Did you ever attend a circus when you were young (or older)? If so, and you’re looking for a light-hearted, highly rated (IMDb 7.7), family friendly (PG) musical this summer, you might enjoy The Greatest Showman, starring Hugh Jackman and based (quite loosely) on the life of P.T. Barnum. Can you remember what you first wished to become when you were little?
My oldest son, who’s now a managing engineer for LinkedIn, had as his first ambition (at the tender age of three) the desire to be garbage collector, because he thought there was nothing more exciting than the banging and clattering he heard while watching a powerful garbage truck latch on to huge dumpsters, hoist them high in the air, and empty their contents into the truck’s yawning belly. However, when I was a little girl, I could think of nothing more glorious than to be one of those beautiful women who’d “float through the air with the greatest of ease, this daring young (wo)man on the flying trapeze.” Going to the circus was the highlight of my family’s summers back in the early 1950’s, and I felt quite ambivalent when the Barnum & Bailey Circus closed down on May 21, 2017 after 146 years of continuous operation! As a little girl, I didn’t consider how risqué some of the costumes were (which would also be an issue for anybody who wants to watch the movie), nor did I think about racism, or the possibility of animals being mistreated, or people being exploited because of their unusual appearance, but such concerns really did cause the decline and eventual demise of circuses. Nevertheless, for nearly 150 years, traveling circuses such as P.T. Barnum’s “Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan, and Hippodrome” were a centerpiece of American entertainment and culture, and Barnum’s circus really did come to be known as the “greatest traveling show on earth.” I don’t want to ruin anything by telling you too much of the story, but I do want to correct a couple of fictions just in case you—like me—prize loyalty and faithfulness. Barnum married Charity, whom he always loved dearly. He wrote that when they married, he “became the husband of one of the best women in the world,” and she was his bedrock throughout their marriage until she died in 1873. The real Jenny Lind (known as “The Swedish Nightengale”) did travel with the circus for awhile and left after 93 performances, but only because she didn’t like being “marketed.” Her goal had always been altruistic, and she donated the entire $350,o00 in profits (worth about 10 million today) to endow free schools in Sweden. Isn’t that awesome?! Does it ever strike you as strange that Hollywood would take a perfectly good story and makes it worse because they think it will sell better? What’s that all about? It reminds me of people who brag about being bad or think they’re terrible, when in fact they aren’t as bad as they say they are. Do you ever do that? If you (or someone you loves) struggles with self image, can I encourage you with these words: “Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed. Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord (Hebrews 12:12-14). On the other hand, if you think you’re the greatest showman on earth, then I’d recommend this advice from Romans 12:3, “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.” God doesn’t want us to think we’re terrible, nor does he want us to think we’re the best ever! He encourages us to “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24). In that light, perhaps I would nominate P.T. Barnum as the world’s greatest showman, given that a “showman” is someone who “produces or presents shows as a profession, especially the proprietor, manager, or MC of a circus, fair, or other variety show” (Oxford Dictionary). However, I think Hollywood both glamorized and demoralized the real P.T. Barnum…which I think the world also does with Jesus Christ. Jesus is glamorized by some, demoralized by others, and all too often fictionalized. Do you know Him? If you don’t really know who Jesus is, please read the Bible and find out the truth for yourself. He was not a showman, but I do think he was and is the greatest man on earth!
“And he shall judge the world in righteousness,
he shall minister judgment to the people in uprightness” (Psalm 9:8).
(All photos from the movie, except the one of my oldest son and his wife!)