My wife’s in a sacrilegious musical about Jesus, and I’m cool with it

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.

Judas and Jesus, working through some stuff.

Judas and Jesus, working through some stuff.

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.

no margin for error

When I was a young lad, all those years ago (wink), I had to write some long papers in college.  The longest I could recall was about 47 pages.  Not the type of document that you could pull off at the last second.  Unless, of course…
……you adjusted the margins on your document.
Wooohooo!  Did you know that you can adjust margins???  It’s fabulous.

just a little wider….

You see, there’s the standard setting, and then there’s the custom setting.  And wouldn’t you know, that if you made the margins wide enough, you could turn a 3 page paper into a 6 page masterpiece.  Well, at least a 6 page paper. The smartest professors would always include a “maximum margin of 1 inch” comment in the syllabus, but that didn’t stop some of us from adding an extra eighth in there.  Not me, of course.  My roommates (cough).

Personally, I’ve always enjoyed reading books with large margins.  I’m a pen reader, so that means that when I read something I like, I have to circle it, star it, or underline it.  I usually circle, because my underlines are squiggly and they sometimes look like I’m crossing out a giant section of the book.  Specifically, the margins give me room to write my own thoughts… to jot down something new.

Without a margin, there’s no space to write anything new.

Hmmmm.

Christmastime is around the corner.  Advent (the season of preparation for Christmas) starts this coming week.  Our faith community is currently reflecting on what it means to actually create space to slow down enough and wait.  Wait expectantly.  Wait on what God might be up to in us and in our communities.  And that takes margin.  I’m thinking that my life could use some larger margins.  Maybe all of our lives could use some larger margins.

Margin is that extra space, in between work and absolute responsibilities, that allows us to have an iota of perspective as we go through life.

Margin is what gives us the space to hear, to see, to think something new. Margin allows something to have time to grow in us. Margins keep us sane.  Margins allow us to rest.  To laugh.  To remind ourselves that we’re human beings, not human doings.

Our culture is crazy.  Our lives are crazy.  Our schedules are crazy.  And often we end up with no margin at all.  Or at least, the margin that once existed has been written in, and there’s no space left.

Running out of space should require us to change.  An example: I use my bible often. And I write in the margins a lot (but before you build a shrine honoring me because of my holiness, most of that time is because I’m getting ready to teach, lead a discussion, or find something I’ve forgotten.  Impressive, huh.). But here’s the deal: I’ve found that when a lot of my margins start to get full, it’s time to buy a new bible. I simply have no space for new stuff.  New thoughts, new inspiration. And that’s a problem.

Without a margin, there’s no space to write anything new.

Maybe we need to carefully consider reclaiming some new margins over this next month.  I know I do.   And it’s not about just having less time working for me, or even more free evenings.  In fact, margin for me often means that evenings are full of dinners with friends, parties, and time for relationships.  But it’s also about understanding that God does some of his best work in the margins.

After all, Jesus speaks more about God’s love for people who “live in the margins” than anyone else. Now this is a different kind of margin. The poor, the broken, the forgotten, the unaccepted, the hurting.  Those people are not in the body paragraphs of popular culture.  They’re in the margins.  And if I have no margin, I have no time to meet Jesus in the margins.  And well, sometimes in my life, I find myself in those kinds of margins too…. so I’m glad it’s where God shows up.

It’s when I understand the incredible value of margin, of sacred space, that’s when life starts to spring out of me.  You know…. real life…. the moments when you say, “Wow, this is where it’s at. This is where I find meaning, purpose and value.”

Because when I have space to hear God, and space to serve other people, life springs out of me. Without margin, there’s no room for anything of that.  Because we’re in a hurry.  On to the next thing!

Maybe my professors should have changed their syllabi to say “minimum 1 inch margin, but the bigger the better!”  I’m looking at you, Jay.

I’m hoping this season that I can develop enough margin to keep giving God space to write something new.  Enough margin that I won’t overlook celebrating beautiful moments because I’m rushing to the next thing on my schedule or to do list.  Enough margin that I’ll actually be able to participate in the “season of giving” by serving and loving other people well, and being truly generous instead of just trading nice stuff with other people who have nice stuff (ever thought about how that’s not really a season of giving?  We’re getting at least as much as we give!!! Different post, sorry.)  Enough margin that I can share this season with the many people in my life that I love.  I really don’t want to hurry through this.

And hopefully, as I create a margin of space in my own life, I’ll be moved to deeper compassion for others who have found themselves in a different kind of margin…. one not of their own choosing.  But only in my margin can I help them in theirs.  And when all of this starts to happen? True community is the brilliant byproduct.  Because we can finally be fully present with one another.

Want to adjust your margins with me?
I really can’t wait to see what new things get written on the blank space this season.