Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Defying Gravity

A couple of weeks ago some friends of mine attended the local Broadway Across America production of Wicked. I love the theater and especially a musical! I'd heard about Wicked but never had seen the play. The most I knew about it was that it was a prequel of sorts to The Wizard of Oz and featured the back story of the Wicked Witch of the West. The Wizard of Oz always gave me nightmares as a fact the first nightmare I remember having was after watching The Wizard of Oz. Of course, it could have been due to the Orange Crush and Twinkies I ate during my viewing. No matter how many times I watched it, I never liked that witch. Due to that factor, seeing this musical was appealing for the normal theater musical reasons, but aside from that, I'd not be all that motivated to see it. Boy, had I been missing out. After seeing the story come to life I'm ready to change my name to Elphaba and paint myself green.

I don't want to ruin the story for those that may not have seen it, but the plot surrounds the life of Elphaba, the soon to be Wicked Witch. Even at her conception, she was a "mistake" and unplanned. She was different, being born green and all. And so began her life as someone that is not the norm. Elphaba lives her life caring for her crippled sister, Nessarose, the more loved of the two siblings. The story begins to unfold when Elphaba goes off to attend Shiz University where she befriends (and I use that term loosely) Glinda, her polar opposite. From there the story takes twists and turns that intertwine the story of the Wizard of Oz into this prequel and begin to unfold the unique relationship that blossoms between Glinda and Elphaba. That summary will suffice to keep those who haven't seen it anxious to get to the nearest theater.

The author of the original book, Gregory Maguire, has written many books that take a twist on our childlike tales. Although I'm not a proponent of his homosexual lifestyle, of which I'm sure the basis of his "acceptance" theme is rooted, I do applaud his way of making the underdog shine in this story. We live in a world where the outward is viewed as more important than the inward. Elphaba was green...different....even had powers others didn't possess. But, she was special and had a purpose beyond her mistaken birth and oddity in appearance. And the story shows how being different didn't stop her from experiencing life to the fullest.

I could share many things from the play that would fill a book. I knew even this play could "preach" when one of the first lines was "Are we born wicked or is it thrust upon us?" Biblically, we're born wicked...but that's another discussion for another day. I'll just share two parts of the play that were powerful to me. Elphaba and Glinda are in a love triangle with Fiyero. At one point, Fiyero says to Elphaba, "You're beautiful." She replies, "Don't lie." Fiyero replies, "I'm not lying...I'm just looking at things in a different way." How many women want to hear a man say that? The song that both Glinda and Elphaba sing at different times in this triangle of the story is called "I'm not that girl" and the shared lyrics they both sing are..."Don't wish, don't start, Wishing only wounds the heart: There's a girl I know, He loves her so, I'm not that girl..." I won't ruin it and tell you who gets Fiyero in the end. Let's just say we can give three cheers for the romantic underdogs in the crowd!

One of the closing songs truly touched my heart. It was titled "For Good" and summarized the development between Glinda and Elphaba. I love good character books, in movies, in plays. The words spoke to me a lot about friends in my life and how I feel about their impact on me. And my favorite lyrics were "Who can say if I've been changed for the better? But because I knew you, I've been changed for good." Relationships in my life change me, and always for good...and usually for the better. What a beautiful cap to a wonderful story of two very different people making a change in each other. Wow.

If you have a chance to see this musical, pay the money to go. We were blessed with discounts and scored floor seats during a weeknight showing for very reasonable prices. You'll definitely leave there ready to defy gravity with nothing keeping you down. And, you will be changed for good.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Level Up

I love video games. But, I stink at video games. Which makes me the ultimate opponent if you want to win. I can't get past 11th place on Wii Mario Kart (which those of you who play know that is next to last place). Nonetheless, I never give up. I spent a roomful of quarters at the local arcade when I was a teenager. Pac-Man was my game, but I'd play just about anything that would eat my quarter, and then eat another, and so on. This is clearly why I don't gamble, or I'd own Vegas. I even have an affinity to online games, which, thankfully, require no quarters to be inserted in my computer to play.

The thrill of the games for me is more than just winning (obviously since I rarely do) but getting through each level. Most games are designed to take you through various levels of play that increase in difficulty. The ease of the first level of play always indicates to me how difficult future levels will be. If I can't make it past level one, I'm doomed. (Pun intended) But no matter how many levels I conquer, I just want to get to that next one and conquer it too. Clearly, though, when I reach a new level it's like a sucker punch to the gut. Whoa! More obstacles, new pits to avoid, tricky roads to's literally a whole new world. (Cue the song from Aladdin) Every level ends one of two fail and you hear that horrible music indicating the game has ended, or you succeed and you see beautifully displayed on the screen...Level Up! What affirming and validating words those can be to the competitive spirit!

My Thelma (Amy) took me to dinner last night for Mother's Day as her spiritual mama. (Oh how I love her) We always have the greatest conversations because our minds are frighteningly similar. It may have something to do with the fact that her grandmother and my mother were very good friends and very much alike. She was sharing about life and the struggles that come along with walking the road when this analogy came to mind. On our spiritual journey, we're always striving to achieve a "Level Up!" When we become followers of Christ and begin that personal relationship, we're literally babies in the faith. Our first levels are covering the basics of life. Even the smallest of obstacles are tough at that stage. But as we grow in Him, He challenges us. In "church speak" we call that "sanctification" ...the process of being made holy. Each level, the road gets a bit tougher, the challenges a bit messier, but the rewards oh so much sweeter. It's as if when we conquer one level of sanctification, God says "My child, buckle up, we're going on a new ride!" And we realize that the success of each "Level Up!" is done only through the power of God. Nothing on our own. Yet, He chooses us to grow us and prepare us for future levels. Only He sees the complete video game of our lives.

If we had our druthers, we'd rather breeze through each level with ease. But, what reward is there in that? Seeing the "Level Up!" on the screen of our lives is a blessing and reward that assures us we're seeking Him and growing more and more like Christ. He knows exactly when we can handle each level and takes us through our game of life precisely when He wants us to be there. If you could have a life with no loss, or struggle, or tragedy, would you choose it? I might answer quickly with an affirming YES! but if I were to truly reflect on my past, I would have to admit that without those difficult levels, I wouldn't be the person God has molded me to be today. And it amazes me at what more He will teach me at every level of life.

You never like to see "Game Over" come across the screen of your video game because it means you failed. One day, when my life on earth is through, I'll walk into Heaven, bow at Jesus' feet and I long to hear Him say..."Game Over, my child...Well done, My good and faithful servant. Let eternity begin!" I'll have reached the ultimate Level Up.