Once a Stage…Now a Courtroom

William Shakespeare managed to solidify his place in world history (and high school English classrooms) with an ink pen. One does not have to be an English lit kind of guy or gal to know and appreciate his great work. Plays such as Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo And Juliet, A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, and The Merchant of Venice pop up all the time in movies, television shows, songs, and books. Heaven only knows the number of times these plays have been acted out in schools and theaters around the globe. In addition to the great works themselves, Shakespeare also left us with a host of memorable expressions and catch-phrases from those plays that are used almost daily. Hollywood snagged a few of them and snuck them into some their own productions. For example, in “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country,” the Klingon General Chang uttered several of Shakespeare’s most famous lines. The way I figure it is that if a Klingon general can blurt out, “Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war,” in the deep realms of outer space…then surely Shakespeare must have done something right. Consider the times we’ve all heard To be or not to be: that is the question” (Hamlet). And, of course, Romeo and Juliet gave us “Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow.” One of the phrases I’ve always liked is from “As You Like It,” which reads, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.” I learned the sentence in the 7th grade as I was doing some homework I wasn’t exactly thrilled about. I can’t tell you exactly why the quote stayed with me…all I know is that it did. His words created a picture in my head that carved its way onto my internal hard drive.

I find myself wondering what kind of expression Shakespeare would come up with to describe a view of life today. In his day, the theater was big business. It’s not surprising he would use the “stage” metaphor to describe the world. He was, after all, a play-write. I’m afraid, however, that Mark Helton, from east Tennessee, is not. But since “Billy” and I are sorta kinda friends in a weird kind of way…I thought I would take some liberties and attempt an update on his famous sentence from “As You Like It.” It’s not my intention to rewrite the whole sentence…just the first 5 words…the most famous part of the famous sentence by that famous guy who wrote that famous play. In fact, I will only change one word…maybe that will keep me in the good graces of some of my former English and literature teachers over the years. Simply mark out the word “stage” and insert the word “courtroom.” All done! Now let me explain.

While Shakespeare’s “stage” metaphor was ideal at the time…things are a bit different now. As a boy I could relate to the stage, players, exits, entrances…it was simplistic and it made sense. Everybody on the planet has a part to play for a season. Folks enter and exit the stage, as it were, as they are born and when they die. As we age, we find ourselves playing different roles as the changing stage setting demands. Perhaps the biggest point was that we all were in this “play” or on this “stage” together…a global production of sorts…where every single person had a part to play for the greater good. Even now, it’s kind of a neat thought, isn’t it? William definitely got this picture (and his point) right. Looking out across the landscape, I think the stage metaphor is no longer in play. From my cheap seat, all I can see are millions and millions of people who no longer want to be on the stage with fellow actors…and if they end up on the stage together, then the goal is to destroy. Today, I see the world as a courtroom where there are no plaintiffs or defendants. Instead, the overwhelming picture of our world has everyone being either the judges of the courtroom…or members of the jury. Why would I say that you ask? I’m going with this because all day every day…24 hours a day, I hear comments from people who sound more like judges and juries than anything else.

A few weeks ago, New Orleans Saints quarterback, Drew Brees, made a comment that he would never support anyone who disrespected the American flag. Within seconds of making the statement, the attacks began to bombard Brees on social media. Even some of his own teammates went on the offensive. Brees’ quote was what I would call the majority of American’s view on disrespecting the American flag. But these are different days. Brees’ Christian faith and his charitable involvements in New Orleans and countless other cities was quickly dismissed. His crime was not his love for the flag, the nation, or his grandfathers. No…it was for not agreeing with Colin Kaepernick. Brees was obviously bigoted and narrow-minded…according to the majority of folks who reported the story. Flags, grandfathers, and Brees’ upbringing were shoved to the side in favor of the position everyone is telling us we must have.

Being a stand up guy, Brees issued a formal apology. He was classy and sincere. He wasn’t trying to offend anyone…he was simply stating his thoughts on a subject that is being exploited in countless ways. But the story doesn’t end with a simple apology. The media spent the next week breaking down Brees’ apology. A few seemed to like what he said…while others did not. I listened to some of the ESPN and NFL Network folks who had all recently become graduates of the Dr. Phil School of Mind-Reading. One tv host acknowledged the apology…but then came right back with, “But I would liked to have heard him say…and here’s what he should have done…” Everyone with a camera or a microphone passed judgment on the repentant quarterback. In the end, Brees was not permitted to have an opinion and neither was he allowed to apologize. This respecting the flag was nonsense. All I could do was shake my head as the unfolding saga played itself out.

These days, the new normal is not hearing the news or the latest in the world. Today we get to hear only what other folks think about what is happening in the world. Our mainstream media folks are no longer concerned about getting it right and delivering the story…they love to find fault and they love to tear down and destroy. They shape the story to demean and degrade…and, of course, the announcer(s) look like Solomon himself…all-wise…all-knowing…and more than qualified to hand down punishment. Many of the same folks who radically oppose the death penalty spend an awful lot of time trying to deliver literary death sentences. Twenty four hours a day, we get to hear it all…what’s wrong, who done it, and scathing rebukes of how it all should be done. The judges and juries never take a day off.

In the end, I must say I like Shakespeare’s view of the world as a stage much more than I like my courtroom idea. At least his idea creates a picture of people working together to accomplish something beneficial to everyone. A person doesn’t have to be the lead character to contribute to the play. All he or she needs to do is simply do their part the best they can…give all you got…for a great show. The courtroom doesn’t have room for everyone to sit in the judge’s chair or the jury box…but that’s where most seem to want to be.

Part of me wanted to end this blog with the simple question: where will this take us? How will it end? Sadly the answer is not some mysterious or unknown place. God, in His kindness and grace, has told us exactly how it’s all going to end. It is often said no one knows the future…but in many ways we do. Our Bibles teach us God is real. He has all power and knowledge. This same One is also the judge. He is not a judge…He is THE judge. One day we will all appear before the judgement seat of Christ. When that day comes, we will not be invited to sit in the judge’s seat…nor the jury box. We will give an account to the One Judge who is always right. And though it’s commonplace to hear others say the only opinion that matters is mine…we must always remember global subpoenas have already been issued. The One we will stand before will not be “the guy” we invented in our minds…nor will He be okay with whatever we tell Him. The truth will be made known. But for now, we press on…we go forward…and we pay attention…lest we forget that court is already in session.

Thanks so much for taking the time to read another effort at blogging. Have a blessed afternoon.

Bro Mark

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