Thoughts on Les Misérables

It might surprise some readers to learn that I went through a pretty serious musical theater phase in high school. (It will surprise me to learn that there are some readers.) That phase was dominated by a love for and fascination with Les Misérables. It was the first show I saw on Broadway. I bought the CD’s on the way out, devoured the libretto, read the novel (really, the whole thing), you name it. So seeing the movie was like sitting down with old friends. I hadn’t listened to the music in well over 10 years, and it was delightful. Here are some thoughts.


It was just a beautifully done film. Faithful to the musical (I mean, basically it was the musical, but still), told the story well, the singing didn’t seem awkward like I feared. Just excellent.


Hathaway. Jackman. Oscar.


Seriously, Anne Hathaway was terrific. I’ve seen the show on stage three times, I think, and the anniversary concert, and listened to the original cast a bunch, but Hathaway was far and away the best Fantine I’ve heard. Her tortured, wistful, bitter “I Dreamed A Dream” rescued the song from the audition-piece cliché it’s become. Her voice was good enough that I stopped thinking about whether or not she could sing. None of the other Hollywood actors in the movie pulled that off.


If she doesn’t get Best Actress, they should create a new Oscar called “Knocking It Out Of The Park In Two Movies In A Single Year.” Then, because that’s a bad title, after this year they could call it the Hathaway Oscar.


My only real complaint was with the pace. It seemed like there was a need to shave the time, but they didn’t want to cut songs, so they’d do a little of each song. That made it seem hurried to me. I mean, why do “Drink With Me” if you’re only going to do two lines of it? I wouldn’t have minded some songs just not showing up if it let the story move a little more gradually.


OK, another complaint: In the book, musical and film, it doesn’t make any sense how Valjean all of a sudden decides he has to still be punished once Marius and Cosette get together. I’ve always thought this. Throughout his life he’s this picture of receiving and extending grace, and then he seems to revert to some uber-Catholic notion of needing to be purged of his guilt. This is probably me wanting to make Hugo a Protestant instead of merely an anti-Catholic, but it also shows one often cannot shake the influence of worldviews one is trying to throw off.


When I was in high school I thought Marius was terrific and that he and Cosette had a great love story. Watching the movie I thought “Who is this sentimental fool, and what is he good for other than preening in front of beautiful women?” Probably the difference between being a fairly dramatic and romantic 16-year-old and being 30+ with a wife, kids and job. (Incidentally the 30+ me is much happier and loves much more deeply.)


Colm Wilkinson as the Bishop just absolutely made my week. I’m still thinking about it. Such a perfect pick. Brilliant. Totally took me by surprise, and I sat there grinning like an idiot through his whole scene.


Other characters: The adult Cosette was fine, but sort of forgettable. I think it might be the character, not the actress. The Thenárdiers were great; Helena Bonham Carter sort of overshadowed Sacha Baron Cohen, I thought, which is quite an accomplishment. The revolutionaries all blended together, and we don’t know why one of them was especially broken over Gavroche’s death.


Bless Russell Crowe’s heart. He just doesn’t have the best voice, but he put it out there. I felt like it worked, perhaps made him an even better Javert. (Trivia: “Stars” was my cliché audition piece. Shockingly it never really got me anywhere.) He played the self-confidence, the vindictiveness, then the confusion and lost-ness very well.


I’m ready to see it again.


On pastors and politics

I love politics. I have since I was a dorky little kid. I’ve told Melissa that I’d like to live 4 lives: one as a pastor and theologian, one as a musician, one as a chef,  and one as the President of the US. (Bela Fleck and the Flecktones would play “Big Country” at my inauguration.) (I’m being really vulnerable right now, and I hope you appreciate it.)

But as it is, I have one life, and it’s the one I really want: as a husband, father, and pastor. How does that work with my interest in politics? Is it OK for a pastor to talk politics in public, to blog and tweet political stuff, or does that hurt his witness for Jesus?

In the US people get this wrong every whichaway: Some churches seem afraid to speak clearly where the Bible does, but others seem entirely in the tank for one party without putting much thought into it at all. Neither of those errors are confined to the right or left. In Europe most people could care less what the church thinks; that’s a different problem.

I escape a good bit of this by living and working where I do, which is fine with me. But I still have to think about what’s wise and what’s not. So I’m a conservative with a pretty decent libertarian streak, and I’m also a Christian who believes the Bible is the final voice on all matters on which it speaks. But I’m an ambassador for Jesus, not for William F. Buckley. I want people to know the one true God, to worship him and enjoy him forever, and I want that a lot more than I want people to vote the way I do.

So I try to be careful. I don’t want to reinforce stereotypes that will turn people off from hearing the gospel. The gospel is offensive enough without me being offensive myself. But I also think people are grownups, and in general can handle the idea of a “man of the cloth” having personal opinions as well.

These may be kind of arbitrary, but I have some “best practices” I try to follow. Some are just to avoid unpleasantness, some to avoid feeding my own idols, and some are career-specific.

  • No politics in the pulpit. Generally I try to preach exegetically, so the topic is determined by the Bible, not me. I probably wouldn’t ever instruct people to vote for a certain candidate, although in a case where the passage I’m preaching on clearly addresses a topic I wouldn’t hesitate to point it out. I can’t for the life of me imagine having a candidate address the congregation during worship. That has always given me the heebie-jeebies, whether it’s a Republican or Democrat.
  • I don’t bring up politics when I’m meeting or getting to know people. If others bring it up and I disagree, I try to change the subject. (Those who know me well would be really surprised at the restraint I sometimes show.)
  • Most of the time I try to stay away from politics on Facebook, and I’m more unfiltered on Twitter and the blog. The blog does push to Facebook, but I figure the people who are interested enough to read it actually want to hear what I think. Generally, I’m not interested in arguing, unless I think the relationship with the other party can handle it and there’s mutual respect and willingness to listen.
  • I try to keep my speech gracious and respectful. I’m sure I have a broader view of what that might permit than some, but I do have a filter, and there are many comments left on the cutting room floor. (“If you knew all the things I didn’t say…”)

Who knows. I may decide one day that I’ve been wrong, and that I should keep my mouth shut entirely when it comes to politics. But this is where I am now.

What do you think? Is it bad for pastors to talk politics? Any horror stories?

What Chick-Fil-A is about

I don’t think the fact that Chick-Fil-A had a record-breaking day this week is mostly about gay marriage, although that’s part of it.

I don’t think most people there thought they were making a bold stand for Jesus, although that’s an easy straw man for detractors (“Oh yeah? How many orphans did you buy a sandwich for?” Uh, how many orphans did you buy a sandwich for Wednesday?).

I certainly don’t think it’s mostly about homophobia. This is a ginned-up controversy on that front; no one has presented any evidence that CFA discriminates against homosexuals in their hiring or service.

There are elements of truth in these, and I understand the Christians who felt Chick-Fil-A day or whatever was a bad idea. But here’s what I think it’s mostly about:

There are a lot– a lot— of people in this country (USA) who have heard for years about how insensitive and backward they are. Who have seen an organized attempt to write their opinions out of the public square. Who have seen countless examples of offense being taken, and capitalized on, when it’s clear that none was intended. There are a lot of people who are made to feel guilty because of their alleged privileged status, or religious beliefs, or voting pattern. A lot of these people aren’t looking for a demonstration to join. They just want to be left alone.

A lot of those people saw someone sort of like them make a statement, in response to a question, explaining his personal beliefs– beliefs held by millions of people in this country. Then they saw the organized outrage that followed. They saw elected officials declaring war on a company because of the religious beliefs of its leader. And they said, you know what? Not this time.

I think very few of the hundreds of thousands of people who ate delicious chicken and waffle fries Wednesday were “haters“. They didn’t pick this fight. I think many, perhaps most, of them are just ordinary people who are sick and tired of being told that they’re haters, sick and tired of being told their beliefs are outside the pale, that they’re racist or homophobic or misogynistic or whatever, when they know they’re not. There are a lot of these people, and their patience is wearing thin. Their cultured despisers should perhaps pay attention.

Pat Robertson is an idiot on many levels.

But Peter Wehner explains the worst aspect of his most recent I-know-the-mind-of-God diatribe:

Pat Robertson’s argument is as neat and clean as a mathematical equation: God grants blessings and curses on nations and people based on their allegiance and obedience to Him. If things are going well, you’re living right; if things are going badly, you’re living wrong. And it is Robertson himself who can divine the hierarchy of sins that most trouble God.

But this view simply does not correspond with any serious understanding of Christianity.

Read the whole thing.

Why Mark Sanford Should Resign

  1. By essentially going AWOL (nobody knowing where he was, no phone contact, etc) in order to pursue contact with his (former?) mistress, he demonstrated that his private failures are affecting his ability to do his job.
  2. His deceptions, evasions, bad decisions and immoral behavior, which by all accounts are out of character for him, demonstrate that his judgment has been impaired by (at least) his attraction to his mistress.
  3. Most importantly, his top priority right now should be reconciliation with his wife and children, not attempting to salvage his political career. The fact that he’s a professing Christian makes this all the more true. Thankfully, his wife has indicated she’s willing to reconcile if he continues in repentance. He can demonstrate his commitment to that process by removing himself from his very stressful– and very public– job. That would also spare his family a good deal of the publicity they’re having to suffer through.

Sanford was right to call for President Clinton’s resignation in 1998, and to applaud Bob Livingston’s resignation as Speaker of the House designate the same year. He would do well to heed his own advice, resign for the sake of his reputation and his family, and let the political chips fall where they may.

“He who guards his lips is wise.”

Did you see that big interview with President Bush this week?

No, you didn’t. Because Bush is adhering to the traditional etiquette of former presidents remaining fairly quiet after leaving office, and not slamming their successors. Don’t expect to hear from him for a while, and when you do it’ll be classy.

Not like this fool, who can’t keep his mouth shut to save his life. The contrast is very telling.

You heard it here first, sort of.

My favorite political blog, National Review’s The Corner, is doing a series on the best conservative-themed movies of the last 25 years. #12 is The Dark Knight.

In his fight against the terrorist Joker, Batman has to devise new means of surveillance, push the limits of the law, and accept the hatred of the press and public. If that sounds reminiscent of a certain former president—whose stubborn integrity kept the nation safe and turned the tide of war—don’t mention it to the mainstream media.

I said something similar in September. Although I only said it to Melissa, and then pointed that out while linking to something by this same author. So the whole thing is a little circular. Whatev.

Almost, but not quite.

I really like the chorus of this song, but I can’t stand the verses.

I hate when that happens.

Everyone needs compassion
A love that’s never failing
Let mercy fall on me

Everyone needs forgiveness
The kindness of a Savior
The hope of nations

He can move the mountains
My God is mighty to save
He is mighty to save
Author of Salvation
He rose & conquered the grave
Jesus conquered the grave

So take me as You find me
All my fears & failures
Fill my life again

I give my life to follow
Everything I believe in
Now I surrender

The chorus is God-focused and uses biblical language. The verses are trite and navel-gazing. I think they probably came up with the chorus, scribbled some stream-of-consciousness stuff for the verses, and rushed to press.

What do you think?

Enough Already with the Inaug Stuff

I know, I know.  If I were being more careful I could have combined some of this. But Jonah Goldberg has a post at National Review that pretty much says what I didn’t like about President Obama’s inaugural address. (There was plenty to like, such as the parallels with Bush’s second inaugural– see previous post– and the fact that Obama is indeed a great orator.)

There were some awfully clunky clichés in there. For example, here’s the second paragraph:

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.

Gathering clouds and raging storms? Really? How did that survive the first draft? …

Also, if you’re going to use clichéd language you should at least make it track logically. According to this imagery, times of peace and times of prosperity have not coincided, unless of course rising tides can be still at the same time.

I think this is the main weakness of Obama’s speeches: he’s always trying so hard to sound stately and magnificient and grand that sometimes it doesn’t make sense. Of course, sometimes it works really, really well. Other times it leaves me feeling kind of like this: