Saturday, November 1, 2008

Sibling Assignment #77: Raymond, The Christian Skeptic

About three weeks ago, I assigned this prompt to my sisters and me:
In honor of the upcoming production by the Sixth Street Theater of the musical "Godspell" write a post explaining what your spiritual experience has been with "Godspell" and, if possible, how that experience is similar and/or different from your spiritual experience with "Jesus Christ Superstar".
Silver Valley Girl's post is here and here is InlandEmpireGirl's.

As I posted in my last piece, I live my life skeptically, never really knowing if what I see or hear or feel is true. I experience the world as an unsettled, unpredictable, puzzling, inconstant, fluid, riddling place where we live our lives acting on partial knowledge, fallible judgment, and fractured perceptions. It's humbling. As much as I'd like to think I'm knowledgeable, exercise keen judgment, and am impeccably perceptive, I'm not. I do the best I can, but I'm living in a fog. I think we all are.

Therefore, I am a Christian. I have to live by faith in a mysterious reality of resurrection and forgiveness. Otherwise, I'd go mad. By all scientific and social scientific measures, to live a life of faith in what I cannot see or touch or taste or hear or smell and by a reality that cannot be measured, is to be a fool.

I'm a fool. I'm a Christian fool.

Over the last couple of years or so, I've not been going to church, primarily because my struggles with depression combined with my introvertedness combined with the demands of my work make church attendance draining. It's weird. Church fatigues me.

But, two weeks ago, I recommitted myself to church worship again. After services both Sundays, I came home and slept for an hour or so.

Church still fatigues me.

But, entering again into the liturgy of the Anglican tradition and once again drinking the wine of the blood of Christ and eating the bread of Christ's body at the Communion rail invigorated my spirit, fatiguing as that might be.

Returning to church is awakening what I think is my most Christ-like quality: my skepticism.

And this brings me to "Godspell".

I saw "Godspell" the first time at Cowles Auditorium on the campus of Whitworth College (now University) during the summer of 1974. The performance was put on by a group of Christian actors giving benefit performances in various cities in support of Caesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers.

I'd heard that "Godspell" offended some Christians because Jesus is portrayed as a clown.

I thought it was perfect. Clowns are skeptics. Clowns subvert the world as we know it, taking what we assume to be true about the world and showing us, no, that's not true. There's more. We think a small car can only hold a couple of people. Then we discover a small car can hold a thousand clowns.

Jesus was skeptical of common understandings of the Law, of the human tendencies toward strife and grudges, of the what the world says is the place of the poor and the infirm and the prisoner.

He was skeptical of the finality of death. Where others saw finiteness, this clown Jesus saw eternity, everlasting life.

"Godspell" helped me understand the subversive nature of the parables. We expect the holy men to help the man beaten on the road to Jericho, but it's the slimy Samariatan who aids him; we expect the prodigal son to be yelled at and punished by his father, but he his return is celebrated, laviciously; the world would say that if a shepherd had ninety-nine out of a hundred sheep in tow, be satisfied. Ninety-nine out of a hundred ain't bad. Jesus subverts that idea. In the subversive Kingdom of God, the shepherd searches and seeks and doesn't rest until he's found his one lost sheep and returned it to the fold.

I don't remember all that Jesus the clown does in "Godspell". It's been too long since I've seen it. But as one who is skeptical of worldly values and of worldly pursuits as ends in themselves, Jesus as clown helped me see worldly values turned upside down.

I can't change the nature of the world I'm so skeptical of, but I can live in faith, seeing through the eyes of Jesus, seeing things in reverse, living by a reality that transcends the one I'm so skeptical of.

But, there's more.

Complementing the experience I had with "Godspell" was the very different experience of "Jesus Christ Superstar". I first saw Jesus Christ Superstar as a movie, first with Silver Valley Girl when she was about a fifth grader and then again my junior year at Whitworth when it was the Saturday night campus movie and Cowles Auditorium was packed.

I'd been told in my high school youth group at the United Church of Kellogg that I should be careful about seeing "Jesus Christ Superstar" or listening to its music.

The musical presented Jesus as human. The show did not portray the resurrection. It looked at Jesus as a product of his followers' public relations and marketing. Was Jesus Lord? Or was Jesus Christ a Superstar, a Beatle, Joe Namath, Mickey Mantle, Marilyn Monroe, or Marlon Brando?

Put another way, I began to think the musical was raising questions regarding what happens when Jesus, in the 2oth/21st century is not so much Jesus Christ the Lord, but Jesus Christ Superstar.

I saw "Jesus Christ Superstar" live in London in the summer of 1975.

Afterward, I walked the streets of the West End, questions erupting inside me about Jesus Christ.

Who are you?

Are you what they say you are?

Is it all hype?

I heard the voice of Mary Magdalene: "I don't know how to love Him."

My faith grew as I questioned, as I gave in to rather than suppressing my skepticism. I experienced spiritual expansion. I experienced God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost urging me to doubt more, to ask more questions.

"Jesus Christ Superstar" opened the way for my interrogative living of faith. Even these thirty-three years later, questioning is my chief way of knowing God through Jesus Christ.

I don't want to worship a Superstar.

I continue to do, as I did that night walking the streets of London: in the words of Paul, I work out my salvation with fear and trembling.


Silver Valley Girl said...

I think that is what those experiences should be about...not literally defining who Christ is, but making a way for people to be touched in whatever way speaks to them, and hopefully it brings about questions as well. Each night we rehearse Godspell, our company grows closer, just as the characters we are portraying, and I hope this production touches those who come, hopefully in a positive way. Thanks for a great post.

JBelle said...

church exhausts me.

JBelle said...

well, there's church and then there's Church. And you always gotta wonder. You should wonder.

Inland Empire Girl said...

Church exhausts me also. I am just thankful it is such a small church. This post really helped me understand everything I couldn't remember from that vague time in 1973 when all this was happening. Maybe it was that strong message we heard at youth group that kept me away. Who knows. I hope to relive all this when I see Godspell in November.

MGM said...

Church PEOPLE often exhaust me, and religious rhetoric pretty much ALWAYS exhausts me. "Church" in terms of pressing into God and worshiping and literally experiencing THAT energizes me. I've had many an unfortunate church experience that were always exhausting, and quite literally devoid of any Jesus at all. Fortunately, I've also had church experiences that uplifted me and energized me, but only because I found Jesus among the people.

As I write these words, I realize something I already knew but which seems well illustrated in my above examples. That is, that while "church" can tend to be exhausting because of what people have made it, in my experience, "Jesus" Himself is always energizing when I truly meet with Him.

I haven't seen either of the shows you reference since I was a small child. I feel inspired by your post to see them again.

Joel said...

I found this post through a google search, and just wanted to say I really, REALLY enjoyed it. Thanks.