Hamilton and the Life Altering Power of Encouragement

Can you remember a time when someone saw potential in you and called it out? A time that someone encouraged you, believed in you, and cast vision for your future? These moments have the power to alter the entire direction of our lives.

In my upcoming book, God and Hamilton: Spiritual Themes From the Life of Alexander Hamilton & the Broadway Musical He Inspired (available for pre-order on Amazon.com), I highlight different themes found in Hamilton that engage and challenge audiences in their own spiritual journey.

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The first chapter from my book talks about the grace given to Alexander Hamilton when some local businessmen in the Caribbean read an essay he wrote, recognized the intellectual potential within Hamilton, and raised money to send him to America to get his education.

The resources given to Alexander represent a gift of grace that he could never have earned for himself. Everything that Hamilton would become in America was built on the foundation of this grace.

Recently, I recognized that an entirely different grace existed in this moment as well, in addition to the monetary gift. These businessmen offered a grace to Hamilton by encouraging him – by seeing potential and calling that potential out of him. 

I like to imagine the conversation between these businessmen and Alexander, and how deeply their words impacted him. Living as an impoverished orphan boy, with no one caring about him or his future, these words were quite possibly the most meaningful words ever spoken to him.

“Son, we read your essay. We see great potential in you.”

“Alexander, you have a rare intellectual gift. We want to help you develop that gift.”

“We expect great things from you Alexander. You are going to America. Never underestimate what you can accomplish there.”

I like to think that these words shaped Hamilton’s entire future. Certainly the money given opened up a new world of possibility for Hamilton. But what if the words spoken to him we just as important as the money donated? What if their belief in his potential inspired Hamilton’s belief in himself, and propelled him into his role in shaping our country?

The Book of Ephesians says that we should use our words “for building people up and meeting the need of the moment.” Never underestimate the power of your words. When you call potential out in someone else, your words contain the power to change the entire direction of someone’s life. Just like they did for Alexander Hamilton.

God and Hamilton Interview with Hamilton Cast Member Lauren Boyd

The following is an excerpt from an interview with Hamilton Broadway cast member Lauren Boyd.  In it, Lauren and I have a conversation about the spiritual nature of Hamilton, how the musical can transform our lives, and how reading my upcoming book, God and Hamilton: Spiritual Themes From the Life of Alexander Hamilton & the Broadway Musical He Inspired impacted her. 

The full exclusive interview is available on my recently launched Kickstarter campaign: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1725044885/god-and-hamilton?ref=user_menu

Kevin Cloud:  So many people talk about Hamilton not only as a brilliant musical, but as a life changing experience.  Why do you think that happens?  Why does this musical and the story it tells resonate so deeply with audiences?

Lauren Boyd:  Before every show Chris Jackson (George Washington, original Broadway cast) would gather up a circle of people to pray…that tradition has kept going.  We do that to this day.  We get in a circle and pray before every performance.  So the presence of God is there in the theatre.  Even if audiences don’t realize it, they are coming to see a service. They are coming to church. 

KC:  This musical is much more than a play.  It creates a spiritual experience for people. There are so many moments of transcendence in this musical. You can feel the atmosphere in the theatre change.  Do you feel those moments on stage?  What is it like on stage when it happens?

LB:  Yes, you can absolutely feel it. There are definitely moments where there is an energy in the audience and on stage and you can feel something that is not tangible.  It’s quite exciting to be a part of that and a part of this story. 

KC: Are there specific moments where that happens for you?  Where you feel a weight or presence?

LB: When Eliza forgives Hamilton. I find it sometimes difficult from a woman’s standpoint forgiving Hamilton for what he did. He cheated on his wife.  That is a very hard thing to forgive. But the way you presented it (in your book) I realized I needed to have more mercy and compassion towards Hamilton because he is a sinner like all of us.  Your book broke down these walls I had put up toward him…I was looking at it as “How dare he do that do me?” 

KC: You wrote such a nice blurb for my book. You wrote: “God and Hamilton turned me inside out and revealed to me a side of Hamilton that I never thought to explore.” Can you expound on that quote?

LB: Mercy is a huge thing that I learned (reading God and Hamilton). I learned that Hamilton is, in fact, a human being that lived and died and breathed…the book helped me to humanize him in a way that I didn’t approach him before because I came into the show knowing Hamilton from a different angle.  When we think about Hamilton we think about this amazing show…it is already glorified.  You were able to demystify all of that and bring Hamilton to life.  That’s where I was able to have a little more mercy and kindness (towards Hamilton).

"This is Me" and the Emotional Power Music Holds

If you haven’t seen the video of the cast from “The Greatest Showman” rehearsing “This is Me,” stop what you are doing, and click this video. In it, you will experience music’s unique ability to move our emotions deeply and powerfully.

The song, written by Benj Pasket and Casey Paul (La La Land, Dear Evan Hansen), challenges all of us to accept the broken parts of ourselves and embrace ourselves as glorious human beings.

Keala Settle, who plays the bearded woman in the movie, sings:

I am not a stranger to the dark
Hide away, they say
'Cause we don't want your broken parts
I've learned to be ashamed of all my scars
Run away, they say
No one'll love you as you are

This video captures the first time the entire cast rehearsed the song together, and the emotion pours out of everyone in the room.  Tears flow and joy explodes across peoples’ faces as they sing out this fundamental truth:

When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
I'm gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I'm meant to be, this is me
Look out 'cause here I come
And I'm marching on to the beat I drum
I'm not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me

Why is it that music unlocks emotions within us that often times feels inaccessible? How does music helps us to feel the things we need to feel? I watched this video with a few friends yesterday, and at the end of it each of us had tears in our eyes.  Such is the power of music to move us, to inspire us, to engage our emotions in meaningful ways. 

 

 

Hamilton’s Spiritual Writings

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Alexander Hamilton wrote prolifically.  Whether it was war time letters while on George Washington’s staff, government and financial papers while serving as America’s first Secretary of Treasury, or love letters to his wife Eliza, Hamilton’s life is marked by an almost unimaginable amount of writing. 

Lin-Manuel Miranda musical, Hamilton, captures this truth in the song, “Non-Stop.”  “Why do you write like you’re running out of time? Write day and night like you’re running out of time?” sings the chorus.  

Two important spiritual writings reveal Hamilton’s deep and authentic spiritual life.  “The Soul Ascending Into Bliss” was a poem written by Hamilton during his teen years:

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AH! whither, whither, am I flown,
A wandering guest in worlds unknown?
What is that I see and hear?
What heav’nly music fills mine ear?
Etherial glories shine around;
More than Arabias sweets abound.
Hark! hark! a voice from yonder sky,
Methinks I hear my Saviour cry,
Come gentle spirit come away,
Come to thy Lord without delay;
For thee the gates of bliss unbar’d
Thy constant virtue to reward.
I come oh Lord! I mount, I fly,
On rapid wings I cleave the sky;
Stretch out thine arm and aid my flight;
For oh! I long to gain that height,
Where all celestial beings sing
Eternal praises to their King.
O Lamb of God! thrice gracious Lord
Now, now I feel how true thy word;
Translated to this happy place,
This blessed vision of thy face;
My soul shall all thy steps attend
In songs of triumph without end.

The second writing was a letter Hamilton wrote to his Father after a hurricane ravaged the Caribbean Island he grew up on.  Hamilton interprets the natural disaster through a spiritual lens, and calls people to “adore [and trust] thy God:

Where now, oh! vile worm, is all thy boasted fortitude and resolution? What is become of thine arrogance and self-sufficiency? Why dost thou tremble and stand aghast? How humble, how helpless, how contemptible you now appear. And for why? The jarring of elements—the discord of clouds? Oh! impotent presumptuous fool! how durst thou offend that Omnipotence, whose nod alone were sufficient to quell the destruction that hovers over thee, or crush thee into atoms? See thy wretched helpless state, and learn to know thyself. Learn to know thy best support. Despise thyself, and adore thy God. How sweet, how unutterably sweet were now, the voice of an approving conscience; Then couldst thou say, hence ye idle alarms, why do I shrink? What have I to fear? A pleasing calm suspense! A short repose from calamity to end in eternal bliss? Let the Earth rend. Let the planets forsake their course. Let the Sun be extinguished and the Heavens burst asunder. Yet what have I to dread? My staff can never be broken—in Omnip[o]tence I trusted.

5 Lessons on Initiative From Alexander Hamilton

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The trajectory of Alexander Hamilton’s life could most accurately be explained by one ever-present characteristic: he lived with an intense bent towards initiative. Throughout Hamilton’s life, his determination to take action relentlessly propelled him forward. In the song, “My Shot,” from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit musical Hamilton, Miranda captures what could have been Hamilton’s life mantra.  

Whether serving as George Washington’s chief of staff during the Revolutionary War, leading the attack that would end with the surrender of the British at the Battle of Yorktown, or creating a new central government in the early Republic, Hamilton’s initiative was constantly on display for all to see.

Initiative is one of the most important tools a leader possesses. A leader must constantly push progress and momentum forward. Hamilton embodies this characteristic, and he offers us several lessons for living with a bent towards initiative in our lives. 

Overcome Resistance.

Author Steven Pressfield, in his book The War of Art, writes that anytime we attempt to take initiative, launch a new project, or attempt anything good for ourselves or for the world around us, we face a common enemy. He names this enemy resistance, and calls it “the most toxic force on the planet.”

Resistance discourages, deceives, and defeats us when we give into its negativity and hopelessness.  How many of our goals and initiatives are defeated in our hearts and minds before we even begin? “Why try?” we ask ourselves. “It’s probably not going to work anyway.” Hamilton expected this resistance, faced it head on, and refused to allow it to keep him from charging into his calling. 

Acknowledged the power of initiative and the cost of inactivity. 

Hamilton, throughout his life, displays for us the power and impact of initiative. His antagonist in Miranda’s musical, Aaron Burr, seemed to live with a bent towards hesitation, or a lack of activity.

Miranda describes the difference: “Burr is every bit as smart as Hamilton, and every bit as gifted, and he comes from the same amount of loss as Hamilton. But because of the way they are wired, Burr hangs back where Hamilton charges forward.”

So often our success in life depends on this critical choice: will we charge forward and take initiative or will we hang back and do nothing?

Communicate.

After America’s victory in the Revolutionary War, their government operated under the Articles of Confederation. This document was designed to keep power at the state level, and frustrated those who longed to form a strong central government.  Hamilton and Washington both believed that a strong central government was essential for American to enter into its “manifest destiny.”  

Hamilton’s strategy to establish a new Constitution revolved around an ambitious writing project called the Federalist Papers.  Hamilton wrote fifty-one essays in the span of seven months to convince his fellow countrymen of the wisdom and necessity of a strong central government.  Hamilton understood the power of communication, and its central role in any initiative project.

Dig Deep.

One of the most important battles in the Revolutionary War was the Battle of Trenton. Early in the morning on Christmas Day, 1776, George Washington ordered his army to cross the Delaware River to attempt a desperately needed victory against the enemy.  

Hamilton almost missed the battle as he lay sick in bed that morning with a raging fever. But when he heard of the attack, he willed himself out of bed and into the action. He couldn’t stomach the idea of missing the battle. Initiative oftentimes is painful, costly, and requires great sacrifice. Will you dig deep and give what it takes in the moment of action? 

Believe that when you move, God moves with you.

W.H. Murray writes, “Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation) there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would not otherwise have occurred.”

Hamilton lived with a deep faith in God and a belief in His providence. He believed that when he took initiative, God was right there with him. When we live with this faith, we find the courage we desperately need to charge forward and take initiative. 

God & Hamilton

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I will never forget the moment I walked out of the Richard Rogers Theatre in New York City, having just experienced Hamilton the musical. Hamilton has captured our culture’s imagination like no Broadway musical ever before. It currently has almost 700,000 fans on Facebook, plays to sold out shows every night in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, and is beginning a forty-plus city national tour in January. Hamilton mania has taken over our country.

There are many reasons this musical resonates so deeply with audiences across the country.  The lyrics, music, and songwriting truly are genius.  The innovative decision to cast the Founding Fathers with actors of color creates all kinds of imaginative possibilities. Hamilton’s life itself offers a compelling storyline, with huge triumphs and disastrous failures.  

But another reason exists that explains why Hamilton impacts audiences at the level that it does. Hamilton offers people a transcendent experience, a story that draws audiences into the presence of the Holy. Actress Rosie O’Donnell, who has seen the show over fifteen times observes that Hamilton “is medicine that I need for my soul.  It feels vital to me; it feels like going to church.”

Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of Hamilton, gave a speech recently where he talked about one of his favorite aspects of live theatre: its ability to create moments of transcendence. Hamilton teems with such moments.  Moments where a poignant scene takes place on stage, an act of betrayal, an offer of forgiveness, the grieving of a loss of a child, and the entire atmosphere changes in the theatre. Everyone watching can feel the weight, or the presence, of an important truth, or even of God himself.  

After my experience watching Hamilton, I read Ron Chernow’s biography of Hamilton. As I read more about Alexander and his wife Eliza, my conviction grew that this story was a deeply spiritual one.  Alexander grew up with a robust faith, prayed and studied the Scriptures in college, and interpreted the world through a spiritual lens. His wife Eliza might have been even more devout. She followed God faithfully and served him throughout her life. 

After experiencing the musical and reading the biography, I felt compelled to write a book that connected this cultural phenomenon with the spiritual themes found at its center. Themes such as grace, despair, surrender, death, and redemption. Themes that are not only at the center of Hamilton’s life, but at the center of our lives as well. By diving deeper into these themes, and their presence in Hamilton’s life, this story and musical have the power to transform our lives. We only need to open ourselves up to it.