I was standing alone in the youth room of my church. Or at least it was my church. That room was where I had taught many lessons and played many games with the church’s junior and senior high students for over a year. That room had been one of my favorite places. But now, it was a reminder of what I was about to face. In only about 15 minutes, I was going into a meeting with the church’s elders. Under other circumstances, this would not have been a big deal. I had known most of those men for several years and considered them to be friends of my family. But now it was different, because four days earlier, these men dismissed my dad as senior minister of the church after 17 ½ years.* The reason for the meeting was to see if I would be allowed to finish the school year with the youth group that my ministry partner and I had dedicated over a year of volunteer time to build up. I had so many emotions running through my heart and my mind, I didn’t know what to make of it.
This scene happened only a few months ago. I do believe that it has become one of the defining moments of my life. I believe I will still think that 20 or 30 years from now. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done, because the pain of the loss and separation were so fresh. But by God’s grace I walked into that meeting and was granted my request. The only stipulation they gave is that they wanted to make sure I would get plugged into another church, since they figured it would be too difficult to attend with them on Sunday mornings. When I told them I had a plan to look at churches in the area, they all stated how much they appreciated my willingness to come to the meeting and finish the work I had started, despite the difficulties of my circumstances.
Some of my friends or members of that congregation have questioned why I chose to stay a little longer or how I could bring myself to even go to that meeting. Some of you who are reading this post may be wondering the same thing. But as I have looked back on the last few months, I have come to realize that I began to find healing faster because I chose to face a painful situation head on instead of hiding from it. It’s something that author Levi Lusko coined as “running toward the roar” in his book Through the Eyes of a Lion [click link to read my review]. Facing that meeting changed everything for me, and I want to share about three things that have happened in my life because God gave me the power to “run toward the roar.”
I Learned How to Forgive Despite My Feelings
The night after my dad told me he had been let go, I couldn’t fall asleep. So I turned on a movie that addresses the issues of loss and forgiveness. Amish Grace is a film based on the true story about the Amish school shooting of 2006, in which a local milk truck driver in Pennsylvania entered a one-room school house with an arsenal of guns. He let all the boys and the teacher go, but took ten girls hostage. He eventually shot all ten girls before taking his own life. In the end, 5 of the 10 girls died within 24 hrs of the shooting, and the others survived with serious injuries. Obviously, it was a devastation to the Amish community, but they responded in ways that the world did not expect. In the film (which was slightly fictionalized), you see some Amish elders, including Gideon, a father who had lost his daughter, go the wife of the shooter to consul her and tell her that they had chosen to forgive Charlie, later that same day. The rest of the Amish community seems to support this decision to forgive, except for Gideon’s wife. Ida cannot let go of her anger, believing that choosing to forgive was betraying her daughter. She takes out her anger on the shooter’s wife when she runs into her. Ida is so bitter, she even makes plans to leave her Amish community and taking her surviving daughter away from her husband.
But the most powerful part of the film for me is at the end. Right before she plans to leave, Gideon asks Ida to go to a group meeting with a grief counselor, which would include other Amish parents that had lost children and the wife of the shooter, Amy. The audience learns that Amy is in the same place as Ida, not knowing how to forgive her husband for what he did to the Amish girls, and what he did to her and their children. At this point, an Amish mother who had lost two daughters shared a thought that I don’t know if I will ever forget. It was exactly what I needed to hear after everything that happened:
Every morning when I wake, I expect to hear Anna and Lydia singing together as they do their chores. But the silence reminds me that they’re gone, and I become so full of anger, I can barely breathe. But then I offer that anger up to God and I forgive. Sometimes, I have to do it again in an hour, and again an hour after that. But if I didn’t do that, I don’t know how I would ever breathe again.
As I was lying in my bed at 5 am still unable to sleep, I knew that kind of forgiveness, the kind that would compel most of that Amish community to attend the shooter’s funeral, or the kind that compelled Ida’s daughter to tell the man about to shoot her that she would pray for him, was the kind I had to challenge myself to have, no matter how painful it would be. So when I finally sat down with the elders, this is what I told them:
Just like they say love is not a feeling but a decision, I believe that forgiveness is a decision we sometimes have to make despite our feelings. I have been very hurt by what has happened and I am still healing, but I want you all to know that I have made the decision to forgive you.
It was difficult to say, but I said it, even with tears in my eyes. I said it because I was compelled to demonstrate the same grace that I would hope someone would show me, the same grace that we all want but never deserve on our own merit. The same grace we can only receive as a result of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. We all need grace, but we struggle to give grace. We get so caught up in the guilty party’s offense that we cannot see past ourselves. But the sacrifice of Jesus was an offer of grace for every person who accepts it and then shapes their life in response to it. We don’t get to pick and choose who receives God’s grace, and neither should we. Part of dying to ourselves, as we are called to do by Christ, is choosing to give grace to anyone in our lives that is difficult to love or forgive. I hope that sharing this story will help you learn to do the same thing.
I Found a New Calling In the Midst of My Healing
Most of my friends know that since I started high school, I’ve wanted to become a music minister or worship director. In fact, I could have told you my plan the day I started high school. From then until I graduated from college in 2014, I never deviated from that plan. But when I was completing my music ministry internship the spring before I graduated, it became apparent that some gaps in my proficiency and personal training would prevent for pursuing music ministry after I graduated. I was so confused. I had pursued God’s calling as faithfully I knew how and I was still unable to devote my career to ministry. As a result, I really struggled with what I should do with my future when I moved back home. Although I was involved in music ministry, I wasn’t getting paid, and went back and forth from being in leadership to just being a participant. I struggled to find a job. Any job. It was a very difficult and uncertain time.
But I didn’t realize what God was doing behind the scenes to prepare me for something greater. Just as circumstances required me to take a step back from leading in music ministry again, an opportunity opened up for myself and a deacon to take over leadership of the youth ministry. In some ways, it surprised me. Although I had been a youth sponsor in college, I hadn’t really been involved in organizing a youth group. But I believed it was a need I could fulfill with Todd, so we jumped into it. We did what we could to teach but also have fun with our teens. It wasn’t easy, even for Todd who has youth ministry training, but after about a year, we really began to see great things happened in our group. We began to see growth in our numbers and in their understanding of their faith. Todd and I were both excited about what God had in store for our group in 2018.
But at the end of January, everything changed overnight. When my dad was let go, I was immediately afraid of what would become of the youth group if I would not allowed to return in light of what had already been planned for the spring. Only a few days later, I was given permission to finish out the school year. But the few days in between when I didn’t know were some of most emotionally trying days I’ve ever faced. After that was said and done, I came to realize how much I cared about our students and how much I had been devoted to the ministry. It made me think that maybe I could find a future in doing this kind of work as a job. Only about 3 weeks later, we took our Jr. High students to a youth conference in Cincinnati. Over that weekend, Todd and I had some honest conversations about the direction I was going with my life in regards to ministry. By the end of that weekend, I came to a major decision:
I want to become a youth minister
Some of you that have known me for a while might be shocked to hear me say this. Honestly, I’m still kind of shocked to be saying it. But as I look back over all of my ministry experiences, I now recognize that God was preparing my heart to work with students when I wasn’t looking. I attended a Jr. high conference at as sponsor my senior year of high school. I helped with a large Jr. high girls lock-in with a local Christian venue my freshman year of college. I spent about a year and half in college (minus the summers) working with my brother-in-law’s youth group, including teaching Jr. high Sunday school. When I was on my internship, I taught in a high school small group since my cousin was the youth minister. Before I officially became a youth leader, I had already lead two girls Bible studies and had attended a few youth conferences as a sponsor. It ends up adding up to a total of about 4 years I have spent volunteering in youth ministry. It all happened when I wasn’t looking, because God was subtly guiding me to a different future than I saw for myself. It’s something I would have never considered a year ago, or even 6 months ago. But God used my ability to trust Him during a painful trial of my life to help me find my new calling. I believe He can for you too.
I Found Healing Through A Surprising Friendship
I have said this before and I will say it again: community is an indispensable part of the Christian life, especially when we are going through trials. But unfortunately, most people don’t treat it like it is. In my post “Why This Millennial Isn’t Leaving the Church,” I mentioned my high school friend who claimed that because he was enrolled in a Christian school, he didn’t need to go to church. But in the end, he walked away from the faith when he left the school a year later. Adapting this kind of mentality is not just wrong, but it is dangerous, especially if you are going through personal struggles. The Christian life was not meant to be done alone, and this has been proven to me so clearly over the last few months. The day after my dad lost his job, many of the friends went out of their way to see how I was doing. Some would eventually invite me over to their house to spend time with them just so I could talk. Many of my friends have gone above and beyond to make sure there were they when I needed it. I am so grateful to each and every person who has been there for me through this difficult season. But in the end, the friend who has been there for me the most during this season was not one of my girlfriends or even a friend my own age, but it was my ministry partner.
I clearly remember talking to him on the phone the night after my dad was let go. He expressed genuine concern for myself and my family, since he is also a good friend of my dad’s. He wanted to support whatever decision I made. But what I remember the most clearly is when I told him the elders were planning to meet with me. His first words were, “I need to be there.” There were several reasons he told me, but the real reason was that there was no way he was going to let me go to that meeting by myself. When the meeting came, he sat down next to me, listened to the plan I shared with the elders, and when the elders asked his opinion, he replied, “I’m just here for emotional support.” After the meeting, we walked out into the foyer and I asked him for a hug. I don’t know if I will ever forget that hug. In that moment, although I knew the next few months would not be easy, I knew that I would not be facing any of it alone.
Since then, I have been surprised and incredibly blessed by how God has used our partnership and our friendship to help me through everything I’ve faced. Now I know that one of the reasons that God wanted me to stay a little longer was so that he could walk through this trial with me. God brought him into my life for such a time as this. I hope that anyone that faces similar trials finds a friend that is able to do the same thing for you. If you do, don’t ever take that friendship for granted.
I believe the God I serve is able to make something beautiful out of the broken. I choose to believe it, even when my feelings try to convince me otherwise. In some ways, He already has redeemed parts of what has happened to me and my family. But in other ways, when the pain is still difficult to face, I choose to believe that God will redeem all of it in His time. That brings me comfort and peace when it’s not easy to find. In the meanwhile, He promises to be ever-present in my pain. He knows my pain because He’s experienced pain. He doesn’t want me to experience it alone. He doesn’t want me to be paralyzed by my circumstances. He wants to use it to mold me into the image of His Son. That’s why we all have to learn to “run toward the roar.” Because that will be the best way for God to redeem our broken story.
[*Note: If you know the names of any of the people or places involved in this incident, please do not comment or share them. I still love and respect many people at my previous church. It is not my intention to demean the eldership or the church itself. I am just stating what happened as it impacted my life personally. Please respect my family’s privacy. Thank you]
To be honest, I’m getting a little tired of all the articles, blog posts, videos, and books that are titled something along the lines of – “Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church” or “How To Get Millennials to Stay in the Church.” But I’m even more tired of blog posts written by millennials titled something like “Eight Problems in Church Today and How We Can Fix Them.” Some of the most popular Christian spoken word videos fall into this category, blaming the church by blaming “religion” or blaming our elders for creating the problems that exist in the church's traditions today. Although two of the most popular (“Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus” by Jefferson Bethke and “A Godless Generation” by Jon Jorgenson) are written by guys that I really like and respect, I don’t agree with some of what they are saying. Although I am well aware that my generation as a whole seems to be more prone to walk away from the faith they were raised in, I don’t think most of these articles or the rants on YouTube are really helping us arrive at the best solution to the problem. What usually ends up happening is a vicious cycle of the older generation blaming the younger generation for blaming the older generation, and it keeps going around and around. In the end, neither side proves their point or demonstrates Christ’s love in the process.
[Disclaimer: I love and respect Jeff and Jon a lot. In fact, I've met both of them in person and they are great guys. They inspire me to do most of what I do online today. However, I do see the fault in some of their logic. Nothing I say about them here is meant to be demeaning or insulting to them or their fans. I'm just sharing truth as I understand it.
This got me thinking about myself and those in my generation that have stayed faithful to the church into our adulthood. I find it funny that many of them are contributing to these debates more than anyone else at times. I admit that there may have been a time in my early college years when I might have sided with my generation, and I highly agreed with what my peers are saying. But since I've graduated college, I've come to value the opinions of the older generations as I have heard it explained by my parents or grandparents. So in the end, I want to attempt to take the middle road to help both sides find understanding and peace. Unlike most of the articles written in this discussion, I want to give you the list of reasons I chose to stay in the church, which will hopefully help everyone understand what all of us can do to help bring my generation back in. Here we go:
1) I Was Taught The Basic Reasoning Behind My Faith
Last year, I went through the Bible study for the book Not A Fan by Kyle Idleman with a small group from my church. Although by the end of the study I saw so many of Kyle's viewpoints as being strongly millennial in their nature, one point he made stood out from the rest. In the video curriculum for this study, Kyle was taking about parents that were asking him about why their adult children had left the faith when they had grown up. Most of then didn’t seem to understand why this happened, since they raised their children in the church. But one father was different from the others when he talked his estranged daughter. After explaining the story of his daughter walking away from her faith, this father realized,
“We raised her in the church, but we didn’t raise her in Christ.”
This story really stuck out to me as I think back to many of the kids I went to Christian school with. Out of 50-60 kids I was in high school over the years (a rough estimate, averaging 35-40 per year), there are less than half of then that I can confirm that they are still living out their faith (give or take a few). Less than a third of us went to Christian colleges. Less than 5 of us made the choice to pursue ministry as a career. I know all too many of this same group that have left the church, rejected Christianity, and are living for themselves in their lifestyle choices. And those that fall in between, they don’t live their lives in such a way that they stand out for their faith. That’s sad.
What I think is different for me from many young people of my generation is that I was taught from a young age the reason for the hope that I have. This goes far beyond learning your Bible stories in Sunday school or memorizing Scriptures because you are required. It even goes beyond knowing that Jesus died for your sins. This is having a basic understanding of proper apologetics, or defense of the faith. It’s knowing that there is proof that Jesus did die for your sins and then rose again, and any life that is lived outside of that knowledge and the salvation found there is incomplete.
My senior year of high school, we were required to take an apologetics-type class through David Noebel’s curriculum, Understanding the Times, which evaluated the most popular worldviews today, including Islam, Secular Humanist, Marxism, Cosmic Humanism (New Age), and Post Modernism. We compared all of these world views against the logistics of the Christian worldview in 10 different areas: theology, philosophy, ethics, biology, psychology, sociology, law, politics, economy, and history. Through this study, I observed that from a logistical standpoint the Christian worldview the most complete and precise of all worldviews. Every other worldview has huge holes in it when examined closely, and the people that uphold those worldviews are almost always contradicting themselves in some way, shape, or form in order to hold onto their beliefs. This study taught me the reasoning behind my faith. There were several classes I took in college and a number of books I read that did the same thing, chief among would be The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. Through the author’s investigative journey, we learn that when the evidence for Christ’s death and resurrection are examined closely, it honestly takes more faith to hold on to atheism that it does to accept Christianity.
This is the kind of thing we need to be teaching the kids of this generation. Am I saying that every teenager needs to take a college level apologetics course? No, but I am saying that we have to find ways to teach kids how to defend their faith, not just know what the popular Bible stories are and how to memorize Bible verses. They have to know that what happened in the Bible is true and it changes everything. Most of those kids I went to school with could probably still tell you the details of certain Bible stories, but many of them never took it to heart because they did not understand from a logistical standpoint why they needed to hold onto their faith. That made them susceptible to being deceived by worldviews that are full of holes. They rejected the truth because they didn’t know why it was the truth in the first place. This is what we must avoid if we want to keep my generation in the church. We have to stop just raising kids in the church, but we need to raise this generation in the knowledge that Christ did indeed die and rise again for our salvation.
2) I Was Taught That Truth Is Objective
Because post-modernism is so prevalent in our culture today, more and more people are believing that truth is subjective to the individual. Truth is relative and never absolute. That is what the majority of what our world believes or is being convinced to believe, whether they realize it or not. Unfortunately, with the way our education and political systems are set up today, this is being presented as the best and superior worldview. Not only do they treat every other worldviews as inferior and unintelligent, but their methods end up indoctrinating those of us that aren’t on our guard against it. That’s where most Christians are. They’ve been taught the Bible stories, but they aren’t fully convinced that everything in the Bible is true in light of the competing views they are being presented on a daily basis. Soon, they start to question things like if God really did create the world in six literal days or Paul’s teaching on women being allowed to teach in worship assemblies. These things aren’t salvation issues (which is another discussion for another time), but when they start to question those issues in this way, they then have license to question the integrity of God’s word as a whole. The next thing you know, they have disregarded God’s word entirely, because they never believed it was absolutely true in the first place.
From the time I was a child, I was taught that truth is truth, and God’s word is the physical representation of truth itself. We can and should believe in everything it says, and trust God’s wisdom as it has been revealed to us in the Bible. We shouldn’t question its validity and try to reinterpret it to fit our needs. If any of us do struggle with doubt, then we should do our research into the sources that will help us verify the truth. When we know it to be the truth, we need to take it as it is and live by it. It breaks my heart to see so many that have been raised in the church that either walk away from the faith they once professed or if they stay in the faith are much too liberal in their interpretation of the Bible, because they read the Bible subjectively, just like the world wants them too. This problem would be easy to fix if the church as a whole decided that they would view the Bible’s truth objectively and encourage the next generation to do the same. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done in our predominantly post-modern culture. But I think we can change the tide if we begin to learn for ourselves and teach the younger generation the Biblical view of truth.
3) I Was Taught To Value Christian Community
Surrounding yourself with solid Christians who share your beliefs is an indispensable part of the Christian life. Yet most people don’t treat it like it is. I actually had a high school friend that told me that he thought he didn’t need to go to church to be a good Christian. Since we were both students at a Christian school, he felt that he got enough Bible learning from being in school that being a part of a Christian community outside of school didn’t matter to him. (In the end, he left the school less than a year later and didn’t remain in the faith after he left. Big shock there, right?) Although it’s true that God doesn’t literally say, “You must consistently attend church in order to be a good Christian, or you have sinned against me,” it does show us how important fellowship was to early church and it encourages us to function as a body, not in isolation. Now I know there are some cases with persecuted Christians around the world in which having consistent fellowship with a church family isn’t possible. But when I watch the how many of my Christian peers are BFF-ing with primarily worldly friends while their church friendships are put on the back burner, I realize how significant it is for us to make our Christian friendships our closest friendships.
It’s true that Jesus spent time with sinners and the social outcasts of His day. But those that did not devote themselves to God’s way weren’t his closest friends. His closest friends were His disciples, who had committed to learning from Jesus as their Rabbi. Even Matthew, although he was a tax collector, was a Jew who understood the Old Testament well enough that his gospel demonstrates his knowledge of Jesus’ fulfillment of prophecies about the Messiah. We would all do well to learn how to develop this kind of community.
From the time I was very little, my closest friends were Christians, and I was told that this was the way it should be. For most of my childhood, teenager, and college years, Christians were exclusively the people I was close to. Aside from going to church every Sunday, I participated in many different programs with Christians at the heart of all of them. Christians schools, Homeschool groups, American Heritage Girls (a Christian version of Girl Scouts), a Christian charter for 4-H, Christian camps, Christians conferences, choir tours with my alma mater, and the list could go on. This isn’t to say that I didn’t know and have a few friends here and there that were not churched, especially kids in my neighborhood. However, I knew that my priority and energy should be placed in investing in my friendships with other Christians first. Especially when it comes to the friends you would seek out for advice, it’s crucial that their advice is grounded in truth and not based on feelings and worldviews that don’t line up with God’s word. If you do have a wide pool of friends, neighbors, and co-workers that do not share your faith, it’s OK. Just remember that you need to learn how to have your faith become an influence on them, and not let their worldviews or lifestyle choices rub off on you.
Another thing that I was taught to value was Christian community that spans the gap between generations. I love to spend time with kids and teens. I have been volunteers at a couple of different churches in both children’s and youth ministries, including being a youth leader at my current church. I think that healthy youth and children’s programs are vital for the growth of a healthy church. But on the other hand, I also enjoy getting to spend time with the older generation, my parents and grandparents’ generations. I love to hear stories of how church used to be to see the progress of what it has become today. But unfortunately, the older generations have in recent years struggled to connect with the younger generation, mostly because of the “generational gap” that was created in the minds of those trying to explain why so many of my generation aren’t staying in the church. But in truth, we were all to blame.
When youth ministry really began to come on the rise in the 1970s, it changed the way youth participated in church, because they made their programming completely separate from the adults. Some churches even went so far as to have a separate service for the youth, giving them little to no time to fellowship with the older generation and choosing a style of worship and lessons that only appealed to young people. The results is that the kids are so used to hanging out with only people their own age, they don’t know how to identify or belong with the content of the adult community when they graduate. Beyond that, most small churches struggle with having ministries for young adults (about 20-30 years old), especially for those that aren't married. As a result, so many of my peers will literally say out loud, "The church has nothing for me," and then walk away.
We have to learn how to bridge the gap between all the generations in order for the church to thrive, in order to draw the younger generation in. We have to learn how to get older people involved in our youth and children's ministries to help mentor our kids, and how to get our teens to be involved in other ministries in the church so they will identify with adults and learn to serve. I have heard some people tell me that the youth are of the church of tomorrow. I don’t think that’s true, for I personally believe that we are all the church today. We all need to somehow figure out how to act like it.
4) I Was Taught that Christianity Is a Personal Relationship With Jesus
I get really annoyed with my own peers going on and on about grace in such a way that practically tries to absolve themselves of responsibility for their sin or bad choices. They talk about how wrong it is for the older generation or the church to impose so many rules on anyone that wants to be included. In “A Godless Generation” Jon Jorgenson asks why anyone would want to stay in the church when all we will do is treat people “as a project on which we can project a list of rules.” Although it may be true that this is the perception, phrasing it this way is a major turn off, and doesn’t help anyone arrive at a solution. I absolutely understand that no one is perfect. I understand that many of us struggle with accepting grace when we mess up. On the other hand, talking this way about our spiritual elders not only comes across as spiritual and theologically arrogant, but it also reduces Christianity to a list of rules that no one can keep. That doesn’t attract anyone to the church and drive a greater wedge between the church and the rest of the world as well as further the generational gap that has once again been created in the minds of my peers.
From the time I was a child, I was taught that Christianity was not about rule-keeping. Yes, I did have rules for how to live from my parents, and there were consequences when I disobeyed, but I knew that wasn’t the most important of my faith. I learned from a young age that my faith was a personal relationship with my Lord and Savior. My parents taught me that even when I did mess up, they would always forgive me, and so it is with Jesus. There wasn’t anything I had to do to win His favor other than accept His salvation. However, part of that relationship was learning to trust Him enough to obey his principles of my life as outlined in His word. These are all key truths to understanding our faith, and it’s something we need to get back to teaching the next generation.
5) I Came To My Own Conclusions Based On What I Was Taught
I’ve honestly had some people I’ve interacted with through comments on my YouTube channel tell me that I was brainwashed. Just because I was a PK, raised in a Christian home, and either homeschooled or in private Christian education my whole life, that I was forced into accepting Christianity and therefore had no ability to be objective when it came to discussing topics like science or politics. In truth, each one of them proved this to be true about themselves when it came to their atheism. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I have mentioned several truths that I was taught over the course of my childhood, but they were not forced on me. When I got to about the right age, my parents started to ask about when I wanted to commit my life to the Lord through baptism. But for many, many years, I refused and kept putting it off. It wasn’t that I didn’t love Jesus or that I didn’t accept the truths of Christianity that they taught me. There were a couple of reasons I hesitated (which is another story for another blog post), but it all boils down to my struggle with the concept of surrender. Because I had been raised to know and love the Lord, I knew that making that commitment would demand me denying myself, taking my cross daily, and following Jesus with everything I am. That terrified me for many years, so I waited. But do you know what my parents did? They gave me my space and let me wait until I was ready. They did ask again every few months, but they were patient with me. They knew I would make the commitment when I was ready. I think my dad first asked me when I was seven or eight. I didn’t get baptized until I was 13. But because I waited as long as I did, I really did understand what I was doing when I made that commitment. And things have never been the same since that day.
Please Don't Give Up
This constant blame game has worn so many of us thin. The older generation struggles with wanted to give up on most of my generation, because they just refuse to listen. My generation wants to give up even being a part of the church, because we see so many flaws in the church, or we feel like we don't fit in. I want to encourage everyone on both sides not to give up. Older generation, I know that you are frustrated that you are constantly getting blamed for the church’s problems. But the really solution on your end is not giving up; it’s to learn how to mentor the next generation while they are still young and moldable. Help them learn what it means to stand on God’s word as their absolute authority. Then they will be much most likely to trust your advice or spiritual wisdom when you offer it. And do what you can to make sure that there is a place for my generation to feel welcomed into the church. Whether it be a young adult ministry of some sort, or just making sure they feel welcomed into pre-existing ministries, make sure that they don't feel left out, or they will never come back in.
Millennials, we were the ones that started this mess, but I still think they we can figure out how to get out of it. First of all, we need to learn to trust the spiritual wisdom of our elders. Yes, there are some traditions they uphold that are not necessarily founded on Scripture. But many of our elders have been Christians longer than we have been alive. Assuming that you know better than them is arrogant, ungodly, and needs to stop. We need to stop putting words in their mouths that no one really said in the first place just to give us someone to attack (Like when some millennials claim that pastors are always talking about "What's wrong with kids today?", but I have never actually heard a pastor say that. Have you?) The same goes when it comes to understanding or trying to reinterpret Scripture. Don’t fall into the trap of assuming you know better than anyone else. Especially if they have experience. This picture illustrates my point.
Secondly, we struggle with a system of religion and rules since most of us feel like we don't fit in. We want to blame on our parents and grandparents generations for creating, but you need to understand that this is not their fault! Many of these flaws have been developing since the church was founded as a result of human misunderstanding, so we should not blame our parents’ generation for it. We need to understand that the church is not perfect, but we still have to learn to be a part of the church at it is right now. We cannot use our irritation with rules and tradition as an excuse to treat the church like it’s an evil sect or cult that we have to disavow for our holiness. Jesus prayed unity among everyone that would come to believe through the message of the apostles (John 17), but in order for Jesus’ prayer to be fulfilled, we have to learn to be a part of a church congregation, no matter how difficult it is. Even if they isn't a college age or young adult ministry doesn't mean that there is no place for you in the church. I have found that the best solution when you find that there are no ministry that are specially for you is to be involved in other ministries as a leader or a teacher, like youth or children's ministries. You will be much less likely to feel out of place in the church if you are intentional about finding ways to fit in.
All the generations involved in this discussion have to learn that there are more important things that being right. When it comes to trying to resolve this issue most of the time, we tend to become so passionate about our viewpoint, we sacrifice the importance of relationship for the satisfaction of winning the argument. That is wrong, even if you are right. That is arrogance and pride. The church will never survive if this kind of behavior continues. However, we do have to judge each other in the sense of accountability, not in condemnation or condescension. The most quoted verse in the Bible, especially by the millennials, is Matthew 7:1 “Do not judge or you too will be judged.” However, this verse is almost always taken out of context. We say God doesn’t want us to judge anyone, but we choose to ignore passages like 1 Corinthians 5, where Paul is judging the sexually immoral man and he asks them “Are you not to judge those inside the church? God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked brother from among you.’” (1 Corinthians 5:12a-13, NIV84) God is responsible to bringing everyone outside the church to account. We are responsible for holding each other accountable when we are aware of a significant sin in someone’s life. If we don’t learn to stop arguing to be right and start judging to hold each other accountable, the church will never grow. In fact, the church will probably die on the vine. But if we learn humility in unity, the church will never be the same
If we learn how to train children in the way of the Lord, they will make the decision to follow Jesus of their own free will when they are ready. And they will really understand what they are doing. You won’t have to drag them to church. You won’t have to force them to read their Bible or attend youth group. They will want to because they will understand the reason for the hope that they have in Christ. But we have to help them see past the world’s deceptions, stand on the truth of God’s word, how to value their community in Christ, and how to make their relationship with Jesus a personal one. That will be what will get this generation to stay. We need to remind them that we are all the church today.
To conclude this post, I want to share my newest spoken word that inspired this post. I hope this video and this post will start the conversations that will lead us to change. But it has to start with us. If you like this video, please like it, leave a comment, and share the video or this post with the hashtag #weareallthechurchtoday.
It was just as I imagined it would be. Being such a huge fan of the original version of the film, my expectations were high, but the film met them and exceeded them in many ways. It was very special going to see this film during the special Opening Night Fan Event with my friend Angela to celebrate her birthday. We had waited for this movie for so long, and now it was finally here! It was not only in 3D, but it featured exclusive bonus content, including the “Beauty and the Beast” music video in 3D. I enjoyed every minute of it. I laughed, I cried. It was everything a good movie should be. However, with every good film, there should also come discussion about what you agree and disagree with in the film. In light of controversy among conservative Christian circles about the “exclusive gay moment” that director Bill Condon discussed prior to the film’s release, I wanted to take the opportunity to take a deeper look at the content of the film. [If you want to skip straight to my comments on the gay moment, go to the section titled “The Sub-Plot of Same-Sex Attraction Was Mostly Subtle But Completely Unnecessary”] I know I am a loyal fan of Beauty and the Beast, but I have done my best to approach this review in a critical fashion, so I can offer a balanced view.
Greater Detail and Realism Draws You Deeper Into the Well-Loved Story
This live action adaptation did an incredible job of taking the elements of the 1991 animated film and making it their own. The production team understood that they couldn’t just take the animated film script and just film it. It wouldn’t work the same way. They also didn’t just take the script from the popular Broadway musical version. They took careful consideration of what elements needed to stay, what elements needed to change, and what elements needed to be added to make a live action adaptation work. They even worked in a few elements from the original fairy tale that didn’t work in the animated film. They also brought in historical research to make elements more accurate to the period, which you can see in the design of buildings, costumes, and even the enchanted objects. Probably their bigger challenge was missing in the gaps of missing information from the animated film and filling in the details in a way that kept the integrity of the original story. For example, this film version mentions that the enchantress’ spell erased all memories of the prince, the castle, and all who lived there from the minds of their loved ones. These and other details also make the story more sense from a logistical standpoint.
This version also make the story more human. Not to say the original film doesn’t connect on a human level, but the realism they brought into this version makes it feel like it could have actually happened in a time and age we have long forgotten. This was especially true of the character of the Beast. Dan Stevens did such an incredible job really giving this character a soul. Because of the digital work they were able to do with his face and body, I believed in him as a living breathing creature that had a real human soul trapped inside. Plus the story development that helps the audience understand his selfishness and anger makes his character all the more believable. It was captivating from start to finish.
Transformative Redemption Found in Sacrificial Love is “A Tale as Old as Time”
Even with all the changes made to the original version, the essence of the message at the heart of the story remained intact. From the beginning, the Beast has lost all hope of ever finding redemption for his cursed soul, "for who could learn to love a Beast?” Then, in an act of sacrificial love, a young girl named Belle (played by Emma Watson) comes to rescue her father Maurice (played by Kevin Kline) from the Beast’s dungeon and offers to take his place as the Beast’s prisoner. At first, the Beast is too caught up in his anger and selfishness to open up his heart to her. But when he scared her and she runs away into a pack of wolves, he risks his life to save her. She is also ready to keep running, but she makes the choice to save the Beast and return to the castle to tend to his wounds. Then they gradually get to know each other and realize they have a lot in common. Through this process, both of their hearts begin to soften toward each other and their perspectives on life begin to change.
After some time, when Belle discovers her father is in danger, the Beast releases Belle as his prisoner and tells her to go save her father, and he realizes that he loves her. When Belle tries to save her father by telling the villagers about the Beast, Gaston (played by Luke Evans) incites them to go and kill the Beast after Belle’s public rejection of him. Belle risks everything to go and save the Beast, but not before Gaston shoots him. When the Beast dies from his wounds, Belle realizes that she loves him too and mourns his death greatly. Moved by Belle’s affection for the Beast, the enchantress resurrects him as a prince. Belle looks the prince in the eyes and sees that he and the Beast were one and the same. They marry and live happily ever after.
Belle’s kindness and patience changed the Beast’s heart. On the other hand, befriending and eventually falling in love with the Beast also changed Belle’s heart. They both learned that the essence of love is sacrifice, and they both sacrificed so much for each other. That willingness to give up himself for the woman he loved and her willingness to do the same ultimately redeemed his soul. It’s such a powerful metaphor of what can happen to someone’s heart when they choose to die to self and become a follower of Jesus Christ. In fact, when working on the animation of the transformation scene for the original film, animator Glen Keane had 2 Corinthians 5:17 written on his exposure sheet:
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (ESV)
Ever since I learned this fact, this story, especially the transformation scene, have taken on a whole new meaning for me. It emotionally moves me unlike nearly any other movie I’ve ever seen on film (with the exception of the crucifixion scene in nearly any Jesus film, or the ending scene of The Lord of the Rings, lol). It moves me to tears nearly every time I watch it, no matter if it’s animated, the live action film, or even high schoolers putting on an amateur production of the stage play. That moment will have my heart and my imagination forever, no matter how it is portrayed. That is the moment that is the tale as old as time. It was the consummation of his redemption, his physical transformation that reflected the inner transformation of his heart. From the perspective of a Christian who knows that the Lord did that to my own heart, it will never cease to amaze me. The portrayal of this moment in the live action version only confirmed this to be true.
Some Innocence Is Lost With Realism
Unfortunately, we live in a different world that we did 25 years ago when Beauty and the Beast first came out as an animated film. Although the animated version of the film was primarily intended for children, this live action adaptation in some respects seems to be aiming to appeal to adults, most specifically to my generation that grew up watch the animated film, but desired to see part of the story portrayed in a more realistic manner. The standard of what is acceptable for children to see in a film has been significantly lowered since 1991. As a result, a remake of a G-rated film is rated PG, and some of the reasons for the rating aren’t totally to my taste.
In the end, the nature of this version of the story is a little darker and slightly more frightening, especially for children. Some of the scenes that were appropriately mild in the animated film are a little more intense, like the wolf attacks on Maurice and Belle, and the villagers’ attack on the castle. The Beast makes two references to damnation. You see a glimpse of the prince’s mother dead and also Belle’s mother dying from the plague. The climactic battle between the Beast and Gaston happens atop parts of the castle that are crumbling away. The Beast is shoot in the back three times by Gaston. The last rose petal falls and the curse doesn’t break until the enchantress observes Belle saying “I love you.” Until then, you see the objects cease to live. Although I personally don’t think any of these moments are inappropriate, it does make it a slight bit less family-friendly than the original version.
The Sub-Plot Of Same-Sex Attraction Was Mostly Subtle But Completely Unnecessary
The moment of greatest concern has been the “exclusively gay moment” that has been causing a buzz. LeFou (played by Josh Gad) is Gaston’s sidekick who seems to have some unresolved feelings for Gaston. The nature of these feelings is subtle and is mostly disguised as innuendo, which is not uncommon in most films today. It’s played in a comedic way, but to Christians, it really shouldn’t be that amusing. Right at the beginning LeFou asks why Gaston wanted Belle “when you’ve got us.” One moment, when Gaston looks at himself in the mirror, he says, “I’m not done with you yet,” LeFou in return looks at himself in the mirror and says “Me neither.” LeFou lifts his shirt to reveal a bite mark that was apparently made by Gaston in some sort of wrestling match. As far as physical contact, you see LeFou rub Gaston’s shoulders, try to force an awkward dance moment with Gaston’s arms wrapped around him, and at one point, Gaston a little close to Lefou’s face in an awkward moment. Even in all of this, Gaston is way too full of himself and determined to win Belle as his prize to realize that LeFou feels this way about him.
The two moments of greatest concern are toward the end, and the worst doesn’t even involve LeFou at all. When the villagers are battling the enchanted objects in the climate of the film, the Wardrobe faces off with three men. She attacks them with fabric, wigs, and makeup. Two of three men look at themselves and run away in terror, but the third turns toward the wardrobe, smiles, preens himself, and walks away proudly as the wardrobe sings, “Be free!”
Then, in the final scene of the film, at the celebration ball, the men and women surrounding the Belle and the Prince are doing a traditional dance of the period which includes the switching of dance partners. As it turns out, when LeFou tries to switch partners, he winds up dancing with the man who liked himself in the dress. They both look at each other confused as they twirl for a moment. And that’s it. It’s on the screen for two second, and if you blinked you missed it. Plus, it was quite obvious that it was an accident on the part of the characters. You don’t have the opportunity to see if they react any further than their initial confusion. That was the “exclusively gay moment” everyone has been going on and on about. And it looked like an accident.
It was completely and totally unnecessary. Even many secular reviews are agreeing that it was unnecessary to the plot and not that well played out. It added nothing to the overall story. It just added fuel to the fire of the agenda that the world has been trying to get us to accept as normal. In that respect, we shouldn’t be surprised. We should have seen this coming from ten miles away. Even the implication that this man dressed as a woman could find freedom in doing so shouldn’t be shocking. I think it wasn’t that big of a deal to the importance of the plot, but they wanted to make sure that it would be noticed by causing a stir about it right before the film’s release. And it worked.
My conclusion is that, although I am disappointed that this content is in the film, it did not ruin the movie, and I don’t think it should prevent Christians from seeing it. I have actually seen some Christians take the stance that it would be a sin from someone to go see the film because it supports homosexuality. Although it’s true that the filmmakers do apparently support those choices, the references and innuendo is just as bad as any heterosexual innuendo we endure today in PG-rated movies and TV shows. The references are not blatant and should not be treated like they are. Just be careful to not be amused by these moments and notice them for what they are – a vain attempt to normalize same sex attraction.
In light of all this, I have been debating ever since I saw the film if I would recommend this film to families with children. And in the end, I decided to conclude that it should be left to the discretion of the parents. If you are a parent, I would encourage you to educate yourself about these moments in the film by reading a few solid Christian reviews of the film to determine if you think it’s safe for your children to see. I personally think that almost all of these moments described above (except for the man dressed as a woman) would go right over most of their heads. And the moments that they do notice can offer opportunity to discuss about what God thinks about these behaviors if they are old enough to understand. This film presents this behaviors in a mild way, but I think there will come a time when the presentation will not be so mild, and it will become a moral dilemma if we choose to view them ourselves as adults. Therefore, some of you might want to take the opportunity to view this with your kids as the opportunity for discussion. For example, if you do discuss the moment of the man dressed as a woman, I would encourage you to tell them that freedom can only be found in the Christ, not in anything we do to ourselves and for ourselves. Just remember to look at all of it in light of what God says, not what the world says.
Other Things I Noticed in Beauty and the Beast
A few other elements stood out positively:
Casting – The casting of this picture was absolutely perfect! All accomplished actors in their own right, but together, they were an amazing ensemble.
Music – The music was also wonderful, just like the original film. All the songs from the original film are included (with the exception of the reprise of "Gaston" that didn't fit with some of the plot changes), but some were reworked to fit better in a live action content. Some songs had new lyrics, or lyrics that were discarded from the animated film, but worked well in live action. There were also a few new songs written by Alan Menken and Tim Rice. At first I didn’t know if I would like them as much, but I found that I did enjoy them, especially the Beast’s new song “Evermore.” They all fit into the content of this live action adaptation very well.
A few other elements stood out negatively:
Gaston’s Deception – Gaston is a man that is insistent on his own way. It’s pretty clear that he would do anything to get it. When Maurice tries to get help when Belle is taken prisoner, Gaston offers to help trying to win Maurice’s favor. But when they are unable to find it and Maurice tells Gaston he would never marry his daughter, Gaston knocks him out and ties him up to be eaten by wolves. When Maurice survives and returns to the village, Gaston lies and convinces LeFou to lie as well to cover up his attempt to murder Maurice. They he tries to have Maurice committed to an asylum to silence him. It’s pretty sad that Gaston is so self-serving that he would do all this to protect his image and get what he wants.
LeFou’s Double-Mindedness – LeFou faces a few moral dilemmas as he watches Gaston’s deception, but ends up going along with most of it to keep Gaston’s favor. When Gaston ties up Maurice, LeFou asks if they could find a “less gruesome alternative,” but Gaston insists. When Maurice returns and claims that LeFou saw what happened, LeFou caves until the pressure Gaston puts on him to lie. LeFou is especially conflicted when they want to send Maurice to the asylum. It’s not until the battle with the enchanted objects that LeFou switches sides when he realizes that Gaston and those siding with him were losing. He choose what was convenient for him, not what was morally right.
Although this adaptation had some short-comings, I enjoyed it very much. It preserves the essence of the original film while still being uniquely its own. All the elements within it came together so perfectly. This version, along with the original, has become one of my favorite films of all time. I will cherish the event of seeing it on opening night for years to come. It was a special memory made from a special film. Despite the parts I disagreed with, I still find this to be a wonderful film that I recommend to adults that like Disney without hesitation. That’s because, even with the deception that rest of the world tries to interject into this story, the powerful truths at its core cannot be changed – true beauty is found within, and redemption is a tale as old as time. I hope that if you choose to go see this film, those themes will be what stands out to you, no matter what the rest of the world says.
[If you would like to read my blog post on the reasons I love Belle and want to be like her as a person, click here]
As this year draws to a close, I wished I had more time to write. Between having a few small jobs and other commitments, finding time to write just proved to be very difficult this year. However, one of the things I find write about more this year is books. I have essential become primarily a book blogger. It’s something that became bigger than I realized, and something I did not initially imagine myself doing when I started blogging. My first year of this blog (2015), I reviewed only two books, and they were books I reviewed because of my involvement in their book teams. This year, I have reviewed over a dozen books, only two of which were because of book teams. I have found so much joy in getting to summarize such great books so that I recommend them to others.
When it comes to reviewing books, I have three ways a review comes about: 1) I write a review of a book I know so well, I don’t have to reread it. 2) I remember some of a book, but I choose to reread it in order to properly review it. 3) I heard great things about a book I’ve not have the chance to read and I write my review just after I finish it for the first time. This post will give you the list of the best books from this third category that I’ve reviewed over the course of this year. I enjoyed all of these books immensely, so it was really hard to rank them. But in the end, I went the messages that made of the greatest impact on my life over the last year. Here it goes:
There you have it. I have many other books, both I haven’t read before and books I have read previously, that I look forward to reviewing over the next year. Many next year I can get 2 dozen books! Anyway, if any of you have a favorite among this list, or if you read some great books this year, I’ve love to hear about it in the comments. I hope that you all have a Merry Christmas and have a Happy New Year!
This is a play I did not imagine I would go to see. Most of what I knew about it was that he was a barber that had gone so far off the deep end that he was slitting throats and having their remains made into meat pies to hide the evidence, and that it had really good music. But since I get easily freaked out by blood and gore, I was just not interested. However, when I heard Acting Out Theater Company was going to be doing a production and that I knew some of the people in it, I decided to take the opportunity to go and see it with the desire to learn why this musical has appealed to so many of my peers.
One of the people I knew in the show happened to be playing Sweeney Todd, and since Cody’s family goes to my church, I decided to go with them. It was a very hot Saturday to have the show outdoors, but the setting in the heart on downtown Kankakee was very appropriate to the play. It fortunately cooled down by the time the show started around 8pm. When the play was done, I found myself saying that I didn’t dislike it as much as I thought I would, but I wasn’t totally in love with the show either. It was an incredible well done production, but I walked away from the show with more questions than answers. But what I did know from seeing this play is that it shows that both obsession and revenge are dangerous, and when these two feelings are combined, the consequences are often extreme. This is what I saw as the consequences of obsessive vengeance that are played out in the plot of Sweeney Todd.
[All the photo used in this post are from Acting Out Theater's Production of Sweeney Todd.]
The Value of Human Life Is Down-Played By Selfish Choices
Not only does this become the consequence of Todd’s vengeance, but it is the very thing that led him on his path of revenge. A little ways into the plot of the show, you discover that Todd’s real name is Benjamin Barker. He was at one point in time one of the most accomplished barber in all Victorian London. He was married with a beautiful wife and infant daughter. But the unjust Judge Turpin begins to lust after Barker’s wife, Lucy. Wanting Lucy for himself, Turpin has Barker wrongly convicted and sent to prison in Australia. After her husband is arrested, Turpin summons Lucy Barker to his house, sets up a fake masquerade ball to confuse her, and then Turpin rapes her. When Barker finally manages to escape and return to London 15 years later, he has rechristened himself Sweeney Todd and learns that his wife poisoned herself after being raped by Turpin. Barker’s daughter Joanna, who is now a young woman, has become Turpin’s ward.
Upon hearing the story of his wife and daughter from Mrs. Lovett (the owner of the meat pie shop below Barker’s old barber shop), Todd is determined to seek revenge against Turpin and his accomplice Beadle Bamford. His plan is to reopen the shop under his new name, lure them to his shop, then use his barber blade to slip their throats. Todd becomes more driven when he learns that Turpin is so determined to “protect” Joanna from the world, he is going to force her to marry him. When the young sailor Anthony Hope accidently reveals that he intends to take Joanna away to elope with her, Turpin has her sent to an asylum to silence her. This accident also foils Todd’s attempt on Turpin’s life and he is so driven mad by the incident that he begins to revenge on all of mankind who wronged him. He starts to slit the throats of many of his customers just to cope, until he finds his next opportunity to get revenge on Turpin. To hide the evidence, Mrs. Lovett conceives of the idea to use the remains of Todd’s victims in her meat pies and selling them to unsuspecting customers.
Turpin’s selfish choices devalued the lives of the whole Barker family. Benjamin was reduced to being unjustly imprisoned. Lucy was reduced to feeling like she was damaged goods, leading her to the most drastic choice of all, to end her life. Joanna was reduced to a different type of prison for an unjust reason. All so that Turpin could get what he wanted or cover it up when he didn’t get it. It reminds me of Mister of Judge Claude Frollo in Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Not only was he a judge corrupted by his own biases, but his selfishness devalued not only the life of Esmerelda, but also of all the gypsies in Paris. I honestly think that Turpin could have sang the song Hellfire and it totally would have fit into this play. Both Turpin and Frollo has this attitude of “she will be mine or she will burn.” That is disheartening.
In the end, Turpin’s selfish choices led to Todd making several selfish choices of his own. Some of it was probably because of mental instability that resulted from his imprisonment, but I think Todd was sound enough of mind to know exactly what he was doing. He was so bend on revenge that the lives he had to end in order to cope didn’t matter to him at all. And the one person that knew what he was doing was encouraging him just boost her business. Although some may give Todd an excuse because of his mental state, Mrs. Lovett doesn’t have that excuse. She didn’t seem to have any more of conscious about it than Todd. She devalued their lives just as much as Todd did by reducing them to pie filling. But in the end, she also had more selfish motivation.
This is a powerful reminder what happens when we become blinded by our own selfish ambitions. As a Christian, I never want to devalue any human’s life. No matter who they are, what choices they’ve made, or what decisions they made against me, they are still people made beautifully in the image of God. I never want to force them to do something against their will for or make choices that could end their life for the sake of my ego. We have to be intentional about valuing the people around us, so that we can live out the Bible’s second greatest command: loving our neighbor as ourselves. If only Todd and Turpin would have realized that sooner.
Morally Ambiguities Become Amusing
You can probably tell already that this is a very dark play. When the plot is this dark, it is important to interject humor to lighten the mood. However, the nature of much of the humor in this show didn’t completely sit right with me. A lot of humor ends up arising from the devaluing of lives that I just talked about or other actions that make the characters’ morality ambiguous amusing to the audience. Probably the worst example of this is shown in the song A Little Priest. This is when, after Mrs. Lovett suggests using the remains of Todd’s victims in her pies, they sing about what pies of people with different occupations would taste like. They talked about how the priest would taste “heavenly,” and then goes through a long list of others that are reduced to how well their body meat tastes. Even the notion of Todd slitting throats is almost made into a joke by the end of the show. This is all done for the sake of lightening the mood, because it’s hard to find any other way to do it. I think there is a profound lesson to be made from this.
Our society wants to give us heroes that are morally flawed and present that as OK. For example, I’ve watch a documentary about how superheroes as we know them exist today. They talked about how comic book readers were getting sick of heroes that they thought were too “one dimensional” because they were too perfect. For example, Superman is so strong, he usually doesn’t struggle with doubts or fears, and he has a high moral code that he usually never breaks. Many heroes, especially the ones created by DC Comics, fit into a very similar mold. Many of the heroes from Marvel struggle more with inner fears and doubt themselves, but many of them still have some sort of moral code that doesn’t break easily. But probably around the ‘80 and ‘90, certain comic book writers began creating character that had moral ambiguities, like Alan Moore’s Watchmen or Todd McFarlane’s Spawn. There were not driven by any code of ethics, sometimes even becoming part crime fighter, part criminal. They were not above killing a villain if they deemed it appropriate. This is what many of the fans were asking for, and when they got it, there were very amused by it and kept asking for more. Again, there is something about this that doesn’t sit right with me.
As a Christian, I don’t think moral ambiguities are entertaining or amusing. We should be able to look at the things people do in plays and think to ourselves, “That’s not quite right,” or “That is morally wrong.” Even if the characters aren’t Christian themselves, everyone has some sort of inner moral code they adhere to or follow. We should be able to discern if they are follow their own private sense of morality based on their character and figure out whether their actions are wrong based on their own morals. We should be processing what we are seeing enough that we are aware of it something is right or wrong in what we are watching. Now I think we can laugh or be entertained at certain things that aren’t moral perfect within reason, but not at the cost of ignoring blatant moral problems. If the bad morals portrayed in any form of entertainment don’t send up some sort of red flag in your head, then you may want to rethink your viewpoint.
Romance Becomes the Only Light
Amidst the darkness of this play, there is only one ray of light: the romance between Joanna and Anthony Hope. Anthony is a sailor who helped rescue Todd from the sea as he was escaping from the Australian prison. When Anthony falls in love with Joanna from afar, he becomes determined to marry her, even though she is Judge Turpin’s ward. He devises a play to break her out of Turpin’s house to elope with her. When Turpin discovers this plan and has Joanna wrongfully committed to an asylum, Anthony stops at nothing until he is able to help her escape. He is aided in his plot by Todd, not knowing that Joanna is really his daughter. But even Todd’s desire to help is ultimately motivated by his unrequited desire to have revenge on Turpin. Anthony and Joanna survive through the end of the play, but the ending of their story isn’t explained. Although it could be assumed that they lived “happily ever after,” I’m sure what they witnessed of the bloodbath at the end of the play would probably haunt them for the rest of their lives.
Of all the things I saw in this play, the one thing I found myself enjoying was Anthony fighting to rescue Joanna. He stopped at nothing until he knew she was safe. In fact, Anthony is probably the most noble man in the show. Men that are willing to pursue and sacrifice everything for the women they love are rare. But at the same time, it made me sad to think that this was really one of the only rays of light within the darkness of the plot. Romance is not enough to redeem the plot from all the gore and moral ambiguities. It’s because of this that I found it difficult to love this play as a whole. I enjoyed watching it for its production value, but I didn’t love the plot as a whole or where it ended.
Other Things I Noticed in Sweeney Todd
There were a few things that stood out positively:
Production Quality - As far as the production I saw, the quality of the sets, the costumes, the singing, and the acting was top-notch! Cody did an incredible job playing the extremely difficult part of Sweeney Todd. It happened that the guy that played Judge Turpin played the part of Bert when I was in Mary Poppins last fall! I also knew a very members of the ensemble. These guys and the whole cast are incredible talented. Well done!
Compelling and Complex Music - One of the things that I did know about this play before seeing it was that it had really good music. I had some music major friends in college that loved the music and one or two guys that even sang songs from it in their recitals. Now, after having experienced the music within the content of the play, I can see why some people are so drawn to it. Because I watched this production, I now realize how incredibly difficult the music is. It is very complex, and not for the faint of heart. I heard that Cody said it was some of the most complex music that he has ever done. That’s saying a lot, because one of his last starring roles was playing Javier in Les Miserables! Although the messages within the songs are not my favorite, the quality of the music itself cannot be denied, as well as the talent it takes to perform the music well.
There are several other negative things to note:
Violence/Gore – Part of me had a false expectation that this show was going to be showing blood every 2 minutes. Although that may not be the case, it is still a pretty violent show. You see at least 6 different throats slit on stage, in which you see blood from the cut on the victim’s throat as well as coming out of their mouth. But much the actual death of these characters is left to the imagination when after their throat is slit, Todd drops their bodies from his barber chair through a trap door that leads to Mrs. Lovett’s basement. You hear the sound effect of a man breaking the neck of a little bird. Another character is shot, but you don’t see any blood. There was at least one scene where you see Mrs. Lovett tossing body parts into her oven. Eventually, you see a whole person thrown into the oven. These reasons alone are enough to keep any child from seeing this play.
Language – There is language sprinkled throughout the play. The moment where it felt the most excessive is when Todd is describing Pirelli’s fake hair elixir as smelling and tasting like urine, calling it p*** several times in a row. Although that was only specific instance of language of which I took note, there were a number of other small instances of language used throughout the play.
Sexual Content – You see a reenactment of Judge Turpin raping Lucy Barker during the fake masquerade ball at his house. There are people dancing around them, but you can see him on top of her. There is a beggar women who appears throughout the show who often hikes her skirt up to get attention. Also, at the end of the song Kiss Me (Part 2), Joanna and Anthony enter her room together in a way that could imply that they were about to sleep together. There also seemed to be a few mild innuendos throughout the dialogue.
Deception – There is a lot of deception going on the part of Todd, but the most deception happening in the show is from Mrs. Lovett. She lies to Todd to hide a major secret from him, mostly because she’s in love with him and it eventually helps boost her business. I don’t want to give it away if you haven’t seen the play, but when her deception is exposed, it has severe consequences.
Obsession And Vengeance Have Serious Consequences
The main thing that I gained from seeing Sweeney Todd was a better understanding of the dangerous consequences of both obsession and revenge. I was given permission to share some of the thoughts from Cody Marcukatis, who played the part of Sweeney Todd, about what he learned about the nature of obsession through this character. This was portion of a much larger Facebook post he wrote about his experience:
“Obsession alters your perception.”
“I wanted everyone to see what could become of you if you let obsession rule you.”
Wow. That’s powerful.
I was totally taken back by Cody’s insight into the consequences of obsession. I think this is a powerful lesson for anyone to learn. Personally, I tend to have a passionate personality than can easily become obsessed if I am not careful. If I am into something, I am all in. But I know as a Christian, if I become too interested in something to the point that it diverts my attention away from loving God or loving others as I should, then I have become obsessed. Now, I’m beginning to realize how true it is that when I became obsessed with anything in my life, my perception was altered, as was my ability to be objective. That is a dangerous place to be. I am grateful to have a reminder what letting obsession rule me can do, thanks to the authenticity of Cody’s performance.
I am also reminded of the consequences of taking revenge against those who have hurt us. As I was looking through the program for Sweeney Todd, I was compelled by the notes of the staging director, Jerry Cohagan. He posed two powerful questions, “Can vengeance ever lead to salvation? Even if the answer is no, then why do we seek it?” As a Christian, I believe the answer is no, vengeance cannot lead to true salvation or liberation. And the reason we seek it out is because it not seeking it out would require letting go of our bitterness and choosing forgiveness. This is much more demanding for those of us that have been wronged. It seems so much easier to take justice into our own hands.
But I serve a God who instructed me not to seek out revenge. He said, “Vengeance is mine, and I will repay.” (Deuteronomy 32:35) God will be the one to seek vengeance against those who hurt me or hurt others without repentance. He will carry the burden of our anger, bitterness, and hatred so that we don’t have to, if we choose to forgive. Otherwise, our bitterness will steal our joy, our faith, our loved ones, our ability to reason, and even end our lives if we let it consume us. I want to be sure that never happens to me. I hope the same is true of you.
In conclusion, although I disliked the violence of the play, I am so grateful to have had the experience of seeing Sweeney Todd. It is a thrilling tale full of suspense and violence, but it is a powerful reminder of what happens if you let obsession, vengeance, and selfishness rule your life. Although I probably won’t see the show again, I am glad I had to opportunity to learn these lessons. I hope you have learned something too.