This past weekend, I was back in Ashland for my annual meeting with
the Mid-Ohio District Committee on Ordained Ministry. Serendipitously,
AU was staging a revival of Whistle Down the Wind at the same time.
Whistle was my very first musical; I was part of the '97 cast. There was
a reunion for both casts on Saturday, which I very much enjoyed. It was
wonderful to hear the music again, most of which I still remember! :o)
Whistle is about children who are discovering faith in Jesus, and taking part in it was part of my formation as a person of faith.
Hearing the songs all over again 15 years later really gave me a new perspective on the show. For example, in "Funny, It Doesn't Feel Strange" and "Spider," Cathy and Nan sing about how they "just know" that the man in their barn is Jesus. Cathy compares having faith to knowing that the sky is blue without knowing why, or that fish swim without knowing how. I was a little surprised at this characterization of having faith. My perspective is very different. Living in Cambridge, MA surrounded by MIT and Harvard-types, I have learned firsthand how scientific inquiry can help us to better understand the world God made, and thus, understand more about who God is. Whistle uses the cynical, overprotective attitudes of the adult characters to show how a lack of open-mindedness can prevent us from seeing Jesus for who he is, but still, I think Whistle leans a bit too heavily on that theme. One must be open minded to learn, however, faith is neither blindly trusting without really thinking nor disbelieving unless the evidence fits into our narrow definition of "fact." In fact, blindly trusting in either "religion" or "fact" without critically thinking isn't really faith at all in my opinion. It's just a belief. I think there is a difference between holding a belief and truly having faith.
The other thing that really struck me about Whistle was how it dealt with theodicy, that is, the existence of evil in a world made by a loving God. In one scene, the girls' brother, Charles, leaves his kitten, Spider, with The Man/ Jesus and Spider winds up dead. The Man/ Jesus didn't realize he was supposed to take care of Spider. Charles asks him why he let the kitten die. In a sense, in this scene, humanity is asking God why God allows our loved ones to suffer and die. Is God being negligent, as if God doesn't notice that our loved ones are in distress? Or does God not care? Charles genuinely asks that question. Unfortunately, Cathy's answer about the color of the sky and the fish doesn't answer his question at all. It is really too bad that this question of the ages- a serious theological question! - is glossed over this way in Whistle. There are many ways that theologians have answered this doozy of a question throughout the ages. I wish Whistle could have engaged at least one of them rather than avoiding the hard questions.
One of the main things I learned about faith in college was that faith is about engaging these difficult questions, even when it is painful to confront them. If we ignore them, give pithy answers, and don't fully engage them, those persistent people in our lives who need to think it through will be turned off by the Christian faith. Critical thinking and biblical reflection aren't just for professional theologians in ivory towers; they're tools for all of us to make meaning in our lives. We owe it to ourselves to "go there," even if it is sometimes painful, because when we do, the waters of our faith will be deep and wide.