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Author Finds Important Spiritual Truths in Hamilton Musical

Chris Carpenter - Director of Internet Programming

Continuing to dazzle audiences after nearly four years, Hamiltonhas not only tallied 11 Tony Awards but has also earned more than $1.45 billion in revenue. In fact, it is now the highest growing Broadway show of all time.

Based on these numbers, it is very hard to comprehend how a theatrical play about one of America'slesser-known founding fatherscould become one of the most talked about, highly heralded Broadway shows of this generation.

But step back for a second and consider who Alexander Hamilton was. Long before he rose to prominence as the United States' first Secretary of the Treasury, the man whose image proudly adorns our ten-dollar bill was an orphan from the Caribbean who by some miracle was brought to America to study in his early teens. Eventually, he rose up to be one of George Washington’s top aides during the Revolutionary War. The rest as they as people say ... is history.

Author Kevin Cloud believes that Alexander Hamilton’s life represents a tremendous story of grace, shame, brokenness, forgiveness, and ultimately redemption. In his new book, God and Hamilton: Spiritual Themes from the Life of Alexander Hamilton & the Broadway Musical He Inspired, this pastor turned writer explores the creative intersection of Hamilton’s personal story, how it relates to Scripture, and how the popular musical shines light on the essence of God’s love for humanity.*

I recently sat down with Cloud to discuss how Alexander Hamilton’s "theatrical" story is reflective of some today’s most important cultural issues and why God sometimes uses stories to transform our lives.

What is it about the Broadway musical Hamilton that has endeared itself to so many people near and far?

That’s actually the question I open my book with. I just ask the question of what is it about this story that captures people at such a heart level. I’ve heard so many people talk about seeing it not only in terms of a great production but people who talk about it as a life changing experience. I was asking, “Why is this happening to people?” A theater critic in New York said that when he saw Hamilton, it was like a fresh wind that was blowing through the theater. So that’s kind of how I start the book. What I experienced when I went and saw it was that this story is telling a deeply spiritual experience. It’s a story that has all the great themes of a person’s spiritual life. It’s a story of grace and of shame. It’s a story of despair, of death and of redemption. I think these themes resonate so deep within us, because they’re the great themes of our life, and we’re trying to figure out how to live that out personally as well.

How does a man go from forgotten founding father of our nation to cultural contemporary icon?

It’s crazy how before the musical comes out, the U.S. Government was about to take him off of the ten-dollar bill and replace him. Then the musical comes out, and he becomes this icon, and it’s literally changing the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury’s decision about whether or not he stays on the ten-dollar bill. There have been some popular Broadway musicals; I’m not sure a musical has ever infiltrated the culture the way that Hamilton has.

This play seems to be so out of the box. Do you think it was playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda’s intention to write something that would bring forth such spiritual truth?

I know he went to a Christian school. I don’t think he would identify himself as a Christian. But it is a part of his story. I think in one of his books about Hamilton, he did talk about how he has enough knowledge of religion that he was able to use it in the play in some ways. Honestly, I think that he read the Ron Chernow biography on a vacation and just absolutely got inspired by it. It’s a huge book, 900 pages. He said, “This is a hip hop story. This is two guys going out and dueling it out on the battlefields, and shooting guns at each other.” He truly saw it as kind of this hip-hop story. So then, he becomes the first person that uses hip-hop for Broadway, which is this perfect genre for it. It’s a genre of defiance, a genre of revolution telling the story of the American Revolution. So it’s taking the story from so long ago, putting it in kind of modern language. That’s part of why he connects so deeply with audiences as well.

In our conversation you have mentioned words like grace, brokenness, and forgiveness. What does Alexander Hamilton’s story represent?

I think there are a couple of different answers to that question. First, he truly did come from nothing. He was a poor kid in the Caribbean. His dad leaves his family when he’s five. His mom dies when he’s ten. So he’s this poor orphan kid with no future, no possibility, and through a set of kind of crazy circumstances, these businessmen raise some money. They see his intellectual potential, and they send him to America. Alexander Hamilton going to America and the American experiment was the only place where this story could have happened, because every other country in the world was based on your pedigree, your background, your financial status, and your family. Whereas America truly was a meritocracy, and he comes to America and stands out in the army. (George) Washington takes notice and brings him onto his cabinet when the American government starts. In a lot of ways, it truly is the American story embodied in this one man, a man that comes from nothing, that comes and makes a name for himself and really lives a remarkable life. I also think in a lot of ways it’s a story of a man who had incredible successes but also experienced some really tragic heartbreak, some huge failures, and some moral failures in his life. His son is shot and killed on the dueling grounds. This is a huge tragedy of his life, obviously. He has this very public affair with a woman by the name of Maria Reynolds that becomes the first ever government sex scandal. So there are these huge ups and downs that make for a great story.

Is there any one of these spiritual themes that you feel is the most important when considering the life of Alexander Hamilton?

For me, the favorite is redemption. The way that it connects with the story is that Hamilton is an orphan and comes to America. He marries a woman named Eliza, and she’s a phenomenal woman. He marries into this very prominent family, but he always lives with this kind of shame from the brokenness of his background, of his orphan status and what his family was like. After his son is shot and killed in the duel, his wife is devastated as you can imagine, but a few years later she feels this very clear call from God to build an orphanage. It’s this idea where you can imagine her as a wife carrying that burden with her husband of what he feels of his orphan status, and then taking that brokenness and making it beautiful, taking that brokenness and using it for good for these other orphans that she begins to serve with this organization that they start. To be an orphan back in that time was to be faced with awful circumstances. It was the tenements. It was basically selling yourself into indentured servant hood. Every option was a bad option. Then, this orphanage comes along and all of the sudden it brings redemption and hope to these kids that really had none before. In a lot of ways the Hamilton story comes full circle with this orphanage and what Eliza builds.

Something else about Alexander Hamilton that is quite interesting is that his story intersects with a host of important social issues of our contemporary times – immigration, gender equality, diversity. Could you talk about that a bit?

I think that’s another reason it’s connecting so much with audiences is because it’s such an important story that’s happening in our culture today. The decision to cast our founding fathers as actors of color was a brilliant decision and has brought to the forefront so many important conversations about race and equality. Many of the actors that have been in Hamilton have said just by being an actor of color onstage, they are bringing conversations to the cultural forefront in really important ways. These are ways that have to be happening. So that’s a huge topic. Obviously the immigration piece is huge. You have the story of a man who was not from America who came here from the Caribbean. In fact in a lot of ways, Alexander experienced what immigrants today still experience in the sense that John Adams would call him a (racially derogatory) name. That was his nickname for him, and people treated him poorly, because he wasn’t from America. He wasn’t established in America. He wasn’t a blue blood family from America.

Through your extensive research and writing of this book, what are some things you learned about Hamilton and any critical foundational truths as related to faith?

That’s a great question. I think one of the things that I personally learned was realizing how God uses stories to transform our lives. That happened for me as I watched the musical, as I read the book and just dove into the story of Alexander Hamilton’s life. I love how God uses other people’s stories to impact us, transform us, and help us become who we’re created to be. I love how the scene of Eliza forgiving her husband challenges me to be a more forgiving person, or the story of Hamilton coming to America on the gift of these businessmen, this total gift of grace reminds me to live my life on this foundation of grace, that that’s what everything is built on. So there are all these different lessons that come from that, but overarching is the power of story and how God uses story to transform our lives. Stories can intersect our lives and transform us in some really powerful ways.

After people have read God and Hamilton, what would you like your readers to take away from the experience? What’s your greatest hope for the book?

I hope first of all that it transforms their lives. I hope that it makes them understand grace and helps them forgive people they need to forgive, helps them to see their brokenness as part of God’s story of redemption. So each chapter kind of deals with a different theme that I hope they can apply. But even more than that, I hope it teaches people to see the way that God uses stories and to see God’s truth in all the stories that our culture is telling. Again, Alexander Hamilton and the creators of Hamilton did not set out to tell a Christian story, but I think that’s exactly what they’re doing. I think they’re telling the story that is absolutely filled with the great themes of the Gospel, and we just have to have eyes to see that. So all these people that have seen Hamilton, that love the play, that went crazy about the musical, I hope it helps them connect some dots as to why they’re so moved by it and that it helps them see God and His truth better.

Get your copy of Kevin Cloud's God and Hamilton: Spiritual Themes from the Life of Alexander Hamilton & the Broadway Musical He Inspired

* text courtesy Deep River Books

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