The power of a dramatic performance is one that has been around for hundreds of years. While the Greek tragedies and comedies of history are markedly different in content than the morality plays the church introduced, plays and story have always communicated the values of the time.
My family and I recently attended the musical Matilda at the Dr. Phillips Disney theater. We had enjoyed watching the movie and heard excellent reviews of this musical, so we were thrilled to go see it. As expected, the musical made some changes to the story to adapt it to the stage. The most obvious were the addition of some energetic songs and the downplay of Matilda’s telekinesis. What was most surprising, however, was the thematic emphasis on family and, specifically, the value of a child.
The opening scene starts at a party with bratty children singing about how their parents think they are miracles and angels. While they sing this song, they act out in various ways to highlight the disparity between the parents’ opinions and reality. The next scene reveals a completely different attitude. A woman, thinking she is fat or has gas, finds out she is nine months pregnant. She quickly asks the doctor if there is something to be done, such as antibiotics. To me, this felt like a loaded moment. Of course the audience knows what is done with a baby that is not wanted, even at such a late stage. However, the doctor simply reminds her she is nine months pregnant and proceeds to sing a song about the truly miraculous nature of birth and what a privilege it is to bring a child into the world. He sings, “Every life is unbelievably unlikely. The chances of existence, almost infinitely small. The most common thing in life is life. And yet every single life bearing new life is a miracle! Miracle!” This reluctant mother gives birth to a daughter, and she and her husband (who only wants a boy) are not at all excited about their miracle. As the play progresses, the lack of interest develops into a distaste for their daughter who is so very different from them. She is brilliant–she reads at an early age and recalls everything while they repeatedly urge her to watch TV and imitate her father though he’s a crook. Despite her giftedness, she is rejected and she longs for the love of a family.
The show juxtaposes images of parents who think their kids are mini-gods and spoil them, and parents who have a truly gifted child and ignore her. The lesson seems clear–every child is a gift and a responsibility. Appreciate it, but don’t spoil it.
This isn’t exactly a new idea being proclaimed, yet I was distinctly uncomfortable throughout the play. This is because most people sitting in the audience would feel that they agreed with the message of the play, but these very same people would also agree with abortion. Unwittingly, by thinking this way, they side themselves with the ridiculous figure of Matilda’s mother who has nothing but contempt for her unborn child.
But I am probably one of the few who thought this. Unfortunately, our culture has become terribly successful at doublespeak, to steal an Orwellian term. In other words, we find it easy to believe two contradictory things at the same time. In the case of parenthood, we can believe that pregnancy and parenthood are great miracles, but concurrently believe that an unborn life can be terminated if it isn’t convenient.
They Arent’t the Only Ones
It’s very easy, though, to point the finger at those whom we feel are ridiculous without inspecting closely to see if we ourselves are equally guilty of doublespeak. What ideas do we hold at the same time that cannot both possibly be true at the same time?
If we look at what we know the Bible tells us to be true, and we affirm that we believe the Bible is God’s Word, then are we uncomfortable with our own doublespeak in regard to our obedience? As Western believers, are we challenged about our views of church, money, or the importance of spreading the Gospel when we evaluate our own lives by the light of its message? I know I am. I, too, am so very guilty of proclaiming with my mouth what I do not back up with my life.
Admitting this is probably the first step towards correcting this error. It is too easy to see those who so blatantly contradict God’s Word and be quick to judge and shame because “I am not like them.” But we might find, like the audience, that failing to really evaluate how we live our lives aligns us, more often than not, with the villain of our real drama than with the hero.
If we can humbly come before God realizing that we have not regarded Him or His Word with the reverence that we know He and His Word are due, we can begin that slow process of being transformed so that what matters to Him is what matters to us. And perhaps as we grow, our ability to speak truthfully will also grow and the real “play” of our lives will clearly communicate the truths we believe.