Friday, December 19, 2008
Jesus Christ, not so Superstar
Last night my family went into LA to see a musical play. It is our tradition to do so during the Christmas holiday. This year, we saw Jesus Christ Superstar. I haven't seen the film, or the play before, but back in the 70's I had the record and remembered all the songs. My theological IQ has improved a bit in 30 years and as I watched, I had to just shake my head. Jesus was depicted as somewhat effeminate, pure white, and not a little strange. Whenever he was not talking to a person, he appeared to be talking to himself, or maybe he was praying. He also was portrayed as amazingly weak. He was always tired and tempted and pretty much overwhelmed with the word he was in.
The theology of the production was pretty trite although there were moments when various things would pop through that would make me think. For instance in the scene where Jesus is overwhelmed with people asking to be healed, the people were not portrayed as individuals, but more as a kind of human mass with various heads. They asked for healing for a variety of things, but once again they were just a mass of suffering which had faces as you would get a bit closer. And of course, Jesus was portrayed as being overwhelmed to the point of frustration with this mass of humanity. I wondered whether that is who people, who even consider who Jesus is, who do not believe in him, think he is about. Unfortunately I think the church sometimes reflects this. But Jesus made the world, for goodness sake, and is not overwhelmed by his creation. Through faith, we have access to Jesus's power for blessing in the world. It is through faith, however. Without faith, we will be overwhelmed by the suffering mass of humanity. With Christ, in faith we wade into suffering and become his hands working his purposes.
At intermission, my son and I had a conversation with a couple who sat in front of us. The woman was somewhat drunk and the man very smug. They spoke of how well the play portrayed Jesus's not so positive characteristic of being so self-promoting. I wondered aloud to them, "Where do you get the idea that Jesus is self-promoting from the Bible account of who he was?" I think they liked the Superstar account more and in some ways treated that as the truth about who Jesus was. I guess when they go to Lion King, they think animals talk to each other and have political motivations they act on in order to gain power. But what about the church would cause them to think otherwise?
Do we portray a wimpy other worldly Jesus, who is tired, and tempted and overwhelmed? Was Jesus someone that hadn't really thought through the events of his time and his life such that he screwed a lot of things up as in the line "Every time I look at you I don't understand, why you let the things you did get so out of hand." The life of Jesus is portrayed as my life often is and sometimes feels: just putting out fires, running from place to place. They don't see the plan in what Jesus did and who he was. The church's response to people with disabilities is like a textbook example of something happening that we are unprepared for and not in accordance with any plan. "How could God allow..." fill in the blank. A tired, tempted and overwhelmed God can be expected to mess up and miss some things some times. He is a God needing my forgiveness or at least my understanding. "Cmon, God is doing the best he can!" The JC Superstar form of God is up in heaven uttering an occasional "Damn it" when he messes up yet again. Our response to him is "just rest tonight."
No I don't worship Jesus Christ Superstar, or at least the one portrayed. People experiencing disability are not just a big mass of anything. They are individuals whom God loves whom he knows intimately, who are a part of his plan. If the church doesn't see people as unique creations whom God loves, they support the myths.