Transitional Orchestration

Finishing anything is always really weird for me.  I don’t do transitions very well, so it’s less the ending that is hard; it’s the something else that gets me.  The past five summers, I’ve lived at camp for around eight or nine weeks straight, and even after that many summer-to-fall transitions, it never felt right that something should just exist and then not exist.  It never felt right that one day I should wake up at camp, caring for children and playing games with them, living with my best friends, having the responsibilities of so many parents’ worlds on your shoulders, and then the next day wake up at home, finished.  It doesn’t make sense that life shifts so quickly.

Tonight we finished up a two-week run of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, a musical based on story of Joseph from Genesis.  I worked on the hair and makeup crew for this one, so I was really only part of it for these last two weeks.  It’s the second production I’ve worked on here at school, and I felt so at home with everyone, doing what I was doing.  And now we’re done.  Something that took a lot of people many months to build will begin to disintegrate tomorrow.  My roots didn’t even grow deep in this project, but there is still an uncomfortable tug as I walk away from it.

In Joseph, there is this wacky musical number called the Megamix.  It’s the finale, basically: most of the songs you just spent an hour and a half listening to are reprised as a disco-club beat thumps in the background.  When you think about it, it doesn’t make a lick of sense in the actual story (because really, the story is over and now you’re hearing the story again).  The thing with Joseph, though, is that you sort of assume that it shouldn’t make sense, so everything just seems normal.  Even so, one night I asked my friend what the purpose of the Megamix was.

“Probably because Jacob and Joseph’s brothers seeing Joseph again isn’t really much of an ending.”

Of course that is why Andrew Lloyd Webber and his musical cohorts wrote in the Megamix finale.  Because the audience needed a concrete ending.  I’m convinced that the reason musicals need big finishing numbers is because humans need eight or so minutes to prepare themselves for the world outside the theatre.  They need to be properly re-acclimated to life.  They have to know that a transition is coming.

I’ve been studying Joseph’s story in Genesis over the run of this show.  Really reading it, you know – looking for the point of it all.  I’ve seen the show about seven thousand times by now – I want to see the Truth from which it comes.  It’s this beautiful story of redemption, of God doing what God does.  His plans, His provision.

Sometimes I wonder what the real Joseph and his brothers would say if they came to see a production of the musical.  If they had a tagline for their lives, I don’t think it would be “any dream will do.”  Because just any dream won’t do a thing.  If Joseph taught us anything, it’s that his dreaming thing wasn’t a thing he just did – it was a thing God gave to him so that God could use Joseph to save lives.  I mean, Joseph even says so.

“Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘I had a dream last night, and no one here can tell me what it means.  But I have heard that when you hear about a dream you can interpret it.”It is beyond my power to do this,’ Joseph replied.  ‘But God can tell you what it means and set you at ease.'”

And then Joseph, a kid who was hated by his brothers, wrongly imprisoned in a distant country, kneeling before the king of Egypt (a man who could literally say one word to end Joseph’s life) – then he’s made into a prince.

But the Lord still isn’t done yet.

Years pass and Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt, starved and dying.  Joseph, who recognizes them but is not recognized himself, now holds in his hands the power to punish the family who left him for dead.  Can you even imagine what must be going through Joseph’s head?  Countless nights he might have lain awake, first a teenager, then a young man, wrestling with a pain you and I probably can’t fathom: Why did they hate me so much?  Joseph may have found himself in the second most powerful position in the world, but that doesn’t mean he was alright.  Then, one day, all of his brothers are kneeling at his feet, fulfilling his dream, begging for his mercy.

He has to know.  Right?  Wouldn’t we all have to know?  Has anything changed?  Is anything different?  Did it hurt you as much as it hurt me? 

One of the most moving parts in Joseph the musical is the few transition seconds between Joseph accusing Benjamin of stealing his golden cup and Judah stepping up to sing Benjamin Calypso.  That is when the audience sees the pain on Judah’s face.  That’s when the audience knows something is different.

In the Bible, it’s clear that though Reuben is the eldest brother, Judah is the leader.  He calls the shots.  Reuben didn’t want to kill Joseph – he wanted to come back and rescue him.  But Judah concocted the plot to sell Joseph instead, making it look like a wild animal mauled his brother.  The reason Joseph was a prince in Egypt was because Judah, in his hatefulness, wanted to make some money and win some favor.  But God had better plans.

When Benjamin is accused, Judah offers up his own life instead.  Judah saw the torture Joseph’s “death” caused his father Jacob; he knew the loss of Benjamin would mean the death of Jacob.  He couldn’t do it again.  After all these years, Judah and his brothers were begging for mercy.  They were asking for Benjamin’s freedom in place of their own.

And then Joseph does the thing I might never have done.  He forgives them.  He weeps with joy, because the ones he has never stopped thinking about this entire time are back.  Every night, when I watched recognition dawn on Judah’s face, when I saw Joseph pick him up and hug him – this beautiful hug full of forgiveness and acceptance and strength and love – every night, chills flew up my arms at the sight.

The story could have been over then.  But as the Megamix began, awakening the audience to the reality on the other side of the theatre doors, all I wanted to think about was Jesus.

Because I am Judah.  I am the one who auctions off my affections to this world, searching for base satisfaction to supplant an everlasting love.  I’ve hurt the people I love and most of all I’ve hurt the God I need and long for.  But when I realize it – when I come crawling back to the Prince, begging for what small bone He can throw to me, begging for something to relieve the emptiness inside – that is when He pulls me up off the ground and wraps me in His arms and tells me it’s okay.  He tells me that even though I mess up, He means for good things to happen to me.  He quiets my confessions with mercy.  He feeds me with the bread of life.

I’m glad Andrew Lloyd Webber thought to give us time to transition.  I’m glad he didn’t send me out of the theatre without giving me time to think (thoughts set to clubbing music, no less).  I know tomorrow will not come with a soundtrack to warn me of impending changes, and there will be a tiny emptiness inside me as the stage returns to normal.

But I am so blessed to have been a small part of a production that reminds me of my iniquities and of God’s authority.  He doesn’t forsake us.  He doesn’t forget us, even when we forget Him.

Genesis 50:20      “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good.”

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Magic Cake People

Tonight I had dinner with a dear friend of mine who has been away over the past year.  She was my bible study group leader during the first semester of my freshman year, but took some time off school and just came back this semester.  She’s such a sweet girl, so intent on loving Christ.  We ate and talked for over an hour about our adventures over the past year: she climbed some mountains, I worked on my first collegiate theatre production; she worked six days a week, I finally took some upper-level communications classes.  Through the beauty and wonderment of technology, we discovered we both purposefully Facebook stalked one another, keeping up with the amount of life that can be kept up with through  ambiguous statuses and snapshots.  We wrote a few emails and followed each others’ Pinterest boards.  But I was so excited to have dinner with her tonight, because I wanted to tell her in person how important she was in getting me through the past year, even if it was only through social media.

Here’s how it is: I am inclined to believe, lately, that no one figures anything out.  Ever.  A few years ago – around 16, 17 years old – I began waiting for adultness to hit me like a tidal wave, drenching me with maturity and wisdom, washing the child off of me and revealing my shiny adult self, the person I was meant to be for the rest of my days.  I was fairly certain that I had experienced my share of trial, I had learned the lessons, fought the good fight, and now I was at last the all-knowing, never-going-back, full-grown woman I was supposed to be.  Like life was this grand Easy-Bake Oven, where you put the powdered food dust in a bowl, stick it in the lightbulb oven of adolescence, and when it dings, out comes a perfect cake of a person.

But the last year or so has more or less disproved my Magical Cake Person Theory.  As it happens, I still make the same mistakes I made when I was in high school.  I still don’t pray enough, I don’t trust God the way I should, I still allow fear to suck the life out of me, I still try to control basically everything.  I know better what I need to do and why, I try harder sometimes, and sometimes I conquer the sin that lurks inside me.  I know myself way more than I did when I was 16, so I know my tendencies and I know my temptations, and I’m better equipped to deal when life happens.  But, my bottom line conclusion is turning out to be that there is no such thing as a Magical Cake Person.  Even the people everyone thinks is a Magical Cake Person is not one; even the person who thinks he himself is a Magical Cake Person is not one.  By and large, I’m beginning to think everyone has just gotten really good at faking it.

Of course, I don’t think everyone fakes everything.  That is ridiculous because joy is real.  You can be joyful and content while still not having figured most things out, I know for a fact.  I’m just saying that we are hard people to teach lessons to.  We don’t learn.

Tonight my friend and I talked about that.  We talked about the brokenness inside of us – not tragic brokenness; just the brokenness associated with being a human being.  We talked about how sick we were of going it alone, of Christians acting like they’re put-together people.

“How prideful is that of us?” my friend said.  “You and I, we insist on dealing with life alone, when in reality, probably everyone is just like us.”

“And yet so many people still go it alone,” I replied.  “I feel like there are two Courtneys – one who seeks God and praises Him and finds His truths amazing and beautiful, and another one who does nothing.  Who acts like He isn’t going to come through for anything.”

“I know!” she said.  “Time and time again, God has proved Himself to be faithful and good, and we are still afraid and we still don’t trust Him.  I don’t want that.”

There’s this stunning story in the Bible, way back in Genesis.  We’ve been learning about it in Old Testament Lit.  It’s one I thought I knew, after years and years of Sunday School felt boards and children’s books.  But God is just blowing my mind with this one, opening my eyes to the heart of it.  It’s a rich, complex story, but the gist of it is straightfoward: Abram and Sarai were promised a son through which restoration and redemption would come to Israel.  For years, Abram and Sarai trusted God… mostly.  Then they would doubt, and they’d screw up, but God would fix it, because He promised.  And God can’t break promises.  So then they’d trust for a while, until they didn’t trust, and they’d screw up, and God would fix it, because God can’t break promises.  And it would happen a few more times over the next couple decades, and each time, they’d come through the trial having been taught a lesson that stuck for a while, until they messed up again.  But they were growing and learning, and God was always faithful, and He would always draw Abram and Sarai – newly named Abraham and Sarah – close to Him.  Eventually, He gave them the promised son, Isaac.

One day, God told Abraham to go sacrifice Isaac.  So Abraham went to do it.  This is where my mind sort of blows up, because they never told it to me like this in Sunday School.  For years, Abraham had seen God be faithful.  So when God told him to kill his son, He knew God would be faithful again.  Because God had promised that restoration would come through Isaac, and God cannot break promises.  With God, whatever He speaks comes true.  Always.  And Abraham had finally learned this.  He knew that if he killed his son, God would still keep His promise – to bless the nations through Isaac.  And if Isaac was dead, that couldn’t happen… so if Isaac died, Abraham knew that God would reverse the death… Because

God

keeps

His

promises.

Abraham finally got it.  And God ultimately affirmed Abraham’s faithfulness by providing a different sacrifice than Isaac.  And more than that, God blessed the nations by sending Jesus through Isaac to die a real death, live again, and give restoration and redemption – the promise.

And Abraham never lived to see that on earth.  And God was still faithful.  He promised He would be.

My friend and I talked about that story and sat in awe for a few moments.  Despite our brokenness, our failure to trust, our Abram-and-Sarai condition, God still teaches us and God still wants us and God still uses us.  He takes us and changes our name because He has promised us that someday we will see the fulfillment of every promise He’s made.

So, maybe I need to amend my previous statement – that no one has it figured out and it is a sad thing.  Maybe not having it figured out is an inconsequential thing, something that isn’t important in the grand scheme of it all.  We can’t figure it out, and we won’t, but we trust God anyway.

If I believe Abraham and Sarah and Isaac’s story is true, than I must believe that God will do no less with me.