The Seduction of Brigadoon (2 of 9)

I grew up watching all of those great old Rodgers and Hammerstein, and Lerner and Lowe musicals – I found them irresistibly entrancing. The stories would take on Kabuki proportions as they would spontaneously break into song and dance and then ease back into normal dialog as if nothing had happened. No doubt, this was highly influential on my artistic formation at a young age, as it allowed me to imagine how one might make the journey from the mundane to the extraordinary with nothing more than a melody.

But it was the innate idealism of these musicals that gave them such a transportive seduction. The embedded tension within the musical was always between an ideal and a hard reality, where the protagonist must make a choice between the two. I often think this is where we find ourselves – trying to reconcile what we believe ought to be true . . . with what persistently insists on being our reality. So as it is in all good story telling, we identify with the protagonist, and are seduced into embracing the romantic notion of ideal . . . even when the ideal is a little skewed.

One of my favorite musicals was Brigadoon — Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse singing and dancing across the heather of the Scottish highlands . . . a Hollywood sound stage, no doubt. Here’s a synopsis: A country parish priest prays that his little village wouldn’t become spoiled by the corrupt world outside the village. So as the evening comes, the village disappears into the night mist for hundred years, only to reemerge for a single day every hundred years, thereafter. Gene Kelly and Van Johnson, a couple of New York businessmen happen upon this quant village of Brigadoon, and the story unfolds.

brigadoon-jane-heronBecause the village only appears for a day once every hundred years, the theory is that it can never be in any given era longing enough to become corrupted. So Kelly, being our protagonist, begins to feel the tension between his life in New York City and this dream like, simple antiquated life. The utopic notion that life could remain as an unspoiled happily ever after, always seems like an echo from Eden calling us home. So if this is our native longing . . . what’s not to love?

Dreaming of a better world may seem innocent enough, until you realize that’s what every despotic regime leverages when making its case for being in power. But as history is faithful to remind us — every effort to recreate Eden has always ended up being just another iteration of the Tower of Babel . . . and some of them even invoking the name of God when imposing their distorted world view.

So when I hear Christians talking about wanting to make this a Christian nation again, I am given pause – because what I often hear next has more to do with their moral concerns and preferences, than desiring that an intimacy with Christ would be discovered by those who have lost their way. In truth, Christ was more often found in the company of disenfranchised sinners than those who thought Rome should be over thrown because of its moral deficiencies. So my question is – What do you want more, a Christianized culture . . . or more Jesus? The seduction is to believe that they are one in the same.

Here’s an enchanting dance scene from the movie . . .


The Seduction of the Faithful Few (1 of 9)

It makes no difference whether it’s a radical political group like Antifa or the White Nationalists, or a religious cult like the Westboro Baptists – the origins of these groups usually follow a discernable pattern. One or two charismatic individuals create a distinctive out of their own disproportionate response to a concern that may or may not be valid – and before you know it, they have a following, willing to do and say unthinkable things. My question is — what is it that draws people into such radical fringe beliefs?

Undoubtedly, there is some element of predisposition – but that doesn’t really explain their willingness to identify with groups that are so far outside the normative spectrum of beliefs and behaviors. Perhaps they already saw themselves as being socially disenfranchised – but that still doesn’t explain their affiliation with such groups. Could it be that there’s an anthropological group dynamic in play here – fueled by the need to belong? A sense of belonging that isn’t so much predicated on the particulars of the philosophy, as it is about being part of the faithful few who are willing to stand up and fight for a cause – no matter how ill-conceived that cause.

In a culture characterized by ambiguity and ambivalence, existentially set adrift – it shouldn’t surprise us to find people looking for tribal factions with which to identify. That there would be people in search of definition, purpose, and meaning within the context of a culture promoting the unmoored notion that purpose and meaning are what we make of them — only to find themselves ostracized for unwittingly having stepped outside of the spectrum of acceptability . . . “there aren’t any rules –Oh, but be sure not to break any of our rules.” In a world filled with such mixed signals, not only does confusion and chaos ensue, but invariably, all of these balkanizing factions devolve into a Nietzschian “will to power” struggle that only serves to validate the need to double down on those tribal beliefs . . . which only perpetuates the delusion of such ill-fated causes.

downloadAll of this is readily apparent when observed in its most extreme forms – but I have often found it at work in far more subtler shades within Christian culture . . . where the seduction of imagining ourselves as one of the faithful few is very strong. We can become so convinced with our own interpretations of scripture, until we don’t simply disagree with those with a varying interpretation, we are compelled to denounce them. But could it be that we have become blind to the hubris in fallaciously believing that our interpretations of scripture have the same authority as scripture itself? So that with such hubris we become divisive, promoting our inflated distinctive in the exact same way that radical fringe groups do.

Unity can neither be found in the tribal insistence that everyone agree in lock step, nor can it be found in the lowest common denominator of emptying out all of our faith values. But rather, it can be found in not allowing our theological distinctive to define us to the point where we no longer recognize the unity that already exists in Christ. Paul beautifully expresses this unity “[I] . . . urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” ~ Ephesians 4:1-3.

May our distinctive be our bond of peace that allows us to humbly love those with whom we disagree – so that in a world full of imposing factional voices demanding to be heard, our voice might be the sweet voice of grace inviting others to find their rest in Christ.

Down here in the south we’re fully aware of just how
insidious maintaining dividing lines can be

While It Was Still Dark

It used to be, in my youthful days, that my nights would often go long into the small hours of the dark morning – especially as a performing singer/ songwriter making my way home. Then as my wife and I began to raise our family, it always fell to me, when we’d go on vacation, to drive us all through the dark-thirty fog until morning  — everyone fast asleep in the van . . . as I stared off into the hypnotic movement of shadowy landscape. Now a days, the smell of coffee invites me into the dark kitchen most mornings, while the rest of the house sleeps . . . I begin to think about what the day might hold.

In a world that literally has thousands of ways to preoccupy the mind with distraction and amusement, there is a particular solace in the quiet of this darkness before dawn. Likely, this is why I find it well suited to prayer and contemplation. Sometimes I find myself sifting through the past. Sometimes I’m pondering what future might be awaiting me. It’s a sort of ruminating prayer trance, sipping coffee and whispering the things God has placed on my heart.

So when I read that passage in John 20, where Mary Magdalene is making her way in the dark to the tomb where Jesus was laid – I can’t help but wonder what her pre-dawn thoughts might have been. She had come to do what was customary of the women of her time – to ritually prepare the dead body of a loved one. But because the day before was the Sabbath, she was already a day behind, and that was surely going to complicate the process. So still in shock and mourning, over the death of Jesus, she must now focus herself to the task ahead – so that she might honor Jesus in the only way left to her.

downloadThe familiar narrative of the Resurrection in this passage takes off pretty quickly, but still I’m fascinated by the phrase in verse one, “while it was still dark” – not only is it descriptive, it also makes for a powerful metaphor. Determined to offer Jesus this final gesture of love, Mary does not allow the heaviness of her heart to paralyze her – the darkness of her sorrow was not enough to hold her back . . . and she has no idea what awaits her. Is this not the way of faith – being faithful in the dark . . . unsure of how light might reveal itself?

Given her faithfulness, I don’t think it’s coincidental that Mary was the first to see Jesus raised. Her willingness to make her way through the dark to him, to push through the pain of her loss, not knowing the outcome of her faithfulness . . . and then — there He is, speaking her name! And here we are, at this end of history where the risen Lord is our given starting place . . . and yet, sometimes we’re in the dark too – trying to figure out how to entrust the outcome of our faith efforts to a God we can’t see. So remember this – God knows you’re making your way to him through the dark . . . and he will be there in the morning light, speaking your name . . . because he knows you, and the darkness you have been set free from.

Here’s a beautiful song Mary Magdalene written by my brother Garrison Doles
and all of the wonderful art is the work of his wife Jan Richardson