Those of you who are ‘friends’ with me on Facebook will not be surprised that I’ve become obsessed with the musical Wicked. I saw the show on Broadway during a recent vacation and I was blown away. Not only is the production and performances amazing, the story is one that explores how someone might become ‘wicked’ or ‘good.’
The musical (based on the novel by Gregory Maquire) tells the back story of the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good from The Wizard of Oz fame. We come to understand that Elphaba (The Wicked Witch of the West) is just a misunderstood girl with remarkable magical talents and … green skin. Glinda (the Good Witch), who unwittingly becomes her roommate at boarding school, is perky, popular and … blond. From there you see how these unlikely partners become both friends and enemies simultaneously.
Elphaba is born with remarkable magical talent, but is always ostracized because of her unusual ‘color.’ Glinda is not particularly talented, but she’s pretty and popular and almost always gets her way. Elphaba is certainly not all ‘wicked.’ She shows compassionate toward the downtrodden and cares for her handicapped sister. Glinda is not all ‘good.’ She plays tricks on Elphaba and lacks the courage to stand up for anyone other than herself. Circumstances, and several manipulative players including the Wizard himself, force them into the roles they later reluctantly occupy.
These compelling characters reminded me of how easy it is for us to demonize or glorify people from afar. Just think of our own Christian story — to his followers, Jesus was a teacher, healer, prophet and, later, Messiah. To the authorities he challenged, he was a rebel, instigator and even heretic. In my previous call as a chaplain to young people with behavioral disorders and mental illness, I witnessed to this complexity. While the young people I served were capable of the awful things that landed them in an institution; they were also wonderfully talented, caring and sincere.
Perhaps our call as Christians to see “Jesus” in all of our sisters and brothers means that we recognize each person’s complexity — both their sins and their glory — and love them all. If we look at each other through a lens of compassion and love, we might see the ‘good’ and ‘wicked’ in each other and learn to always extend grace. We can only imagine that God, by sending Jesus, was trying to put a mirror up to our own face, to help us embrace the wonder of our own humanity by realizing the divinity within us.