I have seen many Broadway shows over my lifetime. I have seen big productions. I have seen original casts. I have seen them in London, New York, Chicago, San Francisco. I have seen the big time. But I have never seen anything like Hamilton. Wow!
A congregant commented on my Facebook page that the production was life changing, and I quickly fired back, “That isn’t even an exaggeration!” I was overcome by emotion. On at least 4 separate occasions I found myself openly weeping. For those who haven’t seen it, this will sound like completely overblowing the whole thing, but believe me when I tell you, this was something else entirely!
As I have been reflecting on the show the last several days, I think I figured out why it was so meaningful to me. It complicates everything. It does not allow us to sit on our laurels and accept things as they are. It takes a format of show and twists it in such a way as to ensure that Broadway will never be the same. You can guarantee that musicals will be using rap for the next decade trying to capture some small bit of what Lin Manuel Miranda did with Hamilton.
It also complicates our history. We have this view of our founders that they were somehow super human and incapable of mistakes. There are clear good guys and bad guys in those stories as we tell them. However, this musical adds beautiful nuance that does not allow for the same old depiction of our history.
Alexander Hamilton may be the “good guy,” but he is by no means a saint. He is the workaholic, the brash and overly competitive braggart, the absentee husband and father. He is human. As is every one of the founders that you encounter in the play. Not only that, but the natural villain of this story, Aaron Burr, is also portrayed as wonderfully complex. He is sympathetic and beautiful. It is easy to see yourself being reflected in any of the characters.
The people who you might be naturally inclined to root for are deeply flawed. The people that you want to root against become those who most reflect the mistakes that you too have made as a person. None of the characters come out clean, but all have their brokenness on display.
Somehow, from this mess comes the United States. It isn’t taught that way in school. It is orderly, it is pretty, it is filled with simplifications that make the founders appear as divine. Hamilton does not allow for that. In Truth…that is a far better story. It makes sense that none of what went into this country was clean and perfect.
That is what all of this leads to. Grace.
Instead of having this perfect version of unimpeachable people in our heads, we are given people who are just as in need of God’s grace as all the rest of us. That is the beauty of Hamilton. It forces us to witness the grace that was abounding amidst the sins of our forefathers (and mothers).
That is why the Bible is so deeply meaningful as well. Not a single character in that book comes off perfect. All are in need of grace.
One reason that this is so deeply important is what it means for each one of us. History is not disconnected from any of us. It is easy to be tempted into a view that tells you that those who make/change history are somehow above the rest of us. They are beyond us mere mortals. But no. We mere mortals are the ones who are called upon to be a part of the larger story that God is weaving.
It is reassuring and beautiful, but it is also a powerful reminder of the responsibility that we have to one another. We can’t wait for others to make the change we want to see in the world. We have to be the change we want to see.