Sometimes surprising and good things happen completely out of the blue. Like this interview.
I'm at the gym last night when I got an email from the author A.M. Homes to tell me that she is with Anne Heche, who is in town to talk about her new comedy 'Save Me' that debuts tonight, May 23rd on NBC. Given that the new show features a Cinncinati housewife who can talk to God, they were wondering if I might be interested in sitting down for a few minutes to talk.
Sure, I said eagerly. When? Um, how about tonight?
Thirty minutes later (and showered) we were in my apartment, A.M. and Kathy Greenberg listening while Anne and I had one of the most interesting God talks I have had in a long time. At the end of our hour together I turned to Anne and remarked, 'I think you and your show have created a whole new theology.'
It is a theology that I believe will resonate in a world that is looking for new ways to talk about spirituality and God and how different those ideas can be to different people. And they do it with comedy! My interview with Ms. Heche has made me eager to watch what looks to be a very funny, brave and timely series that puts God on primetime in a way that we have never seen him/her before.
Talk about your own spiritual path and how you got to where you are today.
Spirituality has been a question mark for my life. I was raised in a very religious family in Ohio. The only thing we could do was read the Bible and religion was the thing that my family used as an excuse to not talk about anything. My parents had an addiction to talk about Jesus and the love of God and God saving us. Well, I thought, I have to be Jesus or I am not worth loving.
So, that became my path. I really had to figure that out. So I have been on the journey of figuring out what my relationship is with God and spirituality; what God is, and what God can be. How it can save you, how it can harm you. The many questions that have filtered through my life around that contradiction I was born into. I now feel like I am in a miraculous place of understanding that I am a voice to open up the conversation about Love.
How has spirituality helped or been a source of confusion for you?
I think spirituality helped give me a sense that there was something greater in the world that could be tapped into as a source of strength that is Love. And by Love I mean caring, conscious, gentle, things that were contradicted in my life at home.
How did you sense that loving presence was there given that you didn't find it in your home life?
When I looked into the eyes of someone and trusted them, that connection was bigger than what I had. I could give something back to that -- it was a trust, which was probably related to faith for me. So, it became a very real thing for me what God is. God is bigger than me; God is in everyone.
Were there any specific people you met along the way who helped you realize this?
I had tried different kinds of therapy and a lot of searching, but trust really came later in life when I had kind of decided that I was not comfortable being here on this earth. It took, and I wrote a book about it, it took friendship, love, it took someone -- Kathy -- (points to Kathy Greenberg) coming to save me when I was in the hospital to reconnect me with the understanding of that which was bigger than me.
How do you talk about God now with your children?
I've taken my children to church and I've told them that I want them to experience all religion. We talk about love and God very openly.
People talk to God or don't talk to God or have a relationship with spirituality and it is liquid. Sometimes it feels close and we feel connected and sometimes far away. Whether we are connected to a God that we personally define or not, or are agnostic, you can find God when you meditate, you can find God in the trees.
Everybody has it somewhere and the reason I was interested in doing the show was because I wanted to open up that conversation to say that it is all possible. Everybody has a different connection with what gives them love, hope, a moral center -- how do we define that for ourselves? And how do we help others to be encouraged along the way to discover it if they are lost along the way.
This show is about a woman who did lose her way and got a second chance to try to make it right. And we all have that chance to make it right, and isn't it that opportunity what God is? The opportunity to be who we want to be, to live openly freely, without judgment, in a community that elevates us to live in that joy.
In the show the woman you play, Beth, faces death at the very first episode. How does facing mortality or a severe trial affect our awareness of spirituality -- in your character but also in your own life?
We talk about that in so many stories -- sometimes you need to go to the bottom, sometimes you need to go to the darkness -- it is often where you get the helping hand. A loss or a gaping hole of need is a unique place to start a story. It forces you to take a rough look at yourself and say 'I need to make a different choice.' And God comes in there. God tends to turn on the light when we are asking for help.
What are some of the reactions of the other characters on the show to your character when she says she talks to God?
When my character tells her husband 'I've been saved by God,' he says: 'please tell me you said Todd, not God.' He then says 'C'mon Beth you've never even been to church.'
Because my character has never been to church, when she finds God it is her own understanding of what God is. The audience never sees Him or Her -- my character calls God a he/she -- but God is a feeling, a knowing, an overwhelming thing that happens to her. It is never defined for the audience. Only the reactions of others around her.
So, in the second episode my friend invites Beth to church. And Beth thinks 'oh, I probably should go if I am a person who talks to God.' So I walk into church for the first time and God sings through me and I'm absolutely floored that I know a religious song. Later I go up to the minister and say that God talks to me and he says 'Good for you.' And while I am standing there someone else comes up to him and says he also talks to God. And I say, 'oh you talk to God too?' but he talks to God through a Furby so it is a little different.
The conversation about God scares so many people, but why can't we laugh about it? And that's part of what I am trying to do with this comedy.
What is the riskiest thing about the show?
The riskiest thing is that she is definitely talking to God. That is why the show will work, everybody thinks she's crazy, but she is definitely taking to God -- it's so clear.
Have you talked to your mother about the show?
I feel like I am discussing spirituality in our show but she is a very strict religious person and does things that we disagree on. And she has been very harmful to me. But I did reach out to her and tell her that I thought she might be interested that I was doing a show about a Cincinnati housewife who talks to God. Because I knew it was probably going to be something that she was confronted with.
We have probably exchanged four emails in 10 years. She worked with Falwell, she has a whole therapy practice changing gay people to straight, we are not on the same page about what God is. And she wrote today saying -- 'I was in church on Sunday and everyone is talking about your show.'
My life has brought me to a very unique place where I could not be at more opposite ends of what I believe God is. Yet I was born into a very specific God consciousness. And now my mother, who practices things I believe are the opposite of love, is having to confront the fact that the girl she disowned for loving a woman is now talking about God as love on national television. It is almost hard to believe that's happening. And I always believed that God was love, I always believed.
Do we ever find out more about God on the show?
(SPOILER ALERT -- DO NOT READ ON IF YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW WHO PLAYS GOD IN SAVE ME)
In the last episode I decide I have to run this marathon and raise money for this hospital that is closing but I have this 104 degree fever, and I don't make it and I die and meet God.
It was such a fun episode. My character Beth has these conversations with herself about who she would like God to be. God isn't clear to Beth, except it is clear that it is God. But Beth wishes God were as clear as you sitting in a room telling her what to do. But she only has herself until she dies and walks into this theater and sees God and and Beth says -- Betty White?
God is Betty White?
Yes! So we are doing the read through for that episode and I didn't know who they wrote and I am doing it in front of all the executives for the show and I read Betty White. And I start laughing because I don't read the script until I am sitting with everyone so we know what works and doesn't work right off the bat. And I started laughing -- Betty White. And of course that is the perfect God for television, it's the perfect God for me, and the perfect God all around.
So my character sits down with Betty White and Beth says to Betty: 'I have problems with you.' And Betty White says 'well I have problems with you too.'
And then we sit down in this theater and watch Beth on the screen go through my life and all the different times that she was God in my life. She was my best friend who was a black boy when I was new in school in second grade, and another time God was a stripper, and Beth is sitting next to Betty (God) and says -- 'that was you?'
We watch how God has been there the whole time, picking out the people I was supposed to be with, and the husband I married so that I could come into this world to be this person who talks about love.
And that's where the 7th episode ends.
Beth wakes up, alive with the realization that she actually has had God at her side her whole life.