Sunday, April 26, 2015

Hairspray and Baltimore

This past weekend, the students at Sharon High School put on three excellent performances of the Broadway musical Hairspray.  Everyone involved from Mr. McCauley, the director, and Nathan Matt, the choreographer, to all the students, staff and parents are to be highly commended for an exceedingly high-level production.  The leads were wonderful, the supporting cast excellent, the very large ensemble was used creative and effectively, and the dancing was complicated and done with great precision.  Sharon's music program is a strength for our community, and seeing the great support from throughout the community in the audience was heartening.

For anyone who couldn't make it (or isn't a fan of John Travolta and Ricki Lake), Hairspray is about the integration of a local TV dance show by a plump teenager.  That the edginess in Sharon's staging came more from comedic innuendo than social commentary may be a testament to how far we've come.  Certainly racism exists in Sharon, but it sits beside effective camaraderie, genuine respect, true friendship, and even real love.  Life in our community is far from perfect, but on the whole our children seem to cross racial lines much more easily than our parents, and that is movement in the right direction.

I do hope, however, that as our children sang and danced this weekend about the racial and social problems of Baltimore in 1962, somebody is sharing with them what has been happening in Baltimore this weekend.  On stage Saturday night, Tracy Turnblad, the show's lead, asks her gym class what scatter dodgeball is and one of her friends replies, "It's like a protest rally when the police show up -- you scatter and dodge."  At about the same time, outside Camden Yards where the Orioles and Red Sox were playing, a small group of protesters smashed windows in cars and were met by police in riot gear.  (See the NYTimes article for more details.)  Granted, much of day's rally of a thousand racially-diverse protestors was peaceful, and the issues around Freddie Gray's death are more complex than dealing with a racist TV-producer and a nervous sponsor.  But the issues our students addressed on stage are found as easily in headlines of the Baltimore Sun today as they were in 1962. 

(photo credit Sarah McCauley)

The world our children are growing up in may much less black and white than it was fifty years ago.  Questions of creating a society of justice and equality where the rights and dignity of all people are upheld requires a lot more than letting children dance and sing together.  At the same time, helping young people from different racial, ethnic, and linguistic backgrounds create something artistic and beautiful together might just give them the foundation of the relationships, attitudes and the experiences necessary to take on the bigger challenges.  Our young people were very well prepared to work together wonderfully on the stage.  Our community's responsibility is to prepare them equally well to work together to address the problems that haven't yet been tied up in a grand musical finale.     

Friday, April 3, 2015

Footwashing Postlude

After a moving Maundy Thursday service, I got home in time to take Heidi out for her evening walk.  (For more on walking Heidi, read this.) We had a significant amount of rain that day, so the sidewalk was wet and the grass was muddy. After the dog tromped through lawns and sidewalks with her short legs and low-clearance belly, she was wet and not entirely clean.
When we got home, I did what I always do on such nights. I stopped Heidi on the mat inside the door, grabbed a towel, and proceeded to clean her feet.

Heidi's foot

When cleaning Heidi's paws, usually I am only thinking about keeping the mud on the dog from getting on the furniture.  After having just washed more than a dozen human feet last night, I was thinking more about why washing the dog's feet seemed so straightforward and washing human feet seemed so extraordinary that it required a liturgical action following a special instruction from Jesus.

Most acts of love are very simple acts of doing what needs to be done to take care of someone (or some dog).  Feet are dirty and they need to be washed.  People are hungry and they need to be fed. Loneliness sets in and someone needs a listening ear.  Diapers are dirty and need to be changed.  People fall into the power of sin and need to be saved.  Not a lot of room for ego or false sentimentality.

To receive acts of love, however, requires that we accept that something needs to be done for us.  Our feet need to be washed, our basic needs have to be met, we are not emotionally self-sufficient, and we have all messed up and need forgiveness and redemption.  The problem with washing human feet is not that we find other people's feet smelly and disgusting, but that we are unwilling to admit that someone else might be able to do something that we need.  "You will never wash my feet," we say along with Peter.  Or, if we consider allowing someone to meet our needs, we would rather be pampered than loved.  Demanding the full spa treatment keeps us in control and makes receiving love a luxury we are important enough to merit rather than a gift that we need. 

My dog has none of those issues.  She just wants to get her feet and belly wiped off as quickly as possible.  She hasn't seen the rest of the family for twenty whole minutes and she wants to jump up on their beds and lick their faces.  And if they are unshod and dirty, she will happily clean everyone's feet, as well.