How Hello, Dolly! Taught Me to be a Better Christian
Ryan Duncan Crosswalk.com blogspot for ChristianMovieReviews.com and Ryan Duncan, Crosswalk.com Entertainment and Culture editor
- 2016 Sep 16
The other day I stumbled across a forgotten treasure, the 1969 musical Hello, Dolly! starring Barbra Streisand. If you’ve never seen this movie you’re really missing out. Hello, Dolly! is a wonderful story about an eccentric matchmaker who brings new life and energy to everyone she meets. It’s a film which offers sage advice on life, love, happiness, and, if you’re someone like me, what it means to be a Christian. Perhaps the best way I can explain this is by introducing you to the film’s two main characters: Horace Vandergelder and Dolly Levi.
On the surface, Horace Vandergelder seems like the ideal gentleman. He’s a self-made man, the first citizen of Yonkers, rich and important, with a thriving business at his fingertips. It soon becomes apparent though that for all his accomplishments, Horace is a rather lonely and unpleasant human being. He scoffs at the hopefulness of his two young clerks, and rigidly dictates the life of his niece, Ermengarde. Even his future wife is just someone who can “shovel the ice” around his home.
Dolly, meanwhile, is the polar opposite of Horace. She essentially lives hand-to-mouth, performing all manner of odd jobs to make a living. Yet despite this, Dolly is one of the kindest people you’ll ever meet. She’s rich in love, and it makes her happy to help others find passion in their life. In one rather telling scene, Ermengarde voices her surprise that Dolly would have so many acquaintances in the upper crust of New York society,
“Not acquaintances, Ermengarde, friends!” exclaims Dolly, “Dear friends from days gone by.”
For Horace, people are little more than cogs in a great machine, while Dolly pursues them with grace and humor. In his mind, love is transactional, a quid-pro-quo system, but for her, love is like money and manure, “It’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around, encouraging young things to grow.”
Their whole dynamic is oddly reminiscent of a verse in 1st Corinthians,
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” – 1 Corinthians 13:1-4
Too often, it feels as though the Church is trying to create a generation of Horace Vandergelders. We’re more concerned about becoming successful than we are at becoming successful Christians. We believe the true path to evangelism is through money and influence. It’s the old idea of, “If we just put a Christian in charge, everything will be fine!” The tragedy is that by embracing this attitude, we start to regard people as expendable, just like Horace did.
What we truly need are more Dolly Levis, individuals who are less concerned with personal achievement and more interested in loving their neighbors. She knew the only way to change someone’s heart was by pursuing them the same way God pursues each of us. It’s through people, not power, that the Kingdom of God is made present in our world. So if you ever have a free evening, try catching up on this classic musical, and take some advice from one Dolly Levi. Our faith isn’t worth a thing unless it’s spread around, encouraging others to grow.