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The Story of the Musical

Oklahoma! Is the first musical written by composer Richard Rogers and lyricist-dramatist Oscar Hammerstein II. Based on the play Green Grow the Lilacs by Lynn Riggs was and who’s play included indigenous persons and complicated queer sexualities—all of which needed to be cleaned up for audiences in the middle of WW2 looking for patriotic, land centered, shiny white futures. Oklahoma! opened in 1943 Rogers and Hammerstein’s musicals integrated all parts—lyrics, music, and dancing—advanced the story of the show, ushering in the Golden Age of Musical Theater.

Taking place in 1906 in the town of Claremore, Indian Territory, Oklahoma! could be summarized as a love story between Laurey and Curly. They clearly like each other and either he is being coy or she is playing hard to get. They will, of course, end up together.

Their love story is complicated by farm hand Jud. Jud… is a bit weird, sometimes unsettling, a little anti-social, and also in love with Laurey. She accepts Jud’s invitation to the big dance and Curly sings a song to Jud trying to convince Jud to kill himself, which is unhinged. On the way home from the dance, Jud assault Laurey, and inevitably, Laurey and Curly get married, Jud show us, things get violent, and ultimately Jud dies… is killed.

Oklahoma! could be summarized as a story of murder—the love triangle between these three people, using and abusing and lusting after each other.

Happening in the background is a fight between the farmers and the ranchers about the future of the land they are on. And Ado Annie owns her sexuality and negotiates the kind of marriage she will have.



The word “scapegoat” comes from this part of scripture. It’s a mistranslation of Azazel to az: “goat” and azel: “goes away” or “escape” when it was translated into English for the first time.

Most scholars believe Azazel is a proper now referring to a wilderness deity or demon.

On the day of our reading, the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur, Aaron, or whichever priest’s, work was to purify himself, the tabernacle or temple, and then the community. What we missed was a lot of blood sprinkled places, but not on the people.

Purifying was a reset—back to factory settings—the way God intended. And sin and evil and wrong doing had no place there. So, a goat was sent with all of that crap into the wilderness, where it belongs.

The legacy of the scapegoat carries on and is used today: Making a goat! You have some goats at your table to color, cut out, assemble, build. We are going to whisper over it, write on it, draw a representation of our confessions for yourself, for this church community, for our neighborhoods, any group you belong to or identify with, the church universal.



When the people who would be called the Israelites left Egypt they were a mass of people. It is possible that everyone who was there was not actually a descendant of the original 12 sons of Jacob or Israel. There might have been some of them who just decided to join up with this group who is getting freedom. By the time they reached Sinai, they were actually free. Pharaoh’s armies had been destroyed, Pharaoh had been humiliated, and the people were free.

They were given the law at Sinai from God to Moses to the people and then they were taught the ways in which they were going to build a community and live together, and the kind of community they were going to build.

And then that gives them this day the day of atonement, as if God is saying to them you’re going to screw this up, you’re going to be in perfect, so let’s find a way to move forward from there.

The rituals Were Meant to cleanse the priest and the temple and the community so they could start over fresh each year and again build that community of mutuality and love and justice and peace.

And that required some sacrifices. Two Goats as an offering from within the community to offer to God and to Bear the burdens so that the wrong they have done the sins against God could be carried away Into the Wilderness because that is where evil belongs. The Wilderness is full of unknown and loneliness and isolation, and creatures: lions, tigers & bears.

The goat to Azazel was what they needed to be able to move forward into the unity and the life that they were promised and they wanted and they were building.

Now Oklahoma! begins with the words “everything’s going my way,” sung by someone who looks like everything will always go his way. The story is, in part, about what happens when it doesn’t all go his way.

Indian territory, which is where they were, was still a year away from being named a state, Oklahoma. The folks in the musical we’re metaphorically at their own Mount Sinai trying to figure out what kind of community they were going to be moving forward. Were they going to be Farmers or Cowboys, and will the two ever get along to be able to share the land, because those were the only two kinds of people that mattered.

Philosopher Rene Girard developed the Scapegoat Mechanism. Humans would ultimately turn violent against each other–everyone against everyone. This is unsustainable in community. How to create culture and build community if everyone is fighting with everyone else? But… if there is one person who was the problem… the whole of the community could turn their anger onto that one person, remove them, and the community could start anew and refreshed, and peace would be restored… for a while, at least.

We see it throughout history: crops aren’t growing, there must be a witch; there is a plague, it must be those outsiders. It is easiest to point blame toward someone who is already missing the community support and network, someone who is already vulnerable, who is already suspicious.

Jud is set up to be other from the very beginning. He isn’t Hugh Jackman with the silver voice and muscles. He doesn’t seem to have any family or friends nearby. He doesn’t live in a home he lives in the smoke shack. And depending on how you set the stage it could be real dark and creepy. He is portrayed as a villain. And there is a movement of colorblind casting, so imagine how different it is to think about Jud as the outsider, villain, AND African American.

Jud is standing between Curly and all of the things that he wants. Jud is what stands between the community as it is and the community uniting and statehood of Oklahoma. Or at least that is what they’d like us to believe. Because with Jud gone they can now sing their ode to the land–Oklahoma! Where the Wind, and the Trees, and how they belong to the land.

Now could all of Curly and Laurey’s problems be summed up with the fact that they keep playing games with each other instead of being honest? Absolutely. And are the farmer and the cowboy never going to have a fight again? Absolutely not. The piece has been established and they can move forward as they are.

There is a solid argument that Jesus is the “final” scapegoat, carrying our sins away from God and ourselves so we can have a reset on our lives.

But I think it’s way more interesting to consider that when the ritual of the goat to Azazel is moved from the goat and instead placed on a person, it is usually indicated from a position of power against those who are weaker. Jesus was made the scapegoat of the empire, of the religious leaders, to bring the city of Jerusalem back to peace, back to the way it had been before. But the problem wasn’t out there, it was in here, and between people. The risen Christ ought to remind us you can’t execute the problem, you have to interrogate yourself.

Going back to the way things had always been and peace at the expense of the weak was not the community that God was calling the Hebrew people to at Sinai, and it is not the community that God through Jesus is calling us to. Searching outside of ourselves until we can find the problem out there is not what we’re called to do.

Ours is a call to look out for the week and the marginalized and the abused
“and the outcast to welcome them into community to be part of the work that is happening. To change, to be honest with ourselves, to be honest about the struggles and the reasons for the anger, to find a way of peace that doesn’t require sacrifice of another person.

Personally, I think the ritual with the goat is weird… and amazing, because it makes tangible what is often invisible. There is a cost but not at the expense of community. It’s a reset without blaming a person or group. It allows the person or the community to reflect on their own wrongs and name them, whisper them, learn to let them go. I wonder how we might do that. And I wonder if we can. Are there some communal sins that can’t just be forgotten but need some act of accountability or restoration?



Definitions: 1. Scapegoat (noun):

Scapegoats are also the people we falsely blame or project our own shortcomings or weaknesses on to as a way of distracting them from the real causes. We do this individually. There are also socially accepted scapegoats that the entire society perpetuates. “Scapegoating is a hostile social – psychological discrediting routine by which people move blame and responsibility away from themselves and towards a target person or group. It is also a practice by which angry feelings and feelings of hostility may be projected, via inappropriate accusation, towards others. The target feels wrongly persecuted and receives misplaced vilification, blame and criticism; he is likely to suffer rejection from those who the perpetrator seeks to influence. Scapegoating has a wide range of focus: from “approved” enemies of very large groups of people down to the scapegoating of individuals by other individuals. Distortion is always a feature.” –The Scapegoat Society


  1. Stereotype (noun): The word stereotype was invented by French printer Firmin Didot in the world of printing; it was originally a duplicate impression of an original typographical element, used for printing instead of the original. American journalist Walter Lippmann coined the metaphor, calling a stereotype a “picture in our heads” saying “Whether right or wrong, imagination is shaped by the pictures seen… Consequently, they lead to stereotypes that are hard to shake.”


Discussion Questions

  • What makes, or for whom, is everything going their way? What happens when it doesn’t?
  • How, when, and why do stereotyping and scapegoating escalate to discrimination, prejudice, and violence?
  • What are different ways people can combat stereotypes and scapegoating?
  • Where in history do you a community “scapegoating” another person/group? How does that look like the scapegoat ritual? How does it change the ritual? How does it look like the scapegoating of Jud?
  • Who gets “scapegoat”-ed in our church(s)? Community? Families? Nation?
  • How do you think about sin? What is communal sin? Can a community sin? What does that look like? Is sin against a person/persons or against God?
  • How does a community seek repentance? Restitution? Atonement? How does it change if the sin is against a person/persons verses sin against God?
  • Who is missing from this musical or story? Are they being sacrificed for the “good life”?
  • What rituals might we do or have to unify a community and/or seek forgiveness?


Other themes of Oklahoma! you may want to think about:

  • The land: Who owns it? Does the land belong to us? Or do we belong to the land?
  • Who’s missing from the story?: There are no indigenous people in this Indian Territory
  • Sexuality