Fiddler on the Roof: Musings and Pondering…

What a show! What a magically, wonderful show! As I prepare to be the music director for CWorks’ winter production, I can’t help but to ponder on the meaning and the impact this script and music will have on all of us. First of all, the show is highly entertaining due to its rich characters, fabulous music and dancing, timeless humor, and deep cultural connections. It is also thought provoking and enlightening, covering themes such as family values, tradition, and antisemitism.

I am a Christian, therefore I see everything in life through the lenses of my faith. From that perspective, I write this analysis of the content of this script. It is not exhaustive by any means. It simply reflects my own (limited) thoughts and pondering on the subject matter.

Brief Summary

In the fictional, Russian village of Anatevka, lives a milkman by the name of Tevya, along with his wife Golde and his 5 daughters. The story takes place at the turn of the 20th century, depicting life in a Jewish community coexisting with gentiles who, influenced and encouraged by the Tsar and a generalized antisemitic sentiment, persecute, drive away, and disperse the Jewish people living among them.

In the midst of this political turmoil, Tevya faces even greater challenges and difficulties in his own family. He has always held fast to the traditions of his people, but now his daughters are stepping away from his way of life, rejecting the old ways and choosing their own path. In Tevya’s mind, there is a struggle maintaining a balance between protecting the traditions of his people and supporting his loved ones. The fiddler on the roof illustrates such a struggle. In Tevya’s own words: “You might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof, trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn’t easy.”

Analysis

While there are many aspects of this show that could be analyzed, my aim is to limit it to the traditions depicted in this story. I find them fascinating and worth thinking about.

In Jewish communities there are discrepancies as to what is allowed or desired according to their religion. Much like Christianity, which has differences in denominations and cultures, yet has the same core system of belief across the board, Judaism has many faces and degrees of religiosity, while being united in common beliefs. This is not an analysis of Judaism in general, but a discussion on the traditions seen in this particular family and community of Anatevka.

Traditions

As far as I’m concerned, there are two types of traditions reflected in this story: Those ordained by God, and those made up by people. The script does not make a distinction between the two, but I think it’s worth mentioning the difference.

The God-mandated traditions are the ones that were established in Scripture from the time of Moses. The ones designed by man happened through the years and have strong cultural roots.

The Sabbath: The show opens with preparations for the Sabbath. The day of rest was most definitely established by God. In the Genesis account of the creation of the world, God worked for 6 days and rested on the 7th. One of the 10 commandments given by God to Moses said to “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy”. The Jewish nation was strictly ordered to maintain a day of rest, from generation to generation. The purpose of the Sabbath was to 1. provide time for everyone (including servants, slaves, and animals) to rest; 2. have a day dedicated to the worship of God, free of distractions; 3. to point to the Messiah. In fact, from Christianity’s world view, all God-mandated laws were given to prepare the way for Jesus, and in Jesus, all the law is perfectly kept and fulfilled (“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill it” – Matt 5:17). So how did Jesus fulfill the law? 1. By keeping it. 2. By becoming our rest. This sounds simplistic, but it truly is a remarkable, deep truth:

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

Jesus provides rest. This profound truth shows us that in our quest for salvation and in our desire to be right with God, man has always struggled to perform, do good, please a perfect God, and has always failed. Through religion, we cannot possibly reach God, because He is holy and we are not, he is perfect and we are flawed. All our efforts, in the end, are tiring and heavy. So when Jesus stretched out his arms on a cross and died on our behalf, He unequivocally declared that He, the only perfect sacrifice, paid the penalty for our sins. Therefore, we need to struggle no more. We can actually rest from trying to be right with God. We are right in Him. We now please God because we love him, not because we hope He will avert his wrath. It is the greatest of news! And it is most certainly true rest from our labor. JESUS IS OUR SABBATH.

Match-making: Now here we see a tradition that is not mandated in Scripture. This is a cultural custom which in many cases has proven to be very practical (I guess?) Match making is at the center of this story, as one of the traditions that is upheld, almost at the same level of the other God-given laws. We see examples of matches being made in Scripture, but there is no law dictating it as the only way to marry. Tevya’s daughters go against this tradition by choosing their own husbands. Even though he struggles with this, Tevya goes along with their choices (at least with two of the three daughters), proving he is progressive and caring enough to break from his own way of life in order to support and love his family.

Marriage: The topic of marriage is central to the story. Again, marriage is mandated by God back in the creation of Adam and Eve. It is the holiest of unions in the human realm and it is to be highly valued by God’s people. In Fiddler on the Roof, the issue of mixed marriages comes to light. We see in Scripture that God created all races and colors and He doesn’t have an issue with inter-racial marriages. However, it was clearly mandated to the Jewish nation that they were to marry within their own faith. Why? 1. To preserve the worship and the knowledge of God throughout the generations, and 2. Of course, to point to Christ.

First, the Jews were the only monotheistic people group for thousands of years. They were the only ones who had the truth of God in their minds, hearts, and in the written law of Moses. They were to marry each other to preserve and advance this knowledge. In Christianity, we see the same principle at work. God calls us to not be unequally yoked (II Co 6:14). This inequality has nothing to do with race, education, or cultural differences, and all to do with our faith.

Second, marriage points to Christ (Ephesians 5:22-32). More specifically, it points to the relationship between Jesus and his people (the church). What used to be a distant relationship between man and God, worshiping in a temple containing a big, heavy curtain for the purpose of separating man from God, has become a close, intimate relationship. Jesus has drawn near to us, opening the door for us to have access to God. Ephesians calls it a “great mystery”. I am very thankful for this reality. During this Christmas season, I am especially blessed by the knowledge that Jesus condescended and became a human, in order to be like me, make atonement for me, and have an intimate relationship with me.

Conclusion

I am so thankful for the Jewish people. They have been the recipients of God’s covenant and love, as well as His law and prophets. In spite of persecution, dispersion, attempts of annihilation, and hatred, God has preserved the Jews and has been true to His promise.

I am grateful for Jesus Christ, who was a Jew and fulfilled all the laws and the prophets. He has broken the divides that once separated the people of God from all other nations. In Christ, there is no longer Jew or gentile, male or female, master or slave. Salvation is equally available to all, through faith. There is no longer a need to strive to gain salvation, for He has done that for us. He is truly our rest.

Aside from the conceptual analysis of the main themes of this play, I am beyond excited to be a part of it, simply because it is fun and entertaining. And, of course, the music is fantastic! In fact, I need to stop writing this oh-so-long post and get downstairs to my piano to finish studying the music. After all, auditions start tomorrow!

If you live in RVA and want to see this amazing production, you can buy tickets here.

Shalom!

Fiddler on the Roof

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Shopping is NOT for Thursday

How and when did this happen? It took me completely by surprise! Did I miss something?

Did Black Friday move to Thursday?

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy a sale just as much as the next guy. I’ve actually put myself through the madness of Black Friday a few times. But this! What in the world? The ads I’m seeing for Black Friday are advertising opening hours starting on THURSDAY. Did this happen last year or is this a new trend? Since when does Old Navy open their stores on Thursday at 4:00 PM or Macy’s on Thursday at 6:00. Is this a joke? Can we not celebrate Thanksgiving first? Can we (and by we I don’t mean my family because we’re not going anywhere on Thanksgiving, but the nation as a whole, including the employees who work for these retailers) not take a day to give thanks, eat turkey, and celebrate a day of rest with our families? It was bad enough that if we wanted to catch the good sale prices, we had to camp out at midnight in order to be first in the storefront lines. But I guess if you made it a fun night out with friends, it could all be worth it. You would first celebrate a nice, family, God-centered holiday, and hopefully gave thanks for all the blessings in your life, and then, with a full belly and a happy heart, bring coffee, blankets, and card games to the “let’s begin Christmas” sale line at Best Buy. Fine. I get that. But what do we do now? If doors open at 6:00 PM on Thursday, does that mean that thanks-givers will be leaving their thanks-giving tables at, say, 2:00, or at noon, and begin their not-so-thanksgivinish shopping?

It is ridiculous.

President Abraham Lincoln instituted a national day of gratitude back in 1863. In his proclamation, he stated that it was “fit and proper that the [gracious gifts of the Most High] be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the American People.” Thanksgiving Day has been a praise worthy, instituted holiday. Its purpose has been to gather in groups of families and friends, to remember the blessings bestowed on us by God. This holiday does not exist in other countries. When I first moved to the United States I was deeply touched by the idea that the entire nation would stop for a day and count their blessings.

But now retailers are hoping to cut the day in half. Hurry up and eat your turkey, make it a brunch if possible, because you will need the rest of your day to hustle and bustle and save, save, save!

I sincerely hope that the American people will resist this demon and boycott the Black-Friday-on-Thursday business. I desire for stores to be empty on Thanksgiving Day, causing businesses to lose precious income they would have gained had they waited until the next day. Let us remember that giving thanks is more valuable than any Christmas sale. There is a time for everything, and shopping is not for Thursday.

My Son is Autistic. There, I said it.

My son is autistic. There, I said it.

During the last few years, advocacy groups for the disabled have encouraged the use of “People-First Language”. This concept has become the new and “correct” way of identifying an individual with disabilities. This means that, in my case, it would be incorrect to refer to my son as being autistic. Instead, I would need to say that he has autism. While I do appreciate the effort to not define the person by the disability, I think this is a matter of semantics. And it’s ridiculous.

Think about it. If we were to separate the condition or characteristic from the person, in every instance:

Wrong would be: “I am overweight”. Right would be: “I have extra weight”

Wrong would be: “I am a musician”. Right would be: “I have musicianship” — yeah, that doesn’t even translate.

Wrong would be: “I am talented”. Right would be: “I have talent” — Fine, they both work, but the first one is not really “wrong”

Wrong would be: “I am an American”. Right would be: “I am from America”

So what is the point? Is it to make sure that the autistic individual is not defined by a label? I think the label stands even if we say that someone “has” autism. Being a diabetic and having diabetes are one and the same! Either way, the person is medically defined by the pancreatic decease. Whether the person is or has, he still needs to stay away from sweets, inject insulin, and wear a medical warning on the wrist.

My son has autism, therefore he is autistic. Does it define him? Well, yes. And no. Autism influences the way he perceives the world, the way he processes information, the way he communicates, the way he conducts himself. His extreme talents and equally extreme disabilities and obstacles are because of autism. So yes, autism -not the label- defines him. And yet, autism does not define him. He is my son, autistic or not, he is loved and cared for, autistic or not. He can know God, autistic or not. He has feelings and desires, autistic or not. He loves. He is precious and valuable. So whether he is autistic or has autism, his essence as a person will never change.

My humble opinion is that we should just stop being silly pretending that the use of our verbs will alter the perception of the person. The overweight person can lose the weight, but the autistic person will more than likely never lose his autism. It is what it is. Let’s drop the semantics, people. It’s all good.

Gabriel and Juan hanging out in DC

Gabriel and Juan hanging out in DC

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.

Psalm 139:13-14

Parenting Disney Style

As I was flipping channels looking for something to watch on TV, I briefly came across a reality TV show. All I could watch was about 7 or 8 minutes before I couldn’t take it anymore. Several girls had traveled to England to meet their Prince Charming. They did not know the man in question was an impostor and at the end of the show, after they “fell in love”, he would reveal his true identity (probably to the horror of the winning contestant).

But this is not a criticism of reality shows (I confess I do watch a couple of them; Have you seen Master Chef?) Rather, this is a perplexed observation of the interviews with these girls as they entered into their quest to find love. The words “fairy tale”, “prince charming”, “happily ever after”, and “soul mate” easily flowed from their mouths, garnished with deep sighs, bright eyes, and pensive smiles.

Let’s face it, girls are practically born romantic. Our little princesses love the idea of growing up and finding their prince. Not just any prince, but the perfect one, you know, like their dad. Through a steady diet of fairy tales, their feminine, little hearts are persuaded they will grow up, meet a great looking boy, fall in love instantaneously, and marry for sheer, eternal joy. Teenage girls’ Pinterest boards are packed with ideas for wedding dresses, wedding hair, wedding pictures, decorations, themes, and menus. Their minds are full of dreams of happily ever afters. It is natural and adorable when they are young. It is worrisome as they grow older.

I don’t claim to have an expert opinion on this issue, but it seems to me that it is actually unhealthy for parents to foster this idea of finding a soul mate, as if each of our kids are “meant” for a specific other person, and that this person will provide the happily-ever-after their hearts long for. It could seem harmless to instill this romantic idea that destiny (in a secular world) or God (in believers) has chosen this one, perfect match.

Am I just a cynic and a pessimist? I’m open to hearing other views, so feel free to chime in. But before you do, let me clarify my point of view:

I believe in marriage. I believe in marriage to one person, until death-do-us-part.

I believe in God, and I know that all things are ordained by him. Everything works out for the good of those who belong to him. Even bad marriages.

I believe that marriage is a really, really good thing. I’ve been blessed with a wonderful husband who has been my absolute best friend for the past 28 years.

I also know that marriage is hard, even painful. Spouses hurt each other, betray each other’s trust, and are hard to live with. Marriage takes WORK and perseverance. The idea of sheer happiness in a marriage, in my opinion, is non-existent. A good, intimate marriage develops in a battle ground where two people are striving and fighting against their own selfishness to love their spouse. It takes time and effort and lots of I’m sorry’s. It takes forgiving and forgetting. It takes self-sacrifice.

It is naive to think that bad things won’t happen, even in the lives of young people who take all the necessary steps to “insure” a future, good marriage. Death happens. Abandonment happens. Abuse and betrayal.

Finally, there are people who remain single, either by choice or by circumstance. The truth is that not all women find their “prince”. Our daughters could be called to God-ordained singleness, which is not a life any less worth living than a married one.

So if our girls, while maturing in age, do not simultaneously mature their thinking from fairy tale to fact, they could find themselves facing the harsh reality of life and not knowing how to respond to it. They could be so disillusioned by their crushed dreams, even to the point of a weakening of their faith in the providence of God.

I’ve been guilty of over-spiritualizing this concept of awaiting for this sole chosen mate. And while I don’t think we should crush little girls’ illusions and dreams, I am also convicted that we are to communicate realistically about their options. Marriage is an option. Singleness is an option. Hopefully they will marry one man and live intimately and lovingly with the same person until their old age. But sometimes things don’t work out that way. To me, what is important is to ground our children in a personal faith in GOD, not in marriage or circumstances in life. A spouse can abandon, but God will never abandon. A spouse can betray, but God has laid it all down for us, proving his faithfulness. We may feel lonely in our life’s journey, but in God we can find steadfast and fulfilling fellowship. So no matter what happens to our little girls as they grow up, if they are anchored in God, by trust, then they’ll not only be OK, but they will be prepared to face whatever comes their way.

Let us reject Disney and fairy tale parenting. Let us, instead, point our children to Christ, regardless of where life takes them.

 

 

Faith, Big Hands, and Preachers

As a parent of 4, I have learned that crossing the street with little ones can be tricky. Young children fidget and love to run while being completely unaware of danger. My grandmother taught me that I could not hold my children by the hand when crossing a busy street, but I needed to grab them securely by the wrist. That way, they couldn’t wiggle themselves away, even if they tried.

Many years ago, Gabriel (my autistic son), then a toddler, took off running while I was inside a store by a busy highway. He saw an open door and made a run for it. My daughter, Lizette, just 2 years older than him, caught up to him a lot quicker than I did, because I was 8 months pregnant with my third child. She latched on to his hand and tried to stop him, but he continued running, dragging not only himself but his sister into what would have ended up in their deaths, had it not been for a man who appeared out of nowhere and grabbed Gabriel firmly, stopping him from running. Yes, that was one of the scariest days of my life, but that’s not the point of this story.

The real point of the illustration is that when in danger, it matters greatly who we’re holding on to. My daughter, Lizette, was not strong enough to protect Gabriel. He needed a big enough set of hands to pick him off the ground into safe arms. So it’s not the act of holding someone’s hand, of reaching out, that saves. What matters is who we’re holding on to.

So much talk about faith, positive attitude, and good energy going around. My Facebook news feed continually shows messages from inspirational leaders, including some who claim to be Christian, whose main message is that we must have faith. But faith in what? In our plans? In our good wishes? In mysterious energy that travels where needed? Do we need faith so that “everything works out”? While the Bible talks about, or demonstrates, faith in just about every page of Scripture, it does not isolate nor exalts the exercise of faith over the object of our faith. According to Scripture, the only faith that is legitimate and real, is the one that believes God. God: Not what He does, not what He gives, but HIM. Biblical faith is directly linked to the object of our faith. But faith without an object is empty; And faith with a weak object is ineffective and trivial, just like holding on to another kid while crossing a busy highway.

Sometimes we tend to over-spiritualize faith, as if it were our faith that achieved results. The more faith we have, the better things turn out. If we are living a “blessed” life (it’s all relative, by the way), then that must mean we have great faith. Obviously the opposite would also be truth. Those who lack faith suffer of bad fortune. But faith for faith’s sake cannot possibly explain the state of our lives. Granted, if you have a positive outlook on life, you might be a happier person, in general, but other than optimism, faith without an object of faith, basically does nothing.

Who or what do we trust? Do we put our lives in the hands of a God who cares and loves and directs our lives with wisdom, justice, and grace? Or do we believe that we can change things, according to our own understanding, by the sheer power of our faith? When we pray, do we trust God enough to not give us what we ask? Do we truly trust that His love for us will often times deny us what we long for? Or do we plan our lives according to what we believe is good for us and demand, by “faith” that he conforms to our will?

If we trust and believe that there are bigger and stronger hands that can hold us, protect us, and provide for us, then that is good and legitimate faith. Whether things go our way or they don’t, our faith won’t change, because it will not be based on an outcome, but on our God. Even when things seem to fall apart, our faith in God can be strong and alive, because He doesn’t vacillate.

“It is not the strength of your faith but the object of your faith that actually saves you. Strong faith in a weak branch is fatally inferior to weak faith in a strong branch.” –Tim Keller–

From One Church Member to Another

Church friends, can I vent a little? I know we are generally well meaning, and I understand that we have good intentions. But we need to realize that our words are weighty. When we speak to each other in church meetings or prayer groups and talk about reaching the lost, let’s not use phrases like “we are called to love the unlovable” or “there are a lot of sinners out there” or “let us be open to receiving them (you know, the sinners).”

Statements such as these imply that the sinful and the unlovable are out of the church, and by default the lovable and the sinless are inside. We know better, right? We know the Bible says we are as unlovable as the next guy, yet despite ourselves, we are immensely loved. We know that we are sinners, every single one of us, forgiven sinners. We KNOW this. Yet, somehow, when we communicate with each other, we separate ourselves from “those” people, as if we were somehow better or more worthy. Let us remember we were DEAD in our sins, but Jesus, in his great mercy breathed life into us, called us by name, and rescued us. WE DID NOTHING other than believe. And we cannot even take credit for our belief, since we know that even faith is a gift from God.

The Gospel is God’s transforming truth for ALL of us, inside and outside the church. For some, it may be the welcoming into the kingdom of Christ. For others, it’s the shedding of a self-centered lifestyle. But that doesn’t change who we are: LOVED SINNERS. The Gospel is free! Let’s season our words so they say what we really mean. When we communicate, let us include ourselves in the sinners and the unlovable and the needy categories. Because we are. We are part of mankind, and mankind needs a Savior.

Venting complete.

Lessons from a Fantasy Princess: The Little Mermaid

Sam The Turtle

Little_Mermaid_The

*Series premise explained and Snow White examined in the first part: Lessons from a Fantasy Princess: Snow White*

 The Plot

lmericflute
A self-hating fish-woman craves the excitement, material splendor, and external genitalia of the surface world. Upon discovering a ship full of humans, she spies on them, becomes obsessed with a prince, and trades her voice to Ursula the Sea Witch for three days worth of legs. To make the change permanent she needs to obtain the true kiss of love or her deed of ownership will be transferred from Prince Eric back unto Ursula.

Ursula manages to leverage this initial bargain to guilt the king into giving up his magic trident, dignity, and status as a vertebrate. General mayhem ensues, and then Prince Eric drives his manly harpoon into the Seahag’s rear. Ariel’s voice is snatched back, more mayhem, and Prince Eric takes control of the situation by ramming the…

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