Mission and Musicals

So, this happened:

Mormon joySummer frizz, right there. (In a moment of vanity I released my hair from its bun for the photo.) 

Rather optimistically, my July bucket list included mention of The Book of Mormon – a musical I’ve tried to see four times in the last couple of months, but as yet, had not managed to. (The soundtrack has been played so many times I’m pretty much word perfect.) The thing is, it’s the most popular musical in the West End. It’s instigated airline pricing (tickets go up in price as demand increases) and you need to book months and months in advance. A while ago, a friend offered me a spare ticket – the catch? Its £95 price tag.

However, it has brought with it from Broadway the tradition of holding a lottery prior to every performance, with the front row up for grabs for the very reasonable price of £20. [Keen readers and friends may remember that only Legally Blonde has done this in the West End. I got lucky with that show on my first attempt.] I’d entered the draw four times previously, to no avail (although the process is a fun one), but on my fifth attempt got lucky – very lucky.

For the uninitiated, The Book of Mormon was the work of the creators of South Park (and in turn, two of my favourite soundtracks – South Park: The Movie and Team America) and the co-writer/composer of Avenue Q. If you know anything about any of those TV programmes/movies/musicals, you’ll begin to understand what the nature of the show is. It is not an advert for the Mormon church, or really, any church that does what’s viewed by the secular world as ‘mission’. Two young Mormon men head out on their two year mission, finding themselves in a Ugandan village where no one cares about God or Mormonism…

The opening number of The Book of Mormon as the opening number at the 2012 Tony Awards

I loved it. The front row didn’t mean an obscured view or neck craning – it meant being so close to the cast that their sweat practically dripped on you. The staging wasn’t quite what I’d assumed from the soundtrack; the plot was slightly different than I’d figured out; the costumes and dancing were awesome; the missionaries were hot… I could go on. I knew (even though I couldn’t see them) that every member of the full house audience was having a whale of a time.

I loved it, and yet at times, I had a strange sense of misgiving. Should a trainee vicar really be enjoying a musical that pokes fun at religion? [Basically, yes. I’ve just written a piece on Threads about this.] What about people I have a lot of respect for who happen to be Mormon – like favourite blogger Courtney – would they be offended that I’d seen it and enjoyed it? [Interestingly, the Mormon church has used it as an opportunity to promote itself. Any interest in Mormons is good interest, apparently, and a campaign to ‘ask a Mormon’ appeared on the escalators of Piccadilly station when the show opened.] Then there was its depiction of Uganda which was inaccurate and stereotypical – shouldn’t the producers have known better? [Probably, but I guess it’s a plot device.]

But I came up with a theory. Yes, the show poked fun at Mormon missionary methods – ringing doorbells and speaking from the same script – but in doing this, it became a fascinating exploration of how to do mission contextually. In many ways, the things the missionaries get up to reminded me of Barbara Kingslover’s The Poisonwood Bible which tells the tale of a missionary family in 1960’s Congo doing things that would make modern day missiologists’ hair stand on end! Adapting to context? I don’t think so! There’s a brilliant scene just after the Elders reach Uganda, where they try to go door to door, ringing doorbells to speak to people – only to discover that Ugandan huts don’t have doorbells.

It’s only when Elder Cunningham begins to adapt the Book of Mormon to the villagers’ concerns that they start to come alongside the Mormons. They are threatened by a local war lord who wants all the women of the village circumcised; people believe sex with virgins will cure AIDS; and they are all threatened by disease – quite reasonably, the Ugandans ask what Joseph Smith has to say about all these things. Of course, FGM and AIDS aren’t mentioned in the scriptures, so Elder Cunningham (who’s a self-confessed fantasist) makes things up so that it does – throwing in some Star Trek and Star Wars references along the way. He lies, but in doing so, is actually beginning to contextualise the gospel he’s trying to share.

Obviously, lying in order to make a message relevant isn’t right and that’s not what I’m suggesting mission ought to be. But, we do know that Jesus would – for example – have spoken out on how to prevent dysentery, had he known how and had it been a major issue in 1st century Palestine. [For all I know, it might have been!] Basically, if we’re to learn one important theological lesson from this musical, it’s that we should approach mission not like clean-cut, try-hard Elder Price, but like short, fat and geeky Elder Cunningham – only with less of the fantastical fusion of scripture with sci-fi. [Oh, and there are always theological lessons to be learnt from musicals, seriously.]

Ultimately, we just need to truly believe…

You *need* to watch this – you’ll laugh, I promise. (Again, from the Tonys, this time in 2011.)

Getting 2010 ready

I’ve long been bemused by the fact that next year’s calendars always appear during the height of summer. It’s probably because I usually only buy mine in mid-January when they’re half-price. Anyway, lately a few have caught my attention, so I thought I should share…
First off, a quality article, perfect for those Vicars/Church Wardens/PCC members (or in Methodist terms: Ministers/Stewards) in your life: Dave Walker’s ‘Situations Vacant’

This has been a perfect birthday present addition for my Dad for the last couple of years, as we regularly do some father-daughter bonding over the cartoons. Beats trying to discuss theology with him!
Then, for the devout Catholics/High Church Anglicans, the Calendario Romano. Otherwise known as the ‘hot priests calendar’, though I suspect they’re not actually priests. C has this one on his desk (to show a spirit of ecumenism), and I’m putting an order in for 2010’s when my parents visit Rome next week. Below is 2009’s ‘Father July’ who we liked so much that he’s actually been up since the beginning of May. (Fathers May and June were not so hot.)

Last year, I discovered the Mormon ‘Men on a Mission’ calendar, which is rather gratuitous. (Even more so than moody black & white shots of priests.) This year, they’ve also launched ‘Hot Mormon Muffins: A Taste of Motherhood’ – a female version, complete with muffin recipes. I will admit that this is tacky in the extreme.

I realise these are all religion themed, which is actually entirely accidental. But you’ve got to admit, they’re all better than one containing 12 beautiful shots of British roundabouts!

Concurring

Today, in another of my Mormon blogs, Elizabeth has basically spoken out on behalf of half the world’s population. In a post entitled ‘to all my homegirls out there’, she pretty much sums up what life can be like as a 21st century unmarried woman.

She begins the post with an extract from an online chat in which her friend concludes:
“he is also a boy…and therefore an idiot.”

Exactly. Idiot boys.
I totally concur.

Incidentally, regarding Mormons. I’ve discovered why the Mormonism has suddenly become more apparant in the blogs. July 24th was Pioneer Day (a state holiday in Utah) commemorating the arrival of the first group of Mormon Pioneers to the state. I’m familiar with most of the US holidays (Labour Day, Presidents Day, Memorial Day, July 4th etc) but this was a new one on me!

And finally, thanks for the birthday wishes! The best thing about birthdays? Surprises.

I got 4 presents from my sister (ranging in size, she’s not that generous!), 2 of which I was expecting, 2 were total surprises, particularly ‘Stock Aitken Waterman Gold’! So as I write I’m reliving my 8 year old past and singing along to Jason Donovan. Wonderful.

What do you know about…

…Mormons?

Ok, this is a little out of the blue, as it sounds a tad intellectual and isn’t about my birthday/how old I’m getting/random nakedness in the parks of London/knitting…

I’ve just realised that a lot of the random blogs I read (& when I say ‘read’, I mean ‘I have RSS feeds on’) are written by Mormons. Bear in mind that my igoogle reader is divided into “Friends’ blogs”, “Church-y blogs” and “American blogs”, and the last category has a substantial number of those ‘look how cute my baby is’ blogs in it.

Anyway, I’m not saying that Mormonism is a bad thing, but simply that I know virtually nothing about the denomination!

Most of what I do know I learnt over the last couple of weeks whilst watching Angels in America. (Incidentally, highly, highly recommended. Had me laughing and crying almost simultaneously. Just don’t attempt to watch it in its original 2 x 3 hour parts!) Which was mostly to do with their views on angels & homosexuality as well as their history in America.

Plus, I think the Metro featured something recently on a naked Mormon missionary calendar, which for some unknown reason, caught my attention. The aptly named Mormons Exposed project is something of a delight but has led to men being asked to leave the church.

Other than that, sometime ago I learnt that there are quite a few Mormons in Tonga and that their main method of reaching the youth of the islands was through the construction of basketball courts next to their churches, which is very attractive in a country with not a great deal of youth culture.

Anyway, I guess it’s just because I’ve not come across many here, and I really resonate with a lot of the writing on these blogs that I’ve been struck by my lack of knowledge. And I really like to know stuff about stuff!
So I guess I’ll be off to Wikipedia then…