By Lewis Eggleston
The newest Hairspray movie came out soon after I did. As a gay kid who went to college in rural South Dakota with limited options for fun, my friends and I would blast the Hairspray CD soundtrack as we drove down country roads taking time off from our textbooks for singing & dancing.
While not perfect, Hairspray is a liberative story that affirms “people who are different, their time is coming,” specifically for people of color. Based on true events, Hairspray tells the story of how one Baltimore TV station, in particular the Corny Collins Show, integrated their after-school teen dancing program. One particular song “Welcome to the 60’s” portrays Tracy’s gracious way of telling her mom to “get with the times” and while Tracy listens to her mother’s fears, she encourages her to step out anyway. During this song Tracy continually but sternly points at the tv, making her mother look at the screen. I’m about to take a leap here, but please go with me.
The Church is Mama Turnblad.
Do you see it now?
“I haven’t left this house since 1951?” – Mama Turnblad
Soon after that Tracy grabs her mother’s hand and leads her out the door until they’re outside and Mama Turnblad says, “Oh Tracy, I’m a little light-headed. There’s so much air out here. Can’t we go someplace that’s stuffy?” Tracy said, “No.”
However, the most iconic line happens, and if you blink you might miss it, Mama Turnblad says, “Your Mama’s lookin’ at herself and wonderin’ ‘where you been?'” To which Tracy immediately replies with “Where you been?!”
My Dear Church, where you been?! (To boldly paraphrase my beloved Rev. Lenny Duncan)
Now for the big finish, if you’re familiar with this movie musical then you know one of the most iconic songs in Hairspray is Motormouth Maybelle’s “I know where I’ve been” in an AMAZING performance by Queen Latifah. To me, this call and response “Where you been?!” and “I know where I’ve been” is intentional and profoundly poignant.
The reality is, for the most part, we were handed a church that acts like Mama Turnblad. The younger generations continue to pull the church into new times, pointing continuously at the tv, pleading to “get with the times”, leave your “stuffy” sanctuaries that you “haven’t left since 1951”. This call is not new, and neither is the resistance. But, it’s my belief, our collective call is to take Mama Turnblad by the hand and lead her outside into the world until she realizes she has a voice of her own and that voice has the power to make changes in the world. The hope, however, is that someday (hopefully soon) rather than taking Mama Turnblad’s hand and (sometimes forcefully) leading her out the door into the world, we’ll have a church that personifies and literally acts like & resembles Motormouth Maybelle, a church that knows where it’s been, was a leader in the struggle, has pride in her heart because she knows she’s doing the right thing even though it’s hard, and then and ONLY THEN will our hands be gently holding each other side by side walking in the streets rather than tugging a hand that will hopefully come along like Mama Turnblad. If you don’t know where you been, how do you know where you’re going?
Let us pray, Gracious God, we confess at times we have all been Mama Turnblad, resistant to change, afraid, overly-conscious of how other’s might perceive us, but with kind hearts still. Mold us into leaders like Motormouth Maybelle, may we be a church that is fierce, fabulous, gracious, authentic, aware of other’s struggle, and present in the moment. Amen.
Lewis Eggleston (he/him/his) is the Associate Director of Development and Communications for ELM. He currently lives in Germany with his dog-child and husband awaiting the day he can travel back to visit parents, siblings, and all the nieces and nephews. He is spending his time getting to know his little village and walking the trails around the town castle. Waiting for the day he can be in another musical.