By Tanya Connor | The Catholic Free Press
BLACKSTONE – God should be at the center, but he’s been cut out of life. That makes it harder to teach the faith.
This message was communicated Sunday, Sept. 11, when television star Frank Runyeon spoke to religious education students, teachers and parents at St. Theresa Parish. But then he showed how children can make a difference.
Mr. Runyeon has translated and adapted biblical texts for his one-man dramas, including “Luke: Stories on the Road,” which he presented Tuesday, Sept. 13, for a parish mission here, and “The Letter of James: What are you doing?” presented Wednesday.
Sunday he performed “Salt and Light” for grades 1-5, and talked to grades 6-10 about “Hollywood versus Faith.”
Mr. Runyeon’s familiar with the actor’s world. He starred for seven years on “As the World Turns” and for four years on the Emmy-award-winning “Santa Barbara,” according to his website. He’s also acted in other shows and hosted his own radio talk show.
On Sunday he offered glimpses behind the scenes, recounting how he was told he hadn’t been hired to do quality acting or present life as it is, but to “sell soap.” (Soap-maker Procter and Gamble sponsored soap operas, advertising its products.)
News broadcasts too are designed to “get you to sit through the commercials,” and begin with the bloodiest story, Mr. Runyeon said. And entertainment focuses on violence and death “so you stop for a second, like (at) a terrible accident.”
Often when they are facing hardships, people bargain with God, he said. But filmmakers don’t usually show characters talking to God because people disagree about God, he said. And, in public school, people are not to talk about God, he said. But you can’t put God to the side, because what is in the center of your life becomes your god, he explained.
He also drew other contrasts between screen and scriptural values.
In commercials one is told that happiness comes from buying things, but Jesus says, “Sell all your stuff.” (Mt 19:21)
Females are told happiness is in how they look, so they focus on weight loss, sometimes nearly killing themselves. But St. Paul said, “Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit” (I Cor 6:19).
The culture emphasizes winning, Mr. Runyeon noted. Students are pushed to get As, so they think losing is the worst thing, he said, telling of a student who hung himself because he only heard the story “out there” in the world.
The story in church might not seem as enticing, “it just happens to be the truth,” he said. It’s about relationships with people and, most importantly, God. He urged listeners, “Have a relationship with the One who is the truth.”
“It’s actually pretty true,” Allison Sawyer, 13, said of Mr. Runyeon’s talk, adding that youth are pressured to get good grades. She said maybe teachers or parents should tell them not to worry; they will still get a house and a job.
“I thought it was really inspiring,” said Toni Marino, 13. “It made sense, why all the movies have pretty girls in them.” The talk helped her understand why pretty girls get everything they want, and others don’t, she said. She said now she’ll question things, not just assume they’re true.
“We just need people that are able to communicate the message,” said her father, John Marino, a confirmation teacher. “He gives teachers and educators a lot of good talking points.… It reminded me that we have to encourage these kids not to just listen to what’s being fed them (but) to question everything that they see.”
Mr. Runyeon helped parents understand why there’s a disconnect for youth when they’re taught about the faith, he said. He said adults are quick to judge and simply tell students to pay attention.
“I wished I could do that for my students – what he did for me,” said Deborah Champeau, a grade 8 religious education teacher born in 1951. “It’s not that complicated … God at the center of everything. We grew up in a different time.… All of my friends – God was a part of their lives.” Now, she said, Catholicism is like a second language that seems irrelevant to students.
Mr. Runyeon used drama to make Scripture relevant to students in grades 1-5. Like an actor’s script, Scripture “tells us the part we’re supposed to play,” he said.
Dramatizing Jesus’ “riddles” – “You are the salt of the earth” and “You are the light of the world” – Mr. Runyeon pretended young listeners were a salt shaker and a light bulb. He said people are like salt when they bring out the goodness in others and keep things from going bad. They are like light when they show others the right way to go.
Mr. Runyeon incorporated these challenges into his dramatization of King Herod’s birthday party, at which Herod made a rash promise to the dancer, which led to the killing of John the Baptist (Mk 6:14-29).
“John the Baptist died,” Mr. Runyeon said. “That’s what can happen when we forget to be salt and light.” But he said there was a happy ending – John went to heaven.
“Do you know we really do have a King, and we’re in the court of our King right now?” Mr. Runyeon asked. He had listeners put their hands on their hearts, face the tabernacle and sing, to the tune of “Happy Birthday,”: “I’ll be salt for you. I’ll be salt for you. I’ll be salt not pepper. Not pepper, Kachoo!”