We need more Mary Poppins

Fulfilling a life-long dream…

I was not excited about seeing Mary Poppins on Broadway last night. It’s not that I hate musicals– in fact I love them. I was just hoping to see a different one. Lindsey was very excited, as the movie is one of her all-time favorites, and of course I was happy to see her thrilled by the idea of going. But in reality, that was where my excitement ended.

Then Bert tap-danced across the top of the stage. Upside down. With a huge smile on his face.

In that moment I had a distinct thought, “I’m such a cynic.” It’s true. I am in many areas. And that is too bad.

The show was fantastic. It was truly magical in places. There were flying stunts, fantastic costumes, and the great old songs we all know. By the end of the show, I was completely sold. It was optimistic yet real. It showed flawed characters who struggled to grow– and then did. The world needs stories like this. We need to see them, hear them and tell them. Our world is so cynical that in many ways we don’t know how to be otherwise.

But this is true of marriage, too– or maybe especially.

Think about the marriage jokes men and women tell. They all come from a place of pointing out either the absurdities of the other gender or their irredeemable faults. Look at the TV shows we have– the bumbling father and the overbearing mother is a standard template. And maybe the worst of all, what about the gallows humor tossed around at weddings?

They are all the height of cynicism.

It should not be this way. Marriage is a miracle. We should wake up everyday in awe of the mystery of marriage. How can two people become one flesh? It’s unbelievable, but it happens. Why do life-long desires for myself slowly decrease while my love and hopes for my wife increase? Because that is what is happening every day, bit by bit. A joyful marriage is a blessing and something to be sought after, yet our culture weighs it down with pessimism.

Cynicism can serve a purpose in art. Art should point us to the realities of our humanity, both good and bad. In part, this is what cynicism does– it points out the darker side of the human experience. But it is not a universal good, far from it. Too often, it is a bad influence on the human soul. It can perpetuate oppression and cover for wrong-doing. It can rationalize evil.

I don’t know how to get rid of cynicism about marriage, but I think that should be the goal. We need less cynicism in this world… and more Mary Poppins.

Grace in the face of legalism

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Last night Lindsey and I saw Les Miserables here in Austin (with an oh-so-fancy, but crazy yummy, dinner at Torchy’s beforehand).

It was fantastic, as always. I’ve seen it in the West End in London and previously on tour and it is my favorite musical. The only other show that comes close for me is Little Shop of Horrors, but because of my relationship with the novel Les Mis is by far my favorite.

The story is a marvelous illustration of grace and legalism. Jean Valjean is shown remarkable grace by an elderly bishop who lives as true a Christian life as possibly anyone in Western literature. When he is caught stealing, instead of accusing him the bishop literally empties his silver cabinet into the hands of Valjean. This act of mercy and grace prompts Valjean to turn his life to good and live for others, most notably his adopted daughter Cosette.

I don’t think there is a clearer picture in literature of living a life in response to the grace of Christ.

In contrast to that we have Javert, the viciously legalistic police inspector. He hunts Valjean for years, only to have his life saved by Valjean. With Javert’s life in his hands and with the ability to end his flight from the law with the quick use of the knife in his hands, Valjean shows even greater grace than he once received and lets him go. Javert cannot stand to live anymore in a world where this kind of grace exists. He is driven to suicide by the thought that a criminal could show mercy.

As Javert is about to kill himself he shows us the spite that those who love the law above grace have for those that would extend mercy:

Damned if I’ll live in the debt of a thief!
Damned if I’ll yield at the end of the chase.
I am the Law and the Law is not mocked
I’ll spit his pity right back in his face
There is nothing on earth that we share
It is either Valjean or Javert!

A world with this Jean Valjean in it is a reality he cannot face.

I love this story for so many reasons, but this dichotomy is at the heart of it. If we learn to live in grace as Jean Valjean did we can have a joyful life and a massive impact on others. Or, we can stick to legalism, clinging to rules and the “way it should be”. We wont ‘t show love or grace to those around us. Like Javert’s story, it will lead to an unhappy life and an intolerance towards true grace.

Sadly, I think there are many around us who see the world this way, I know I used to.