“It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
One of the ideas theologians like to discuss on occasion is “common grace.” The argument here is that God has given all people a portion of grace whether they believe in Him or not. This is a function of our being created in His image. All of us – every, single one – reflect God’s character in at least some capacity. It may be a very small capacity, but it’s not nothing. This means that every single person is capable of getting life right from the perspective of God’s kingdom. Most of us don’t do that with anything resembling perfect consistency, but we’re all capable of it. What has me thinking about this today is a show I’ve been watching lately that offers up a perfect example of this. It’s not made by Christians (to my knowledge), and certainly doesn’t reflect the Christian worldview in any meaningful way, but it has a moment when it hits the nail on the head. Let’s talk this morning about one of the latest offerings from AppleTV: Schmigadoon.
When I was in grade school, my parents took me to what I’m pretty sure was my first musical. It was the local high school’s production of Brigadoon. We went because our babysitter, Karen Lane, was playing Fiona Campbell, the female lead. The classic musical is about a couple of American friends who, while traveling through Scotland, accidentally stumble their way into a magical town called Brigadoon that is like a wonderful blast from the past. While there, great comedy ensues, along with love. It’s a fun and whimsical story and has ever since been one of my favorites. It sparked a love for musical theater in me that has never left.
Well, when I saw that AppleTV was doing a limited series called Schmigadoon, I was interested from the start. I’m glad it caught my eye. The new series is a delightful spoof of the original. It features a couple struggling in their relationship, who have decided to go on a couples retreat in upstate New York. While walking in the woods, they get lost and stumble into…a musical. The comedy of this cynical, modern New York City couple, both of whom are doctors, slowly realizing where they are is great. The best part is that none of the members of the whimsical town have any idea that they are in a musical, or even that they are singing when they do. The show has so far included references to Brigadoon, Oklahoma, and The Sound of Music. At the end of the first episode, the couple discover they are stuck in town. The trick to leave, revealed in a delightful cameo from Martin Short as a Leprechaun, is that they will be stuck in the town until they find true love.
The short series airs its finale today (which I haven’t watched yet), but along the way, the couple have been through all the arcs of a standard musical. They broke up over the course of the first two episodes, which left both of them deciding to look for true love in other members of the small community. Both made an initial run at finding love with the first characters to show interest in them in the third episode. Neither of these panned out. In the fourth and fifth episodes they both believe they found love with yet another member of the town only to see both hit a snag that I suspect will be happily resolved in today’s finale.
As I mentioned, the worldview of the show is anything but Christian in spite of the very conservative morals of the town. The couple, Josh and Mel, share a very modern relationship (and are very obviously suffering from their lack of commitment to one another). The mayor comes out during a town meeting with prompting from Mel, much to the shock and embarrassment of his wife. There is an undercurrent of stifling judgment for anything and anyone that doesn’t toe the line of the town’s religious and moral code. This is all led by the preacher’s wife who runs the whole town with her gaggle of judgmental matrons. Clearly, her particular embrace of religion is the problem. She dominates everything and everyone, including her husband, the preacher, whom I suspect will also come out and confess his love for the mayor in the finale.
As problematic as all of those things and more are from the standpoint of the Christian worldview, they’re honestly all par for the course for modern television offerings. If you are a follower of Jesus, the challenge before you each and every day is to decide just how much content you are willing to consume that doesn’t comport with your worldview. In general nowadays, almost none of it will. Your decision is how much and what kind of content you are willing to consume in spite of its messaging. You could take the route of trying to avoid any media that doesn’t uphold and support your faith. There’s some wisdom in that. But you need to do that with the understanding that such a position will dramatically limit the amount of content available to you. You could also take the route of simply watching anything and everything without worrying about the messaging it offers. I’m less inclined to take up that position as there is some content out there that just doesn’t have much in the way of redeeming qualities. Some amount of language, violence, and sensuality are unavoidable if you’re going to watch much of anything nowadays, but sometimes it’s wiser to not watch. A third approach seeks to run in between these two poles. This is where you engage with content – though not all of it – but always do so through the lens of the Christian worldview.
If you’ll take this approach (which, of the three, takes the most work), you’ll set yourself up to discover scenes like one near the end of Schmigadoon’s third episode. After Josh tries and fails to find true love with nearly every single, young lady in town, he winds up in the little church, having a conversation with Reverend Layton. The gentle, kindhearted Reverend asks him what’s bothering him. After resisting at first, Josh gives in and spills his guts.
“I’ve had a rough couple of days here, Rev. My girlfriend and I broke up. Then, I was forced to propose at gunpoint. And now, it seems like I’m stuck here because apparently there’s no way for me to find true love, whatever that means.” The complaint is pretty petty and a bit too woe-is-me for my tastes, but if I were in his shoes, I’d probably be thinking the same thing.
That’s not what caught my attention. The Reverend’s response did that: “Well, the Good Book has something to say about that.” Now, I’ll admit, when I heard the beginning of his response there, I was braced for some truly awful theology. I was set for some kind of cheap platitude that was going to be rightly ridiculed, making the preacher look either dumb or judgmental or both. No, neither of those really fit his character, but preachers and Christianity don’t usually get much in the way of a fair shake from Hollywood, so I wasn’t expecting much.
But then he continued: “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.” And now I was intrigued. Yes, this verse is badly cliched in circumstances like this, but at least they picked a good passage for him to quote. It was the next line, though, that really made me stop in my tracks. Check this out: “In other words, it’s a lot of work. So, it’s probably not something you find; it’s probably something you make.”
Just a couple of days ago we were talking about the intentional love of Jesus and how biblical love is an intentional decision to see someone else become more fully who God designed them to be. In other words, it’s not a feeling you happen to stumble into. It’s certainly not devoid of feelings – in fact, it’s full of them – but true love that makes a difference in our lives is a choice you make and then give your effort to working out the implications of that choice in your life and in the life of the person you’ve chosen to love. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen or heard something from Hollywood get love right like Reverend Layton did in this scene.
In a world where all we are told all the time is that love is a feeling and when the feeling fades, any commitments we have made while the feeling was strong can be treated as temporary, Rev. Layton’s wisdom is timely and rich with truth. Love is patient and kind and gracious and humble and gentle and self-sacrificing and forgiving and honest and righteous and a whole manner of other good things. There’s no doubt about that. But love is also hard. Sticking with a commitment to see someone else become more fully who God designed them to be is not easy. This is particularly true when we aren’t especially fond of them in a given moment. Doing that with someone who has broken our trust in some grievous way feels nearly impossible. Striving for this when the other person is resisting all of our most humble and genuine efforts can be maddeningly frustrating. Those are the moments when all the feelings are gone and we’re left to discover and decide if our love runs any deeper than that. That is, those are the moments we discover and decide if we have real love on our hands or nothing more than a momentary infatuation.
Those are tough moments, but if we’ll stick them out and renew our commitment to the hard work of love, we’ll find a treasure that is not obtainable by any other means. In this, we have the ultimate example in the love Jesus has for us. He made a choice to love us and stuck with it all the way to the cross. The result is eternal life for all who seek it. The world around us doesn’t always or even often get the kingdom of God right. We shouldn’t expect them to do that. The world and the kingdom are mutually exclusive of one another. But because we are all made in the image of God, every now and then something comes along to remind us just how deeply God has planted seeds of Himself in His world. Schmigadoon offers us a great glimpse into the bigger world of God’s kingdom. It may be just a glimpse, but one the world would not have otherwise had. Thanks be to God that He’s bigger than we often expect.