Friday, November 8, 2013

Les Miserables & Life

Last night I had the pleasure of seeing Les Miserables. I went for my sister, the flautist. ;) She is such a talented musician. And oh how music can evoke such emotion!

If you have never experienced Les Miserables, I would recommend you read the book or watch the talking movie version with Liam Neeson. His acting is stellar. The musical is best after you know the story.

It’s illegal or something to take pics of the show so y’all get a dark selfie at intermission :P

Les Miserables begins with Jean Valjean being released from hard labor jail after 19 years. His initial crime? Stealing a loaf of bread.  After being ‘freed,’ his past continues to plague him because his papers are stamped CONVICT.  

“Now every door is closed to me
Another jail. Another key. Another chain
For when I come to any town
They check my papers
And they find the mark of Cain
In their eyes I see their fear
We do not want you here.’ ”

He cannot get a job or a place to stay until a kindly Bishop lets him into his home, feeds, and houses him. In desperation, Jean Valjean takes advantage of the man, seizing his silver and taking off in the night. He is quickly apprehended by the police who take him back to the Bishop who, instead of condemning him, tells the police to unhand Jean and tells Jean to take more of the silver, as well. At this point he informs him that he is now to be an honest man, “by the witness of the martyrs, by the passion and the blood, God has raised you out of darkness.”

One thing I love about Les Mis is how it shows people behind their labels. Why would a convict or prostitute do what they do?  Let’s face it, those aren’t professions kids dream of being when they’re young. The prostitute in the story was fired from her job for refusing the advances of the foreman and tried every other way to provide for her daughter before selling her body.  Do you think it’s so different today?

Les Miserables is a hard story to go through at times, filled with war and desperation and despair, but isn’t real life, too?  This world we live in is rough, people. I have seen what many would term as “the worst” -  starving children, rape victims, hopeless prisoners, abuse, neglect, bombings, shootings, people who literally bite each others’ faces off and stab their parents through the eyes.

I have been left a choice. I can build up walls around my heart…and that would be easiest. It’s simplest not to care. Caring can be a most beautiful feeling or downright painful. I love how C.S.Lewis puts it:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

I choose love.

Not ooshy, gooshy feelings, or the ideology that “everyone should just be nice,” but purposeful, grace-filled, difficult love. Love that suffers long, is kind, selfless, and bears, believes, and hopes all things. I Cor. 13:4-8. I want to be like the Bishop in Les Miserables who shows unexpected grace and points people to God.  I know I will be hurt. Over and over, probably. But I choose it anyway. You know why?  Because I was changed by love.  I was a wretch, living in sin without hope until God in His magnificent grace reached down and loved me, the unlovable. Jean Valjean wondered after all he had done:

“How can I ever face my fellow men?
How can I ever face myself again?
My soul belongs to God, I know
I made that bargain long ago
He gave me hope when hope was gone
He gave me strength to journey on.”

I know I cannot love like this on my own. It is Christ’s love that carries, strengthens, empowers me, and gives me hope.  Another character in Les Mis is the policeman, Javert. He ends up committing suicide. All his life he has followed the law and done good deeds. He thought he had it figured out, but after Jean Valjean spared his life, he saw that the law had failed him. Today it is the same. No amount of good deeds can get us in to heaven. It is only by grace through faith that we are saved. Praise God that He takes away that burden of us having to try on our own!

Both Javert and Jean Valjean were shown grace and presented with a choice.  One chose despair, the other chose acceptance and gratitude.  We are faced with this same decision today – and every day.  We can remember our past and current sin and be crippled by it, or we can be overwhelmed with thankfulness to God who sent His own, beloved Son to be the propitiation for that sin. I am not perfect by any means. I do not always choose the latter, but when people ask how I can be so happy, I think Karl Barth puts it well – “Joy is the simplest form of gratitude!”  God’s faithfulness and abundant grace lead me to thankfulness that brings joy.  It is Him, not me.

Jesus said “If you love me, keep my commandments” (Jn 14:15) and He has commanded me to love.  He knows I don’t want to every day.  He knows I don’t always feel it. He knows there are days it would be easier to not show patience and grace, but when I think about how much I have been forgiven, the grace which has been lavished so greatly on me (I Jn 3:1), it spurs me on to keep loving. It fills my heart with joy. He chose me, so I choose Him.

When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of Glory died;
My richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.
Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.
                                                Isaac Watts