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.
Because 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 . . .