I spent the past week driving around the upper Midwest with my daughter, looking at prospective law schools. ROAD TRIP! Just her and I. The most time we’ve spent together one-on-one in a long time. And on the final night of the trip, we took advantage of our locale and went to see The Book of Mormon. Unlike her father, Mallory loves Broadway musicals, and she wanted to see this one, written by the creators of South Park. I’m not a fan of South Park, either, but I played the good Dad and got two box seats to attend.
It is an incredible show: amazing, outrageous, compelling, hilarious, offensive, bizarre, thoughtful, irreverent, profound, iconoclastic, scatological, unpredictable, satirical, tongue-in-cheek, in-your-face, over-the-top and out of control, with an amazing musical score and lovable characters with whom it’s easy to identify. And it’s cunningly well-written. For all of its pop-culture trappings, there is nothing random or unintended in the construction of this story. At its climax, it is an exultation of the human spirit, our ability to overcome our shortcomings and circumstances.
Yes, there is the never-ending pot shots against Mormonism (I’ve never seen anything like the “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” number at the outset of the second act); it’s not the normal fare for a father-daughter evening. But as the plot and subplots play themselves out, it becomes evident that this story transcends its cynical jabs at American mysticism. And in the final number it all comes together, when baptized Ugandans become the new missionaries, spreading the word of the Book of Arnold…the flawed, fumbling character weaving Mormon tenets with contemporary symbols and themes to capture the hearts of a destitute African village.
In contrast to Arnold, his partner Kevin idealizes the city of Orlando as a bastion of everything bright and clean and good in life, and he dreams of going there to serve as a missionary. But he comes to realize Orlando is the antithesis of his missionary ideals, with its corporate brand identification, pay-as-you-go escapism, and illusions passing for imagination. Orlando is a destination, not a belief system, and Kevin must work through a crisis in faith. Ultimately, the message is not anti-faith, but pro-belief.
My take away is this: it doesn’t matter what your situation or circumstances are; nor your orientation to the world. It doesn’t matter what you believe…but believe something. BELIEVE…even if it’s unfounded in any basis of fact…even if it is rejected by those around you…because belief fuels the human spirit, and gives one hope even in the direst of circumstances. It makes all things possible. It optimizes human potential, lifting us above where we feel stuck, overwhelmed or abandoned. Belief isn’t right or wrong…it simply is. And a belief system that works for you cannot be refuted.
“The Book of Arnold”…the mere title smacks of farce as much as satire. But if we as people (and as professionals) can free ourselves from the industrial-aged beliefs imparted to us, and embrace new beliefs about teaching and learning and preparing children for their future…there is so much more we can accomplish. Much like the Mormon missionaries at the start of the musical, we are held back by a finite, fixed mindset…but with a new generative, belief mindset…our work can become a more meaningful story than all the traditions recorded in all the tomes handed down to us.
Arnold surprised himself when faced with true adversity…finding authentic connections to the here and now in his own heart. I wish that same breakthrough for myself, and for all of you reading this…a breakthrough to a belief mindset…believing in something positive and empowering, liberating and life-fulfilling. And as others see changes take place in your work, it will prompt them to reexamine their own beliefs, too. A natural, logical, experiential propagation of faith…not in a destination, but in ourselves. Let’s write new chapters in a next book…the Book of Human Potential…embracing a future of unforeseen possibilities.
“Wow so the bible is actually a trilogy? And the book of Mormon is the Return of the Jedi? I’m interested!”