Repost – God Through the Lens of Les Mis

Queens Theatre, 51 Shaftesbury Avenue, London,...

Come with me
Where chains will never bind you
All your grief at last at last behind you
Lord in heaven, look down on him in mercy!
Forgive me all my trustpasses
and take me to your glory
Take my hand, and lead me to salvation
Take my love, for love is everlasting
And remember the truth that once was spoken
To love another person is to see the face of God!”

Of all the musicals on ever earth, Les Miserables is my favorite. From the opening chord of the orchestra to the ending ensemble lines of “Will you join in our crusade? Who will be strong and stand with me? Somewhere beyond the barricade is there a world you long to see?Do you hear the people sing? Say do you hear the distant drums? It is the future that they bring when tomorrow comes!” I am in another realm, a place where right trumps wrong and grace and mercy triumph over vengeance.

For those who don’t know the story, Les Mis takes place in the 19th century in pre-revolutionary France. A prisoner by the name of Jean Valjean, but better known by his number 24601, is granted parole after 19 years of imprisonment. He was initially given 5 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread for a starving child (his sister’s child) but because of many attempts to escape ended up being there for 19. Seen as a pariah because of his prison past, he struggles to find work or food.  He is ultimately taken in by a man of the cloth, the Bishop of Digne,  and given food and lodging. He returns this kindness by stealing the silverware in the middle of the night, is caught by police and taken to be accused by the clergy. Instead of accusations, he is vindicated as  the Bishop claims they were given to Valjean as a gift and wonders aloud to Jean Valjean’s captors why he left the silver candlesticks in ‘his haste’ .  This act of grace is given with a challenge by the clergyman to ‘Become an honest man‘. He journeys through his life doing just that, though continuously haunted by his past in the form of a police inspector named Javert.

The contrast of the two men is clear as one is consumed with the need for justice and retribution and the other attempts to live out his life in grace but secrecy. Like all good stories there is the protagonist, a conflict, and a critical climax that I will not spoil for those who have not yet seen the show.

This year Tom Hooper, director of The King’s Speech, winner of four Oscars, takes Les Mis to the big screen. I had the pleasure of seeing it last night – and though I will always prefer the live performance, I loved the show. Anne Hathaway as Fantine brings on tears as she struggles to survive on the streets of Paris; Eponine’s poignant “A Little Fall of Rain” catches in your throat; and you want to get up and wave a flag during “Red – the blood of angry men, Black – the dark of ages past”.  All and all, it’s a great show — the next best thing to seeing it live.

With great theology and irresistible truths it feels like a holy experience. 

More and more I am grateful for the compelling lessons I learn of God and Grace, Mercy and Justice from the world around me, whether it be award-winning musicals or encounters on a crowded, dirty street.These glimpses of the character of God move me from wanting to know ‘of’ God, to wanting a relationship with God himself, walking in faith that the words “Come with me, Where chains will never bind you. All your grief at last at last behind you” will at some point be sung to me.

Bubble Baths and Politics

Three rubber ducks in foam bath

After the election I am going to take a long, hot, bubble bath. I will soak in that tub. I will soak to remove all the mud from this election.

I will soak to remove all the crud and dirt that accosts me in almost every waking hour. I will scrub and wash and then wash again.

I will scrub away Facebook hatred.

I will scrub away op-ed bias.

I will scrub away nasty names that are given to those who disagree.

I will scrub away lies, spin, incivility,

And as the water goes out of the tub, so will go all the dirt and grime of politics into the sewage system, only to be dug up in four years.

And I’ll get out of the tub, dry off, and spray Tresor from Lancome on my body. And the world will seem a little brighter and cleaner with all that political crud gone.

Because I have my own bias and hatred and meanness and stupidity – my stuff that needs scrubbing.

I’ll be clean at least for a little while.

Until I find something else that will make me dirty.

Because that’s what I tend to do.

And that’s why I love God so much. Because he entered into a world that was not bubble-bath clean. He entered into a world that was name-calling ugly. A world of Roman politics and tax collectors who cheated people and people who betrayed others for bags of silver. A world that didn’t know how much it needed clean, how much it needed beauty, how much it needed God Incarnate.

And He loved that world, and still does. Because we haven’t changed all that much in these 2000 years.

We still need long, hot, bubble baths for human clean, and God Incarnate for real, deep-down heart clean.

Redeeming My Curls and My Soul

I could tell the hair stylist could not wait to get her hands on me. She was almost salivating.

I walked in with a frizzed mop covering one eye and when I sat down in the chair her scissors and skill were dying to begin.

“You have curls!” She almost shouted! “You need to embrace your curls”

“I don’t have curls!” I screamed back “I have frizzy waves”

“You just need a good product!” She was determined to win and if you know stylists – they always win.

So she cut, snipped, and layered. And then she put this fabulous smelling Paul Mitchell® cream and conditioner on my hair and proceeded to twist and turn and scrunch and then….well! Wow!

I had these fabulous, soft, defined, beach curls. Gone was the frizz and heavy hair. In its place? Curls like you almost see in a magazine. They actually cascaded, descended gracefully, layering around my face. She had redeemed my curls, my frizzy mop. So I tripped happily out of the store armed with costly product that would keep me looking this way.

But it didn’t happen. The curls? They lasted a day. 

And now, no matter what I do, I can’t create the look — the soft, curly, beach-curl look. I get up early and use product and twist, turn, and scrunch. The result is not pretty.

But I try so hard.

It is reminiscent of my efforts in life as compared to Gods. When I let him, God takes me and molds me; twists, turns and scrunches me into his loveliness, a reflection of his skill and grace. And then I try to do it on my own. The result is like my hair – it’s not pretty even though I try so hard.

This week I’ve tried so hard. And it’s so exhausting, so not pretty. But I only realized what I was doing as I looked in the mirror and made the comparison, the silly, lame comparison of my soul to my hair.

Sometimes it takes something seemingly unrelated, and even silly, to shake me into understanding. Both my curls and soul take more than product. They take a skilled professional. My curls are going to just have to deal until the next time I get my hair cut.

But my soul? That can’t and won’t wait. 

It needs the Master’s touch of redemption.

How about you? How is your hair and your soul? I can’t help but think about the famous line from the movie “Steel Magnolias” said by Truvy (Dolly Parton) to M’Lynn (Sally Field):

“I dunno how ya doin’ on the inside honey…but your HAIR sure is holdin’ up beautiful”

When Your Wrist is Your Canvas

When emotions cannot be expressed, when the pain of life is too great, when you think you will die if you face any more anguish – do you use your wrists as your canvas?

Does the deep cut that bleeds red help to ease your pain? Does the needle pierce deep enough to comfort? Does the design help you get through the next day? Hour? Minute?

Do you long for people to see your canvas and confront it? Do you want to be offered healing and hope? Do you long to change so that your wrists are clean and your canvas is….well, just a canvas?

Lord comfort those whose wrists are their canvas. Touch the scars with your hands that are scarred for their pain. Heal the pain that bleeds from their wounds; remind them that Your body died a cruel death, that you might offer hope and change the canvas.

And as their scars heal, may their canvas tell a story of redemption and hope, of grace and God.

And in healing scars, may hearts be transformed. Lord change the canvas, paint your picture on the scars of our lives.

“So He willed sharp nails between his own wrist bones, self-inflicted wounds, to hold himself to an upright cross– let his own blood to run down his arms, soaked the ground of Golgotha, and felt what others feel. And it was a costly token He used to speak love, emptied His hands of perfect to become sanctuary, intercessor, for all the bloodletters and bleeding hearts. And He writes love on our arms.”*

 (From For all the Bloodletters and Bleeding Hearts by Tamara at A Deeper Story.

Bloggers Note: This post was inpired by the article quoted above For All the Bloodletters and Bleeding Hearts

Shouts of Pain and Whispers of Redemption

“Is this place always going to cause pain?” This was the question I asked myself as I stared at the ocean from my car window.

I had come to this place because I had an extra hour of time before meeting a friend. It is a place I know well. And it is beautiful. On this day a pristine deep blue ocean reflected a softer blue, cloudless sky. There was a spring breeze and sail boats, newly launched after the winter, were anchored in the harbor. Benches lined the rocky shore, perfect to sit on and stare. You could stare all day at this beauty. A park with a gazebo was to my back, ocean at my front, heart was in the pit of my stomach.

“Why after all these years do I still feel pain?” I first discovered the park when we had moved to the area after living for over ten years overseas. I remember coming with a one year old and a four year old. They happily played on swing sets, slides and other playground equipment while I grieved a life gone. I felt a certain level of peace at this park when I brought them to play, probably because of the beauty, but it was still a place of grief.

As I revisited the park a couple of weeks ago it was like my grief had been buried there, ready to resurface as soon as I returned. It felt so profoundly sad. Tears filled my eyes. Like waves crashing on shore during a hurricane, it shouted of pain.

Why, oh why can’t I heal from this place? From that time? That time of disconnect and feeling ‘other’; that time of being told to pull up my bootstraps when I didn’t even have any boots; that time of trying so hard only to face rejection.

I got out of my car and walked towards the ocean, holding my arms close to my body for protection rather than cold. It was as if by doing so I could shield my heart just a little from pain I didn’t want to feel. I stared out at the ocean willing the beauty to wipe away the pain.

The place shouted hurt and only whispered healing. The place shouted defeat and only whispered hope. The place shouted pain, the beauty whispered redemption;

I don’t know how long I stood, completely lost in memories. A sigh woke me to my present and I realized I had someplace to be, someone to see.

And I had no answers.

I stood for a few minutes longer and realized that there is strength and healing in even a soft whisper of redemption. It was as though my questions were whispered out to sea with the waves. A whisper was enough. Enough to let me know it was okay to have no answers, okay to let the beauty wash over my memories and my heart, and with it to believe that pain is never wasted.

Recently someone with far fewer years than I wrote to me. As she worked through her grief in written words, she said this “I don’t understand the mystery of how Heaven and Hell can be involved in the same pain we face as humans, but they can for what Satan intends for harm, God uses for good. And I just have to trust that even when I cannot see it.”

Heaven and Hell involved in the same pain. These words of mystery shouted of redemption, for Hell may be strong but Heaven is stronger still.





Healing in the Midst of War

A month ago a 71-year old surgeon from France left his City of Lights and went to Homs, Syria. There in a makeshift operating room in a house that had been abandoned, with sporadic electricity and none of the fine surgical equipment that allows him and his patients to flourish in France, he operated on 89 people, 80 of whom survived. It is an amazing story.

I’ve stayed away from the topic of Syria – not because I want to, or because I think it’s right to avoid, but because every time I think about it I feel physically sick and a paralysis sets in. In a world where we are hesitant to use the word sin, preferring instead the less damaging words of “dysfunction”, “addiction”, or  “self-defeating behavior” are we not confronted by sin, by pure evil as we look at what is happening in Syria? Would we not be foolish to surmise that Bashar Al-Assad, president of Syria, is doing what he is doing to his own citizens because he is “emotionally impaired”?

But today we have a story of redemption and sacrifice. I am struck by real-life heroes that do their part, those that carry out acts that reflect a God who heals and redeems, as well as the real-life heroes that are survivors and victims of the atrocities. I am specifically drawn to the story of  this man.

The surgeon is a Dr. Jacques Bérès, one of the founders of Doctors Without Borders in the early seventies, and then another organization, Doctors of the World, in 1980. He is familiar with war zones, having spent much of his career helping from Saigon to Sierra Leone. In his picture he has the look of a benign grandfather, but the story belies that and you are left with a picture of compassion and courage; a man with a sense of purpose who doesn’t shy away from fulfilling that purpose. The worst of conditions awaited him in Syria. He was smuggled in through the Lebanese border with medical equipment, stopping on the way in another city to aid a Syrian physician.  When he finally reached Homs and set up the temporary hospital, he treated war wounds of all kinds, some that will haunt him forever. Men, women, and children, the future of Syria, were treated from damage caused by war wounds – I think we call this “civilian casualties”, a nice, sanitary name.

In a radio interview in Paris on return from Syria he says this: “I was sad… I saw useless suffering, cruelty, meanness, the suffering of children, of families.” He used this sadness to energize a gift, to be a person who brought healing in the midst of war. A person whose countenance of “quiet energy and purpose” affected all those who were working with him.

I’ve heard it said that character during crisis doesn’t suddenly emerge, but is a product of daily decision-making when there is no crisis. If so then that is my challenge – to daily make choices that count. To have it said that in a crisis I worked with a “quiet energy and purpose” is the height of compliments; to be a healer in the midst of war like Dr. Bérès.

We all have stories of hope in the midst of tragedy, healing in the midst of war. Would love to hear some of yours through the comments!