Alexander Hamilton grew up facing almost impossible circumstances. As a young boy Alexander’s father left their family, and his mother died a few years later. He found himself, at the age of 10, living as a poor orphan in the Caribbean without any real hope for a future.
Then a hurricane devastated the island Alexander lived on and he wrote a letter in response. The letter was so eloquent that a local newspaper decided to publish it. Some businessmen read the letter, saw the intellectual potential in Hamilton, and raised money for a fund to send him to America to get his education.
I love imagining that conversation, where these businessmen sat down and spoke potential into Hamilton’s life.
“We believe in your son.”
“You have a real intellectual gift.”
“You can make a mark on this world.”
For a poor orphan kid, these words must have felt like water to a thirsty soul. These businessmen spoke potential into Hamilton, and their words changed the entire trajectory of his life.
Fast forward over two-hundred years to New York City today. Thousands of kids grow up facing almost impossible circumstances. Some grow up without parents. Many grow up in crushing poverty or with parents addicted to drugs or alcohol. Many of these kids have very little hope for a future.
Enter Graham Windham, the organization that Eliza Hamilton started in the early 1800s. For two-hundred years this organization has served families in need in New York City. They continue to embody the legacy Eliza Hamilton left, a legacy of serving and loving children in need.
Jess Dannhauser, the president and CEO of Graham Windham, had the opportunity to see Hamilton on Broadway. He was struck by a particular line that Eliza sang about the orphans she served:
“In their eyes, I see you Alexander. I see you every time.”
Jess states, “When Eliza sings that she sees Alexander in the eyes of these orphans, I see that that as her saying these kids have great potential inside of them. That spirit is what animates our work today.”
I love how the leaders and volunteers at Graham Windham invest in these kids who face overwhelming circumstances daily. They build relationships with them and speak potential into their lives, just like those businessmen did for Alexander Hamilton.
The story comes full circle. Lives that seems to have no future are given a future. And who knows what those lives might become, what impact they might have on our world? Perhaps the next Alexander Hamilton lives on the streets of New York City, with leaders from Graham Windham speaking potential into them, changing the entire trajectory of their lives.
Check out this Hymn that our team wrote for the launch of our book! We took lyrics from a Hymn Alexander Hamilton wrote, called "A Soul Ascending Into Bliss," and set it to music. Enjoy!
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.
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.
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).
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.
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:
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.