Gang val­ues vs. God val­ues

The Covington News - - RELIGION -

Last week I saw the clas­sic mu­si­cal “ West Side Story” at the Fox Theater in At­lanta. With lyrics by Stephen Sond­heim and mu­sic by Leonard Bern­stein, the sound­track by it­self would be won­der­ful. But it is the Romeo- andJuliet- like story that makes this mu­si­cal so pow­er­ful. I found my­self won­der­ing af­ter­wards, where did the two lovers — Tony and Maria — go wrong?

Just to re­cap, “ West Side Story” is set in an area of New York City where im­mi­grants from Poland and from Puerto Rico have set­tled. The youth from th­ese two eth­nic com­mu­ni­ties form ri­val gangs, the Jets and the Sharks. Tony is Pol­ish; Maria is Puerto Ri­can: they meet and fall in love. The two gangs fight. Tony is in­volved. The leader of the Pol­ish gang is killed, and Tony takes re­venge by killing the leader of the Puerto Ri­can gang — who hap­pens to be Maria’s brother. In the sad, tragic con­clu­sion, Tony is killed in an act of re­venge, Maria steps in and says, “ Enough,” and this cy­cle of vi­o­lence is ended. It is a pow­er­ful story.

Where did Tony go wrong? He found his iden­tify in be­long­ing to the gang. The psy­chol­o­gist Abra­ham Maslow said that one of the fun­da­men­tal hu­man needs is to have a sense of be­long­ing. In the mu­si­cal, the gang is the fam­ily. As Tony is be­ing re­cruited for the rum­ble ( the fight), the Jet leader, Riff, sings this song. “ When you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet all the way, from your first cig­a­rette, to your last dyin’ day. When you’re a Jet, if the spit hits the fan, you got brothers around, you’re a fam­ily man! You’re never alone, you’re never dis­con­nected! You’re home with your own: when com­pany’s ex­pected, you’re well pro­tected!”

In West Side Story, the gangs be­come a fam­ily; the gang has its own set of rules (“ eye for an eye”); and the gang mem­bers keep the rules. Tony seems the ex­cep­tion, but in the heat of the bat­tle his gang moral­ity out­weighed his loy­alty to Maria.

Af­ter­wards, in re­morse Tony and Maria sing “Some­where” and dream of a bet­ter place. Here are a few of the lines. “There’s a place for us, some­where a place for us. Peace and quiet and open air wait for us, some­where. Some­where we’ll find a new way of liv­ing, we’ll find a way of for­giv­ing, some­where ...

The tragedy of “West Side Story” is re­played in the news al­most ev­ery week. Na­tional sports fig­ures get in­volved in scan­dals, some­thing which they prob­a­bly never would do on their own, but they are in­volved be­cause of “their gang.” Politi­cians get elected, move to Wash­ing­ton and in short-or­der are in­volved in a scan­dal that the lo­cals would have thought im­pos­si­ble: they joined a new gang.

It is about this point of com­mu­nity iden­tity that Bi­ble has some­thing to say.

Lis­ten to the words of the Lord, writ­ten by Isa­iah the Prophet, “Thus says the LORD, who cre­ated you, O Ja­cob, and He who formed you, O Is­rael: “Fear not, for I have re­deemed you; I have called you by your name; you are mine.” Friends, the peo­ple of God be­long to God. Our iden­tity is with God. Our val­ues come from God.

We are in God’s gang. Our mis­sion is to live out in this world the val­ues of the Lord, so that “Some­where” is not just a place we dream about, it is a place we help to form in the here and now.

John Donaldson

Colum­nist

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