It was Friday night, and I was savoring a final few minutes with a good friend before she returned to Wheaton later that weekend. Being a shameless geek, I couldn’t resist the temptation to share with her a song from my newest musical obsession, Be More Chill. The song, which was the “gateway drug” to the musical for me, is an emotional ballad about a teenage boy’s experience hiding in the bath- room at a popular Halloween party after being abandoned by his best friend. For introvert– ed nerds like me, it strikes a chord. I waited eagerly for my friend to sympathize with poor Michael as the intensity increased.
“Let’s try to keep it clean next time,” was all she said as the song ended. I blushed, and half-lied that I had forgotten there were rhymes like “I’ll wait as long as I need, till my face is dry/or I’ll just blame it on weed or something in my eye” or “I wish I’d stayed at home in bed, watching cable porn, or wished I’d offed myself instead, wish I was never born.”
I think there’s a stereotype that Christians are afraid of sex and drugs and rock n’ roll-I do have Christian friends who, like one the above, try to avoid media that even alludes to anything outside of Biblical morality (without criticizing it). More dramatically, there was a controversy at Duke several years ago that you probably remember: some Christian Freshman refused to read Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home because of its depictions of homosexuality. As Christians, there’s a famous expression that we are “in, but not of the world.” For some, that means separating themselves from media that conflicts with their morality. In Paul’s second
letter to the Corinthians, he states that “we demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” For some, listening to me– dia that deals with what is, by Biblical standards, immoral, means a failure to focus our thoughts on Christ. It can mean a risk of submitting to the world’s standards of right or wrong rather than God’s. It’s a willing exposure to temptation.”
But there are too many stories I love that reference choices with which I may not personally agree for me to write them all off. And too many people sadly do.
I was never raised in a Christian bubble. I went to public school starting in first grade. I was in third by the time my classmates started whispering the “f” word. In eighth grade the school newspaper published an article with the statistic that half of the juniors and seniors had had sex. I was a freshman when I learned what masturbation was. The the references to weed and porn were and are a reality of the life around me. Censoring them from a musical, even if they conflict with my personal values, feels dishonest. If I stop listening to works that acknowledge this reality, I’m not making it stop. I’m just living in denial.
We can’t even read the Bible without confront- ing a lot of behavior, even from the heroes, that would horrify your average evangelical. Daughters getting their father drunk to sleep with him? Check. A king sleeping with one of his constituent’s wife and then setting him up to get killed when she gets pregnant? Check. That was King David, much admired, “a man after God’s own heart.” A brother raping his sister? Check. That didn’t end well. These stories are disturbing, and yet clearly they’ve become part of our religious canon for a reason. Some of them are warnings, teaching us what we should avoid. But they aren’t all morality tales. Some are just histories, records of who we were. And while Jesus of course didn’t do any- thing like this himself, he hung with the prosti- tutes and tax collectors–those that traditional religion rejected as immoral.
Which brings me back to Be More Chill. I’ll be honest: most of the characters are complete messes. The protagonist, Jeremy, literally takes a pill to “be more chill.” Rich bullies Jeremy to cover his own depression, suicidal thoughts, and repressed bisexuality. Brooke and Chloe, two popular girls, attempt to use Jeremy to validate themselves. Jenna is the class gossip because she isn’t close to anyone. Confident Jake is a perfectionistic overachiever. These students address their problems in stereo- typical teen fashion: they drink, smoke, and hook up to avoid facing their social disunities. For Jeremy, sex in particular seems to represent the social acceptance that he seems so unattainable. Yet when the two popular girls (separately) offer themselves to him, he turns both down. He’s not just trying to get laid; he’s trying to form a meaningful connection. Mean- while, his real crush, Christine, doesn’t try to seduce him. Instead, she shows him her genuine self, complete with her flaws and strange impulses and insecurities. As a Christian, even if I can’t endorse Jeremy’s lust, I can relate to his longing. I love Be More Chill’s characters in the midst of their brokenness, in their imper- fection, in their figuring it out. I love many of my friends the same way, and I’m sure they love me that way too.
That’s not to say that I’ve solved this question of what is or isn’t appropriate for Christians, or how we create a sanctified space in a society of shifting morality. I admire Heathers, and Break– ing Bad, and The Kingkiller Chronicles, and AC/ DC. But I closed my eyes during certain scenes in Eyes Wide Shut when I watched it for a class (after posting on Facebook about shirtless Tom Cruise), and I still don’t know where I come down on Game of Thrones. I suppose the guideline again comes from one of Paul’s Corinthian letters: “I have the right to do anything, you say’–but not everything is beneficial.” My first priority is loving people, and that means starting where we’re at. Right now, I’d rather take the risk of being open.
I’m going to see Be More Chill this March. Wanna come with?