A few weeks ago we went to see the musical ‘The Greatest Showman’…for the second time. Since the first time round we have listened to the soundtrack almost every day. On any given night you may find our household washing and drying up while also dancing and singing along to the songs. (We’re on our eighth month without a dishwasher, we need something to cheer our way through the mounds of dishes.)
A little warning, if you have yet to watch the movie, there are spoilers ahead.
The film is very loosely based on historical fact from what I’ve read, but it does a great job of telling a story. Coming from the lowest rungs of society Barnum dreams of doing something with his life. His motivation is to build a life for himself and his childhood sweetheart and later wife, Charity. He is a dreamer, a risk taker and a pioneer. He likes to push the boundaries. He makes a theatrical spectacular out of people with ‘unique’ gifts and physical attributes, a circus. He becomes their champion, though some criticize him for exploiting them.
It’s not enough though. Barnum’s flawed character feels the need to prove himself yet more. He dreams of more, and when an opportunity comes along for bigger audiences and a break into higher society, he pushes aside the people who have helped his success so far. He is greedy for success. He isn’t around for his wife and family as he is so consumed with his next project, the Swedish singer Jenny Lind who becomes a musical sensation across America. Eventually disaster strikes. The tour with the singer Jenny Lind blows up in his face. His theatre burns down. He loses his house. His wife and children go back to her parents. The bank doesn’t want to lend him any more money. He’s broken.
At his lowest, as the people he pushed aside gather round him and offer their support, he realizes he had forgotten who his efforts were all for. He’d cared for the accolades, the applause, the recognition, the spotlights, the money, more than for the people who loved him. He asks for forgiveness from his wife and others and promises to do things differently, ‘from now on’.
All this with eleven great songs. We loved it.
The most talked about theme in the movie is the celebration of humanity, but the themes that struck me more in Barnum’s story is fall, repentance, redemption and restoration. The oldest of themes.
Barnum’s flaw is a one common to us all. When the what we do and achieve becomes more important than the who we do it for, sooner or later things will become unhealthy and unbalanced. It will get messy. In the movie Barnum’s own success became a consuming passion for him, making him blind to the pitfalls he had created. It led to hurt, mess and broken relationships. Pride and greed were his subtle enemies. They’re enemies to us all. When pride creeps in and corrupts our motivation, we start to serve our own interests above anyone else’s.
As a christian I believe Jesus is the ‘who’ at the centre of life, and His love is the motivator. Yet christians, like anyone, can fall into the Barnum trap. Sometimes we’re so focused on what we’re doing we can forget the who. We can get so consumed with what we’re ‘called’ to do rather than concerned with the ‘who’ we serve. When we get this switched round the wrong way we’re prone to move towards self-promotion, seeking glory for ourselves, rather than serving humbly, giving all the glory to Jesus.
In the end when Barnum knew he was hopeless, he had to rely on his friends to redeem him and enable him to start again. All humanity needs redemption. The Holy Spirit is the one who makes us come alive to realize this. In our brokenness we have the opportunity to return to the One who really matters. The One who can transform our lives to be something of beauty for Him. He’s there, a loving Father waiting for our return. We repent and receive grace, because our friend and saviour Jesus Christ paid our debt. We come home to God who loves us even in our mess. He gives us a new start, no matter how many times we fall.
‘From Now On’ is our favourite song from The Greatest Showman. It’s a song of return, almost of repentance. A song about coming home. It’s a great one to belt out when you’re swinging a tea towel.
‘And we will come back home, and we will come back home. Home again!’