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:
LaughterIsSacredSpaceChicken9780836195590

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.

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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.

See what doing good yields: a visit to Ohio Mennonite Conference’s Assembly and more

As director of development, I have the privilege of visiting and getting to know many of MennoMedia’s generous supporters, both individuals and congregations. In March I represented MennoMedia at the Ohio Mennonite Conference’s (OMC) Annual Assembly at Central Christian School (CCS) in Kidron, Ohio. While at that event, which was attended by more than 300 delegates, I helped Norma Duerksen, the Conference Resource Advocate, staff the MennoMedia book table, set up in the school gym along with many other Mennonite Church USA agency’s displays. OMC’s annual assembly is often our biggest single conference sales event. This year it did well, bringing in more than $1,500.

Before and after the assembly, I traveled through Ohio stopping in eight cities where I visited four congregations and a dozen MennoMedia donors. It is always a joy to meet with generous supporters and to be able to put a face with their names. Most often I meet in their homes but occasionally I am invited into their offices as well.

On this trip, Rupp Seed Inc. chairman Roger Rupp, gave me an extensive tour of two of the company warehouses. For over 65 years Rupp Seeds Inc. has been serving its customers. Their slogan, “See What Good Yields,” refers not only to the bountiful crops produced by their quality seeds, but to the abundance God brings when we give generously to the work of extending God’s Kingdom. Rupp Seeds donates their products to an OMC church’s Community garden, and to many other non-profit organizations. To learn more about Rupp Seeds Inc. click here.

Rupp Seeds Catalogue

I was also encouraged by a report from Bethany Nussbaum, advancement director at Central Christian School in Kidron. To view their web site click here.

Bethany NussbaumBethany told us they raised $362,000 for the school in a single morning through their annual auction. Of course there were many people involved, and months of planning and hard work, in advance of that morning’s event. I also learned of an anonymous donor who approached the school’s superintendent with a desire to make an impact for God’s Kingdom through the school’s music program. He encouraged them to “think big” and come back with a proposal. They presented their plan and he funded it to the tune of $400,000. This will allow CCS to take their music program to the next level. I was amazed at the generosity which allowed this small, rural Mennonite school to raise $.8 million this spring.

MennoMedia also relies on the generosity of its supporters to continue its ministry. If you are a MennoMedia customer, enjoying the books, music and curricula we produce, but have not yet made a contribution to support our ministry, I encourage you to give generously to MennoMedia. I promise we will use your tax deductible gift wisely as we “seek to engage and shape church and society with resources for living the Christian faith from an Anabaptist perspective.”

You don’t have to give a half of a million dollars to have an impact. Your financial support is much needed and greatly appreciated. If you are in the U.S. you can give using Pay Pal card by clicking here, or by credit card by clicking here.

For those in Canada click here.

You may also mail a check to MennoMedia, 1251 Virginia Ave., Harrisonburg, VA 22802 or in Canada to: Mennonite Church Canada, 600 Shaftesbury Blvd., Winnipeg, MB R3P 0M4, Canada (designated for MennoMedia).

Thank you for your interest in MennoMedia.

Steve C 2012

Steve Carpenter