Friday, May 16, 2008

On Christ and Webber

I attended a performance of Jesus Christ Superstar last night in my hometown theatre, the Hanover.

I must admit that I was less than optimistic about Mr. Webber's reading of the gospel story. But I was pleasantly surprised. There were scattered instances of personal chagrin, but overall I was impressed. The story is mostly faithful to tradition. It seemed to me that the primary theme was the question: "Who is this person?" It's even the hook of Jesus' signature song:

Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ Who are you? What have you sacrificed?
Jesus Christ Superstar Do you think you're what they say you are?

There were a couple of funny moments. One was Judas singing along to a rock beat "Just don't say I'm damned for all time." It's hard to rock out to eternal damnation. It was also hard not to chuckle as Jesus belted out a high-pitched rock and roll scream. I normally don't associate Jesus and Brad Delp.

Seeing the story acted out onstage also made me think of the value of seeing the gospels in three dimensions. In his biography of Thomas More, Peter Akroyd described how in medieval England the gospels, and other religious stories, were constantly being acted out in public. In one scene last night, Jesus raised someone from the dead. I found myself thinking, "Wow, if I was there when that happened I would believe everything this man said." Most of all, I would have believed in what He said He was.

The move towards "Cool Jesus" that started in the '70s and is characterized by media such as Jesus Christ Superstar did very little to advance the position of the Church. In fact, it probably did harm. But from today's viewpoint, Webber's play can be seen as an engaging and even somewhat true image of the life of Jesus.


Veritas said...

I was actually very inspired by the "cool Jesus" of Jesus Christ Superstar. That movie, but more particularly the album soundtrack to the play, was one of my great Christian inspirations. The rock music brought the story to life to a younger generation that was presented the Christian message by a post-WWII generation that was less than inspiring to many.

Jesus Christ Superstar might not work today, but it caught the attention of a generation of young people looking for meaning. Unfortunately the post-WWII Church in America, whose religiosity was generally either devotional or obedience-oriented, was not equipped to properly catechize this younger generation that emphasized personal freedom and questioned authority, particularly due to the Vietnam War.

I agree that we need more theatrical acting-out of the gospel story in our day to make it more real and inspiring to people. But that needs to be followed-up with good educated community-oriented catechesis.

Create programs combining these two elements and you could make a big difference.

This Liberal said...

Thanks for commenting, Veritas. I found your thoughts to be interesting and well-put.

Catachesis in the post Vatican II era is a fascinating topic. Many young people that I meet today express frustration and disregard for the "soft" catachesis of this era. They regret the things that were not passed on to their parents, and in turn to them.

But I think Veritas raises a good point: the post-Vietnam generation needed a different approach. In many ways, this was the most educated Catholic generation ever. The approach of "devotion and obedience" was not effective.

The post-Vietnam and post-Vatican II generation was a generation stood on its head. So many changes resulted in a topsy-turvy culture with parents not knowing what to say to children and children not knowing what to take away from parents.

Like many in my generation, I'm not happy with what was not passed on to the next generation, especially in regards to catachesis. But as Veritas points out, it was a complex time and easy answers are hard to come by.