Rogers & Hammerstein opened their first collaborative Broadway musical, “Oklahoma!” in March, 1943. Based on a 1931 play (Green Grow the Lilacs), the show incorporated lively musical numbers, lyrics, and ensemble dances to capture the imaginations of the audience members; the stage version also earned many awards for both the original and revival productions. A movie version was released in 1955, starring Shirley Jones and Gordon MacRae.
Set in the early 1900’s in the Oklahoma territory, two love stories unfold among the feuding groups of farmers and cowboys. Laurie and Curly (Jones and MacRae) are the classic and primary couple. The other couple – Ado Annie and Will Parker – are the ones I’d like to talk about today. Will Parker makes himself out to be a new fangled cowboy, set for the bright lights/big Kansas City. Ado Annie, his ‘gal’ and not one to wait around, stays home, and her flirtatious tendencies drive Will crazy. Back and forth they go, Will going where he pleases, and Annie never saying no to a visit from a cute beau (that’s one of her famous songs: “I’m Just a Girl Who Can’t Say No”).
Now, I happen to know a thing or two about this musical. When I was in the 5th grade, my family moved to Culpeper, Virginia, and the choir, led by Debra Greeley (who later became my church choir director at Culpeper United Methodist Church), performed the musical. I even remember Lisa Nygaard (Lyons), as Ado Annie, singing the famous lines. [Lisa has since released three CD’s of original music in the Celtic tradition….take a listen!]
For some reason this week, one of the songs – All Er Nuthin’ – got stuck in my head. The gist of the song is that Will expects Ado Annie to be and act in a certain way. “If you can’t give me all, give me nuthin; and nuthin’s what you’ll get from me!” Ado Annie responds, appropriately, I think, by pointing out that “All Er Nuthin'” doesn’t work well in a relationship. “With you it’s all er nuthin; all for you and nuthin for me…..” Annie and Will had to learn to work together to make the relationship work. And they did.
Maybe the reason the song came to mind is because of the “all er nuthin” approach I hear from many people in disagreements these days. The late 17th century French moralist Joseph Joubert is credited with this quote: “The aim of a(n argument or) discussion should not be victory, but progress.” In all of this public discourse taking place on social media and in the news, are we even trying to reach agreement anymore? I realize the word ‘progress’ brings shivers to the spines of some, but seriously – should we be living in an “all er nuthin” world? How to we even start to address this?
Here’s how I sort it out:
I try to listen.
I try to listen not to reply, but to understand. (Covey)
I try to listen as the first duty of love. (Tillich)
I don’t want to be short on ears and long on mouth. (John Wayne)
And I want to listen to the one who is mentioned when God’s voice comes through the cloud, saying,”This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (MT 17:5b)
With Christ, life was not an ‘all er nuthin’ approach to be right, and to advance a cause immediately. In story after story, we read of how Christ entered situations with a heart toward listening, a servant’s heart that time and again teaches us to listen to the poor, the widowed, the orphaned and the sick. Christ shows us how to be patient, to listen to understand a need, and to reply with love.
In the 6th chapter of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells us this:
27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”
I say that to do good, we must listen; if we don’t, we might fall prey to the ‘all er nuthin’ mentality. Yet even when we don’t listen – even when we shoot off our arrogant mouths, assuming that we have all of the facts, assuming we personally know what is best in every situation – even then, God loves us. Even then, when we realize our mistake, God waits willingly for us to find our way back to him.
That’s how it is with grace – always ‘all’ and never ‘nuthin’.
Now that, my friends, makes for a great story.
In all things, Love.