Professor uses sabbatical to study songs from Les Miserables

Les Mis
Based on Victor Hugo’s classic novel, the musical Les Miserables has been seen or heard by over 60 million people. (Photo by HarshLight used under Creative Commons license)

By Brad Crofford

For his first sabbatical, one professor chose to study a story whose universality he describes as “almost unparalleled (except the Bible).”

Dr. Doug Samples, professor of pastoral ministry and the lead pastor at Lake Overholser Church of the Nazarene, spent the spring of 2012 working with two other pastors looking at songs from the musical Les Miserables.

Based on the classic novel of the same name by Victor Hugo, Les Miserables has been seen or heard by over 60 million people in 42 countries. Amongst many plots, it centers on the story of a French ex-convict Jean Valjean who is pursued by inspector Javert for many years.

Samples first heard the musical in California in the 1990s and was immediately drawn to it.

“I just saw this beautiful story of grace, redemption, and transformed lives,” Samples said. “I wanted to preach something from it from the first time I heard it. It resonated with me.”

The idea of studying Les Miserables in a more rigorous way was something that Samples had been considering for quite some time. When he told fellow pastors John Nielson and Nathan Burns about the idea for this project, they told him they would want to be a part of it if he ever did it. When it came time for Samples’ sabbatical, they were able to start the project.

From this spring up through the present, Samples, Nielson, and Burns have been Skyping on Thursday mornings to work on the project they dubbed The Les Mis Project. They have created a blog with reflections on each of the songs, study guides, worship themes, notes about the book and musical, and more.

Samples is currently preaching this sermon series at Lake Overholser Church of the Nazarene inspired by what he learned during his sabbatical. He compares the songs to Parables: while they do not have any meaning in and of themselves, they point to a larger truth that matters.

“I’m not preaching from Hugo or [musical producer] Cameron Mackintosh’s Les Mis, I’m preaching from the real Gospel,” Samples said.

As part of the sermon series, students from SNU’s School of Music will be performing songs from Les Miserables each week.

With the upcoming release this Christmas of a film version starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Amanda Seyfried, and Anne Hathaway, Samples and his fellow pastors hope there will be some popular interest in this project. In addition, the touring version of Les Miserables will be at the Civic Center in Oklahoma City from October 9 through October 14.