“Too Much Zero.”
Confession: I’m a bit of a theater nerd. I grew up doing church and school plays. In middle school I graduated to community theater (our tiny little town actually had a really good theater scene). I’m a sucker for a good story on the stage and I get misty eyed at the score of a good musical.
And the musical to top them all is Fiddler on the Roof. (Fight me.) A few years ago it became the first – and still only – show I’ve ever seen on Broadway. Whenever I see it on TV I have to stop what I’m doing for
a few minutes four hours and watch it. And – another confession! – I was a bona fide bottle dancer back in the day at our little community theater (spoiler: there’s a built-in indention in the hat to keep the bottle balanced).
That’s why I enjoyed reading Barbara Isenberg’s Tradition!, an incredibly deep dive into the book-turned-stage play-turned-screenplay-turned-unstoppable force. Seriously, if you love the musical or the movie, this is a really fascinating read.
In Isenberg’s book, she tells the story of Zero Mostel, the actor who played Tevye in the original Broadway production. Zero was a gigantic personality, a blazing sun at the center of any theater universe, and every actor, line, prop, and director seemed to be unable to resist his gravitational pull. (See him reprise his role at the 1965 Tony Awards.)
When the time came for the Broadway show to move to the silver screen, it was natural to imagine that the play’s star was a shoo-in for the role. After all, he was the hulking star of the stage. Wouldn’t he be the perfect fit for the film?
The movie’s producers saw Zero as a road block. United Artists exec David Picker said of his Broadway performance:
“When you sit that close to Zero, you see it all. He was a larger-than-life performer, and it would never have worked with him on screen for that length of time in that role. There would have been too much Zero and not enough Fiddler.“
Don’t skip that.
Too much Zero and not enough Fiddler.
That line stopped me in my tracks. Sure, it revealed how Chaim Topol became the Tevye that most of us know. But more than that, the line forced me to think of all the places in my own life and in our ministries where there’s too much ____ and not enough ____:
In our ministry teams: too much volunteer culture and not enough guest culture.
In our worship services: too much sparkle and not enough substance.
In our planning and dreaming: too much scarcity mentality and not enough vision casting.
In my leadership of others: too much “improve this” and not enough “look how you’ve improved that.”
In my interactions with others: too much me and not enough them.
In my own walk with God: too much creature and not enough Creator.
When we seek to be the hero of our own story, we become a Zero. We become the center of gravity, the force to be reckoned with, the star that upstages the story.
Better to be a zero: one that knows that apart from our Creator there’s no real value. One that knows we’re far less without the chorus of voices around us. One that knows he must become greater while we become less.