By: Scott Taylor
A somewhat friendly debate ensued yesterday in the office at church involving myself and some of my co-workers. We argued about a song – a seemingly ancient hit from Taylor Swift called “Love Story.” You likely have heard the song, intentionally or otherwise, and its super happy romantic narrative of two people who happen to be named Romeo and Juliet. Beyond the names, I can find very little connection between Taylor Swift’s pair of “star-crossed lovers” and Shakespeare’s. It seems to me that Taylor Swift perhaps read Shakespeare’s play as far as the balcony scene (the only uplifting scene in the play), closed the book, assumed a happy ending, and wrote the song with its familiar refrain, “It’s a love story, baby, just say yes!”
No Taylor. It’s actually a tragedy.
So what is Taylor Swift doing to this incredibly rich and complicated tragic love story? Romeo and Juliet is messy and filled with rage and fury and unrequited love. When I read it in high-school, I found a lot of meaning – the love meant something to me, sure, but the love could not be separated from the pain that accompanied it. I’ve a romantic heart, I guess. Either way, when I first read it, I understood why Shakespeare didn’t finish the play off with a wedding feast! Life’s not like that. Especially to a 15-year-old!
I guess what I’m saying to Taylor Swift is, “Please don’t pasteurize my Shakespeare!”
I think we do this all too often in religion as well. We tend to take the complicated and distill it beyond recognition. We think the story of the Good Samaritan is just about kindness and hospitality. We are quick to celebrate Easter and hesitant to engage with Good Friday. We say that “God is good all the time” in a way that seems to both answer and silence further inquiry into the subject. We take the person of Christ and turn him into an honorable member of society.
Sanitization – Distillation – Pasteurization. This is the easy way to do things. It’s the way to write a good pop song. And it’s bad enough when we do it to Shakespeare, and bad enough when we do it to religion. When we take the same approach to our relationships with people, it is much worse.
A friend demonstrated this to me recently. He said, “Ask me how I’m doing.” I did. He said, “I’m fine. Ask me again.” I did. “I’m good. Ask me again.” I did. “Peachy.” He then said, “I just lied to you three times, but you would rather believe the lie than pursue the truth.”
In the end, whether you are on my side concerning Taylor Swift, Shakespeare, or religion itself is not that important to me. Over the past three weeks I’ve attended the Listening with Love Series on Wednesday nights. To me, these gatherings are a miracle and I am so thankful to be involved. The miracle is certainly not the agreement that is or isn’t happening. The miracle is that people are listening to each other and opening up with each other. Each week we seem to peel the surface back a bit more. Each week we risk a bit more light. It gets messy. I think it’s rather beautiful.
Oh yeah, and to Becky and Rachel, just shake it off!