Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Songs of "Wicked": The Gospel in Three Acts

Last week, I had the pleasure of seeing the musical "Wicked" for the second time. What a great show, on so many levels.

As I listened carefully to lyrics of songs that blew past me the first time, I was struck with three of them particularly. No, I do not think the plot of "Wicked" is the gospel or an allegory of the Bible or even something that particularly tells part of the Christian story. What I do think is that these three songs, taken out of the context of the story of "Wicked" and viewed on their own, can be used to describe with some specificity three major acts of our Christian lives.

If you don't know the story of "Wicked," I don't think this blog will spoil anything for you, at least not any surprises or major plot developments.

- The first song is Elphaba's solo "The Wizard and I." Regardless of what ultimately turns out when she meets the wizard, think with me here just about what this song says in the context of what we see and feel when we become Christians, when we enter into a relationship with Christ. It is at that moment when we realize that, walking with Jesus, we are empowered to new things. We understand that a relationship with Christ means that we are changed, we are different, we are loved.

Elphaba sings, in part: "He'll say to me, 'I see who you really are.'... Once I'm with the wizard, my whole life will change, cause when you're with the wizard, no one thinks you're strange. No father is not proud of you, no sister acts ashamed, and all of Oz has to love you when by the wizard you're acclaimed... And one day, he'll say to me, 'Elphaba, a girl who's so superior... would it be all right if I de-greenified you?' Oh, what a pair we'll be, the wizard and I! My future is unlimited... And I'll stand there with the wizard, feeling things I've never felt... and so it will be for the rest of my life, and I'll want nothing else till I die. Held in such high esteem, when people see me they will scream for half of Oz's favorite team: the wizard and I!"

I do not pretend that conversion is purely so emotional, nor have I forgotten that, in the show, the wizard fails to live up to Elphaba's dreams. Still, I cannot miss the first act of the gospel here - the change that we know is coming upon us when we first choose to walk with Jesus.

- The second song is "Defying Gravity." Act Two of the gospel, following our conversion, is the move from understanding Jesus as Savior to understanding Him as Lord. It is the beginning stages of knowing what walking out on faith really means. There is much we cannot do in our own strength that faith allows us to do.

Elphaba sings: "Something has changed within me. Something is not the same. I'm through with playing by the rules of someone else's game. Too late for second-guessing, too late to go back to sleep. It's time to trust my instincts, close my eyes, and leap. It's time to try defying gravity, and you can't pull me down... There's no fight we cannot win, just you and I together, defying gravity."

Faith is a mystical thing. It defies the rules that the world understands but fulfills the plan of the Master. Those who choose to remain earthbound will never understand. It is Act Two of the gospel.

- The final song is "For Good." Having been converted by our relationship with Christ, and having exercised our faith, we are ready to affect the world. We love our neighbors as we love ourselves, and as a result, the world is changed.

"I've heard it said that people come into our lives for a reason, bringing something we must learn. And we are led to those who help us most to grow ... I know who I am today because I knew you... Who can say if I've been changed for the better? Because I knew you, I have been changed for good... So much of me is made from what I've learned from you. You'll be with me like a handprint on my heart, and now, whatever way our stories end, I know you have re-written mine by being my friend... I do believe I've been changed for the better. Because I knew you, I have been changed for good."

Isn't that how the gospel ought to play out? Walking with Jesus, we are changed. Like "The Wizard and I," Jesus and I together offer promise to my life that I could not see before my conversion. Like "Defying Gravity," our willingness to step out on faith makes things possible that are nothing more than wild fairy tales to the rest of the world.

But the reason for all of that is so that we can touch the world for good. Because the world knows us, those who have chosen to walk with Christ and defy the world's gravity, the world is changed for good.