I am a pastor. My wife is an actor. Not a big deal until she chooses to act in a show called Jesus Christ Superstar. Then things really start to get fun. Or awkward. You choose.
If you’re not familiar with JCS, you may think that it sounds like a second rate Christian play, offering a nice little superhero version of Jesus, saving the day and flying around in a cape. Kind of like that obscure and embarrassing show called Bibleman (if you’ve never heard of it… good.) Actually, JCS is a Broadway hit, a musical production created by Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice. And though Jesus is cape-less, it certainly raises some religious eyebrows. And The Wilmington Drama League’s current production of Jesus Christ Superstar is no exception. There is much dancing and singing, a bit of gyrating, Jesus wears a lifeguard t-shirt for the whole show, and King Herod sits on a throne shaped like a giant pink stiletto. SACRILEGE!
But it gets worse! Here’s the premise of the show: It’s the story of Jesus, but through the eyes of Judas, his betrayer. Judas is the protagonist, the good guy, the tragic one, the one that you want to sympathize with. The gospel events are shown through this lens, with Jesus’ attitude (at times) being very different than the biblical portrayal. Jesus doesn’t understand what he’s doing, he’s confused, he doesn’t care about the poor, and, according to Judas, his ambition has blinded him from his original message.
Over the years, various Christian groups and organizations have condemned this show, even saying that it destroys faith in God, Christ, and the Bible. Maybe. If you read musical scripts to find out the truth about God? Methinks someone missed the point.
Regardless though, the show can make a pastor, well….. uncomfortable.
But I love it. I love the fact that my wife is acting in a slightly heretical show about Jesus. And here’s why.
It requires you to see things from another perspective.
Want to have your world grow? Listen to someone who disagrees with you, not in anger, but in interest. When we learn to imagine how something feels or may have felt to someone else, or how they look at something, it does astounding things. We begin to see people and issues in a different light. To imagine the hell that Judas was walking through as he betrayed his dear friend is incredibly thought provoking. After all, it drove him to his death (SPOILER ALERT!!!).
It forces you to ask questions.
Was it motivated by anger? Jealousy? Love? Did he actually think he was helping? Did he think Jesus hated him? Would Jesus have forgiven him if he hadn’t killed himself? What must everyone else have thought when they saw a rabbi walking around with this mix of people, breaking the rules of a long established and powerful religion, and creating a stir that caused even the Romans to take notice? How would a woman navigate the intense response to Jesus’ compassionate love toward her, when she was accustomed to only relating to men sexually? These are amazing questions. And questions that Jesus Christ Superstar raises (and, is it possible that Herod was a cross dresser?? That one keeps me up at night).
It provides a great chance to have conversations about Jesus openly without religious baggage.
I love having open minded conversations with people about Jesus, about the nature of God, and about life, love, grace, and struggle. But people hesitate to talk about these things because they often think that Christians are just waiting for that perfect opportunity to take their mini Bible out of their back pocket and firmly shove it down someone’s trachea. Obviously, this is not true. I for example, use a smartphone. (That was a joke). Seriously though… Jesus tends to be a hot button.
But art opens things up. JCS is a work of art, a dramatic conversation that, as Director Chris Turner notes in the playbill, causes you to evaluate not just the original story, but today’s class systems, power and wealth gaps, and how Jesus might relate to our world if he walked among us today. These are killer conversations to be able to have, and as a pastor and a Christ follower, it’s just fun.
It teaches Christians to stop getting so upset about everything. People need to chill. A show like this might make you cringe a couple times (Jesus’ line about the poor- there will be poor always/ pathetically struggling/ look at the good things you’ve got. Yeah that’s definitely not what he was saying). But most folks not journeying in Christian faith already think that Christians are way uptight and too easily offended. The only reasonable rationale I can come up with for this perspective is that Christians are way uptight and too easily offended. What if we choose instead to say- wow! I may not agree, but what an interesting perspective. I’ve never thought about that before. If you follow Jesus, I’d like to invite you to stop being so offended so easily (or stop being offended altogether!). Selfishness tends to be the root of those moments.
Here’s the deal. If the only time the Jesus story is ever engaged with is during a church service, then we’re going to miss the adventure that Jesus actually leads us toward. John’s way of describing Jesus was that the word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. Not only in our church buildings (this is when I like that our church doesn’t have a building), not only inside our heads (or our hearts, for that matter), but among us. Out here in the world. I believe that Jesus is among us, and I believe that really interesting, thought provoking, and non-religious shows like JCS allow for great chances to actually think outside the box, have great conversations, and even see where the incredible message of hope, love, reconciliation, and compassion can pop off the pages (or script) and into the real world around us. It’s an amazing story from any perspective. Seriously, any way you look at it, Jesus is always compelling.
So go see the show. It runs the next two weekends, and it’s really well done. Have fun, ask questions that get you thinking, and you might be surprised. Because the Bible never mentions that Jesus can rock a high G. But believe me, he can.