Monday, March 19, 2018

Les Mis for Lent

Music can move us, awaken us, heal us, give us words for that which we thought we had none, offer insight, and connect us to others.  There is music that serves as a soundtrack to our lives.  For me, the music of Les Mis is poetry set to music that I have returned to time and time again.  If you are unfamiliar, let me give you a bit of back story to help catch you up.  The main character is Jean Valjean, a man who was convicted of stealing bread to feed his hungry family in the days before the French Revolution.  He is caught and convicted of the crime.  This detail serves as a driving force in the plot line of the story.  Was it okay to steal the bread?  Or is it once a thief, always a thief?  What is the role of forgiveness/grace verses always following the letter of the law?  Which brings me to introducing Inspector Javert, who as the antagonist, haunts and hunts Valjean throughout the musical.  The musical opens with Valjean scheduled for release after serving his time...BUT...and this is important...as a convicted criminal he is given paperwork that lets everyone know he has broken the law.

We live in a country right now were there are over 6 million convicted felons.  Disproportionately, this has impacted African American males.  About 1 in 5 receive this due to an addiction or association to drugs.  There are not many programs in prison that actually help the person convicted deal with the addiction s/he struggles with.  About half of all felons are involved in non-violent crimes.  Once you are convicted a felon, you have to constantly reveal that upon release to potential jobs and you are no longer allowed to vote in the United States.  While Les Mis may be set in pre-Revolution France, we know what it is like to stick the stigma of a conviction on a person and force him/her to carry it for the rest of life still today. 

Valjean tries to escape from the shadow of his past by tearing up the paperwork stating he is a criminal.  But Javert won't give up...keeps on trying to bring him to justice.  The overarching question of Les Mis...is the question for Lent...where is the line between law/gospel or grace?  Where do we get what we deserve no questions asked and when do we get a chance to right our wrongs?  Where is there forgiveness and where do we cling so tightly to being right that our knuckles turn white?

The question is also theological...do we worship a judgmental/angry/justice demanding God OR a loving/forgiving/grace-giving-even-when-we-don't-deserve-it God? 

So, a couple of songs from Les Mis for your Monday morning.  First is the opening number about the humiliation and dehumanization of criminals.  Second, a song after Valjean has torn up his criminal paperwork...fled from where he was supposed to be...tried to start over a new life.  But Javert, who is always on the trail...wrongly convicts someone who looks like Valjean. 




A few prayerful questions after you listen~~

What/when does your past feel like a shadow you cannot shake? 
If you had a rewind/rewrite button in life, would you use it?





A few prayerful questions ~

How do you answer the question, "Who am I"?  
Would you claim the brokenness of your past as a way to blessedness?

May this music be a poetic prayer for you this day and week.

Grace and peace ~~ 

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