Master of the House … what is really sacred in American culture

Master of the House, Keeper of the zoo

I am strong enough in my manhood to admit it: I love Broadway musicals. Not all of them, I could barely make it through Mama Mia and Happy Days: The Musical (yea I saw it) . They are not ones I would pay to see again (wish I didn’t pay to see the latter the first time). I have never seen Cats and there are plenty more that I would love to see but simply have not had the opportunity. But there are musicals that that I have greatly enjoyed. Debbie and I saw 42nd Street several years ago in New York. There are musical that I would see more than once like Lion King and one musical that I have seen twice Phantom. But these is only on musical that I would willingly see every year, even monthly:Les Misérables.

As most know the musical is based on the novel of the same name by Victor Hugo. The story of Jean Valjean, a man who is imprisoned for 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread. It is the story of how his hardened, hate-filled, unforgiving heart is soften, broken and then changed by love and forgiveness. In addition it is a wonderful picture of how we are “hounded by the law” with the only escape being surrendering to the grace found in forgiveness.

As with most movie and musicals, the book is better than the movie (though I admit that Hugo’s long chapter on the Elephant in the Place de la Bastill and the chapter on the sewers of Paris go on and on) and is to me one of the best novels ever written. As I have read about Hugo’s life, it seems clear that he was not a believer in Jesus but he certainly had a way of talking about grace verses the tyranny of the law that is beyond the understanding of many believers.

Victor Hugo

All this is leading up to the fact that I was excited when I saw that PBS was broadcasting the 25th Anniversary of the musical a few weeks ago. It is a new production and many of you who know me know that change is not one of my favorite things in life (God seems to want to teach me something about change right now) and I missed the turntable (if you saw the original production you know what I mean) and it looked more like a performance than a musical but I found it wonderful.

As I was watching and listening I noticed something that many likely did not. If you know the musical you know that the Thénardier, the inn owner and his wife, sort of play the comic foils in the musical (at least they get the most laughs). Their duet, Master of the House, is one of the best known songs from the musical (and one of my favorites) and during the PBS broadcast I noticed something telling about American culture and language. The Thénardiers are foul mouthed, in fact in the novel they do not serve as comic foils but as wicked villains. Hugo, in the novel makes it pretty clear that they way you know they are wicked is  not only by their deeds (Thénardier in the novel is known as one who robbed the bodies of dead soldiers at the battle of Waterloo and of course he and his wife rob Cosette while caring for her daughter)but also by their language.

Well if you know the song you know that Madame Thénardier calls her husband a name for human excrement and this was the only word “silenced out” (PBS’s version of bleeping) during the entire Master in the House song. Thénardier in the song several times use the name of Jesus in a profane way and Madame Thénardier uses the name of God in a profane way but these names were not “silenced out”.

What does this tell us about what our culture considers to be “sacred”? We will censor those things that attack things that are “dear” to us. In America you can use God’s name and the name of Jesus and words of God’s judgment – damn, hell, etc. – without it offending the things that are considered “sacred” but those things that have to do with human sexuality and human bodily functions are “sacred” and we dare not let them be voiced over the airways. They are sacred because “man is now the measure of all things”. Humankind is the primary object of worship for humankind.

Now don’t get me wrong I am not encouraging people to boycott PBS or to write their senators and tell them to cut off funding (I happen to think that Jesus and Christianity get a fairer hearing on Public Television and Radio than on the four broadcast networks – including Fox – but that is another blog).

PBS is merely a reflection of our culture. Our culture wants to make the names of Jesus and God Almighty so meaningless that they don’t have to think about the current and eternal consequences of ignoring His love and mercy. They constantly misuse words of his judgment so that they do not have to seriously think about the reality of divine judgment.

So what impact should this have on those who name the name of Jesus? Well it always helps us in presenting the gospel to understand the culture in which we live. Maybe as we see these realities we should do something that Jesus recommends. “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Mat 7:5 ESV)

I guess the log needs help staying in place?

Maybe we should prayerfully be asking what kind of picture of Jesus and the gospel and God Almighty we are presenting to the world. My pastor  recently said that whenever we present the gospel well it will produce two reaction: attack and attract. But he also pointed out that we can cause attacks simply by being offensive or we can bring attraction because we soft peddle the difficult truths of the gospel (like judgment). Maybe we see so much attack because we have not “used the name of God well” in bearing Christ’s name before a watching world. Maybe we look too much like our own culture that the Thénardiers of this world don’t see much difference between our life styles of consumerism and pleasure seeking the live of those who don’t name Jesus.

I don’t know. I know that there are plenty of things that God finds distasteful about our culture and society but perhaps if we seriously began to thing about the things “we Christians must do” (line from another of  the Thénardier songs, The Thénardier Waltz of Treachery) the world might show more attraction than attack. The gospel will always bring attack, it will always bring hostility but when the gospel is lovingly spoken into any hurting world and the glory of the love and mercy of Jesus Christ and clearly made know it will also attract those very people who we most think are far from the kingdom.

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