Tag Archives: Musical

Hamilton, History, and Me

Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God.
2 Chronicles 14:2 (NIV)

Yesterday Wendy and I  joined our friends in jumping on the Hamilton bandwagon. A regional touring production of the popular Broadway show about one of America’s founding fathers opened in Des Moines yesterday. The bottom line: Yes, it’s as good and amazing as everyone says it is.

Last night in bed Wendy was reading through different blog posts and articles about the places the hip-hop operetta strays from the facts of history. To be honest, I considered most of them to be nothing more than the typical ways writers are required to take license with history in order to tell one man’s life story in less than three hours on stage and to entertain the audience at the same time. I guarantee you that Hamilton has done more to motivate a generation of young people to dig into America’s history than any high school history teacher could do.

This morning as I read today’s chapter, the first of three chapters on the life of Judah’s King Asa, I thought about chroniclers of history whether they be relating stories via papyrus scroll, published novel, text book, research paper, or Broadway musical. The motivations and mediums may differ, but at a basic level the writers are all taking a lifetime of facts and reducing them into their own retelling.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the books of 1 Chronicles and 2 Chronicles were written at a time when Hebrew exiles had left the land of their captors in Babylon and returned to their homeland to rebuild and restore their country. The people, who’d been living in Babylon for a generation, are now staring at the rubble of Jerusalem and the rubble of Solomon’s Temple and they’re asking themselves all sorts of questions. Are we still connected to our history? Are we still connected to the God of our ancestors? Do we cling to the stories and faith of our ancestors, or do we ignore them and start over?

As I read through the accounts of the Kings of Judah written by the Chronicler I begin to see patterns. As noted in the past couple of weeks, the Chronicler is putting a positive perspective on the historical record. I can almost feel him encouraging his contemporary readers to dig-in, reconnect with their history, and celebrate their heritage just as Hamilton has done for our generation of Americans. He is also presenting a very simple, cause-and-effect story line. The kings who served God succeeded. The kings who abandoned God, worshipped idols, or were otherwise unfaithful experienced disaster and failure.

As I pondered this simple, cause-and-effect pattern I couldn’t help but think of Parson Weems who gave Americans the story of George Washington and the Cherry Tree. The story was less about historical fact and more about teaching a moral lesson. Please don’t read what I’m not writing. The Chronicles are historical retelling (not fables as is Pastor Weems stories), but I can feel in the pattern of the Chronicler’s retelling that there is a moral lesson he wants his readers to catch: Follow God and be blessed. Abandon God and be cursed. It’s a good moral lesson. However, in the quiet this morning I’m looking back and finding that along my Life journey I’ve observed that Life does not always break down into  simplistic, dualistic terms.

This morning I’m thinking about all the lessons that history has to teach us. After the show last night Wendy and I joined our friends for a spirited conversation over dinner about history, stories, and the wide-range of areas into which Hamilton poked and prodded our thoughts. The Chronicles, similarly, provide historical stories and lessons for us to take an apply to our daily journey some 2500 years later; Lessons that, like life itself, can at once be both remarkably simple and amazingly complex.

Me, Wendy and our friends Kev & Beck at the June 28 performance of “Hamilton”

Praise Him with Show Tunes

2012 12 USP Joseph Backstage Girls Grunge LRLet them praise his name with dancing
    and make music to him with timbrel and harp.

Let his faithful people rejoice in this honor
    and sing for joy on their beds.
Psalm 149:3, 5 (NIV)

The lyricist of Psalm 149, writing some 25 centuries ago, describes corporate worship of God with the combination of dancing and music. Anyone who knows me or has followed this blog for any length of time knows that I’m a theatre guy. I majored in it in college and have been actively involved on the stage for many years. So, when I read dancing and music, forgive if me I immediately think: show tunes.

I know that the music and dancing described by the ancient psalmist is far from a Rogers and Hammerstein production number, but I’m also pretty sure that it’s far from being descriptive of my corporate worship experience in Protestant midwest America.

I love that the image the psalmist gave was that the corporate singing and dancing in the day time gives way to singing for joy on your bed at night. Again, I can’t help but think of my experience of being in musicals over the years: Mame, South Pacific, Annie, and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. When you are part of a large group of people singing amazing, soul stirring songs while dancing to cardio pumping choreography you can’t help but feel a rush of adrenaline that gives way to a generous release of endorphins. Envision the result: you’re so ecstatic that you go home and jump on your bed at night and keep singing and dancing your heart out because you don’t want it to end.

[Cut to image of the same person sitting in church bored out of their skull, nearly asleep, and looking at their watch while wondering when in the world the service is going to end.]

I will confess that the churches where I have attended over the years have come a long way, at least in the music department. My soul is regularly stirred by the music in corporate worship. I think, however, that it will be a while before I see a conga line or jazz square on Sunday morning.

Nevertheless, as the church enters our most important season of the year, which leads to the most exciting, heart stirring, fist pumping reason for celebration, I personally wish there was a big Broadway style production number on the church’s event schedule for Easter morning.

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Purpose in the Pain

Joseph is raised from prison to prominence as the biblical story is retold in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 66

You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. You let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance.
Psalm 66:11-12 (NIV)

Wendy and I are in production week for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. The award-winning Broadway musical retells the story of Joseph (Genesis 37-47), the famed little brother who was given a dream that he would rise to greatness and all of his brothers would bow down to him. His older siblings responded to Joseph’s dream in typical fashion by throwing him into a well and then selling him into slavery. Though his father was told he was dead, Joseph was actually taken to Egypt where he was put to work in the house of prominent local official. After a brief stint of success in his job, Joseph was wrongfully accused by his master’s wife and put into prison. Talk about a string of bad fortune.

Through the long weeks of production, Wendy and I have constantly ruminated on the story of Joseph. I can only imagine the cynicism and anger Joseph must have felt rotting in the Egyptian prison. For years and years and years his dreams of greatness had proven to be nothing more than pipe dreams. One bad turn after another appears to lead Joseph further and further away from the dream God gave him as a boy. It seems so unfair for God to give a promise of incredible blessing, then immediately lead Joseph down a marathon road of suffering.

Of course, Joseph’s misfortune proves to be God’s divine providence in the end. In prison, Joseph gains a reputation for having a knack with dreams. Circumstance brings him before Pharaoh who was having some confusing dreams about an upcoming famine. Pharaoh is so impressed with Joseph that he raises him to a place of unparalleled prominence and puts him in charge of getting the nation ready for the upcoming famine. I’ll let you guess or read the rest (or buy a ticket and see the show over the next two weekends). Joseph’s long, hard road was actually preparing him for leadership, honing his character, and putting him in just the right circumstance to save his family.

I was reminded once again of Joseph’s incredible story when I read David’s lyrics from Psalm 66 this morning. Joseph’s biography, along with David’s, remind us that God’s ultimate purpose for us is often at the end of a tough road. Wendy and I can bear witness to this simple spiritual principle as we see it at work in our own lives. The truth is, we want the blessing without the burden. We want the pleasure without the pain. Yet, God’s purpose is for our spiritual maturity and wholeness, and that does not come without a price.

Today, I’m thankful for the hard roads I’ve trekked on this life journey. They haven’t been easy or fun, but they have been both necessary and beneficial. It is what it is.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:6-7 (NIV)