In my sermon this week, I shared just the tiniest glimpse of my current obsession with Hamilton: An American Musical. Lest you think I am fickle in my fandom, at the Tony Awards in June, the show was heralded as “one of the greatest pieces of art every made.”
It’s a game changer, for musical theater in New York, but far beyond the great white way as well. And if the rapper and Academy Award winning songwriter Common says so, who am I to disagree?
One of the themes of the musical is about legacy; the founders reflect regularly on “who lives, who dies, who tells your story.” As one involved in the shaping and sharing of narratives – biblical and otherwise – I am moved by these questions. The stories we tell make a difference, and we, as narrators or protagonists, are rarely as omniscient or unbiased as we imagine.
Lin Manuel Miranda, the genius who wrote all 22,000 words of the show, spoke about the importance of stories in a graduation speech this year at the University of Pennsylvania. The choices we make in how we tell about events, the significance we lend certain details, and the ways we tie them together shape how we understand ourselves and the world. He tells a story of his sophomore year of college – when his longtime girlfriend is set to return from a semester abroad. He develops a problem with his shoulder, a terrible pain. He gets sent to a well-regarded specialist, who tells him there’s nothing wrong with his shoulder, but that Miranda’s developed a nervous tic that could conceivably cause harm if not addressed. Is there anything bothering you?
In the besotted young man’s mind, he cannot see what is right before him: that it is time to end things with the girlfriend. He is the good guy; he can’t possibly dump her. But, he does, does into therapy, tells some more stories he’s never told, gains incredible insight into himself.
He ends this retelling with a critical coda: What about her story? Well, it’s not mine to tell, but I can share this much: she began dating one of her good friends the following year of college. Fast-forward to present day: She is happily married to that same good friend, with two beautiful kids. In her story, I am not the angsty, shoulder-cracking tortured artist. I’m the obstacle in the way of the real love story. For you Office fans: They’re Jim and Pam, and I’m Roy.
I had the privilege of meeting with the Thursday Bible Study group earlier this summer (you can come, too! Thursdays, 1:30-3pm) as we began looking at the Gospel of Luke. Luke is not the first of the Gospels to be written – Mark is widely regarded as the earliest – and his prologue notes his editorial vision and authorial intention: Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, 2just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, 3I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.
Some Christians read the Bible as though it has been handed down directly from God to humanity and thus must never be questioned or studied critically: Luke’s prologue suggests that the relationship between divine intention and authorial endeavor is a little more complicated than that.
Nonetheless, Luke’s “orderly account” is a good story, and proclaims the Gospel. He makes editorial choices that allow the truth of the good news of Jesus Christ to shine through. His choices – highlighting women and the oppressed, offering Jesus’s reference of and reflection on the Hebrew scriptures – show God’s concern for the marginalized and God’s dream of peace and reconciliation.
As we tell the stories of our lives, what truths do our editorial choices reveal? What truths do they conceal? Would the story of your life vary dramatically with the experiences of varied narrators?
As participants in a church community, what stories do we tell of our common life? What voices do we lift up? How do we encounter pain and celebrate experiences of love, justice and mercy? Do the stories we tell reflect the good news of God?
Don’t hesitate to reach out if you ever want to geek out over Hamilton with me… and don’t hesitate to reach out if these reflections on storytelling excite you. We’re exploring storytelling as a ministry this year – a bit of writing, a bit of testimony, a bit of fun and a bit of work – I’d love to have you participate.
Reverend Bromleigh McCleneghan
Associate Pastor for Ministry with Families
The Union Church of Hinsdale, U.C.C.