week was more challenging than the last, as we experienced some of the circumstances under which people make choices that are more “superconvenient,” as Doris Longacre says and less “responsible, nutritious” (p. 47). Thankfully, she provides some recommendations for how to make the more responsible choices: alternate cooking with others in the household; live in close community with others who can share meals; simplify the menu; plan menus in advance (this will be our challenge next week!); and buy/cook in larger quantities that can be used over time (p. 47-48). So, though less initial thought may go into securing “superconvenient” food, we found out this week that we are more emotionally and socially satisfied than if we had gone out for dinner or purchased (one of Ben’s favorite) frozen pizza.  We look forward to updating you next week on how our week of food preparation and hosting friends is going.


MWL_Cover_hard_2011.qxp* What recipe that is not in More-with-Less do you use regularly that helps you cook more with less? Add your comment and your name will be added to a random drawing for a free copy of More-with-Less. Please comment before our next post on March 27, 4 p.m. ET. Deadline! MennoByte_photo

Ben and Heather

“I thought you were dead.”

Guest blog post by Glen E. Miller, MD2MillerGlenI was speaking to a group of about 120 people on the cost of healthcare. I was on the third power point slide that graphically illustrated the escalating cost of healthcare. That much I remember.

Without any warning, I suddenly fell over backwards. My wife, Marilyn, sitting nearby, later told me, “I thought you were dead.” My heart had lost its effective rhythm and was no longer pumping blood throughout my body. The heart rhythm—ventricular fibrillation—left my heart a quivering mass, useless as a pump. An EMT (emergency medical technician) fireman, Mark, was at the meeting and with others immediately started CPR. The EMT squad arrived in seven minutes and gave me an electric shock that re-established my heart rhythm.

I had had a cardiac arrest, the most common cause of sudden death. And I beat the odds.

The likelihood of surviving a cardiac arrest with complete recovery is seven percent.  After five days in the hospital, I went home to an active life as before.

But life after that could not be the same. I now lived with the awareness that I could die at any time. And in view of my previous heart troubles, I need to accept that my life will likely be shortened. I am not going to live forever after all. There will be an end. Knowing that is called mortality awareness.

2013ImportOf2011Photos 064We can become aware of our mortality after an illness, accident or the death of a friend—anything that says I am not going to live forever after all. Of course we know that but it’s so easy to ignore this fundamental truth.

I decided it was time to get serious about preparing for my own death. As a doctor, I provided medical care for people who died a good death and those who did not. I was convinced that to make a good death more likely, I needed to proactively prepare.

The awareness of my mortality and the perception of a shortened life expectancy motivated me to pursue productive ways to continue to contribute to my family and to the common good of the larger community. I discussed with my family how much and what kind of medical care I wanted at the end of my life. I decided I want to die at home if it doesn’t create an undue burden for my family and most importantly, I want to create experiences and lasting memories that would enhance the bonding and togetherness of my family. I ended up with a checklist of tasks to be completed that brings peace of mind that I have done what I can to prepare to die well. What I learned became a book Living Thoughtfully, Dying Well, which has just been published by Herald Press this March, 2014. Read the news release here, or you can purchase the book here.

LivingThoughtfully2I welcome you to check it out and also invite you to dialogue with me at the blog I share with a friend and fellow traveler on this journey, Jep Hostetler, author of another Herald Press book, The Joy Factor. Together we offer perspective and ideas on how be more intentional in how we live our lives, and in how we prepare for the ending of our journey.

Here’s a short video introducing the website/blog and ourselves:


Have you had discussions with your family members about your final wishes? About what to do if you suddenly are incapacitated?

Both Glen and Jep are available and happy to address any group on how to live in such a way that dying becomes a natural part of life. Contact them through their website or through MennoMedia, 800-245-7894.