Thoughts On The Greatest Showman

What did I get out of The Greatest Showman? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

My wife and I had a Fandango gift card and so we went with another couple from our church to see this movie yesterday. There are no doubt some readers who are more familiar with the history of P.T. Barnum than I am. I cannot comment on if the history in the movie is accurate, so what I’m going to do is to just take the story as is. If we granted the story presented was accurate, what can we get from it? Also, as should be obvious, there are spoilers here. I will tell where spoilers end.

The story starts with Barnum growing up in a poor society and trying to impress a girl who has the rich snobby parents. He writes to her regularly while she’s at finishing school and then shows up at her door to marry her. Her father is sure that she’ll be back where there is money.

Barnum loves his wife, Charity, and their two little girls, but wants to be able to do more for them. He goes with the idea of starting a show where he has wax figures of dead and gruesome figures from the past, but his daughters suggest that he needs something living. Barnum starts by going to find a midget he had seen earlier in the film and from there, gets the oddest and most talented group he can, such as trapeze artists, a dog boy, a man covered in tattoos, the world’s tallest man, the world’s heaviest man, and the bearded lady.

Barnum’s show is a hit with many of the masses, but the critics of society do not like it. Also, there regularly show up people in the community who are angry about the glamorization of the freaks. Barnum’s whole point throughout is encouraging those who society has shamed to rise above. Let themselves be themselves and let people love them not because they are like everyone else, but because they are different.

Barnum gets himself a partner in Phillip Carlyle. After that, he’s invited with his troupe to go see the Queen of England. There, he runs into the star singer Jenny Lind. He offers to take her on tour in America with him, leaving his family and his entourage behind there. On the trip, Lind and he start getting close. Nothing happens until her last performance where she kisses him live on stage where the cameras see it.

Barnum returns where his troupe he gathered around him feels rejected by him and his wife is leaving him because she’s seen the pictures and says he doesn’t love her. He loves himself. There is a fight also between the protesters and Barnum’s troupe and the building where the shows are at burns down. Barnum has hit rock bottom.

It’s at this point he is reminded by that band of misfits that he found that they are why he started this and he remembers what is important. He is able to reunite to his wife and he and Carlyle agree to be partners. They don’t need a building. A tent will do. The show does indeed go on!

END SPOILERS

As my wife and I left, I told her I figured I would blog on this to which she replied there wasn’t anything religious in the film. I told her that that was quite mistaken. Everything is to some extent religious. Christianity has something to say about everything and despite what many skeptics might think, our world has been greatly shaped by Christianity. So what are some things I gleaned from this film?

We could ask what is a human first off. The characters Barnum had were all considered freaks by the protesters and shouldn’t be put on display. But why? We could all understand not wanting to put bad behavior on display, but that’s not what was going on. The people were being rejected because of who they were. They were different. They didn’t fit in.

As someone on the spectrum married to someone on the spectrum, this is something I definitely resonated with. Yet here, Christianity has something else to see. All human beings are valuable because they are in the image of God even if they’re a dog boy or a bearded lady. Everyone is someone who bears the image of God and was made to be loved by Him and by us.

Second, what does it mean to be successful? Barnum wanted more and more, and to an extent that’s understandable, but at times, he lost sight of his family. It as if he got so caught up in providing for his kids that he forgot about his kids. He wanted to provide what would make his wife happy forgetting that she loved him when he had nothing and he is what made her happy. There are many people that can be successes in ministry, but sadly their families are left damaged due to them neglecting their family. Ministry to God does not mean that you neglect your ministry to your family.

Third, we could then ask what is a family and what is friendship. Many of us know about friends that we have that we would consider them family. When I lived with a roommate for awhile, we went to a bookstore and I knew he wanted the apologetics study Bible. I went up to the counter asking if they had it in thinking I would surprise him if I found it for him and got told, “Oh. Your brother was up here already asking for it.”

Biological brother? Not at all, but there is a way that a friend can be closer than a brother. Many have also had families that were less than stellar and they turn to friends to be a surrogate family of sorts. Barnum’s friends managed to come together to form a unity based on their being the rejected misfits of the world. The acceptance they missed with others they found with each other.

This isn’t to say that a family is just any relationship you want. Still, we can have such great friendships that friends will seem like family. If you have a bad family, you can find comfort and support in the good people that you do allow in your life.

Also, I think this movie would not be possible without a Christian worldview that says that each person matters and that something should not be despised for being different. Chesterton said the same about Christianity making childhood something special and so we have Peter Pan. If Christianity is true, everyone has something they can give to the Kingdom.

If you’re wanting to know about how the acting was and such in this, I’m not the one to comment on that. It is a musical and I think the music is great. My wife and I are planning on getting the soundtrack soon. Definitely, this is a film I am glad I went to see and is quite memorable.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Reaching Roger

What’s it like reaching someone with questions? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

My friend Roger Maxson has written about his experiences of almost losing his faith and then coming back to it. Part one is here and part two is here. You can also hear the story in my interview with him here and watch it on YouTube here. I figure prominently in the story so I figured, and he liked the idea, that I would write about what it was like on the other end. It might be interesting to some of you to see what this process is like from the end of the apologist.

When I was in Bible College, I found out about apologetics and it quickly became a passion of mine. Most people who knew me knew about it. It’s not a shock that when I go to a workplace I’m told one of my co-workers is also a ministry student and goes to another Bible college. I won’t mention it’s name, but this college was fundamentalist to the core. This ministry student was Roger Maxson.

Roger and I had our share of disagreements and kidding, but we had a good friendship. With our third friend Jeremy, we would often go out into town and visit bookstores or things of that sort. Roger would have probably considered me quite a liberal back then. I mean, I read Harry Potter books! How much more liberal can you get?

Roger and I did have other similar interests. We talked about video games quite often, particularly the Legend of Zelda. We also played Smash Brothers regularly together. (REMATCH AVAILABLE FOR YOU ANYTIME!) Our differences didn’t change our friendship and we would talk about faith matters, but he just wasn’t interested in apologetics like I was (And am).

Eventually, I moved to Charlotte to study at Seminary. We kind of lost touch. I don’t know how. I figured wherever Roger was, he was doing fine. He was a strong Christian after all.

So my shock was strong when I got an email from him and he had a lot of questions and was doubting his faith big time. Many of his questions to me looked like they came straight out of Richard Dawkins. Now on my end, these were simple questions, but I knew Roger well and I knew he wasn’t trying to poke holes in Christianity. He was asking honest questions and no doubt, was hurting.

So I answered them. As he says, I didn’t give one-liners, but I also didn’t give complete answers always. Why would I do that? Because I want to see Roger doing some of the work too. I want to guide him in the right direction. I want him to learn what it means to study. People who really want answers will study. People who don’t, won’t. It’s a simple principle.

Sometimes also, it can be tiring. You open up your email in the morning and see that email from someone and think “Here we go again.” Sometimes you can see that message show up on Facebook and think “Okay. Guess I gotta answer a question again.” Still, it’s what you do and you do it because it’s the right thing to do and if you’re going to work on restoring someone, it requires a serious time investment.

I spent my time then pointing Roger to the great scholars that I had read and he could learn from. I chose to avoid pop apologetics books. I pointed him to the writings of Thomas Aquinas. Like many, Roger did not understand the arguments well and had misconceptions. I was gentle with him on that end. I also never condemned the questions. We should never condemn someone for questioning Christianity. We can condemn how they do it and their motives if we know them to be bad ones, but questions should be welcomed.

This was not a week long effort or something either. I don’t remember how long, but I am sure it was a few months. Sometimes we’d even talk on the phone. Roger could call me if he needed help and I’d answer. If there ever was something I had to take care of, I’d tell him that I’d get back to him or another time he could call.

I still remember one day very well that I went to my email and I opened it up and I saw an email from him with the subject line “Jesus of Nazareth.” I was getting set to answer a bunch of questions. I opened it up and I only found one that wasn’t a question so much as a statement.

He really did walk out of that grave didn’t He?

When you see something like that, it is one of the happiest moments you can ever have. It was also a good reminder for me. Yes. Yes He did walk right out of that grave.

Today, Roger is highly involved in the apologetics community. He is a strong Christian and he is raising his children to be a strong Christian. We communicate regularly still to this day. There are times I’m struggling with something and I turn to Roger and we just talk together. Like Paul with Onesimus, I was separated for awhile but now we have each other in our lives together better than ever before.

Roger ends his post with some matters of application. I’d like to do the same.

First off, I think it’s important to note that Roger and I lived in different states and yet he chose to contact me. Why? Could it be no one in his area could help him? He had to reach into his distant past to find someone? Surely Roger was surrounded by churches everywhere. Why was it so hard to find help? Could it be because the church has neglected this?

Second, we all can rejoice that this story has a happy ending, but what if someone like me hadn’t been in Roger’s life? The thing is, I can’t be everywhere. No apologist can. All Christians should know someone like this that they can turn to. What happens if someone like me isn’t around when a Christian is in need? Would Roger be a fundamentalist atheist today leading your children away from the faith?

Third, don’t give pat answers please. Don’t give one liners. Don’t post a meme as if that’s an answer to an argument. Really work through. At the same time, help the other person think through it. If you want to teach a child math, you don’t tell them the answers. You help them work through the answers so they can get them on their own. Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how and you feed him for a lifetime. Give a man an answer and you save his faith today. Teach him how to find them and you save them for a lifetime.

Fourth, it will require personal investment. If you have the time to address crowds and speak to them, but you don’t have the time for one-on-one questions, then you need to rearrange your time. That one person is immensely important. Sometimes it will wear you out, but it needs to be done.

Fifth, keep in mind Roger was in a Bible College and Seminary program and he had his doubts. If someone like this can have their doubts, how much more your children growing up in Sunday School? Apologetics is not optional today. It is essential. Don’t think good moral teaching and knowing how to exegete Scripture will be enough (Never mind most people after years of Sunday School won’t even know what exegesis is). Young people will need to know why. It’s far better to reach them before they have objections than reach them after they get them.

Sixth, you have to be doing the work beforehand. Roger was able to benefit because I’d been reading all this material for years. Roger knowing that I knew this material well and could answer would show him confidence that I had faced the questions he’d asked and in fact was able to question his doubts a lot more.

Seventh, be patient. Sometimes like I said it is exhausting. We all know times we’ve been talking to people and they can’t seem to see something and we wish we could just grab a sledgehammer or something and beat it into them somehow. It’s not going to happen. Give them time to get there.

Eighth, focus on the essentials. So many of us spend time wanting to defend inerrancy or a young Earth or a global flood or something like that. No. Just start with what is essential. The resurrection. Let anything else be secondary. I worked to keep Roger on topic and not going off on these side issues. They are important, but not essential.

Finally, friendship is a wonderful thing. If you have it, use it. I am sure Roger and I would be friends regardless, but it’s even better being friends in Christ. Do we still have our disagreements and such? Yes. Absolutely, but they don’t matter in the end.

You have Roger Maxson’s all around you. Are you going to be the apologist to reach them?

In Christ,
Nick Peters