Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Sad and Lonely Play

Last year I re-read the Arthur Miller play THE PRICE. Here's a review with a church in America and church planting slant.

"The Price" Arthur Miller (New York: Viking Press, 1968)

Arthur Miller wrote a play titled "The Price." Miller tries to identify problems that modern man has to deal with. The play is set in New York. Two brothers have come together after years of separation to dispose of their parent's property after their father has died. One of the brothers, Walter, is a highly successful surgeon. The other, Victor, is a simple policeman. As the play unravels the story of the two brothers it becomes clear that Walter, who appears to have it all, has nothing and that Victor's choice to become a policeman has been filled with regret, bitterness and loss.

In Act 2 of the play, the brothers begin to talk and converse over the content of their lives. It becomes clear that each has made a decision about what he would do with his life. And in the intervening time, each has paid "a price" (hence the title of the play) for the direction their life has taken. Both have had long struggles trying to come to grips with their decisions. One is on a path to discovery. One is locked in self denial. Both desperately need to forgive and be forgiven.

Walter, who appears to be a success, admits that something has been missing in his life. He states that he has been living for the wrong standards, aiming at the wrong goals, and making the wrong judgments. Let me quote from the book for just a moment. What was the decision that Walter made that led him downward into a broken marriage and a nervous breakdown that put him on the shelf for three years. He tells us in Act 2 of the play.[i]

"It all happens so gradually. You start out wanting to be the best, and there's so much to know and so little time. Until you've eliminated everything extraneous--including people. And of course the time comes when you realize that you haven't merely been specializing in something--something has been specializing in you. You become a kind of instrument, an instrument that cuts money out of people, or fame out of the world. And it finally makes you stupid. Power can do that."

The play was written and performed for the first time in 1968 but it could have been written yesterday in terms of what is going on in our culture right now. There is a sadness and heaviness that sits in the pages of this play like a heart attack about to happen. It is a story longing for reconciliation, forgiveness, hope and friendship that sits around a corner that is never turned. And in the end, it is a story that proves Jesus' words true.

"For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it:

but whoever loses his life for My sake

and the gospel's sake shall save it."

Pray that the churches of America would wake up to the moment and realize the great opportunity for the gospel in a culture that is learning that money and success and accomplishment do not ultimately satisfy.

Pray that the churches of America would reach out in love and compassion to those outside their doors and outside of Christ and learn to live sacrificially for those who need Jesus.

[i]. Paul Cox, former professor of mine at International School of Theology first introduced me to the play years ago. I recently reread the play and was stunned by it relevance to today. The quote appears on page 81 of the Viking Press Edition (New York, 1968)

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