Family ... and a Bonus
I celebrated a birthday last weekend. Some people love celebrating their birthdays; they love to have others celebrate their birthdays with them. I, however, am not like that. I don’t hate or dread my birthday or even getting older, I just prefer things low-key. I like to stay home and do as little as possible. The quieter, the better for celebrating my birthday. When my boys were school age, I would make a point of eating lunch with them on my birthday. It was – and is – the best gift for me – spending time with my family.
This year was pretty good. My youngest son came home from college and my older son came over and we had a nice family dinner. Afterward, we watched a movie. A really good movie. Actually, a great movie.
Now, I don’t “recommend” movies because inevitably, there is something in them that should not be recommended. But with that disclaimer behind us, I will proceed.
On Friday night when the whole family was together, we watched, “The Greatest Showman.” (1) I had seen it in the theater with my younger son, but my wife and older son had not yet seen it. It is a great movie (didn’t I say that already?). I don’t usually care for musicals (2), but this one really grabbed me.
It is a biopic about P.T. Barnum and while I am certain they took some liberties telling the story of his life, they did deal with some good and some bad.
Hugh Jackman (a.k.a Wolverine) plays Barnum. (Oh, spoiler alert). Barnum is a showman, but he is also a humanitarian (or they portray him as such). He takes misfits from the shadows and gives them a voice, a purpose, and above all, a family. There is a very brief scene when Barnum (and his two young daughters) track down a “bearded lady” who has a gorgeous singing voice. She is trying to hide, trying not to be noticed but when Barnum throws back the curtain and sees her, he says, “You are unique … even … beautiful!” It is a moving scene for me because it shows that neither Barnum or his children are frightened or at all put out by her striking appearance. (She later sings This is Me, one of the big anthems of the movies, that has a great message! I am listening to it as I write.)
Although Barnum was a huckster and would do anything for a buck (it would seem – and the movie does allude to this as well), he is also portrayed as not being prejudice; as loving people for who they are. This is one of many inspiring themes of this movie.
The next evening, we watched Bohemian Rhapsody, another biopic, but this one about the 1970-1980’s rock band Queen’s front man, Freddie Mercury. For those of you unfamiliar, Freddie had an exquisite voice and stage presence, and also extraordinary creative musical vision and business acumen as the movie brings to light. Sadly, Freddie Mercury also lived the slogan of “sex, drugs and rock-n-roll” to its fullest and to his detriment. He contracted AIDS and died in 1991.
Thankfully, this movie was rated PG-13 and kept to that standard. While not shying away from Freddie’s predilections, it did not glorify them or throw them up in the face of the viewers. In fact, if anything, the movie showed Freddie’s choices for what they were … destructive, unsatisfying, and just plain sad. Don’t get me wrong, BoRap (as we insiders call it) is a celebration of Queen’s meteoric rise to stardom and Freddie was an integral part of making that happen. If you grew up during that time and were a fan of Queen (as I was), it is a good movie to watch, great music. But in doing so, don’t miss that underlying message of tragedy. I doubt the producers, execs, etc. had in mind a “spiritual” message (but maybe, I don’t really know); at the end, Freddie does reconcile with his own father, finds a “relationship” that isn’t based upon using people (albeit, not a right relationship), and is restored to the rest of the band and his life-long friends that he had ostracized.
As Queen is getting their start, they meet with a record label executive who asks what makes Queen any different from every other rock band. They reply, “We are family. But we are also misfits. We belong to all the misfits out there on the back row and they belong to us.”
Two very different movies about very different times, but both reminding us of the need to “belong,” the value and importance of family, even if the family bond has nothing to with blood but everything to do with shared experience.
These themes resonate with us – all of us, no matter who we are – because God created us to be “together.” He created us to be in a family. The Church is called the “family of God.” (Eph. 3:15). Jesus gathers around Himself twelve “mis-fits” of His own and shares the Passover meal with them (Luke 22:15), something reserved for families to do (Ex. 12:3-4). Family is important.
But please allow me to take a sharp left turn, or something. Jesus said, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 7:12). I don’t mean to assign Christian virtue onto P.T. Barnum where it is not deserved or use Freddie Mercury as a foil, but please indulge my illustration. Barnum, at least as was depicted, treated others as he wanted to be treated. “My father was treated like dirt, I was treated like dirt,” but he did not treat others that way, even his critics and persecutors, and certainly not the “misfits” he brought out of the shadows. On the other hand, we see some of the people in Bohemian Rhapsody use and abuse others. Freddie says, “You know when you know you've gone rotten? Really rotten? Fruit flies. Dirty little fruit flies. Coming to feast on what's left.” It is an ugly depiction of what happens when we don’t obey Jesus.
It is an odd pairing; there is brokenness and there is hope. Even in these secular movies with no Christian virtues in mind (as far as I know), these truths are shown. We are all broken (sinful, the Bible would say), in need of both redemption (salvation) and belonging (family, the Church). And there is hope for us all: His name is Jesus.
(1) In case you are curious, I got The Greatest Showman last year, but for my birthday this year, I got the Soundtrack – I have NEVER wanted a movie soundtrack before, but this one I fell in love with! I also got the BoRap Movie (I got the soundtrack to it for Christmas).
(2) For those of you at Reidsville, Shannon has never seen The Greatest Showman and I happen to know he LOVES musicals, especially musicals that Hugh Jackman stars and sings in. So I suggest you each buy him a copy.