I recently decided to download an audio book through a free trial on Audible.com. I’ve never read/listened to a book through tapes or CDs, but since I love listening to podcasts, I thought I’d give it a shot. I pondered on whether or not I wanted a serious book or a light read, and opted for the latter. Last year, some friends recommended actress, writer, & comedienne Tina Fey’s book Bossypants. As a life-long fan of Saturday Night Live and current fan of 30 Rock, I decided to give her book a shot.

I’m glad I did because I learned a great deal about Fey in her book, and laughed a lot too. Her chapters on parenting were especially side-splitting. But I also found her chapter on improvisation a good parable. I tend to find God in just about everything I watch and read, even irreverent media, so while Tina Fey may not consider herself a theologian by any means, she has some worthwhile things to say that may be applicable to life. Here’s a portion of her book where she talks about the rules of improvisation and how they can be applied to life:

Tina Fey’s Rules of Improvisation That Will Change Your Life and Reduce Belly Fat*

The first rule of improvisation is AGREE. Always agree and SAY YES. When you’re improvising, this means you are required to agree with whatever your partner has created. So if we’re improvising and I say, “Freeze, I have a gun,” and you say, “That’s not a gun. It’s your finger. You’re pointing your finger at me,” our improvised scene has ground to a halt. But if I say, “Freeze, I have a gun!” and you say, “The gun I gave you for Christmas! You bastard!” then we have started a scene because we have AGREED that my finger is in fact a Christmas gun.

Now, obviously in real life you’re not always going to agree with everything everyone says. But the Rule of Agreement reminds you to “respect what your partner has created” and to at least start from an open-minded place. Start with a YES and see where that takes you.

As an improviser, I always find it jarring when I meet someone in real life whose first answer is no. “No, we can’t do that.” “No, that’s not in the budget.” “No, I will not hold your hand for a dollar.” What kind of way is that to live?

The second rule of improvisation is not only to say yes, but YES, AND. You are supposed to agree and then add something of your own. If I start a scene with “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you just say, “Yeah…” we’re kind of at a standstill. But if I say, “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you say, “What did you expect? We’re in hell.” Or if I say, “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you say, “Yes, this can’t be good for the wax figures.” Or if I say, “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you say, “I told you we shouldn’t have crawled into this dog’s mouth,” now we’re getting somewhere.

To me YES, AND means don’t be afraid to contribute. It’s your responsibility to contribute. Always make sure you’re adding something to the discussion. Your initiations are worthwhile.

The next rule is MAKE STATEMENTS. This is a positive way of saying “Don’t ask questions all the time.” If we’re in a scene and I say, “Who are you? Where are we? What are we doing here? What’s in that box?” I’m putting pressure on you to come up with all the answers.

In other words: Whatever the problem, be part of the solution. Don’t just sit around raising questions and pointing out obstacles. We’ve all worked with that person. That person is a drag. It’s usually the same person around the office who says things like “There’s no calories in it if you eat it standing up!” and “I felt menaced when Terry raised her voice.”

MAKE STATEMENTS also applies to us women: Speak in statements instead of apologetic questions. No one wants to go to a doctor who says, “I’m going to be your surgeon? I’m here to talk to you about your procedure? I was first in my class at Johns Hopkins, so?” Make statements, with your actions and your voice.

Instead of saying “Where are we?” make a statement like “Here we are in Spain, Dracula.” Okay, “Here we are in Spain, Dracula” may seem like a terrible start to a scene, but this leads us to the best rule:

THERE ARE NO MISTAKES, only opportunities. If I start a scene as what I think is very clearly a cop riding a bicycle, but you think I am a hamster in a hamster wheel, guess what? Now I’m a hamster in a hamster wheel. I’m not going to stop everything to explain that it was really supposed to be a bike. Who knows? Maybe I’ll end up being a police hamster who’s been put on “hamster wheel” duty because I’m “too much of a loose cannon” in the field. In improv there are no mistakes, only beautiful happy accidents. And many of the world’s greatest discoveries have been by accident. I mean, look at the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, or Botox.

*Improv will not reduce belly fat

Now, I don’t think we can quite live our lives completely as improvisors. There are times we must say no to violence, injustice, racism, hatred, and the like. There are times we have to be realistic. But what strikes me in this passage is Fey’s use of imagination and creativity in the midst of what life has to throw at us.

When we are faced with challenges or problems, we tend to think of the reasons why we can’t overcome them. “What are you going to do?” I ask someone in pastoral counseling. “I don’t know,” they’ll respond, glaring at me with eyes that say, “That’s why I came to see you, idiot! Tell me what to do!” What would happen if we used Fey’s rules for improvisation to find a solution? What if we thought outside the box and tossed out any idea, no matter how insane it might sound?

I’ve certainly squelched a number of ideas before because they don’t fit “our culture” or because it’s something I don’t want to do or because it’s something I know may have disastrous results. Is that the Spirit working? Maybe. Or could there have been a seed for the Kingdom of God in that idea that could have been planted? Perhaps that risk of improvisation might have pushed me or the church into a growth that I wouldn’t have expected.

What I know about the Spirit is that she’s unpredictable. The Spirit was always blowing the early church into unexpected and sometimes troublesome waters. Yet through faith, through saying “YES, AND” to that Spirit, the Kingdom of God grew and the people themselves grew deeper with God.

What challenge are you experiencing now that may require you to do a little improvisation? Where are you saying “no” when perhaps the answer might be “yes, and?” What other ways might Fey’s observations allow you to think your way into a new idea?

We are our best resources. God has given us the tools and gifts to move forward. Perhaps we need to just improv a little and find a new solution.

Jeff+