“I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot… so, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth…” (Revelation 3:15-16).
Of all the disappointments and griefs that we are carrying right now, my disappointment that we weren’t able to perform our Intergenerational Musical, Bathwater: A Musical Apocalypse, must rate pretty low on the list. But it was still a sharp disappointment that the musical that more than 35 of us – singers, dancers, actors, artists, musicians, tech folks – had labored so hard on since the middle of January just wasn’t going to come to fruition in performance. In honor of our fearless Bathwater gang, I thought I would give you a summary of what you missed in the show. (spoiler alert!)
As the show opens, we meet the residents of Bathwater, Wisconsin, all very down to earth, plaid flannel-clad, and completely mundane-minded. They share their philosophy of life:
WHEN YOU ARE TOSSED ABOUT, CHOPPY AND BOSSED ABOUT,
LIVING COULD CROSS YOU OUT.
STAY IN THE MIDDLE, COMFORTABLY LITTLE,
SAFE IN WISCONSIN – BATHWATER WISCONSIN.
NOT COOL BUT NOT TOO HOT,
NOT WANTING MORE THAN WHAT WE GOT,
NEVER ARDENT, JUST TEPID. NOT SMART OR INTREPID,
WE ARE PERFECTLY FINE TO HAVE NOTHING AT STAKE,
LIVING IN BATHWATER – BATHWATER, WISCONSIN.
WE’RE THE CITY UP THE RIVER FROM THE LAKE!
We follow the three Elder children as they listen to the loons calling across the lake. Their family joins them for a picnic and their Mother endures the relentless curiosity of Kit, the middle child. She is counseled to be careful in asking too many questions or she may share the fate of her mysteriously disappeared father.
The Elder children rush off to school where their teacher, Ms. Bovious, instructs them about the origins of Bathwater; how the area was discovered by “people who look like us.” Kit challenges her, demanding to know if there were earlier settlers and whether the land was stolen from them. Her teacher explodes at Kit and warns her to curtail her curiosity:
THERE ARE LOTS OF QUESTIONS THAT DON’T NEED ASKING,
PLENTY OF PROBLEMS THAT ARE NEVER RESOLVED.
NOT KNOWING, YOU’LL FIND, IS OFTEN ENOUGH,
SOME MYSTERIES WILL NEVER BE SOLVED…
TRUE ENOUGH, TRUE ENOUGH,
TRY TO LEARN WHAT’S TRUE ENOUGH,
UNDERSTAND, BUT TO A POINT,
ONLY LEARN WHAT’S TRUE ENOUGH.
We meet Kit’s father, John, who shares an island in exile with several other people. He is remembering a story that he told his children of how a little girl loved the water creatures so much – the loons especially – that she herself transformed into a loon. Intrigued, the children ask where the story came from. John answers, “From a time before ours. From a people that weren’t us. From their experience of this land and this water.”
Now we join the good people of Bathwater on festival day, when the old, large, shapeless colorful things they have bought from Bathwater Molding are dumped into the river so that they can be replaced by new, large, shapeless colorful things. The Elder family is there, picnicking, with Grandfather Elder taking his daily constitutional drink from the waters of the Bathwater River. “Do you know that water is God’s magic?” Julie Nero, the head of BM (Bathwater Molding) presides over it all with easy authority and effortless charm, remarking to her aide that now the people can see that she is not the beast that the anonymous letters are portraying her to be: “I DON’T have the feet of a bear or the mouth of a lion!” She wishes she could find out where these letters are coming from but Cal, her aide, reassures her that she needn’t worry. As she commands the sewage lines from the factory to the river be opened – “Now dump and flush!” – the youngest Elder child notices something floating down the river. “Momma, you remember when I ate nothing but blueberries for two whole days? Well, there goes my blueberry poop!” The young children, acting as both garbage carriers and the bags of refuse themselves, float down the river, singing:
WHAT GOES IN, MUST COME OUT; WHAT GOES OUT, FLUSHES DOWN.
ALL THE REFUSE OF THE DAY NOW THE RIVER SWEEPS AWAY;
GARBAGE IN, GARBAGE OUT!
As the new BM products are distributed, the people of Bathwater sing joyfully:
FESTIVAL, FESTIVAL, IT’S A FESTIVAL OF STUFF!
FESTIVAL AND BEST OF ALL IS WE CAN’T GET ENOUGH!
Before another school day starts, Kit is down by the lakeshore again, worried that the loon calls are not being answered by other loons. Once in the classroom, her questions and rebellion lead her into so much trouble that she is officially labeled as OA; an Over-Achiever, and is taken away by BM officials. Ms. Bovious sings,
THERE ARE LOTS OF QUESTIONS THAT DON’T NEED ASKING,
SCADS OF SOLUTIONS THAT CANNOT BE PROVED,
PLENTY OF PEOPLE WHO NEVER KNOW ENOUGH,
WHO NEED TO BE SILENCED AND QUICKLY REMOVED!
The children go on a field trip to Bathwater Molding where Julie Nero instructs them, “What’s good for Bathwater Molding is good for our community!” As the sewage lines are once again opened to the river, the community responds gratefully:
THE WHEELS TURN, THE WATERS CHURN,
THE PISTONS GO, “POUND, POUND, POUND!”
BATHWATER MOLDING IS UPHOLDING OUR TOWN,
AS IT MAKES OUR WORLD GO ‘ROUND!
Kit wakes up on the island of Patmos, joining her father and other intellectuals who have been sent there. She learns that they are the ones keeping the pursuit of truth alive for the day when the community discovers that “true enough is not good enough.”
THE WORK OF THE PEOPLE, THE LITURGY OF LIFE,
IS LEARNING AND TRYING TO GROW; WE’RE TASKED TO BE ASKING,
THE QUESTIONS THEY’RE DODGING, FOR FACTS LIKE A RIVER MUST FLOW.
BELIEVING IS FREEING IF IT’S LEADING TO DOING,
THE TESTING AND QUESTING TO KNOW .
DEEPLY… HONESTLY… LOVINGLY…
TRACING THE BRANCH TO THE ROOT
SLOWLY… THOROUGHLY… FAITHFULLY…
FOLLOWING THE TRAIL TO THE TRUTH.
The two remaining Elder children are on the lake shore, worried because they no longer hear any loons calling. Where have they gone? They are also worried that their grandparents have gotten very sick. Those same concerns have been haunting Cal – Julie Nero’s aide. As the children leave, we discover Cal is the one who has been distributing the subversive letters written by John Elder on the Island of Patmos.
The final scene begins with a funeral procession for the Elder Grandparents. While Julie Nero tries to reassure them that death is just a part of the great cycle of life, the oldest Elder child, Holly, believes her loved ones died because, “We’ve been poisoning the river with all our garbage and sewage!” As Julie rallies the crowd, Cal steps forward in opposition to her and the exiles are revealed as having returned. A great struggle ensues as the sewage line is opened once again. The rebels close the valve and tear down the large BM (Bathwater) molding sign. Removing the sign, they reveal a carving in the stone in the shape of a loon – a sign of the people who lived by this river before the people of Bathwater. One of the exiles know the name they used for this place, Laodicea:
LAODICEA – HOW THE LAND ONCE KNEW ITSELF,
LAODICEA – HELP US REMEMBER WHAT’S BEEN LOST,
LAODICEA – WILL OUR TEARS BE DRIED?
WILL THE TRUTH ABIDE? CAN WE LIVE BY LIFE AGAIN?
In the distance, they hear a loon’s cry. After a brief pause, there is an answering cry across the water. They understand this as a sign of hope for the future:
THERE’LL BE A NEW HEAVEN AND A NEW EARTH WHEN THE OLD HAS PASSED AWAY.
WE’LL HAVE A NEW HEART AND A NEW HOPE WHEN WE WALK A BRAND, NEW WAY!
LET THE FEARS THAT SO CONFOUND US DISAPPEAR IN GOSPEL LIGHT.
LET THE HUNGER FED BY EXCESS BE EXCISED OUT OF SIGHT!
THERE’LL BE A NEW FREEDOM FOR A NEW LIFE WHEN WE’RE STEWARDS OF THE LAND,
WHEN OUR LOVING REACHES FOR ALL LIVING THINGS, HOLDING HARMONY IN HAND.
THERE’LL BE A CLEAN RIVER LIKE A BLESSING STREAM, LIKE A FOUNTAIN FRESH AND BRIGHT,
WHEN WE’RE COLD AND HOT WITH CARE AND HOPE AND WE WALK INTO THE LIGHT!
So that’s what you missed; a message lifting up truth over willful ignorance, that values personal responsibility for our communal life and a hope that leads to action in the midst of a community health crisis. Loosely using the book of Revelation as inspiration, particularly the letter to the “lukewarm” church of Laodicea in the 3rd chapter, it was written to offer a faithful witness in the face of climate change. Its message has become even more relevant and more urgent with the Coronavirus pandemic.
Of course, the most important witness was in the cast and crew themselves; people of all ages, coming into deeper relationship with the scriptural testimony of faith and with one another as they shared their talents and their love of God in performance. In their commitment and joy, their company and comradeship, a vision of the new earth was given tangible expression.
May we be better than the folks of Bathwater, Wisconsin and live by the vision of a new heaven and a new earth!
Your friend and fellow minister,
Rev. Steve Savides