Man at Play by Hugo Rahner, S.J.

Over the past couple of months I’ve been working my way through Der spielende Mensch (Man at Play), originally published in German in 1952, by the lesser known of the Rahner Brother. Hugo is the older brother of Karl Rahner and is perhaps better know for his work in Mariology.  Pope Benedict XVI notes that the Marian title of “Mother of the Church” is derived from Hugo’s work on Ambrose. I was introduced to this book about a decade ago when I was in school and started reading it in the library but never finished reading it. I finally got a copy of the book so I was able to finish it, and this post is going to be like an overview of my thought on the whole book so it will be a bit long.

Often as we grow up we are told to “put away childish thing” and forget about play to focus on the serious things in life. However, this book takes a look at the role of play in the life of humankind. We start in the preface where Walter Ong, SJ talks about how work and play derive from the same source noting that the Latin word ludus translates to both school and play. This is where it begins as children are learning through play this method is used in several educational approaches. Ong continues that the best players in a game are professionals and their work is play this is similar to how the best workers are doing something where they can play around with things. Play at it’s core is imitation from children playing house and with dolls assuming the roles of parents to when you are becoming a teacher you get up in front of a class to present something. Sure most of the time when we think of play it is as a child playing outside or playing video games or our minds drift to the world of the arts. Ong suggests the play need to take play more seriously. We are the results of God’s play as it is the giving of life, first by creation and then by redemption.

Turning to the book, we start with an introduction which gives us the general idea of what is to come in the book. Rahner starts with looking at how we have understood play from the Early Church to the modern times with F.J. J. Buytendijk and Herman Hesse. Rahner begins with Thomas Aquinas, who devotes a whole section in his Summa Theologica (II. II. q 168. art 2-4) to play. In this section Aquinas mentions the Aristotelian concept of eutrapelia, which is the mean between boorishness and buffoonery to which we should all strive for or you could put it as is the nimbleness of mind which is an essential human ideal. Aristotle also says that “Recuperative rest and cheerful play seem to be necessary for life.” Aquinas puts this idea to the very heart of the Christian life.

Rahner divides the book into five chapters. The first looks at God at play Deus ludens from there he turns in chapter  two to the playing of man Homo ludens  The third chapter combines to two and look at the playing of the church which leads into the heavenly dance between the two in chapter four. Rahner concludes the book focusing on Eutrapelia which comes from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics which Aquinas also pulls from.

In God at Play we start with Plato’s idea that human kind is a plaything of God, which is the highest perfection of creation. Rahner then bring up the idea that the creation of the world and man happened though a divinely meaningful act was by no mean necessary. We serve not purpose for God other than being a plaything, and Rahner says that this is the best thing about us as it points us to make of ourselves the noblest game. Both Creation and incarnation are expression of God’s love and this love is a love that works in creative freedom wholly ungoverned by necessity or constraints

Turning to Man at play Rahner begins once again rooting ourselves in the Greek tradition with Plotinus, who called Man a living plaything and expressed that all things strive to the vision of God. Rahner continues we all imitate, as far as in us lies the quality of God’s own creative power. This idea is expressed very well by Stephen Schwartz in his musical Children of Eden where he wrote that “I am an echo of the eternal cry of Let there be” in the song Spark of Creation “The spark of creation, is flickering within me/ The spark of creation, is blazing in my blood/ A bit of the fire that lit up the stars/And breathed life into the mud, the first inspiration.” This brings us to two important aspects of Earthly life, firstly existence is a joyful thing and secondly it is also a tragic thing.  This makes humankind “grave-merry”, a mingling of the light-hearted and the serious.

As we look at the playing of the Church Jesus is brought into this conversation, as God gave us Jesus and we can only respond to this with a love that is equally uncalculating and free. Rahner turns some Doctors of the Church, Gregory of Nazianzus who mentioned God’s playing that is in the incarnation when God became man in Jesus. This is a wonderful love-play hybrid and we all encounter this in different ways. As Thérèse of Lisieux desired to be nothing more than a toy, a little ball for the child Jesus, for a toy has no value a ball can be thrown on the ground and left or it can be treasured. This is where many get lost but it’s just echoing the call for “the little children to come to me.” The Church itself find itself in the actions of its members, we need to remember that we all the little Children that are being called no matter how old we are and we need to listen.

The next section we turn to the Heavenly Dance between the sacred and us. In fact there is a secret hidden at the core of play, that we hope for another life taking visible form in gesture. This is the longing for a vision of the divine and when we play is it a reaching out to this. Distilled one can say that play is dance. Scholars, philosophers and rhetoricians all seems fixated on this dance. Lucian of Samosata, wrote that “a man can only dance correctly and with beauty if he knows human nature and so is truly wise” he continues calling dance “the art of incarnating the spiritual and making visible the invisible.” Here is a deep concept that seems simple we must learn and grow to be able to be apart of the heavenly dance. The dance has been described through the ages like the stars as we are stardust or we are made of star stuff. Philo of Alexandria notes that God desires that the soul of the wise should be like heaven brought down to earth. Rahner then turns to the famed dancer from the Bible, David as he dance before the Lord with all of his might. To join in this dance isn’t to step up with our bodies but with our soul as well for dancing means changing the manner of our lives and bringing our body and soul into harmony.

We finally have gotten to the section on Eutrapelia, Aristotle’s golden mean between boorishness and buffoonery. Rahner calls this the forgotten virtue and talk about how Thomas Aquinas found this concept in Aristotle and it’s been stuck at the same point ever since in the moral theology. I find it easy to understand as it is a balance between the work and play is essential in all of our lives. Aristotle in Nicomachean Ethics says that eutrapelia is play for the sake of seriousness and he also tells us of Anacharsis’s motto “Play in order that you may work” which seems like a radical idea even today when so many of us are so focused on the seriousness of life but it is great advice. There is also some discussion that there is a time and place for everything and we should keep this in mind. As we try to bring balance to the world through play.

I think what this really all boils down to is love. Sure it’s one of the major topic I talk about here but it is the most important thing that we can do in out lives. It goes back to that Great Commandment or the Golden Rule, you know as the Ancient Egyptian put it “That which you hate to be done to you, do not do to another.” As we enter this season of Lent let us all be inspired to bring eutrapelia back to the world and try to encounter the world with love first and foremost as well as being open to the call from the Lord to “Come to him like little children”.

Jesus Christ Superstar: Live in Concert

On Sunday, NBC had the latest televised live musical event and perhaps the only one this year, well Disney Channel does have Freaky Friday airing sometime this summer. As for Bye Bye Birdie, the long gestating next live musical on NBC has been pushed back to 2019 and Fox is slated to be doing Rent Live on January 27, 2019. While this is a long time from now we got one of the better television musicals in recent years could that be based only on the choice of actors or how it was staged or even the musical itself.

Jesus Christ Superstar first came out as a concept album in 1970 and had success on the Billboard Pop charts topping them for the year over Carole King’s Tapestry. It started with rock and musical theater singers so why not capture this again, as they’ve done numerous time through the years. Having it staged as a concert also helped since it didn’t have to worry about sets, PBS has broadcast several other shows in concert were they are sort of semi-staged like this and they are always enjoyable to watch. Perhaps they could shift to these concert versions for a while or start picking shows that people know and aren’t afraid to watch.  Jesus Christ Superstar is being widely recognized as the best of all the “live musicals” that both NBC and FOX have done in this latest go round of televised musicals.

The reviews have all been praising Brandon Victor Dixon as Judas as the highlight of the event Dixon  recently was Aaron Burr in Hamilton. Sara Bareilles and John Legend also got some good reviews however Legend more so with for his singing and his vocal range as opposed to his acting chops. This seems to be something that the musical already has written into it as Judas plays a more compelling role in the show. The biggest problem that seemed universal was the costuming with most of the cast in sort of leather/pleather made no sense.  If you haven’t watched it yet I’m sure that NBC has it On Demand so check it out.

Something Rotten!

Something Rotten is a musical that is a grand old love letter to Broadway musicals. It tells the story of Nick Bottom and his brother Nigel, who are desperate for a hit show in 1595 England. Since Nick hates William Shakespeare because of The Bard’s success. The patron of Bottom’s acting troupe learns that it  seems like Shakespeare will be doing Richard II, the play that Nick and Nigel are working on. Their patron leaves saying they need a new show by tomorrow or he will no longer patronize them.  To make a sure fire hit Nick goes to a soothsayer and it’s Nostradamus, Thomas Nostradamus, the nephew of the famous one, to find out what the next big thing in theater will be, it turns out to be a musical. Nick is convinced and tries at first but his attempt with a musical about the plague doesn’t go over well.  So Nick goes back to T. Nostradamus and ask what Shakespeare’s biggest play will be, and that will be the musical, it’s Hamlet but Nostradamus misinterprets it as Omelette instead, a musical about breakfast food. That’s the main story for the first act.

This turns out to be the greatest thing ever from the audience’s perspective as there are references to just about all of musical history from Oklahoma and South Pacific to Mary Poppins and Wicked. If you are a fan of musical you are bound to have some good laughs and who would have thought that have a recipe for an omelette in a song is the best thing in the world. If you have the opportunity to go see this I would highly recommend it. In a few year I could see this being one of the popular shows done at high schools.

Puerto Rico

This article from The New York Times is pretty crazy as it states that nearly half of Americans don’t know that Puerto Rico is a part of America. I thought that was something that everyone knew if we go back to West Side Story way back in 1957 where in America we hear “Nobody knows in America / Puerto Rico’s in America!”, perhaps with the lyrics change in the film version has prevented this from being as well known. This was fifty years ago and it is a still shame that so many people think it is a foreign nation, over on The Hill they are reporting that in an interview Hilary Clinton said that she isn’t sure Trump knows about the Atlantic islands that are members of the US. Sure he has made plans to visit the islands next Tuesday but that is not enough to solve any problems he has berated the island for defaulting on loans and their current debt struggle yet with the devastation that took place with Hurricane Maria it seems like this debt is just going to grow over the next decade or how ever long it takes to rebuild the island. Vox has a nice overview on all of this as well.

If Puerto Rico were a state would there have been a quicker and better response? I haven’t a clue but I know that there have been five different referendums on statehood with several of the most recent ones leaning toward statehood however the United Nations would like Puerto Rico to be it’s own nation. If you have the ability to donate your money or time to help out with the cleanup and recovery in Puerto Rico that would be the best thing that you can do right now. Sure, Texas and Florida got a telethon with all those celebrities but I hope that we can do more for Puerto Rico however that many be accomplished.

Tony week/predictions

With the Tony Awards on this upcoming Sunday I was pleasantly surprised to see that Billboard is doing a bunch of Broadway articles this week. The most interesting one so far is on Tim Minchin, who did the music for Groundhog Day this year. previously he did the music for Matilda. It is unique as it look at the composition of one song and what inspired it. Now Minchin’s music in both of his musicals are pretty great. If you have some time and any interest in this topic take a look over on Billboard this week.

It’s a tougher year to pick  what will win the major awards since there isn’t a single monolith like Hamilton this season on Broadway which will sweep everything. Over in the world of plays it’s really a two horse race for Best Play with Oslo or A Doll House Part 2 likely to win. For Revival while it would be great for August Wilson’s Jitney to win but it might be Little Foxes. In Musicals there is a good shot for all the shows nominated to win Best musical, sure Dear Evan Hansen has the most “buzz” about it but Come From Away could win since it’s about 9/11, yet Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 is a completely different show, and Groundhog Day is a decent show as well. This is the same for all the writing awards as well. If I had to pick for Best Musical it would be between Come From Away and The Great Comet a show I’ve been a fan of the cast recording from their off-Broadway days. With music I hope that Tim Minchin finally wins but it will be close with Dave Malloy’s …Great Comet, I really hope that Pasek and Paul aren’t given it since they’ve become household names this year with their Oscar win.  As for revival of a musical it’s going to be Hello Dolly.

Bye, Bye Birdie pushed back a year

Well it turns out that there will not be two musical on NBC this next television season as Jennifer Lopez is doing to many things (Vegas residence,  her tv shows,Shades of Blue and World of Dance) and the schedules do not alloy for any time for really anything else. The one thing that we can hope for is that the added time makes it better somehow, especially with the reworked book. At least Jesus Christ Superstar at Easter is going to happen, this is a relatively low key musical look at what Norman Jewison did in the film version. Hopefully, they get some singer/actors who aren’t huge names for this and there is only one female part in the whole thing.

NBC televised musicals

We’ve know about Bye Bye Birdie with Jennifer Lopez as Rosie that will be coming this upcoming December. This is be a modernized adaptation by Harvey Fierstein. The changes will be mostly to Albert and Rose’s occupations so it won’t be so sexist and old-fashioned. Instead of working in entertainment they will be High School teachers.  It sounds interesting but I’m not sure what all they are going to be changing besides that as it says some scenes are going to be reordered. It will be worth watching to see how they change it and if ABC’s version from 1995 is still the best film version of the show.

So this is the time of year where we get to hear a little bit about the upcoming television seasons as Upfronts are next week. NBC has announced that they will be presenting Jesus Christ Superstar next Easter. This is a logical time to do this musical but will it attract the same viewership as the December airing. NBC also has been sitting on the live production of A Few Good Men but no news about when this will be airing.

Women’s March

One of the images from this past Saturday’s Women’s March across the nation and around the world that caught my eye was a group of ladies dressed like suffragettes with a sign reading “Same Shit Different Century”, sure a lot has changed in the world but women’s rights are still dragging behind those of men in the United States. Who would have thought that a century after Alice Paul and the other participants of the Woman suffrage parade of 1913 in Washington DC, that we wouldn’t have really gotten that far from what they were fighting for sure Women can vote and even be elected to public office but they haven’t gotten much since. Women are still earning less than a man for the same amount of work and any semblance of the Equal Right Act still hasn’t been passed and approved by the states. However, this seems unlikely to be passed right now with the Republican held Congress, and perhaps the ERA needs to be revived to include all those LGBTQ as well. Let us all work towards bringing this to a reality as we need to become more active citizens by participating in local elections and learning what candidates stand for rather than how much noise they can make.

This march brought up the musical Ragtime set in the early part of the 20th century and tells the stories of three groups of people the Upper-class Whites in New Rochelle, the African Americans in Harlem, and the Eastern European Immigrants.  It is a period piece for today, as all these groups still exist today in different forms The musical touches on race, disparities of class, police violence, immigration, equality and justice for women and minorities.  If you have some time take a listen to the musical or I’m sure you can find some high school production on Youtube. The stand out songs are the from two different points in the show one at the end of Act One “Till We Reach That Day” and the other just before the end of Act Two “Make Them Hear You”. In the Act One Finale we have an unjust murder by the police, which still is relevant today. The song before the Act Two finale “Make Them Hear You” is an anthem for Justice through non-violence.  We hear that “Your sword can be a sermon, or the power of the pen. Teach every child to raise his voice and then, my brothers, then will justice be demanded by ten million righteous men make them hear you.” This is our vehicle for change in the world, and hopefully tomorrow there will be more of us working for the cause where someday gender and race won’t matter when it comes to politics and life in general.

Jedi Junior High (2014)

Jedi Junior High has got to be the coolest movie I’ve seen this month. Jedi Junior High is a documentary about the production of a musicalized version of The Empire Strikes Back with kids in California. Back in 2009 at the Arts & Learning Center in Costa Mesa they came up with an audacious idea make a musical version of Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back. This is a clever thing as it is something that would attract boy and girls. The documentary talks about the importance of children exploring the world of theater and how it can turn awkward kid a bit less awkward. As far as the musical aspects they took already written Showtunes and changes the lyrics to make it more “Star Wars-y”. sort of like how The Simpsons had “Luck be a Lady” turn into “Luke be a Jedi tonight”. Now the sad part is that we don’t get to see the whole show which would have been awesome. If you are a fan of Star Wars and musical theater this is a must watch. A clever thing is at the end we go back to some of the kids featured in the movie and hear about how they have changed in the four years since doing the show.

News Roundup

Musicals: Washington DC has become a hot bed for new musicals as of late with runs of Dear Evan Hansen at Arena Stage before it made it’s way to Broadway, and Freaky Friday which just opened at the Signature Theatre. Now there is news that Mean Girls the musical based on the Tina Fey movie from 2004 will be coming to DC in fall of 2017. There hasn’t been confirmation about where it will be but Arena Stage, Signature Theatre and Ford’s Theatre have all denied involvement, however it could just be too early for an announcement or something?

Disney movies: It has been announced that Disney is making another one of their animated film into a live action movie. This time around it is Mulan that is joining the ranks of the live action remakes like Pete’s Dragon, The Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast, Lion King and The Little Mermaid. Mulan is a  wonderful story and is based on the legendary woman warrior Hua Mulan. The Ballad of Mulan recounts her tale. It is a wonderful story and according to the article it will combine aspect of the ’98 film and the Ballad along with perhaps other stories of Mulan from the ages to make the best adaptation of the story. Disney is in the process of finding some Chinese actress to play the legendary character.

In similar news there is work going on for a film based on Deborah Sampson one of the women who fought in the American Revolutionary War. This seems like a story that would be great at a time like this in the United States. I hope that it gets made, and that they include the stories of other female fighters as well.