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by Brian McLaren
Thousands of us have seen Ted Swartz perform—solo, with his colleague Lee, or with others.
We’ve laughed, gasped, winced, and maybe even cried as he
ushered us from the sublime, promptly and unceremoniously, to
the ridiculous. Or vice versa.
When we’ve seen actors and comedians onstage (not to mention
preachers in-pulpit) we’ve all wondered what their lives were
really like offstage. Is their private persona anything like their public
one? (As Ted says, “You cannot fall into the habit of believing
in your own public persona, because—believe me—your wife
sure doesn’t.”) So we wonder, when the spotlight flicks off, do the
actors transform from clowns to grouches? From exhibitionists to
recluses? From beauties to beasts, or artists to jerks?
Tabloids and TV shows sometimes try to raid the privacy of
public personas and steal a peak into their personal lives. The
result is that public people guard their privacy even more carefully.
Only rarely does an actor or other public figure step off the
stage and simply open up as a fellow human being. That’s why the
book you have in front of you right now is so valuable, so important.
For many years I was a fan of Ted’s, sitting in the back row (my
favorite place when I’m not on stage myself ), smiling and laughing,
admiring from a distance. Then some years ago, I had the privilege of getting to know Ted as a friend.
As I read his story, I felt Ted’s friendliness shining through. The
person I’ve gotten to know offstage is honestly reflected in these
Ted’s honesty is the kind that requires courage. You’ll uncover
some frank and hard stuff here, much of it left floating in between
the lines so you can feel it if you want to, or avoid it if you don’t.
In that space, there’s loss and conflict, and dry spells and sadness.
There’s depression and death and grief and loss.
And it’s all sandwiched between thick slices of whole-wheat
laughter. Sometimes it’s highbrow, witty laughter. Sometimes . . . let’s
just say that Ted isn’t above getting a laugh from slapstick, malapropisms,
and old-fashioned silliness—down to the level of passing
gas or spilling coffee on a sensitive body part.
Somewhere in there, between the sublime and ridiculous,
there’s “a whole ’nother thing”: the profound and poignant. And if
you’re reading with any degree of consciousness, you’ll find a strong
dose of that. For example, you’ll encounter a hug—an onstage hug
that becomes immeasurably significant a few days later, along with
the line that precedes it.
And you’ll feel moments of anger and hope and downright
If you’ve got some unhealed wounds, ungrieved losses, or even
uncounted blessings (and who doesn’t?), reading these pages will
be like a good night at the theater. Turning the last page will be like
walking across the parking lot after the final curtain and getting in
You won’t want to start the car or turn on the radio. You’ll just
want to sit for a while and let what you’ve experienced settle in.
A theologian friend recently hit me with a wild proposition:
the secular is the domain of the Holy Spirit. "The Spirit was hovering
over the surface of the waters in creation," he said, "long before
there were any religions or temples or denominations. That’s
why all of creation—what we call ‘the secular’—isn’t profane. It’s
Ted knows that. The sacred secular of laughter, tears, joy, pain,
tragedy, comedy . . . it’s all the stage on which the Spirit plays.
And where we do, too.
Author of Naked Spirituality and A New Kind of Christianity