Last night, my dear husband surprised me by taking me to see a production of Jesus Christ Superstar at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora. He scored tickets in the 8th row of this stunning venue built in 1931 with the second largest subscriber base in Illinois. It was probably the most amazing show I have ever seen and this is why.
To start, director, Ron Kellum, shares in the playbill his experience as a young man of color wondering whether there was space for him in theatre, to tell truths that translate to the whole range of audience members. Of this show he writes, “What would Jesus say if he came back today? I hope he would say, ‘Keep telling my story. Keep telling it in many different ways, but always come back to the truth of my story: the message of love and inclusion.’” I can’t imagine it told better than the cast last night did. Each person possessed supreme talent – not a single mediocre performance, regardless of the part.
Second, storytellers are most compelling when they identify with, believe the story they tell, the characters they portray. It was hard to miss the conviction with which Peter sang, “could we start again please?” and Mary, “I don’t know how to love him,” and Judas? oh, Judas – everything he observed, questioned, processed – he is all of us. In the cast bios, many included a scripture reference, thanks to God, quoted “faith without works is dead,” #EquityWorks and #GodIsThePlug, or #blacklivesmatter; Rufus Bonds, Jr. (Pontius Pilate) was even honored with Lifetime Achievement Award for his body of work by President Obama. Remarkable people.
Third, I went to Church. This story highlights the suffering of Jesus—not just the cross, but also his weariness toward the end of his ministry. Jesus knows our suffering, and I heard God speak that truth so clearly in the song, “I Only Want to Say.” The scene is Gethsemane when Jesus asks if the cup might be taken away. He sings, “I have changed, I’m not as sure as when we started. Then I was inspired. Now I’m sad and tired . . . expectations . . . Tried for three years; seems like thirty . . . . Would the things I’ve said and done matter any more?”
This, I think, is at the heart of my disquiet, the ambivalence with turning 50. I spent a good part of my adult life inspired, motivated by solid convictions, working hard to be a part of making things right in this world. And I’m tired. I wonder if any of it has mattered. And then feel ashamed that it should matter so much to me that it does.
“Then I was inspired. Now I’m sad and tired . . . I’ve tried for three years, seems like ninety. Why then am I sacred to finish what I started – what you started?” There is nothing that we experience, that we live, that God does not know, that Christ has not lived. “39 Lashes.” every. single. one. counted. Jesus knows the suffering of the slave, the wrongly accused. “Who are you to criticize her, despise her?” Jesus knows of the anguish of the woman abused, used, misunderstood. “Why have you forgotten me?” Jesus knows the despair of the overlooked, the marginalized, the left behind.
And this telling of Jesus’ story asks the crucial question – the question of belief. “Jesus Christ Superstar, are you who you say you are?” If I believe that Jesus is who he says he is, I must know, then, that Jesus knows my location in time and space. I must trust that the Jesus left the Advocate for me to empower, to be wisdom, pour Love into and through me, to strengthen my frame and do the work I cannot – because we are Christ’s body—together!
And yes, it all matters. I matter in this space-time. You matter in yours, and to me. And I am grateful to the incredibly talented people who sang words of truth and love and shone so brightly who they are last night, in a way no one else could have just so. #blacklivesmatter