Why Do I Relate to P.T. Barnum?
If you listen close enough, you can hear God speak. Other times it’s all one can do to drown God out. Many times the content of God’s message is delivered though the most unlikely of vehicles. Vehicles such as…the movies.
Truth is I’m not much of a movie goer. Too stingy to fork out $10 for something that will be on Redbox in a few months. I did relent over the holidays and took the family, along with a boyfriend and girlfriend, to see “The Greatest Showman”. It was totally worth the second mortgage on my house.
SPOILER ALERT: Not really…just my ploy to get you to read further. There’s not much to spoil or reveal about this musical. The cast is great, the music is phenomenal, and the story line never let me go. I would see this movie a second time…shoot, I might even buy this movie and put it in the drawer with the other movies that I never watch just to demonstrate my enthusiastic support.
As much as I enjoyed the movie, there were some things about it that gripped my heart. I’d like to share them with you but first, let me share a bit of the story line.
The movie is about the life of ringmaster P.T. Barnum. Barnum marries a girl who comes from a rich family, though he has virtually nothing to show for himself. He purchases a “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” type of museum and invites the public to view his efforts. No one is interested. He is encouraged, quite oft hand, by his children that he needs more “live” exhibits than stuffed ones. He takes this to heart by inviting a quirky and odd element of culture to put on a show. Regardless of motivation, the pubic responds…both positively and negatively…but they respond nonetheless. He becomes a financial success only to seek the approval of a more wealthy segment of society. He finds success and failure through the promotion of a concert series to this segment of culture. His circus headquarters is devastated by a fire. He is ultimately challenged and blessed in determining his true priorities as he is forced to rebuild.
And never stops singing throughout his ordeal. It is a musical after all.
Let me preface the remainder of this article by asking for a bit of grace. I mean no disrespect in the following. I found myself relating quite a bit to our brother Barnum.
“Church” in America can feel a bit like running an irrelevant museum. As much as the curator might believe in the authenticity of the exhibits, the public doesn’t really care for dead things. Over the years, I’ve known the weight of considering what it takes to get people through the doors. There’s a great tendency to develop bigger and better claims to what happens inside the four walls. There’s a like sense of defeat when the flyer proclaiming the greatest show on earth is trampled underfoot and the public does not find it all that “great”.
There’s also a great sense of compulsion and motivation that accompanies the “ah-ha” moments of leadership. People are attracted to life…death, not so much. Yes, I’m comparing the people of Breakfast Church to the bearded lady, the world’s tallest man, and the people on the flying trapeze. To attend a church that employs a meal each week as part of the Sunday morning service and invites all to engage in dialogue is something that sets you apart as a bit quirky and odd. And just like in the movie, not everyone is going to like who you are or what you are doing.
When P.T. Barnum started caring about what people thought about him, his trouble truly began. What he learned through those troubles ended up drawing him closer to the most important people in his life…his family and his extended family in the circus.
As I watched some of the missteps of Barnum’s life, I questioned whether I was chasing after things that do not matter. I questioned whether I sought the approval of individuals who would never go against the grain or defy popular opinion. I questioned whether I possess the fortitude to remain faithful to the vision of community that embodies Breakfast Church should circumstances challenge its very existence. I thanked God for the family who has stood by my side through the craziness over the years and who remain faithful for the craziness that is certain to be our collective future.
At the end of the movie, Barnum transitions his leadership to his younger apprentice. I grin at that very thought. The last few years of my leadership have taken a decidedly “Millennial” approach as the Protégé Development Program has taken shape at HTBC. Next month I will be on three different college campuses talking to young folk about ministry and inviting them to participate with us at HTBC in a two-year residency program.
In Barnum’s perspective, there was hope for the circus. According to scripture, there is absolute certainty for His church.
Go see the movie. Chet
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