This Sunday, Virginia-Highland Church will begin its third annual The Beatitudes of Broadway sermon series. To tell you the truth I’ve already preached about more Broadway shows than I’ve actually seen. This series is very popular, though, and people stop and stare at the eight-foot “Playbills” posted outside the church. On the way out the door on Sunday, a wonderful member asked if the series was going to be recorded. She was checking because she is very pregnant and anticipates missing a few Sundays any time now.
This week’s musical is “Hairspray.” Somehow I missed it, though it seems the rest of the world managed to catch it because it was quite a hit back in 2005. I would have loved to have seen Harvey Fierstein in his Tony Award-winning role as Edna Turnblad. I know it wasn’t the only time he had done drag on stage, but that gravelly voice makes it hard to picture him as anyone’s mother.
As you may know, the show deals with racism and how society was grappling with it in the 1960s, but it also is about much more than that. Ultimately, it is a love story. Although I missed the musical on stage, I watched the movie version in preparation for Sunday’s sermon. After recovering my sight from seeing John Travolta in drag, I found the story touching and Queen Latifah’s singing moving.
What surprised me was the reminder of the pain of people who struggle with weight or body differences. We fight racism and sexism and homophobia, but it still seems acceptable to ridicule or shame people who are overweight.
Yes, Americans consume too many calories and exercise too little, but I don’t think there are many people who are overweight because they want to be. It is complicated and painful. I am convinced it is also complicated by the hormones, additives, antibiotics, and pesticides in our food. Regardless, it is sinful to diminish another human being for any reason, and “Hairspray” reminds us of that.
So, the next time you see someone whose body is different pray for them because their struggle is great enough … unless it is John Travolta in drag, and then you can avert your eyes.
Rev. Michael Piazza