Like millions of people around the United States, I didn’t get to see the Tony Award winning Broadway HIP-HOP musical, Hamilton, when it was performed live. But like millions, I have seen it since it was released for streaming on the Disney+ service on July 3rd. Okay, I’ve seen it four times. And I plan on watching it several more times in the days and weeks, and months, and for however long it is available because IT IS JUST THAT GOOD! Lets talk about what makes it good:
Amazingly talented DIVERSE cast: Check plus!
Production: You better believe it!
Historicity: Check! Okay, this may be debateable but there is much to debate about many interpretations of the Bible. Just saying.
Music: Double check (Did I mention hip-hop?)
Now, I know my theater friends have a more astute analysis so I will leave that to them because truthfully I know that there is more to producing a masterpiece such as Hamilton than hip-hop but that’s my wheelhouse so let me pontificate on that for a moment! And yes, I said PONTIFICATE!
For those who are not new to this blog, and those who know me personally, you know that I am both a lover of history, and I am what I consider… (big, seldomly used word alert) ontologically HIP-HOP. I live, breathe, and grow as a result of hip-hop, and when the two (history and hip-hop) meet, I am in love. If it were not for Christian Hip-Hop, specifically Lecrae, Da T.R.U.T.H, and a local Austin, Texas Christian Hip-Hop online radio station, I more than likely would’ve been like so many young Christians and chunked the deuce to the church a long time ago. But that’s another topic for another day.
Back to “ALEXANDER HAMILTON!” (If you didn’t just sing that line I’m disappointed in you.)
From the bars (lyrics for my non-rap people) to the delivery to the cadences to the movements, this is hip-hop at its best. Do you know how lit church would be if there was a rap battle between the senior pastor and the youth pastor! Even though we all know the youth pastor would win, unless your pastor is like a former rapper then its a wrap!
Can you see I’m having fun with this? That’s because church should be fun.
Nonetheless, the lesson I believe churches can learn from Hamiliton is two-fold. On the one hand there is the usage of hip-hop, narrative, and song to tell the biblical story in poignant and creative ways that draw and appeal to all people, not just millenials but with an intentional focus on millenials. On the other hand, the story about Alexander Hamilton’s life inform us about the relationship between millennials and the Church.
Imagine with me for a minute:
It’s Sunday morning. You pull up your church on your phone, tablet, computer or streaming device because RONA done shut in-person worship down! You grab your cereal and your bible, and just as you get comfortable, the camera pans to the worship leader standing center stage:
Slow beat begins:
Judas begins to rap:
“How does a prophesied baby, born of a virgin, son of a carpenter, from the streets of Nazareth, preach the good news and die as God’s Son…”
See how that grabs your attention… or maybe not.
But for some millennials like me, not only would that grab our attention, it would keep our attention. It would prompt me to call the worship leader, senior pastor, youth pastor, deacon, usher or somebody to figure out how I can get involved. This is not hyperbole. Many stats, at least in America, point to evidence that millennials and young people would attend church more often if they felt the services appealed to their creative and social sensibilities, but also put emphasis on scripture and relevant delivery of scripture.
If we are honest, the Church is America: old, stubborn, but extremely diverse. Millennials are Alexander Hamilton: young, scrappy, and hungry, and not throwing away their shot… or TIME.
See what I did there?
Millennials and young people value their time but they know that they have to seize every moment because while we may not be able to always fully articulate it, we acknowledge that “history has its eyes on us” and we refuse to wait for change, wait for elders to tell us what to do regarding the change that needs to be made, and wait until we are older to be in active leadership positions.
As a millennial who loves the church, values the church, and sees it as necessary for the edification of the world, I also understand that the church has grown old and comfortable, like people tend to do as they get older. The Church in many ways does not embody the fervor and intentionality of the early church because, quite simply, Jesus hasn’t returned, yet. (Google “delayed parousia.”) The Church, mostly in America, has also been the beneficiary of empire privilege as the official religion that subconsciously hinders any sense of change and invitation to new, fresh ideas of evangelism and community engagment.
While we are in a global pandemic and forced to reimagine how we engage in worship, the time is now to make the Gospel message fresh and inviting, and to heed the words of United Methodist pastor Michael Baughman of Union Coffee in Dallas, Texas, “gather teams to craft intense experiences of the presence of God, sacred stories and beloved community, but through an online media.”
I believe what we experience through Hamilton, both as a stage production, and now in its movie form can help guild and inform us toward that work.
As I type this I can feel the side eyes and cold stares from people who say, “Here we go again trying to change the church for millennials,” to which I say,
Because if there is no change, the will be no church! Again, this is not hyperbole. We have to be diligent… Like Hamiton. Intentional… like Hamilton… and to remember, “History has its eyes on us!” The Church cannot find itself jealous of the Millennial Hamiltons like Aaron Burr only to discover after he shoots Hamilton (sorry if I spoiled that for you), there is room for everyone.
There is no need to shoot the Millennial Hamilton’s in order to realize that you could’ve coexisted together the whole time. Just give us center stage and you too will “be in the room where it happens!”