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Others and Brothers and Scapegoats, Oh My!

July 14, 2013

Even if I knew enough about the minutia of the Zimmerman trial to comment on the recent result, the accuracy of the verdict (or lack thereof) happens to not be the real problem at all. Just as he did with Cain and Abel, Satan is still setting brother against brother. We’ve bought into the narrative of the “other.” It doesn’t really matter if Zimmerman is white or hispanic. He could be left-handed or a Scientologist and the “other” narrative would still shake us to our sinful, fearful, hateful bones. The narrative is simply this: The “other” is our enemy and out to get us. To my shame, I buy into this when I walk by a black man downtown at night. To their shame, thousands have bought into it since the recent verdict as they hurl vengeful indictments upon Zimmerman.

Guilty or not, Zimmerman has become the scapegoat for a culture that wants desperately to be rid of its very real and very present racism. The justice system failed to give us our scapegoat and now we are out for blood.

But bloody reprisal only brings more bloody reprisal until Read more…


Gay Pride Parades and the Hallelujah Chorus

June 30, 2013

One day, as we were nearing the end of our rehearsal period for our performance of Handel’s Messiah, my former choir director lost himself in a fit of giggles. It was the irony that got him; the delightful irony that so many non-Christians attend their yearly Messiah concert, standing up for the “Hallelujah” chorus and clapping heartily for all those glorious hallelujahs (already funny because praising a God they don’t believe in), somehow unaware that they come directly after a repetition of God’s promise to dash unbelievers to pieces, “like a potter’s vessel.”

This, of course, comes directly from Psalm 2. It begins with the Bass soloist, as the psalmist, asking why the unbelieving nations rage against God and his Anointed. And the nations’ respond in a frantic chorus. They refuse the rule of God and the “burden” of His law.

Don’t worry, says the Psalmist. God finds this hysterical. Then He promises that His Anointed will break their overweening pride with a rod of iron Read more…

Jerome Robbins: The Great Integrator?

June 8, 2013

Countless writers have spilled equally countless gallons of ink on the roles of Oklahoma!, Show Boat, and Stephen Sondheim in the development of the musical play and then the integrated musical, but few have the clear eyes of former New York Times theatre critic Frank Rich to see the extent of the impact visionary choreographer Jerome Robbins had on the contemporary musical.

It’s not the individual show-stopping numbers [of West Side Story], good as they are, that had such a radical and lasting impact on the musical theater, but Mr. Robbins’s ability to set almost the entire evening to dance movement. To take just one example: When, in Act 1, Maria tries on her new dress, she goes into a twirl of delight that sets the whole show moving. Her friends start to spin with her, streamers fall from above, the set changes (without us really registering it), and suddenly we have joined the entire company in the midst of a big number, “The Dance at the Gym.” It’s all happened as fluidly and gracefully as a movie dissolve, with none of the awkward transitional dialogue that usually pockmarked pre-Robbins musicals. Watching the breakthroughs of West Side Story today offers pleasures that weren’t available in 1957: We can now see the genesis of the staging techniques used in such subsequent musicals as A Chorus Line, Sweeney Todd, and Evita. (Frank Rich, “Critic’s Notebook: What Makes a Play Seem Dated?”, New York Times, 6 July 1980)

Robbins wasn’t a genius because of his legendary dance-fight sequence in the show’s Prologue. He’s a genius because he knew how to use the mediums of dance and theatrical staging to both his and our advantage.

Tony Nomination Day: Shutouts and Home Runs

April 30, 2013

On this most auspicious Tony Nomination Day, almost more interesting than the nominations themselves are the shows that were completely shut out:

The Anarchist 
Breakfast at Tiffany’s 
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof 
Dead Accounts 
An Enemy of the People 
Glengarry Glen Ross 
I’ll Eat You Last 
Jekyll & Hyde 

Most can be attributed to early season closers or spectacular flops. But some are more interesting. The Anarchist, for instance, penned by Broadway son David Mamet, also starred beloved Broadway diva, Patti LuPone. Perhaps Mamet lost his flair for the dramatic in his much publicized political “conversion” from liberalism to conservatism, but the show was universally panned and ran for only 17 performances.

The Cat on a Hot Tin Roof shutout can be attributed to how overdone it is on Broadway, with runs as recent as 2008 and 2004. Additionally, since the raft of movie star winners two years ago, the zeitgeist  has been to favor homegrown talent. (This year’s one and only exception being Tom Hanks in Lucky Guy.) Unfortunately for Scarlett Johansson, Maggie the Cat is left to dance on that roof all by her lonesome. Read more…

Striving After Wind

April 8, 2013

T. S. Eliot was a Modern. Some say the last of them. But then Christ plucked him out of that arrogant nonsense. His Modernist poet friends didn’t like this very much because that whole conversion business made him the first Postmodern. (You can say this was Neitzsche, if you like, but I prefer not to give auspicious titles to whiners like him, however mellifluous their whining may be.) And then he wrote Four Quartets.

Postmodernism with its heavy emphasis on metaphor and the search for meaning really scares Reformed Christians. On the whole, we don’t like Eliot very much either. (Or any poetry, really.) Somehow we’ve managed to keep the ecclesia reformata and drop the semper reformanda, carefully settling the Westminster Standards into their climate-controlled case with bullet-proof glass and the kind of alarm system that would make the U.S. Constitution run to its therapist to address its feelings of inadequacy. “The Reformers got it right. Don’t touch,” we say.

Eliot is a disturber of this peace. Read more…

The End and the Beginning

February 5, 2013


Christians suffer and the wicked prosper. But unlike his pagan counterpart, the Christian man knows that both trial by fire and each moment of happiness have their purpose and that purpose can be redeemed. “Every phrase and sentence that is right . . . is an end and a beginning.” Our end and our beginning, our tragedy and our comedy, our paradox is in the Divine Logos, the Word that was with God from the beginning. And we will find that when we come to the end of all our exploring here on earth:

. . . all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

On Seeming and Reality

February 4, 2013


The world seems tragic? “Seems, madam!” exclaims Hamlet, “Nay it is; I know not ‘seems.’” The Fall has made it so. Meursault must take cold comfort in his nihilism, Kant must live in the denial of existentialism, Achilles must choose a remembered death in battle or a forgotten life at home.

But the Christian can rejoice in the paradox, splashing about it in the puddles of reality because the Resurrection is what finally brings about the sudden joy that turns this tragedy into a deep comedy.