Too Much Heaven on My Mind...

Music is a powerful thing. It can tell a story more succinctly and often more powerfully than prose. It can make you laugh, think, cry, or riot depending upon the intention of the artist. Live music is even more visceral. Watching the singer strain for the high note, or seeing the sweat on a guitarists brow, seems to add to the beauty of the song. This weekend I saw a live performance of some of my favorite music ever. I saw, "Jesus Christ Superstar."

I've spoken little, and without any specifics as to my religious beliefs in these blogs. That's by design, some of the people that read my posts would think I'm not committed enough and others would label me a Bible thumper. I fall decidedly in the middle. I'm passionate about my faith, and very sure of my relationship with my Creator. I hope you are equally as pleased with your religious beliefs or the lack thereof. I'm glad to talk about my beliefs, but don't feel the need to proselytize, not actively anyway.

To give you the full story of today's blog, you need my background, religiously speaking. I was raised Free Will Baptist, which is not wholly unlike Southern Baptists (which is something I'm sure most of you are familiar with). There are points of doctrine that differentiate these two, but for the purposes of this story let's let them lie. I am a Christian, not the best one by any stretch, but I believe that Jesus was the Son of God, and more specifically God Himself. The idea of "All Man, All God" is one that is fundamental to Christianity, but it's quite difficult to wrap your mind around in practice. The pain (emotional and physical) that Jesus endured during his thirty-three years on Earth, and specifically the last two days of his life are integral to the concept of salvation. It's also hard to imagine God suffering. That's one of the reasons I think Christians were so affected by "The Passion of the Christ." The film does a lot of things well, but the main one is that it humanizes the suffering of Christ. You feel the sacrifice that was made.

"The Passion of the Christ" is a wonderful film, irregardless of your feelings about Mel Gibson. But it isn't my favorite portrayal of the Crucifixion story, that's "Jesus Christ Superstar." The rock opera started out as just an album, before it was staged on Broadway and in London. The most famous version is the 1973 film starring Ted Neely as Jesus and Carl Anderson as Judas. The opera tells the story of the last week of Jesus' life. It begins on Palm Sunday with the triumphant entry into Jerusalem, and ends with the resurrection. There is no dialogue, and the whole story is told in the form of rock songs.

If you've never seen the film or heard the music you might be thinking this is quite possibly the most sacrilegious thing ever, and so did a lot of people in the 70's. Most Christians though, upon having seen the show, feel that it is an interesting and religiously acceptable representation of the death of Christ. Some people have a problem with the fact that Mary Magdalene is portrayed as having romantic feelings for Jesus, others dislike that Judas is the main character and is shown as largely sympathetic, others dislike the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus is asking that God "take this cup away from me." I don't have any of those problems.

I think the show is a beautiful depiction of fully fleshed out characters as they are described in the Gospels. Mary, Judas, the Apostles, they were all just people trying to understand and live with something that was so much bigger than any of them could possibly have imagined. What does come through in the music is the love that the disciples had for Christ, the love He had for them, and the anguish of what He knew had to be done. It's powerful stuff.

The production I saw this weekend was staged by the national touring company and is billed as the "Farewell tour" because it is Ted Neely's (supposed) final performance as Jesus. I know, you're doing the math, and yes he is in fact over sixty. Ted Neely has been playing Jesus longer than Jesus was alive. And you know what, I'm very glad it was him on that stage instead of a man half his age. He's in peek physical condition (you'd have to be to endure the crucifixion and resurrection scenes), and he still has unbelievable vocal range. This is a show I've been in love with since the first time I saw it, about twelve years ago. But seeing it live, feeling the bass of the orchestra and being surrounded by that mass of people made it that much more wonderful. It's an experience I wish I could share.

If you've never seen the show, now is the time when I tell you you should. If you have avoided it because you thought it was sacrilegious, I'd counsel that you not make that judgment until you've seen it. If you watch it and are offended, please feel free to send hate mail. If you've never seen it because you aren't religious, and don't care to see a film about Jesus, give it a try for the music. I promise you won't be disappointed. Again I welcome hate mail if I'm wrong.

As a Christian, I feel it is very important to use your talents to honor God. I don't have the ability to write a song (and definitely not a whole opera), but I can write about what others have written. I can feel good about that. If you watch the film (or even better the live stage show) or listen to the music, I think you'll feel good about it too.