“I don’t know why he moves me.”
– Mary Magdalene
Paraphrasing Mary, I have been singing, watching, rewatching and inhaling “Jesus Christ Superstar” since the Easter Sunday live performance. And I don’t know why it moved me so. After all, I am a huge “Sound of Music” fan too, and I was one and done after the Carrie Underwood live broadcast.
I now own the commercial-free HD version from Amazon. Yes, it moved me on several different levels. And it is obvious from the overwhelmingly rave reviews on social media, so unusual, that I was not the only one.
The nostalgia factor. In 1970, I was an earnest Southern Baptist in Irving, Texas, but feeling different and isolated and lonely. A Dallas FM station debuted the album in its entirety, and I listened late at night by myself. I teared up at “Hosanna” and still do. Over the years, after buying the album (which I still have), I would listen up through “Gethsemane” and skip the lashes and the Crucifixion. (I also skipped the rumble scene in “West Side Story.”)
I knew all the words (still do) and relished the fact that I loved it while so many of my fellow Baptists were scandalized. So it is embedded into my formative years.
It’s more than a story. I had a sense while watching it that this saga is part of my spiritual DNA, my personal history as a Christian – even though I did not darken the door of a church for a period of 30 years. On a “good” day, I believe it all, or almost all of it (I no longer believe that Jesus was tortured and killed for our future sins). On a skeptical day, I believe that Jesus was a great wisdom teacher, still worth following 2,000 years later. So to watch that familiar saga told so spectacularly and so grippingly stunned me, shook me. Something Big and Meaningful happened, anyway.
The production was electrifying. The opening guitar riff, so familiar, was shredded by a 15-year-old standing alone high up in the scaffolding that was part of the set and where the scattered musicians could be glimpsed rocking out. The live audience added to the electricity. To pull off something of that soaring quality on live television, those thousands of moving parts that gelled magnificently – other than some garbled vocals and a couple of missed camera shots. In no way am I nitpicking. I was in awe of the creativity, the musicians, the dancers and the singers.
It was humanity at its most profound and creative – just what I needed to breathe in at this moment.
The “rabble” moved me. I have always struggled with the conventional or cartoon version of Christianity – where Jesus is white with blue eyes, American flags stand in the corners of sanctuaries, and people sit in pews unconverted and unhearing. I realized Sunday night that I would rather hang out with these tattooed, pierced, crazy-haired people of all colors in torn jeans and leather than with the conforming, conventional people who never question authority and always uphold the status quo. The “rabble” following Jesus around on stage were broken, outcast people who also happened to be interesting and creative. And man, could they dance!
If you are content to let Fox News and Facebook, abetted by Russian bots, spoon-feed you beliefs – and you don’t have the mental energy or ability or desire to be open-minded and questioning – then I am afraid you are just boring and toxic to the spirit of community and our country.
Because if Jesus came today, what would happen? Would he even last three months, let alone three years, in this hateful, polarizing social media environment and 24-hour news cycle? I can envision the Tweet storm that would engulf him as those who brandish the Christian flag so menacingly deny the Christ and his message.
Two thousand years later, the story remains the same.