September 11, 2017

Hamilton and Jesus

I’m convinced the Church’s captivating, timeless gospel song plays most memorably in the classic liturgy, offering much-loved lyrics and phrases and its own kind of choreography.

Nourishing a Love

My daughter grew up delighting in music. Already as a toddler she loved to sing and dance and twirl. But a defining moment came when we booked tickets to the musical, You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown.

In one of those countless, mostly forgotten, parental decisions, her mom and I decided she and her older brother would attend while her younger brother stayed behind with some friends. This seemed like a wonderful adventure and possibility to her, until we dropped her younger sibling at this welcoming home. Suddenly she was resistant, determined to dodge this now unwanted and unjoyful event. After all, she now realized, her younger brother was going to watch cartoons the whole time we were gone. And this home had cable television, the cartoon possibilities were endless! Why should she remain captive to this parental plan to drag her to an unknown event, that would have far less appeal than good television?

But we leveraged our parental authority, and off we went, the four of us. As parents, we chalked this up to one item in the endless stock parental staple, “It will be good for her.” It was. Very good.

As we took our seats she was still miffed, feeling captive against her wishes to what was sure to be a substandard experience. But as soon as the music started, this dance-loving, sing-through-the-house, music-loving kindergartener was hooked! And permanently. By the end of the performance, it seemed to those of us who shared the car ride home, she had the entire musical memorized, singing enthusiastically the entire way.

After her deep love for musicals was diagnosed, we took her to them as often as we could. She enjoyed them all, Lion King, The Sound of Music, and My Fair Lady. Wicked was a favorite, and so we saw it repeatedly. After all, who doesn’t like a green protagonist? Beauty and the Beast was also much loved. After all, who doesn’t like an unlikely love story and singing tea pots? She would sing beloved musical songs at home, in the car, and especially before and attending a performance.

But all this love for musicals seemed tame after she heard the hit sensation sweeping the nation in the last years: Hamilton!

Captive Hearts and Minds

Hamilton is when the tables turned. She and several friends woke up early one weekday, working their computers, iPads, iPhones, and any other electronic device they could get to do their bidding, dialing in to secure several of the limited tickets to the Hamilton performance in (relatively) nearby San Francisco. Through strength in numbers they achieved their goal: four tickets to an afternoon matinee several months away. And better yet, to her mother and me, she also secured extra tickets for us! (It’s a wonderful moment when children are the ones buying tickets for their parents!)

So, with great anticipation, we traveled to San Francisco to the beautiful Orpheum theatre. And when the curtain went up, it was electric. In rapt attention sat grandma and grandpa patrons, their young grade school charges enthusiastically swinging their feet into the seats in front of them. People of every color and race and accent gathered in unanimity. Each person seemed overflowing with joy, tempted to burst into joining each ensuing song, but held back by their deep desire to fully hear the vocals they already loved.

I was overwhelmed. Really. Several times I caught myself with my mouth literally open with wonder. (I was grateful afterwards to learn I had company in this.) Many times before we had heard the original Broadway cast sing the musical, while we were at home or in the car traveling. But to see it in person, the lights, the stage design, the live orchestra, the choreography. Even the understudy Alexander Hamilton, it was a matinee, was marvelous.

It was all delight, but not necessarily a surprise.

But here’s what I thought more impressive still, and the reason I’m telling you this in a worship blog. The next morning, before I got out of bed, I found myself unconsciously singing the words to Hamilton. What a performance I thought, that I wake up the next day singing. But it happened the second morning too. And the third. It was my first waking thought. Involuntarily. Later while cycling through town, there was the music and lyrics of Hamilton. It’s choruses even played in the background of my mind as I listened to a favorite band. Hamilton had grabbed me. It had seeped into my soul. And psyche. And subconscious. Only at the end of the week did I realize I no longer sang Hamilton while rising, but still I was humming or singing it involuntarily through the day.

But What If?

What is it about Hamilton? Is it the unlikely story? The immigrant kid from the margins who becomes a major player in world history? Is it the David and Goliath tale, the young upstart colonies resisting a global super power to the point of freedom? Is it the amazing story of forgiveness amid the ongoing foibles of ordinary people living damaged lives?

Don’t we, since it’s time to draw out the point of this blog, as worshipers of Jesus have an unlikely story to sing? About someone from the margins of society who becomes the center? Isn’t the gospel a tale of unlikely victory, through weakness? And isn’t its center a tale of forgiveness undeserved?

What if we thought about worship like Hamilton? More and more I’m convinced the Church’s captivating, timeless gospel song plays most memorably in the classic liturgy, offering much-loved lyrics and phrases and its own kind of choreography. The time-tested ordo of God’s people includes weekly Eucharist, a psalm, a prayer for or from the global community, a word of good news. It’s true, there are rarely Broadway caliber vocalists and instrumentalists and set designers in an average congregation. But what would we sing and say and pray if we knew folks in our church would have it play in their mind as their first waking thought?

Kevin Adams is the author of Living Under Water: Baptism as a Way of Life150: Finding Your Story in the PsalmsThe Book That Understands You, and The Gospel in a Handshake: Framing Worship for Mission. In 1991 Kevin and his wife Gerry began Granite Springs Church, a congregation that has helped inspire a movement of church planting in the Sacramento area. He was Director of Formation at the Newbigin House of Studies in San Francisco, and has taught at Calvin SeminaryWestern Seminary, and William Jessup University. Besides serving as senior pastor, he is writing a book about living our baptism. Kevin is fascinated and intrigued by how worship forms and shapes individuals and contagious communities of faith. His special interests are in the missional depth and wisdom of the psalms, sacraments, and preaching.