No clue what it was about, except from time to time in my life someone would make an allusion to Peyton Place and I would shake my head like I understood the connection but had no clue to the reference.
Now it all makes sense, and Peyton Place is a little, as Shakespeare would say... 'saucy'. In fact, I imagine that it was on the edge/controversial movie for 1957 and my understanding is that the popular book that the movie was based on was downright scandalous.
It plays out like a New England version of a Faulkner novel. You have a small town just outside of Boston, proud, church going, sanitized... but all that is a veneer hiding the dark secrets of shame and sin underneath.
The adults know the real story at Peyton place, gossip is the main addiction and the town passes it around like organized Dons.
And what is the overarching symptom of such a dysfunctional community? Most who stay are stifled by fear and suffocating oppression. Some even live years behind lies of their true condition- they would rather experience the daily torture of personal pain than live in the the community courtyard of shame.
And you know in this- religion is going to get sucker punched. So there is a lot of emphasis in the movie of the ritual of church attendance, but little ministry, service, or change is shown. We understand this- but most of the time this rap is born out the human default mode of gospel misfires and error.
Peyton place is no different than any place or any person. No one has to look far to find the ever present dominion of darkness. If I just open my eyes a little, I see it residing in my own whitewashed heart.
The movie was classic 50's funny...campy by our standards... but the setting and story line were spot on. A large part of the early movie were seniors- planning proms and too self absorbed in raging hormones- to realize that their small world was about to be ripped open by WW2. Decisions they agonize over in their over dramatic lives result in fights with family members who desperately want them to avoid the poor choices that they made and now live with- long after the mood is gone.
And the heart pain is real. Divorce, death, adultery, abortion, suicide, rape, deceit, Machiavellian power plays, and murder all leave the litter of wounded and broken lives scattered among the wake.
The movie culminates in a final courtroom battle where a step daughter has murdered her step father who had been abusing her. The town doctor, the one who has heroically and pragmatically maneuvered through the mess finally decides it necessary to break an oath, put his own career in jeopardy, and bring truth to light and justice..not without a little sermon to the whole town about the burden they all suffer under.
Dramatic music, over acting (? how would I know)- and I can only imagine that as the movie was showing in real life America, what type of culture war was being raged about the virtue of giving money to such a movie and the questions regarding the agendas of the movie makers. Did someone pay their ticket, sneak in the back and watch just to glimpse at what was at the time forbidden or castigated?
The problem is that humans can miss this on both sides. The moralists cry foul and unwittingly support the system of suppression. The hedonist wants to push the envelope of social acceptance without realizing the consequences of sin.
The hedonist thinks, "If we can remove the stigma of sin, if we can erase the shame of sin- then people can live out in the open and be free. No more moral suppression- let's break the yoke or meaningless morality and let the hormones rage."
The moralist thinks, "How we are headed to the gutter. I long for the golden age of purity and must keep hitting sin hard to prevent all the pain that results from waywardness."
And...both are right.. but both are also dead wrong. Both have advantages to their zeal- but in the end both sides fail.
The Bible has it right. Jesus had it perfectly right.
Jesus's harshest words were to the moralists. He called them vipers. Any belief system that suppresses under the moral superiority of human virtue(though it is the human default mode of religion) only pushes pain and illegitimacy underground. It creates a sanitized Peyton Place- but the raw sewage under the painted fences and manicured gardens rots away any hope of real peace and freedom.
But you will not find a stamp of approval from Jesus on sin either. He would say, 'Go and sin no more'- not to make Him look good or because God capriciously requires robotic responses- He and we know the real truth- the consequences of sin are built in the acts themselves. Can adultery take place without any pain of regret or broken hearts? Can you steal without offense? Can a child be mistreated without suffering? God did not hold a finger in the air and invent some laundry list of do's and don'ts... He is a God of love and love blossoms in relationships. The first part of the 10 commandments are about our love relationship with God- the last part of the 10 commandments are about our love relationship with others.
You can take those off of a school house wall and call them restrictive. You can ban them from being shared in society in the name of tolerance but you cannot remove them as laws and you cannot ignore them without dire consequences.
Remove God's law from Peyton Place and you won't do anything but grease the tracks toward skid row.
So what are we to do?
We have to preach to ourselves and everyone we can over and over- to each other because we move from it so quickly- the GOSPEL. We need the gospel before we become believers in Jesus.. we need it more AFTER we come to Jesus.
The gospel does not wink at sin. In realization of broken hearts and pain, within the cries for justice and vengeance, amidst the backdrop of broken people suffering under a broken world...Jesus died an excruciating death. It could not be clean or easy. He had to pay. He had to experience betrayal, and thirst, and thorns, and pain- because all of human history in getting pummeled under the curse of sin. Our sin.... my sin....
But the story should NEVER end there...that is where the moralists/legalists stop- judging and punishing sin- like God is a COSMIC WHACK-A-MOLE hitting you over the head every time a sinner lifts His head.
Jesus rose from the grave as a God-stamped payment approved and eternal life validating offer of hope and renewal.
And this is where the hedonists/licentious people err. This is not an eternal shower to keep running into the cesspool- this is opportunity after opportunity to quit doing the things that cause pain and shame. Not to wear a badge that says, "I'm holy and you are not" but a living testimony that God is good enough to be trusted in everything.
You see, a true Christian is a peculiar person. He points to a solid standards of truth regarding the penalty of sin. He often fails at these standards. At the same time, he clings to the greatest truth of God's good story and message of mercy. When the sinner mocks him and walks right into the very behavior he is being warned about- the Christian does not condemn him because he realizes that he too sometimes does that very thing to God.
And here is the real kicker- when the consequences of sin come tumbling down- The true Christian is the first one on the scene to help and support. He does not say, "I told you so" he says "I love you, see the risen Christ, be drawn to Him in repentance and faith. I am not better than you- God is the only good One- don't leave Him over some desire to do the things that only bring regret."
I am saddened by what we have done as an American church to lose sight of the gospel. For the most part we preach God's grace, but we seem to have abandoned God's law.
Take divorce for instance. There are Biblical warrants for when that can take place, but God clearly says, "I hate divorce". But we loosen the reins thinking it will ease the pain but then shocked when we see the nation in such disrepair.
It is NEVER too late for Peyton place in God's gracious gospel timing. In a revived Peyton Place, people would be free to share their secrets and find healing and understanding. Crime would have consequences... but Jesus's most startling statement in my opinion is found in Matthew 25:36 'I was in prison and you came to me.'No doubt, in man's justice system there can be innocent people in prison. But I see this as statement celebrating the one who goes to the guilty to offer grace, forgiveness, renewal, and healing.
The gospel DOES NOT say... "aww it's not that bad". No the gospel says, 'This is worthy of eternal death, but look to the One who has died that death so that you may live."
We call it as God calls it- both in standards of virtue and offers of mercy.
What if we started doing that authentically today? Living unencumbered lives of freedom to the love and glory of God. Not afraid of condemnation or being ostracized because we fall short of some societal expectation?
Would there be less children hurt? Would there be a better quality of life? Would hearts be a little more open to hope and love? Absolutely.
I would love to see God's grace rain down a true gospel transformation one more time so my children could see what that looks like. It will not be easy, in fact it is impossible without God's Spirit.
We taste the fruit of past gospel awakening- in fact all of Western civilization basks in the benefits of Biblical application- in its gospel light of understanding. But the light is dimming.....
I am closing with two thoughts:
I tried to find (but failed to do so) the quote that says something like 'The church gave birth to prosperity, but the child ate the mother'- but the principle is that we are benefits of world wide gospel expansion- and the gospel victory lap continues around the globe- but we(I) have drifted off course and are more tantalized with consumption than service. We(I) live out 'compare and compete' rather than give and go.
We try to soothe by becoming more secular when our souls thirst for God. We think we can improve by switching from freedom of Judeo-Christian ideals to freedom FROM Judeo-Christian ideals. We need to repent of this nonsense.
Finally, how do I know if I am in the center of gospel awareness and not off course? I think it is in proportion to the answer to these questions as you walk the streets of Peyton place. Do I hold up all of God's good standards without looking down at anyone? Am I willing to see and hear truth yet respond in mercy and love? Even when the hammer of justice falls- can I still spread and cling to the message of forgiveness and grace? Not for me to look good, but for HIM to look great? Am I willing to not spread rumor or gossip which is Satan's weapon of confusion and misunderstanding? Am I willing to spend time in God's Word knowing that I am so prone to wander away? Can I pray for all? Can I serve all? Is the gospel good enough for all?
Thank you for forgiving me Lord, I have failed again and again. Please do not remove your Holy Spirit from me. Help me see the truth...Help me live the truth- we need You!