Meryl Streep’s new movie is one I thought I would not like. To my surprise, Florence Foster Jenkins is a thumbs up with great acting, intriguing true story, and authentic 1944 set design and costumes. Streep’s singing especially produces laughs.
The movie is constructed to make viewers empathetic to delusional Florence, even as they laugh at her. What my father-in-law once said about a church soprano is true about Streep’s fascinating and funny Florence: “Somebody needs to put a worm in that bird!”
Florence Loved Her Singing
Florence (1868-1944) was a rich socialite who patronized New York City’s music world. Her money and her devoted manager offered some protection in high society, even as the cultural elite snickered at Florence’s lavish operatic productions.
Some may say that I couldn’t sing, but no one can say that I didn’t sing. –Florence Foster Jenkins
One truth about Florence was the woman had passion. Music gave her a reason to live and was the idol she worshipped. Sadly, the notes she heard in her head and ears were not what came out of her mouth.
Florence’s lies to self make me wonder about my deceptions. How often do I play the fool, without even knowing it?
Self Delusions Are Subtle
Our culture is full of self delusions. We photo shop and Facebook, Instagram, text, and twitter (little bits of bird song, there). Even a blog is a controlled piece of information. These communication tools are not bad in themselves, but we sometimes fool ourselves into believing that these projections represent the real us. In marketing terms, they “brand” us.
Did you see The Truman Show movie? It was the story of a large TV audience watching baby Truman grow up in a constructed world of actors. All was well until adult Truman figured out his life was a lie. TV audiences and movie goers cheered for his emancipation. What a longing it illustrated for truth that sets us free.
Who Are You?
A friend went to a conference recently where a speaker kept yelling, “Who are you? Who are you?” The session was so revealing to him that he rewrote his mission statement. He indicated that if you keep asking that question, you scrape away layers of faux identity to discover who and what really matters. (One word of caution to the introverts: “You are not a peeled onion,” scraping and crying and finding nothing left in the end. That kind of self-branding is also a deception.)
Whenever I get tangled up in who I really am or want to be I go back to the golden oldie Westminster Confession and it’s answer to the question of what is our purpose for life:
“Question: What is the chief end of man? Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”
To glorify God is a heady phrase, but it’s not as abstract as one might think. Maybe, to think about enjoying God first is the key to understanding more of His glory. Singing, praying, being aware of our Creator/Savior, spending time through fun, worship, and service with others–these are just some ways to glorify God. The central question to myopic evaluations is “Where is the heart’s focus?”
Allusion, Illusion, Delusion?
While I swam this summer in the neighborhood pool one lifeguard put on country music and sometimes played “H.O.L.Y” by Grammy winner Florida Georgia Line. It’s a catchy worship song, but unfortunately it plays on self-deceit. The song is all about idolizing one human being as the answer to soul-saving worship without any mention of the author of holiness.
The two lead singers, Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley, once were into worship music and college ministry. Now they are projecting a lie in a beautiful package. Human love cannot be holy without connecting to holy God. They don’t do that in their song.
Katy Perry, who is another singer who started out in Christian music, also distorts truth for profit in her 2013 song “Unconditionally.” To love someone unconditionally must have an eternal permanence about it to be authentic. This is not what Katy can accomplish in her own powers, but she can sing a catchy tune like she believes she can.
Perhaps I nitpick. It’s just that Florence and these contemporary singers have me reexamining those sneaky self-deceptions. If life is a song then I want to sing it true, on key, and in harmony with Jesus. Self-examination and repentance are good for a singing soul. I’ll be thinking about the lesson of Florence for a long time.
For more details about Florence Foster Jenkins go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florence_Foster_Jenkins
If you want to join the over 62 million views of Florida Georgia Line’s H.O.L.Y song, it is here: https://youtu.be/zXDAYlhdkyg