UNDONE BY LES MISERABLES (Join us in this important discussion!)
I’VE BEEN TRYING TO PROCESS WHY THIS VERSION OF
IMPACTED ME SO PROFOUNDLY
WAS IT BECAUSE GOD HAS USED THIS STORY BEFORE
TO SOFTEN MY HEART OF STONE?
WHEN I DID NOT WANT TO FORGIVE THE ONE WHO STOLE FROM ME
THE SCENE OF THE BISHOP AND THE CANDLESTICKS FLASHED IN MY MEMORY…
THE BISHOP TOLD THE POLICE THAT HE HAD GIVEN JEAN VALJEAN THE SILVER HE ACTUALLY STOLE — BUT THAT HE WAS SO GLAD HE WAS BACK, FOR HE FORGOT THE CANDLESTICKS! ONE OF THE OPENING SONGS HUGH JACKMAN SINGS HAS THESE LYRICS:
What have I done?
Sweet Jesus, what have I done?
…Have I fallen so far
And is the hour so late
That nothing remains but the cry of my hate…
…He treated me like any other
He gave me his trust
He called me brother
My life he claims for God above
Can such things be?
For I had come to hate this world
This world which had always hated me
Take an eye for an eye!
Turn your heart into stone!
This is all I have lived for!
This is all I have known!
One word from him and I’d be back
Beneath the lash, upon the rack
Instead he offers me my freedom,
I feel my shame inside me like a knife
He told me that I have a soul,
How does he know?
What spirit came to move my life?
Is there another way to go?
WAS IT BECAUSE I SAW SO VIVIDLY PORTRAYED
HOW A SINGLE ACT OF MERCY
TO ONE HARDENED BY INJUSTICE,
AND RIPPLES OUT
LIKE THE MERCY MY GOD HAS SHOWN TO ME?
WAS IT BECAUSE OF MY THAI DAUGHTER
OR THE WOMEN IN PRISON I’VE MET
WHO WERE AS ABUSED AND DESPERATE AS FANTINE?
WAS IT THE MUSIC AND THE FACT IT WAS SUNG LIVE? (Please watch!)
IS HUGH JACKMAN, WHO PLAYED JEAN VALJEAN A BELIEVER?
I DON’T KNOW. HE SAYS HIS FATHER WAS CONVERTED BY BILLY GRAHAM,
SO HE MAY BE. BUT HIS PERFORMANCE,
I BELIEVE, CAUGHT THE ESSENCE OF TRUE CONVERSION.
WAS IT BECAUSE I HAVE BEEN PRAYING FOR GOD TO HELP ME CARE
ABOUT THE THINGS THAT BREAK HIS HEART?
ALL OF THE ABOVE,
QUICKENED BY THE SPIRIT OF THE LIVING GOD.
I WAS UNDONE.
I realize not all of you have been able to see this version, and may not have seen any version of it. But the concepts are scriptural, and we can talk about those whether or not you have the time or money to watch. Here is a free two hour musical stage version, though you may want to read a plot synopsis on the internet first if you don’t know the story so that you will understand the music.
I had thought we would study Tamar as well this week — but there is just too much here – Tamar was also a victim of injustice, so, Lord willing, we will look at her next week. (I say Lord willing because I’ve been trying to get to her all Advent and God keeps saying, “No — this way!”) Les Mis is packed — don’t feel like you have to do it all — or to read all the comments. Do what you can and you will be thinking about the things that matter most.
1. What stood out to you from the above and why?
2. If you have seen Les Mis, name at least one specific storyline or lyric and why it impacted your heart.
3. What Christian or non-Christian themes did you see?
4. If you have not seen Les Mis, take one of these themes from the story and comment:
A. Can you think of a time when mercy shown to you released mercy to another? If so, share.
B. A repeated lyric is “you were never mine to keep…” Can you think of a time when you had to release one you loved, but were able to do so because of trust that you were releasing them to God?
C. Can you think of a time when you misjudged someone because you didn’t know the whole story? If so, share.
D. The bishop lied to the police to spare Jean ValJean. What do you think of this and why?
MONDAY: How Do You Decide What To Watch or Read — and what not to?
Today I’d like us to ponder the above and discuss it together. This is important for our own hearts and for the hearts of our children, to whom we are called to protect and train in the ways of discernment. We don’t want to raise children who define Christianity in terms of the five things you don’t do and sit in their houses with judgmental hearts — we want them engaged in a broken world, operating with discerning and merciful hearts, embodying our Lord.
I realize there are believers who feel we should not see a movie like this for there are impure elements. I have struggled with this myself, and you may disagree with my conclusion, but this is a blog where those who disagree are welcomed warmly and heard. I want us to have an honest dialogue here about how we decide what books and movies to put into our minds and hearts. We may disagree, but I so respect the women on this blog, I know the tone will be loving — and dialogue may make us all come closer in our thinking to the mind of Christ.
How do I decide? I do think we need to be concerned about offensive elements like language, sexual scenes, and violence — but the question I ask is not how many times do they occur (Unplugged simply counts the swear words, act of violence, and glimpses of nudity) but rather: Is the story powerfully redemptive and are the offensive elements essential to the story? They certainly are in Les Mis. There were offensive elements in Roots, The Hiding Place, The Painted Veil, To Kill A Mockingbird, and Amazing Grace — but each of these productions were powerfully redemptive. Are they appropriate for young children? I don’t think so. There is a time to protect innocence, and a time to see the world as it is. Also, until there is a certain level of maturity, the redemptive elements may be lost on them. For example, yesterday I was “hanging out” at my son’s when my fourteen year old grandson Simeon came home and said, “I’ve just been to the WORST movie. They SANG all the way through it.” (The family looked at me and burst out laughing.) But I am going to talk to Simeon to see if I can help him see any of the redemptive storyline. There is a a time to see these mature movies and a time to wait.
But when you think the time has come, watch it with him and process it, asking, “What were the Christian elements?” “The non-Christian elements?” If there are offensive elements, talk about how they contributed (or not) to the storyline so that he or she can begin to develop discernment in his choices. For example, in the stage version of Les Mis, for which I just gave you a link, there is a scene where one of the soldiers is crass, talking about how he’s sure a prostitute is eager to have “a poke,” and actually fingers his genitals. It is very offensive — and yet, when I read Half the Sky, that is exactly how many men view the girls who have been captured and are in the sex trade, somehow thinking they didn’t mind being raped thirty times a day. We need to see the depravity of man and be outraged so that we are propelled to do something. After World War II, so many Christians said, “We didn’t know what was happening.” Well — there is a holocaust happening now, and we need to know it. Anne Hathaway, who plays Fantine, studied the girls in the sex trade so she could capture their pain, their emotion — and she did. This was happening in Victor Hugo’s day and it is happening today — and we need to CARE. May Les Miserables awaken Christians to the need to show mercy to those who have been shown no mercy. How often I have heard unmerciful comments made concerning those in prison — and I want to take them to meet those women!
I also find movies based on real life stories such a refreshing change to the fictional cookie cutter Christian movies. So many of them whitewash life or make Christianity seem like it is all about us — that God exists to help us, that He revolves around us instead of we around Him. This life isn’t just about making our own lives better but about caring about the things that break God’s heart! If children can begin to care while they are still in your home, you may be shaping an adult that will be in instrument of compassion in a cold and hurting world.
Do I agree with everything in Les Mis? Absolutely not — I am always offended by those who equate patriotism with Christianity. And there were definitely elements that could have been skipped — but oh, there was so much gold to be mined. Our natural tendency is not to care — and any movie or book that can help us care, that can melt our hearts of stone, I would consider worth seeing or reading. The perspective that tells Christians not to watch anything other than movies by Christian production companies, or to read no books by secular authors is offensive, I believe to God, who uses whoever He chooses for His message. God used Cyrus, who He said “did not know Him,” to free the Jews. Why, God even used a donkey to speak the truth. Confining ourselves to evangelical authors smacks of legalism to me, the legalism we see in Inspector Javert, in Les Mis. Legalism kills.
Those are my thoughts — but I would love yours.
5. Comment on the above.
6. How do you decide what to read and what to watch? Do you have any goals for this New Year?
TUESDAY-WEDNESDAY: BIBLE STUDY AND REFLECTING ON LES MIS
7. Is there a lyric from Les Mis that particularly impacts you? If so, share it. (Many of the songs are available on You-tube.) Why did it impact you?
8. In the Dec 2 issue of World Magazine, Janie B. Cheaney wrote an article saying (if I understood her correctly) that we are only called to forgive the repentant.
A. Do you agree or not? Explain.
B. How would the story in Les Mis refute that?
C. Did the father in the story of the prodigal sons forgive his younger son before or after he repented?
D. How it it even possible to forgive one who is not repentant?
9. Gary Haugen says that idolatry and injustice are the two things God hates most. In the message you will hear by Haugen this week, he takes us to Psalm 10. Read Psalm 10.
A. How are those who commit injustice described in verses 8-11?
B. What kind of injustices in the world come to mind by the above description?
C. What does the psalmist tell us about God according to Psalm 10:14-18?
Haugen asks, “What is God’s plan for rescuing the oppressed?” His answer: We are. There is no Plan B. I’m eager for you to hear him tell his story, for I think it will encourage you with what can be done.
10. There are so many good articles about Les Mis — here are three, and you may want to recommend others. All are excellent, but the first gives you ideas for how to have discussions with others who have seen it. Why not have friends who have seen it over for soup or dessert and discuss it?
Listen to Gary Haugen, the founder of International Justice Mission, designed to rescue the oppressed — especially children and women in enslaved in the sex trade overseas. The talk itself is 55 minutes followed by a Q and A (LINK). All fascinating.
11. Then reflect on these questions:
A. What stood out to you from the message and why?
B. How did Haugen say the two biggest sins are, according to Scripture?
C. How did he define injustice and how is David and Bathsheba and Uriah an illustration of it?
D. Haugen refers to the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 and the little boy’s lunch. What was his point?
E. What might you do with your “lunch?”
12. What is your take-a-way and why?