“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

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.



Pilgrim said...

I saw the musical, with my parents, when it came here many years ago. (My dad got free tickets to events from doctors he worked with, as an x-ray tech.) There was some good music, but the Christ figure was a lot more like one of us than God.

On another note, I watched a DVD of Lars and the Real Girl the other night. i thought this film had a lot of parallels to life with a person with a disability. Wondered what you thought.

Anonymous said...

If you felt Jesus Christ was being disrespected, mocked or misrepresented deliberately, why didn't you just walk out ?

Would Jesus have stayed and watched the entire sordid show ?

Pure silliness.

Jeff McNair said...

I think it is worthwhile understanding differing perspectives on a variety of issues, not the least of which who Jesus is perceived to be. I had heard the music before, of course, but didn't get the whole picture till I viewed the play. By viewing the play, I have points of discussion with people who are not Christians who are familiar with the play or music. People will ask, "What did you do over Christmas?" I would respond, "I saw JC Superstar, have you seen it?" It opens up opportunities to delve into the truth about Jesus and because it is such a part of cultural literacy in the US, I felt it a good thing to see and to understand.

Regarding "Lars and the Real Girl" it is a very interesting movie with much to discuss. Let me think about it some more and I will add an entry. Briefly, it is interesting how Lars positively changes those around him through his delusion about the doll.

Pilgrim said...

I thought Lars was interesting, as a person with a mental problem. I also thought the community's response to Bianca was an interesting demonstration of inclusion. As the mother of a nonverbal child who uses a wheelchair for long distances, I sometimes identified with Lars, in his attempts to get his community to accept and include Bianca.

It was interesting to see how far a community could go to implement inclusion, even of a doll, when motivated by love (in this case, for its caregiver).

Anonymous said...

I must be a little out of the loop om this one. Who are Lars and the Real Girl?

On JC Superstar, I remember thinking that many of the questions Judas asks are questions I would have liked to ask of Jesus (in 1970or so). I didn't realize then that the four Gospels and the Epistles answer those questions. So, I agree, the play can be a great place to begin a discussion.

Anonymous said...

Since I saw the movie with your brother Steve and listened to the album on many occasions I would agree that the portrayal of Jesus leaves one with much to desire. My Jesus was a man of strength beyond measure. My son Dan has a shirt that shows Jesus face down with the Cross-on His back doing a pushup saying “bench press this”! With every stroke of the lash He took it for me and for my stupidity so that I could get smart and get right with God! I still prefer Godspel.