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War of Ideas

00240614“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.”
-2 Corinthians 10:5-6

Christianity is not about keeping your children protected from every false idea, but about equipping them with the weapons to take them down!


The Greatest Showman: The God Who Is a Dreamer of a Million Dreams

The-Greatest-Showman worship4

All truth is God’s truth.  Great Christian thinkers like Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, all believed it.  Whether it is spoken in Scripture or found in a Hollywood movie, truth is from God.

Recently I learned some truth from Hollywood.  I have to admit, I absolutely love the movie The Greatest Showman.  This soundtrack has replaced the Rocky IV soundtrack as my favorite.  I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about why I made such an emotional connection with this musical.  I’m the kind of guy who would rather watch Die Hard, American Sniper, and baseball than musicals.  Yet, I cannot remember any other movie that I paid money to see in the theaters three times!  What is it about The Greatest Showman that makes me want to see it again and again?  Is it the tremendous vocals, the catchy tunes, the inspirational songs?  Is it the storyline and characters with which I identified?  Is it the triumph of love over tyranny?

Yes, yes, and yes.  But, my fascination with this movie goes beyond all that, beyond the celebration of the human experience that Hollywood was offering with this film.

Believe it or not, this movie, this product of Hollywood, an industry that is committed to secular humanism, helped me see God in a million ways, the Greatest Showman who created the greatest show just by speaking it into existence (Genesis 1:3) and breathing life into His dreams (Genesis 2:7).  Though it was probably not the intention of the director or producers, in each scene I found a little piece of an infinite God, a God of endless possibilities, a God who is a Dreamer of a million dreams.

ecclesiastes-3-11“He made everything beautiful in its time.  Also, He has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.”
-Ecclesiastes 3:11

I know there will be some super spiritual theologians who will point out the humanistic messages in this movie, like family is most important, or we can create our own worlds and improve ourselves through our own efforts, or that my comparisons of some of the characters to God breaks down.  I certainly do not elevate this movie to the level of Scripture.  But, even God used a donkey to convey a message (Numbers 22:22-35), and a wicked king to prophesy (1 Samuel 19:18-24), so He can certainly use Hollywood to speak His word.

Even the parables Jesus used broke down theologically at some level. For example, in the prodigal son, God is represented by the father who is a man, but a man is a singularity, not a Trinity (Luke 15:11-32).  So, the image of God in the parable of the prodigal son is incomplete.  Like Paul did at the Areopagus (Acts 17:16-34) in using creations of men to point to God, with this article I am gleaning truth from Hollywood to point to God.

We were created in God’s image with the ability to “create” as well, and we were given a cultural mandate to take dominion over creation. So, in a sense, we do get to live in a world we design, under God’s sovereignty of course (Genesis 1:27-31).  Unfortunately, the dreams mankind has dreamed for himself has created an ugly, selfish world.  We no longer dream God’s dreams.

A Million Dreams
A million dreams are keeping me awake
I think of what the world could be (Genesis 1:1-2)
A vision of the one I see
A million dreams is all it’s gonna take
A million dreams for the world we’re gonna make (Genesis 1:26)

In the scene where the young Phineas dreams of a life beyond his poverty, he sings my favorite song from the movie “A Million Dreams.”  (To get the full effect of the impact this movie had on me you have to read this article while listening to the movie soundtrack.)  Ithe greatest showman young barnum imagined God singing these lines as a child who is excited about the possibilities of the future.  Before you think I’ve fallen into the heresy of “open theism,” hear me out.  I know God is infinite and that He knows the outcome of every possibility.  Yet, like a child, He still exults in an outcome He already knows is certain!  In Orthodoxy G.K. Chesterton wrote

Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, G_K_Chesterton-208x300therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.  The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore.[1]

I connected with this film in a million ways because I identified with several of the characters.  With the older Phineas Barnum because I have been pursuing my own dreams for my own sake, and the dreams that came true in front of me were never enough.  With Phillip Carlyle because I am conflicted between wanting the comforts of my own world, but yet wanting something that brings joy.  With theatre critic James Gordon Bennett because I cannot seem to find joy in the role that I play in this life.  With the freaks and oddities of the Barnum Circus because I feel ignored and kept at a distance, not invited to the party.  With Mr. Hallett, Phineas’s father-in-law, because I tend to be someone who is interested in killing people’s dreams instead of being a dreamer myself.

amilliondreamscharity.jpgI am a cynic. A realist.  A pessimist.  Even, perhaps, a fatalist.  I tend to just resign myself to endure God’s will rather than embrace it with joy because it is the best thing for me.  But, every time I watched this movie I found myself wanting to be like Charity who longs for the dreamer to carry her along with his dreams.  This movie drew me to the Dreamer whose plans were for Israel’s good (Jeremiah 29:11), whose dreams are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9), who can do anything (Matthew 19:23-30).

However big, however small
Let me be part of it all
Share your dreams with me
You may be right, you may be wrong
But say that you’ll bring me along
To the world you see
To the world I close my eyes to see
I close my eyes to see

These few lines from “A Million Dreams” have become my prayer.  They sum up why I so emotionally connect with this movie.  I want to be swept up in God’s dreams.  I want to share in them, whether my part in it all is big or small.  My realism does not seem to be real anymore.  I have been living in a gloomy fantasy world of my own design.  This movie helped me see that I am tired of my pessimism and now I long for something real.  Just like Phineas, I have been dreaming my own dreams for my own glory.  I am finding out, like Phineas, that these dreams will never be enough for me because I’m dreaming the wrong dreams.

I want to hope in something bigger than my own dreams.

The kind of faith found in Hebrews 11 is about an irrepressible hope in God’s dreams for a world that right now we close our eyes to see!  I may not know what God is doing. (You may be right, you may be wrong.)  What he does may seem right or wrong to me, but I trust that His dreams are the best, and that He never makes mistakes.  I want to be likehebrews11-6-1 those listed in the Hall of Faith, trusting that God will fulfill all that He promised even though I cannot see it. (To the world I close my eyes to see.)  “…for we walk by faith, not by sight.” 2 Corinthians 5:7.  Walking by faith is not about blindly going through life avoiding evidence.  Faith is about trusting in Someone who is trustworthy, who will do all that He promised.  With man, salvation is impossible, but with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).

For fame and fortune, Phineas creates a show to shock his customers, something that’s hyperbolic.  A show that isn’t real but brings joy to the dull, even banal lower class life.

The Greatest Show
Ladies and gents, this is the moment you’ve waited for
Been searching in the dark, your sweat soaking through the floor
And buried in your bones there’s an ache that you can’t ignore
Taking your breath, stealing your mind
And all that was real is left behind

He even compares himself with a preacher who hoodwinks congregants to believe in something not real.  The comparison of religion to fantasy is troubling, but it doesn’t ruin the movie.

It’s fire, it’s freedom, it’s flooding open
It’s a preacher in the pulpit and you’ll find devotion
There’s something breaking at the brick of every wall it’s holding I’ll let you now, so tell me do you wanna go?

Phineas succeeds, but his success is not enough.  He wants to gain acceptance in the upper crust of society.  The only way to do that is to bring the social elite something phineas jenny share stage“real.”  He pursues this dream of joining the upper class, but he walks over all those who helped him succeed.  Phineas ultimately discovers, after all his success burns to the ground, that family is all that is true.  This “truth,” however is incomplete.  We might find contentment in family, but family will never satisfy us because God has placed eternity in our hearts.  We will never be satisfied until we become part of His family.  C.S. Lewis affirmed this principle when he said in Mere Christianity “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”[2]

I saw a song of redemption and reconciliation in “Rewrite the Stars.”  The Groom wooingrewritethestars His bride, declaring His desire for her.  The bride feeling hopeless and unworthy.  The Groom gently reassuring His bride that she is His destiny if only she would believe in Him.  He has given His all for her, and wants nothing less than all of her.

Rewrite the Stars
All I want is to fly with you
All I want is to fall with you
So just give me all of you
[Bride] It feels impossible
[Groom] It’s not impossible
[Bride] Is it impossible?
[Singing together][Bride sings] Say that it’s possible [Groom sings] See that it’s possible

This movie awoke something in me that made me come alive.  Dare I say “resurrected” something in me?  After years of praying for a tender heart, watching this movie made me realize how long I have been living for my own dreams.  Chasing accolades from my vocation and my writing, estimating my value on the number of Facebook “likes” and favorable blog stats.  I’ve always lived in the future, always seeing my life as a stepping stone to something else.  Never satisfied with where I am at.  Never giving all of me in the moment because I have been saving some of me for the future version of me.

My dreams for me, I realize now, will never be enough.  These temporal dreams cannot fill the longing for eternity.

From Now On
For years and years
I chased their cheers
The crazy speed of always needing more
But when I stop
And see you here
I remember who all this was for

My pessimism made me believe that everything I wanted for my life would satisfy.  I just had to keep worshiping myself, reaching for more for me.  This movie made me “remember who all this was for.”  And from now on, I want to be all in, through the highest heights to the lowest lows.  I want to give my all to God because He has given all to me.

And from now on
These eyes will not be blinded by the lights
From now on
What’s waited till tomorrow starts tonight
It starts tonight
And let this promise in me start
Like an anthem in my heart
From now on

God’s dreams come true over and over again (Lamentations 3:22-23).  This theatrical encore of God’s dreams makes me want to stand and applaud, wanting more.  This movie drew me towards this Greatest Showman that I just can’t help but worship.

We were all created to worship.  All of us.  The secular humanist along with the most devoted Christian.  All of us have eternity inside of us, a longing for Someone that nothing in this life can satisfy.  The following video is a good illustration of this point:

We were all created to worship.  When the music picks up in the video above, the ensemble in the room couldn’t help but do what they were created for.  Something in them was stirred when they sang about coming back “home.”  Worship is infectious!  Didfromnowonworship you see how even those who were not there to sing this song just wanted to be part of it too?  Did you wish you could have been there, too?  They all may not have known that they were worshiping or whom they were worshiping. They may not have realized that the “eternity” God has placed in their hearts was yearning to worship the Greatest Showman who dreamed each one of them into existence.  But, they worshiped with gusto, longing to “come back home again.”  Deep was crying out to Deep, longing for the world for which they were made.

How much more, we who are redeemed should worship because we know of whom we worship and why we worship!  We know of the world we were created for that is promised to us, made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus. We know where home is, and we know He is enough!

Like a child that exults in the monotonous, I want to watch this movie and listen to this soundtrack over and over again.  Never tiring of dreaming of God’s dreams that keep me awake!  So, thanks to Hollywood, I have awoken to the dreams God has for His world, a world more real than the one we see with our eyes, and His dreams include me.  I’ve renewed my covenant with God and it sings like an anthem in my heart.  From now on I want to exult in the million dreams God has for me.childexultinmonotony

G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (London: John Lane Company, 1908), reprinted (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995), 65-66.

[2] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (London: C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd., 1952), reprinted (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2001), 136-37.

The Prodigal Showman: A Review of The Greatest Showman

the greatest showman2
Ladies and Gents, this is the movie you’ve waited for. 

This is the one movie you have to see!

The Greatest Showman, based loosely on the life of P.T. Barnum, hit theatres around Christmastime 2017 to little fanfare amidst the highly anticipated (and soundly disappointing) Episode VIII of Star Wars.  I am not moved by too many movies, much less musicals.  The only reason why I went to see this movie is because I took my oldest daughter on a Daddy-daughter date and she wanted to see it.  (I was leaning toward the more “cerebral” Jumanji remake.  Perhaps from now on I should take my movie choices more seriously.)  My expectation going into this movie was low, and became lower, as we took our seats, when my daughter told me it was a musical.  I had no idea that as the ending credits rolled I would be so inspired and emotionally stirred!  Sitting through Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I couldn’t wait for it to be over.  Watching The Greatest Showman I was wishing it would never end.

The story is of a prodigal showman, a husband and father, who was always looking for something more.  What he had in front of him was never enough.  His pursuit of the wrong dream almost cost him his dreams that had already come true.

  The Greatest Showman begins with a hopeful music score “The Greatest Show.”

            It’s everything you ever want

            It’s everything you ever need

            And it’s here right in front of you

The hero of our story, Phineas Taylor Barnum, took the whole movie, however, to realize that he did not have to keep reaching for the dream, because it was right in front of him.  He grew up in poverty, in the lower class world of dirt and peanuts.

While helping his father one day, Phineas met a girl his age named Charity Hallett who came from a life of wealth.  She was being refined in proper societal etiquette, seemingly trapped in the snobbish elitism of the upper class.  While Charity endured a lesson on the proper way to drink tea, Phineas made her laugh, causing her to spit out the tea all over the greatest showman young barnumthe pristine table with all its settings in the proper place.  Her father immediately called her over to scold her for her improper behavior.  Phineas came to her defense and admitted he made her laugh.  The girl’s father thanked him for his honesty and promptly slapped him.  No other moment in this movie summed up the difference between the classes.  Even as Phineas took the punishment originally meant for Charity, he looks up at his father, with pain in his eyes, as if to say “Aren’t you going to do something about that man striking me?”  Phineas’s father merely stands there and does nothing, resigned to his station in the lower class.  Yet, Phineas still dreams of a world that’s waiting for him, a world that he will design, and he inspires Charity to dream with him of a world you have to close your eyes to see.

Just when he reaches the bottom, resorting to theft in order just to eat, a kind gesture from a disfigured woman sparks hope in him.  He takes a job with the railroad and raises his station in life.  Several years later, he confidently walks up to Mr. Hallett and promises him he will give Charity a great life.  Mr. Hallett assures him that his daughter would tire of the kind of life Phineas could give her and return home.  Phineas takes that as a challenge.

Phineas, having moved up from abject poverty, and Charity, who stepped out of affluence, met in the middle to build their world of a million dreams.  The musical scorethe greatest showman phineas charity “A Million Dreams” is among the very best songs of film that poignantly captures the emotions of the moment and advances the enchanting story.  While Charity builds on the dreams of their “tightrope” life together, providing simple pleasures for their daughters, Phineas quietly looks beyond what is in front of him. 

Disappointments push Phineas to reach his dreams through dishonest schemes.  He gains a bank loan with fraudulent assets.  He buys a museum and fills it with lifeless curiosities, and wax figures.  Sales are sluggish, until his daughters advise him that his museum needs living things.  His dreams needed life.  Phineas scours the city and beyond to bring society’s outcasts and physical oddities out of the shadows, and give them a stage as equals with the rest of humanity, even while exaggerating their deformities.  He helped them dream with their eyes wide open, encouraging them to live life in the open even while they breathed life into his dreams.

The curiosity show is a success even if it is a bit fake.  Phineas buys a mansion just down the street from his estranged in-laws just to rub his success in their faces.  But success the-greatest-showman-hugh-jackman-vogue-september-issue-2017.jpgisn’t enough.  His gate receipts are driven by the lower classes.  Little Caroline Barnum’s ballet classmates remind her that she smells like “new money.”  Phineas, tired of just making peanuts, wants to reach those of the high-brow society.  Phineas, afraid he will not be welcomed in the cultured class, envisions something he thinks is grander than what isthe Greatest-Showman-2017 in front of him.  In one of the compelling subplots, Phineas hires successful playwright, Phillip Carlyle, from the upper crust.  While Phineas wishes to join the upper class, Phillip is tiring of that life.

The show’s success led to an audience with Queen Victoria, and a chance meeting with the famous European opera singer Jenny Lind.  Phineas sees an opportunity to break into the upper class with a show that is “real.”  He convinces her to sing for the grandest audience in the grandestthe greatest showman jenny lind concert hall in the world.   She agrees.  The performance is a huge success with the upper class.  The music score “Never Enough” captures what is going on inside of Phineas.  “All the shine from a thousand spotlights, all the stars we steal from the night sky will never be enough.”  Phineas realizes that the cultured class will never accept him while he associates with the freaks in his show.  He hides them in the standing room during the performance, and refuses them access to the after-party.

With success in the upper class, Phineas sees opportunity to extend the dream across the country.  He goes on tour with the beautiful European diva.  He debases the “side show” that earned him his initial success, he neglects his family, missing events like his daughter’s ballet recital.

Performance after performance, the tour continued to rack up successes.  But, in a moment alone with Phineas, the beautiful “Sweedish Nightingale” reveals that her success in America was not enough for her.  She wants Phineas, too.  With champagne in hand, Jenny looks seductively into Phineas’s eyes.  She utters the words as if the Devil were saying “I’ve given you the world.”  At that moment Phineas realizes that all the success he was pursuing, trying to be someone he’s not, left him empty.  And like the prodigal son, Phineas returns home.

However, he returns to his museum burned to the ground, his home repossessed, and his wife returning to her parents just like her father predicted.

Up to this point Phineas was dreaming for himself, always reaching for something that could THE-GREATEST-SHOWMAN family.jpgnever satisfy.  But the winter wind blew cold.  When his fleeting success burned to the ground, all that is left is what is true: his family.  Nearly losing everything, he remembered who his dreams were really for.  He once again pursues his wife, vowing “From now on, these eyes will not be blinded by the lights.”  His dreams were right in front of him.  They had already come true.  And now, this is where he wants to be.

No other movie I’ve seen, expect for The Passion of the Christ and perhaps August Rush, quickened such deep emotions and inspired such hope inside of me. (“Hope in what?” you might ask.  After all, what point is there in hope if there is no object of that hope?  My hope is grounded in the One who dreamed me as one of His million dreams.  But, that angle on this film will have to wait for another time.)  From the compelling story and sub-stories, to the fantastic soundtrack, this movie thoroughly captivated me.  (Move over Rocky IV.  I now have a new favorite movie soundtrack!)  For a man who insists that men be masculine, this movie moved me to tears of regret and hope.  Dreams are fragile and must be held gently lest we break them.  I have come to realize that it is thoroughly masculine to be vulnerable in strength at times, to dream big dreams, expend great effort, yet be gentle enough to protect those dreams from myself when, in discontent, I reach for more.  The Greatest Showman is a movie that I already wish I could see again for the first time.