A Progressive Christian Blog

Changed for Good: Move Toward the Other

Wicked

Last week Kate and I went up to Portland’s Keller Auditorium to experience the Broadway show, Wicked. And believe you me, it’s as good as people tell you it is!

If you don’t know much about Wicked (which I did not), it tells the backstory of some of the characters from The Wizard of Oz. The story focuses on the Wicked Witch and Glinda the Good Witch. We learn that these two, before becoming witches, met one another as young girls at school. And they could not be more different from each other, and yet they develop a relationship that blooms into a friendship.

Elphaba (the Wicked Witch) is a social pariah. People strive to stay away from her.
Glinda is the most popular girl in school. People strive to be in her company.

Elphaba’s skin is a strange shade of green. The only one in her school.
Glinda’s skin is perfect and white. Just like every one else in school, but better.

Elphaba is super smart.
Glinda is… well… super pretty.

Elphaba comes from a life where she grew up being despised by her father.
Glinda was the prize jewel of her family.

Elphaba grew up with the primary responsibility to serve her sister’s every need.
Glinda grew up where people served her every need.

I could go on and on. But it is clear that these two are dissimilar in just about every way. If you were to imagine the opposite of one, you’d picture the other.

And that’s precisely what they were: the OTHER.

I Have Been Changed For Good

The show was ripe with brilliant  music, but my favorite came towards the end. During the climactic moment, when it looked like Elphaba’s doom was just around the corner, Glenda and Elphaba share a moment together and sing the song “For Good.”

Here’s a sampling of the lyrics:

I’ve heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them
And we help them in return
Well, I don’t know if I believe that’s true
But I know I’m who I am today
Because I knew you…

It well may be
That we will never meet again
In this lifetime
So let me say before we part
So much of me
Is made from what I learned from you
You’ll be with me
Like a handprint on my heart
And now whatever way our stories end
I know you have re-written mine
By being my friend…

Like a comet pulled from orbit
As it passes a sun
Like a stream that meets a boulder
Halfway through the wood
Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?
But because I knew you
I have been changed for good

(Elphaba):
And just to clear the air
I ask forgiveness
For the things I’ve done you blame me for

(Glinda):
But then, I guess we know
There’s blame to share

(Both):
And none of it seems to matter anymore

Who can say if I’ve been
Changed for the better?
I do believe I have been
Changed for the better

Because I knew you…
i belive I have been changed for good…
i have been changed, for good

Both witches came to this place of realization that their lives had been greatly affected by each other. That they both believe they are now better people because of their friendship. That they have been changed for the better because they know one another.

And isn’t that one of the most beautiful things that happens when we engage with the OTHER?

When we step outside of what’s “normal” to us.
When we intentionally seek out those who are different from us.
When we move towards the other.

Jesus Knew This

As much as some of you would prefer there to be a Bible verse that says, “and God declares it good that you shall move toward the other” (preferably by Paul, but we’d take it if it were Jesus), nothing really comes to mind.

But what DOES come to mind is, I believe, even better.

Rather than Jesus just TELLING us that there is value in moving toward the other, he SHOWS us.

He moved toward the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4.
He moved toward the woman caught in adultery in John 8.
He moved toward fisherman and a tax collector in Luke 5.
He moved toward a leper and a Roman centurion in Matt 8.
And the list goes on…

We see in Jesus what the Way of Love looks like, and it involves (in part) our willingness to seek out those who are different from us. But not so that we can change THEM, not with some ulterior motive or agenda, but because something beautiful emerges when two people who are so very different from each other learn to see each other as something more than just a label or a stereotype. When they are no longer the “them,” or “those people.” When we move toward the other, we make an effort to tear down the superficial walls that separate us and we open ourselves up to learn so much about who they are, what makes them tick, why they are so different… and in turn, we learn that much more about ourselves.

Wicked tells the story of two people who couldn’t be more different from each other, and yet the closer they moved toward one another the more changed they both become FOR THE GOOD.

Democrats, move toward Republicans and see them for who they are.
Whites, move towards Latinos and Asians.
Straights, move towards a gay person.
Young people, move towards an older person.
Rich, move towards the poor.
Healthy, move towards the sick.

You will be changed for the better. I promise you.

“You’re changing that boy’s life.”
“No… he’s changing mine.”
-Leigh Anne Tuoy, to her friend, talking about Michael Oher, in The Blind Side

 

7 Responses to “Changed for Good: Move Toward the Other”

  1. Montague

    I’m going to through up plushies and glitter. Gosh.

    Ok, I think I understand all the good reasons for which you posted this, but in many ways I want to offer a very strong caveat because this sounds a bit too much like trashy hollywood goo instead of wine and bread, as it were.

    Ok. So I’m “all for” understanding opposites and for empathy and for whatnot. I think I understand at least a little, because I’ve been friends – maybe only friends – to people who no one wanted to take care of. But really one cannot say that a boy mixin’ with the drug addicts and becoming like them by taking drugs is good. We want them to change – for the better. And if one meets an opposite, that opposite needs to have good qualities for one to take on, or else either only one benefits by taking on the other’s qualities, or one is harmed by taking on vices.

    But I’m all in a muddle. Let me simplify: becoming like someone else is only good if there is a good in that other person which you lack. To become mixed muddles of neither hot nor cold is not good – lukewarm has less in common with either hot or cold, than hot and cold have between them.

    My point being, it is easy to slide into compromise (and not enrichment or contrast – compromised means weakened) if one does not say “what is good is good, even if it conflicts with your vices”. Jesus does not want us to be cheating tax-collectors and prostitutes. He wants us – who were no better than these – to be saints. The middle way between mercy and justice, or Francis and Dominic, or Fire and Ice, is not the lukewarm compromise of the easy highway, but the Straight and Narrow Road that Christ is and showed us. This is most important.

    PS – of course I think all you mean to say is that we don’t love people by shunning them, and that unfamiliar things are often enough extremely good and enlarge us. I agree. I just am cautioning against abandonment to the utter dark, or letting the murderers free in the street, or making the Church anything but Bright, and Strong, and Absolute.

    Reply
    • colbymartin

      I would invite you to consider a more gracious tone, Montague. Thank you.

      No one said a boy should mix with drug addicts and become like them by taking drugs.
      If that somehow was communicated in this post, then I misspoke indeed!

      I didn’t feel the necessity of nuancing my point in the way you’ve deduced it to. I suppose a person could read this post and make the (highly irrational and illogical) conclusion that they should go find degenerates and become like them. But that would be foolish, and I doubt I’d ultimately be held responsible for such a conclusion.

      But I can certainly imagine a scenario where someone hangs out with a drug addict and discovers things such as:
      – what contributing factors in a persons life would lead them to drugs
      – what role, if any, does society play in empowering people to become addicts
      – what does it take to love an addict
      – how does addiction affect people, their families, their communities
      – many more

      And all of these would wonderfully change someone for the good.

      Anyways, I believe you got the gist of what I was saying. And I imagine if you felt people would possibly be swayed by my words to “abandon to the utter dark… let the murderers free in the street… make the Church dark, weak and wishy-washy,” then by all means, offer your clarifying words. They just felt a bit superfluous to me. Like you just wanted to make-a-point, perhaps?

      Reply
  2. Montague

    Yeah, sorry, I know I was a bit less than polite, which was…. impolite (Oh, the wonders of the obvious!)

    I know you don’t mean anything like that. I was being somewhat over-reactionary-like. I jus’ thunked that a bit o’ rough-and-tumble is healthy fo’ discussion an’ it’s good ta’ see around the whole thing. And of course modern culture is a LOT less scrupled when it come to this sort of thing than you are.

    The weird accent was for no reason by the way.

    I think it is a grand thing that the Church is just about the only place (when the going is bad, of course) where people actually can find real love and support, and I’m all behind that.

    Reply
  3. Thomas Nicoll

    Colby, since you have some interest in Rene Girard’s ideas, I think you may like Suzanne Ross’s book, The Wicked Truth. She uses Wicked to explicate Girard’s mimetic scapegoating mechanism.

    Reply

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