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The year was 1997. Movie theaters gave us sequels, movies with the same actors in them, and movies with the same plot. I guess it was just another year. The UK, however, gave us Bean the Movie and The Full Monty. Set in Sheffield Northern England, it tells the story of 6 unemployed men who decide to perform at a strip club for money. While I think Kinky Boots the movie was absolutely set up to be a musical, this one… But it was made on a budget of 3.5 million dollars and made 250 million. And I’m not sure about the math, but it sounds like a good return.

And so, the American musical theater production of The Full Monty was born… developed. The book–the words spoken–were written by Terrence McNally, “the bard of American theater,” having won 5 Tony Awards (and many other awards) for plays and musicals. David Yazbek, who does not have a fancy title at this point in his life, wrote the music and lyrics, and while he was nominated for a Tony for Best Original Score, that win went to Mel Brookes for The Producers.

Up until now, when researching and learning about the musicals, I have found study guides and articles talking about the show and its themes. I found almost none of those. Nothing. It seems The Full Monty is popular but not quite considered insightful.

Set it Buffalo, New York, 1989, the steel mills have closed, the workers have been sent away, and the lines are silent. Best friends Jerry and Dave collect their unemployment checks, with all our male characters singing their “I want song,” connecting their value and worth as men to their jobs.

Jerry: struggles with commitment so is divorced, is in debt, and needs money to pay child support for a son who doesn’t like him or respect him.

Malcolm: tries to kill himself and is saved by Jerry and Dave. He lives with his mother, is lonely and wants friends, and, it turns out, is gay.

Harold’s: wife has become accustomed to a particular way of living, a lifestyle with travel and dance classes, and Harold is afraid and ashamed to tell her he lost his job.

Noah: well, I’m not sure what his issues are except… racism, as written black character.

Ethan it turns out wants Malcolm.

Dave: will go on to struggle with his weight and if he is desirable to even his wife, and feels insecure about his wife going to the Chippendales.

Jerry and Dave sneaking into the strip club and speaking to one of the male strippers is what gave Jerry the idea they need to have a performance of their own, for the money. They audition and bring along their four friends. The almost 2 hours of the show, besides these first 20 minutes to set up the plot and the last 10 for the stripping, is the relationships of these six men learning to dance, grieve, be honest, what it means to be a man, to love and accept themselves and others.

In the midst of their struggle, their loss of identity, and their fear they find joy and meaning in their friendship giving them confidence and courage to live again.

It’s a silly plot, it’s a silly premise, it’s a silly show. But at a time when what it means to be a man and manly are the focus of many unofficial online education for young people, we need this show, and a study guide.



Sometimes when I talk to a family about their loved one who has died, they will say with grief, love, and pride, “They never complained, no matter what was going on.” That is not my world and those are not my people. Among the things people will say about me when I die it will never be, “she never complained.”

I’m a little suspicious of this claim. But, have you ever met someone who actually doesn’t complain? Maybe it’s real true, and they have found some equilibrium in life. But maybe they are ignoring the hard things and difficult conversations. Maybe they are playing at being happy. I’m not going to lie, happy all the time people kinda freak me out…

I have this friend. She oozes kindness. At first meeting you might think that she is one of those happy all the time folks. You’d be wrong. She grieves and weeps, rages and laments. She has known terrible times and good times. I don’t think happy all the time would really be the title given. She oozes joy.

Now, there is some conflicting definitions of “joy”

Brene Bown’s Atlas of the Heart she writes that joy is: “sudden, unexpected, short-lasting, and high intensity; characterized by a connection with others, or with God, nature, or the universe. Joy expands our thinking and attention, and it fills us with a sense of freedom and abandon.” Happiness is “stable, longer lasting, and normally the result of effort, lover intensity than joy, more self-focused.”

Others suggest that joy is the inward feeling and happiness is the outward expression of the feeling. Or joy is rooted in the soul and happiness is more surface.

In my growing-up years, a lot of time was spent with youth leaders telling us that we were never promised happiness and joy comes from Jesus.

The Thessalonians were living in a time and place of struggle and trials–not thrown to the lions kind of persecution but certainly some nasty comments thrown at them. And yet, Paul sees in them, and gets reports about them, that they are filled with the Spirit, living well together, and full of joy and rejoicing.

The men of Buffalo, New York aren’t what we could call joyful, at least not at the beginning… but by the end… there is joy in their final dance number. There is joy in relationships beginning and healing.

I think, as I think about my friend, and the men of The Full Monty, and the people of Thessalonica, that at least way to joy is through knowing yourself and your place in the world.

My friend, she knows when she hurts–physically, emotionally, spiritually. She names them and cares for those pains. She knows when she unhappy in a situation and doesn’t deny it to make others feel better. She lives in deep connection with her family and loved ones and those in need and her church community. It doesn’t diminish her joy–it grounds her. Her vulnerability with her beloved community, her cloud of witnesses, is part of what makes joy possible–to know herself in all its complexities.

It’s what we see in the show–the men grow in connection with their losses, griefs, fears, disappointments, and for that reason they show up for each other in times of need, they show up for each other in joy. They become more courageous, more comfortable, more able to move into the unknown future with found in friendship.

My guess is, Paul would assume this is a given when looking at a church community–that they are called to live in deep connection with each other. So Paul talks about gratitude and joy. It’s knowing your place in the world.

I met a Unitarian Chaplain who may not have believed in God, but we talked about how she surrendered every morning–surrendered to the universe, the cosmic order, the wheel of fate, some sense of the divine, I’m pretty sure it was a 12 step thing. And I know it initially sounds strange, but we don’t control everything, in fact, we can’t control anything outside of ourselves and there are things about own beings we can’t control. So every morning she surrenders to the day that will come if she participates in it or not. And that view of yourself in the world might just remind you to be grateful. Everything that comes to you is something you can be grateful for.

Returning to Atlas of the Heart, Brene writes about how researchers describe the relationship between joy and gratitude as an “intriguing upward spiral.” Trait gratitude predicts greater future experiences of in-the-moment joy. Trait joy predicts greater future experiences of the moment gratitude. and dispositional or situation joy predicts greater future subjective well-being. It all just spirals up.

It all spirals upward.

And here’s the thing, I think we miss joy when we are chasing after the really marketable idea happiness. If we believe we’re supposed to be feeling happy, everything is supposed to be going well, we’re supposed to be smiling, we’re supposed to… we’re going to miss the deep joy that comes with honest connection. We’re going to miss the deep joy that comes with seeing each bird that nests as a gift to celebrate in, each rainfall cooling the earth as a gift to rest in, each friend as a gift to cherish, and all of that as joy.



Can you remember a moment of great joy in your life? What happened?

How might we nurture joy: in our lives, in our communities, in our church, in our families?