“Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.”
That line – the very last line of the song “I Dreamed a Dream” from the play/film Les Miserables – has always touched me deep inside.
There are people down through the centuries who could sing that line … in fact, that entire song … with just as much passion as Anne Hathaway’s Fantine character did in the just-released movie.
Like Fantine, they’ve experienced a taste of the best that life has to offer … but then circumstances have gone horribly wrong for them, and they find themselves just hoping to survive.
That’s one of the things that struck me most about the film version of Les Miserables. The people in the movie were all doing their best just to cling to life for another day.
I read Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables in ninth grade – albeit an abridged version – and learned that it served as the inspiration for 1960’s The Fugitive TV show, starring David Janssen (real name: David Meyer). I’ve also been privileged to see the musical twice, the last time in London’s West End, and our family has owned the music on cassette/CD for years. (My daughter Sarah knows every word of the musical by heart.)
But I can’t stop the tears whenever I hear “I Dreamed a Dream” or “Bring Him Home.” And that’s good.
Those songs are filled with such emotion … and passion … and authenticity. They put into words how so many people feel about God … and pain … and life.
When we attended the movie on Christmas Day, the bald-headed guy in front of me was pushing back tears as well.
But my first thought when I left the theater was this one:
Where is this kind of emotion in our churches today?
I love the Lord. I love His Word. I love His people.
But I must confess … I am rarely moved emotionally in church anymore.
In fact, sometimes I think that Christian leaders have systematically tried to remove authentic emotion from worship services.
Just hear me for a moment.
My wife and I have visited more than 50 churches in the past 3 years. 90% of the churches use the same format.
There’s 15-20 minutes of worship music, followed by the pastor’s message, which lasts 30-60 minutes.
(Prayers, announcements, and taking the offering are placed in different slots, depending upon the church.)
Are believers moved emotionally during the worship time? Sometimes, but if you look around during that time, you’ll see that many believers aren’t singing at all.
Are believers moved during the message? Sometimes, but it usually depends upon whether or not the pastor himself seems moved … and many pastors aren’t.
Over the past 10 years, I have noticed that most churches have gradually eliminated 4 service elements that did produce authentic emotion: dramatic vignettes, presentation songs, personal testimonies, and illustrations during the pastor’s message.
*Dramatic vignettes – which originally came from Willow Creek Community Church – could be humorous, but they could also be deeply touching emotionally. Over the past 3 years, I have seen zero dramas in churches.
*Presentation songs featured a soloist or a duet or an ensemble singing a song that the congregation couldn’t possibly sing. The songs usually tied in to the theme of that morning’s service. (Someone from Willow once sang “I Dreamed a Dream” during weekend services.) Over the past 3 years, I can only remember seeing performance songs at two churches – both in Phoenix – and one of them was at our home church there, Christ’s Church of the Valley, which offers one or two performance songs every weekend.
(The first time I attended a Leaders’ Conference at Willow in 1990, I was more moved emotionally during a two-hour slot of dramas/performance songs than I had been in the previous 20 years of attending worship services combined.)
*Personal testimonies are presented either live or on video. CCV offered at least two personal testimonies on video every month, and they were usually very touching, often shown in the middle of the pastor’s message. (Rick Warren used to do this as well, although I don’t know if he does it anymore.)
*Illustrations during a pastor’s message used to be a given, but you would be surprised at (a) how many pastors don’t use even one story during their whole message, and (b) how many pastors use stories to stir people intellectually but fail to move them emotionally.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that our worship times should be full of emotion as opposed to truth. We are to love God with our whole heart, soul, strength, and mind. But I am sincerely wondering where the heart has gone.
While we need truth to pass through our heads so it stirs our hearts, I wonder if we’re really afraid of our own God-given emotions.
When Neil Diamond sang “I Dreamed a Dream” on his Hot August Night 2 album, he changed the last line to this one:
“But life can’t kill the dream I dreamed.”
(Here’s his version with lyrics attached: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JzwhgJnCQCQ)
Why did he do that? Maybe he didn’t feel comfortable singing the real line because he wanted to end the song on a positive note … I really don’t know. But in so doing, he negated Fantine’s true feelings as she ended the song.
Provided someone sang that song during a service at your church, would they be permitted to sing the line as written or would someone make them change it?
I’ve had a theory for years that people will flock to worship services where they feel free to laugh and to cry.
People certainly flock to films and concerts and plays where that’s the case.
Maybe the film Les Miserables – shot through with Christian themes and an explicit Christian ending – can teach us that again.
More next time.