Wednesday, January 3, 2007

new perspective on same old story

Last night I was revisiting an old musical soundtrack favorite of mine, Children of Eden. My high school, Wauwatosa East, was always very well-known for putting on spectacular musicals. I started attending them when I was a middle schooler and never missed a production. My senior year they were one of the first high schools in the state to perform Les Mis and did a truly amazing job. Anyway, wanting to continue the tradition of attending the musicals, I returned my freshman year of college to see their spring show, Children of Eden. I was slightly reluctant as I am an agnostic myself and not so much a huge fan of the Christianity. But they had done an incredible production of Godspell the fall of my senior year, so I figured I'd give this one a try too. And I didn't regret it. At the risk of this being the most boring post ever, I wanted to share a little bit about it. Because I think many times we look too hard at something and miss what is really there. For example, the Bible. Ok, my disclaimer is that I am a liberal, agnostic, unitarian, feminist and a whole lot of other stuff that might provoke anger or just simple disagreement in those of the more "right" leaning persuasion. Anything I state is simply an opinion, obviously.

So moving on ... the musical moves through some of the familiar parts of the old testament, beginning with Genesis and the whole creation and Adam and Eve in Eden, the tree of knowledge, the snake, etc. etc. Then it follows Adam and Eve out of Eden and the growth of their sons Cain and Abel, showing the infamous death of Abel resulting in the wrath of the Father who places a curse on the line of Cain. This first Act ends with the impending death of Eve, who prays that the following generations will be able to regain their lost garden.

Act II is the familiar tale of Noah's Ark. Noah is busy building his ark and his family is preparing for the big flood. His two older sons Ham and Shem have wives, but his youngest son Japheth shocks the family by declaring his love for the servant girl Yonah, who is a descendent of the race of Cain. He decides to sneak Yonah onto the ark, which again brings about the wrath of God, who was hoping to erase the race of Cain. It continues to rain and rain and the family finally discovers Japheth's secret. Noah must make a decision without the help of the Father, who has stopped "speaking" to him. He decides to give Yonah and Japheth his blessing, and God realizes that he must give his children (humanity) the power to decide their own fate. The rains clear and they find dry land.

The thing that is so great about this play, in my opinion, is that it treats these biblical tales very much as a story of family and the relationships between parents and children. It puts an entirely new spin on some of the stories, such as Eve and the apple. In Act I, Father creates Adam and Eve and he loves them as his children and wants to protect them from everything. Adam is very complacent and child-like, but Eve on the other hand yearns for knowledge and to discover what lies beyond. Her eating the apple symbolizes the desire of every child to grow their own wings and begin to live for themselves. Father becomes very angry because he wanted to protect his children, and once their innocence is gone he can no longer do that. Adam is then made to choose between staying with Father in the garden or eating the apple and going with Eve. After much deliberation (including him asking Eve if she would take her actions back if given the chance...) he decides that he cannot live without Eve. Father sees them as ungrateful children and expells them from the garden, telling them to work themselves and bear their own children so that they might understand what he is now going through.

As Cain and Abel grow up they end up mirroring Adam and Eve in many ways. Abel is content doing the daily farm work and helping his parents, and hoping that one day they will once again receive communication from their silent Father. Cain on the other hand yearns for the land beyond and decides to leave. He returns telling his father that he has found proof of other humans. Adam admits that he has seen these other humans, but was afraid of what it meant. A fight ensues between father and son. When Abel attempts to intervene to stop the fight he is accidently killed at the hand of Cain. This is when the curse is put on his line, and he disappears into the wilderness.

Interestingly, during this time, Adam and Eve do not seem to be regretful of the choice they made to eat from the tree of knowledge. They continue to pray and hope that they will regain communication with their Father, but they are happy to be independent as well. In one song they state, And I remember in someone else's garden long ago/ We had all we could eat / But it seems the fruit our own hands grow / Somehow tastes twice as sweet ... Look at what we've got / Only what we made ourselves / Though it's next to nothing / Look how rich we are / Funny now how Eden doesn't seem so far. The final song that Eve sings, where she wishes for future generations to "find their way home" doesn't seem to be so much about giving up the knowledge and the independence they found, but about being able to find a balance between that an innocence. And also being accepted again by Father.

The relationship between Noah and Japheth in Act II is very similar to that of Father and Adam & Eve in Act I. Japheth disobeys his father by sneaking Yonah onto the ark. However, Noah's decision is different than Father's was. He sings the song "Hardest Part of Love" which explores this exact dynamic, while Noah thinks about how he would like to protect his son and tell him just how to live his life. But he realizes, But you cannot close the acorn / Once the oak begins to grow / And you cannot close your heart / To what it fears and needs to know / That the hardest part of love / Is the letting go. Father is listening in on all of this and realizes that Noah is right. He then joins in, singing The deeper is your love for them/ The crueler is the cost / And just when they start to find themselves / Is when you fear they're lost. Father realizes that he was expecting to much of his children (humanity) and must let go, allowing them to make their own decisions. This is when he clears the skies and places the fate of humanity into their own hands.

The final song "In the Beginning" sums it all up:

Japheth & Yonah:

This step is once again our first
We set our feet upon a virgin land
We hold the promise of the earth
In our hands...

Add Noah & Mama:
No flood from heaven comes again
No deluge will destroy and purify
We hold the fate of man and men
In our hands...

Add Family:
Now at this dawn so green and glad
We pray that we may long remember
How lovely was the world we had
In the beginning...

All except Father:
Of all the gifts we have received
One is most precious and most terrible
The will of each of us is free
It's in our hands

And if we hear a voice
If he speaks again, our silent father
All he will tell us is the choice
Is in our hands

Our hands can choose to drop the knife
Our hearts can choose to stop the hating
For ev'ry moment of our life
Is the beginning...

There is no journey gone so far
So far we cannot stop and change direction
No doom is written in the stars

All except Father:
It's in our hands...

We cannot know what will occur
Just make the journey worth the taking
And pray we're wiser than we were
In the beginning
It's the beginning
Now we begin...

Children of Eden
Grant us your pardon
All that we leave to you
is the unknown

Children of Eden
Seek for your garden
You and your children to come
Some day to come home

First and foremost I think this play reminds us that everything that has been written is open to interpretation, especially something written centuries ago and translated countless times by the hands of (subjective) men. We should not be so quick to assume meaning nor should we take things so literally. I particularly like how Eve is portrayed. Rather than being shown as all susceptible to "temptation" she was shown as thirsting for knowledge and the "spark of creation" that she speaks of in one of the songs. These themes are age old and span across civilizations. The most profound part I think is the personification of God as "Father." He is portrayed as very human, susceptible to strong emotions, love, feelings of betrayal, sadness, happiness, etc. He is also shown as susceptible to error in judgment and open to changing his mind. I think we can look at this as showing that things change, and the Bible, whether one believes they should be read as true stories or myths, should not be seen as the final word on anything. If "God" or whatever possible spiritual being might have created humanity is like a parent, we should bear in mind that parents are human. They change their minds, they (gasp) make mistakes and aren't always right -- even when they think they are looking out for us.

Ok, so enough of that boring spiel on the very foundations of Christianity ... once again, only opinions! I also might come back and make changes as this is basically a sort of stream of consciousness. If you don't enjoy those -- stay away from this blog! I've found that there are lots of topics I like to "stream" about, but I don't want to do it in my journal because I always get tired of writing about a quarter of the way through and can't write fast enough to get down all my thoughts before they are forgotten. Hence the typing. Here. Lucky you!

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