Last week my hubby and I went to see a touring production of the musical Rent while it was in town. Both of us went not really sure we’d like it and concerned about the fact that its subject matter was questionable to say the least. For those of you who are not familiar with it, the basic premise is following a group of friends which includes a recovering drug addict with AIDS, a current drug addict and stripper with AIDS, a homosexual man and his drag queen “girlfriend” who both have AIDS, a lesbian couple, and an aspiring film maker living in New York in the mid 90’s through a year of their lives. Not exactly what we’d consider edifying stuff. However, my husband and I not only enjoyed the play but left the theater very touched and have been thinking and talking about the issues raised by the play ever since.
I think what made the play compelling rather than repulsive or problematic for us was the fact that the depictions of the various characters were so real. We’ve both known and spent time around people on the fringes of society and recognized real people in the characters. It wasn’t the sort of idealization or romanticizing we normally see from the entertainment industry when people engaged in harmful behaviors are presented. Nor was it the sort of nihilistic decent into degradation which rich people in the entertainment industry substitute for actual experience with the poor and outcast when trying to be “edgy” and real. These were real people who loved, fell, indulged, failed to learn lessons, learned the wrong lessons, tried to do the best they could figure out how and suffered the very real consequences of their behaviors.
Really, the play could almost be used as a morality tale: “see, that girl spent all her money on drugs and now she has no heat and is dizzy from lack of food. Plus she’s going to die from using a dirty needle to feed her addiction. And look at those homosexuals – they’re going to die a terrible death because they were having sex with other men and caught AIDS. And look at how that lesbian couple fights all the time – they’ll never be happy because it’s just not how people were meant to live.” However, I think that would miss a much bigger lesson which we Christians especially need to see. It is this: these people were just people. People who loved with all the passion God put into the human heart and erred with all the conviction Adam and Eve bequeathed to them. I think we tend to see too many people as sins to be resolved before they can be people to be loved . Of course to be human is to be sinful. However, there are certain sins which push the human label to the back of the line. So we look for ways to ingratiate ourselves in order to get a chance to address their sinful behavior, if we will deal with them at all. I read an article by Reb Bradley last week which put it this way: a shortsighted question asks, “What can I do to show love to my liberal, feminist sister?” Would it not be better to actually love her?
I think this is exactly what we do much of the time when dealing with those around us who are “living in sin”. We basically want to smile at them, maybe invite them over for dinner and do other really strenuous things to “show” our love so that we can get down to the really important stuff: confronting the sin. (We’ve loved the sinner so now we get to hate the sin, right?) However, what we are called to do, above and beyond all else is love. We don’t need to approve of someone else’s sin in order to appreciate their kind heart or good humor or generous spirit. God is in the business of judging and changing people’s hearts. We need to trust Him more to do His part and put our energy into doing our part which is loving people. I think that was what was so compelling about this play: it neither tried to argue that these people’s lifestyle was good nor that their errors made them less worthy of love, but simply presented them as real fallen people who need love just like everyone else. Of course, what the play missed and what much of society fails to see is what Christianity has to offer. While human love, compassion and care can help us survive, God’s love can heal us and help us overcome. However, that is a message the rest of the world is unlikely to pay much attention to when we treat people like sins to be resolved rather than human beings to be loved.
Then again, I did only see the play in St. Paul. I bet it would be even more profound on Broadway, don’t ya think? Maybe you and I can Find an Orbitz promotional code online and possibly save money to fly to see a Broadway musical in NY.