50, Jesus, and Stardom – Day Forty

jesus christ superstar

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

Music is Human – Day Thirty-Six

listen music is human

Some of the most popular songs in 1967 included, the Beetle’s “Penny Lane” and “All You Need is Love,” Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” “Light My Fire” – The Doors, “Soul Man” by Sam & Dave (though many will know it from the Blues Brothers), and the Tremeloes’, “Silence is Golden.” In Gospel music that same year “Oh Happy Day” resonated with its hopeful tune of deliverance and salvation in the bleak time of the Vietnam War. And “Amazing Grace” is the all time most popular hymn since the reformation.

Thomas Aquinas defined a hymn in this way: “Hymnus est laus Dei cum cantico; canticum autem exultatio mentis de aeternis habita, prorumpens in vocem.” (“A hymn is the praise of God with song; a song is the exultation of the mind dwelling on eternal things, bursting forth in the voice.” But not until 1820 was approval given to sing hymns in the Church of England. Indeed, the Wesley’s were not afforded the luxury of singing Charles’ hymns in church in their lifetime. What is more, Charles only provisionally included a single melody line with his poetic theology because he was ambivalent to the suitability of singing parts. And John and Charles did not even agree with each other on what was an appropriate level of affection in the lyrics.

Music is by far the most prevalent subject of disagreement in the church. Just yesterday Howie was cornered by someone accusing him of single-handedly ruining his church by leading with subpar, non-hymn/Wesley-prescribed music. Greer noted that in every church in which we’ve served, music has been the biggest source of criticism and venom. What is it about music that provokes such scorn, so much bitterness? Mozart was considered an apostate in his time, for heaven’s sake!

Scientists have dated flutes made from bone to 42,000 years ago, and one large collection of musical instruments dates to 7,000BCE China. Clearly, creating music is a key feature of being human. But just as each person is unique and every culture is distinctive in societal expressions, ought not a variety in music style and composition provide a greater, richer expression of devotion to the Creator God that made us creative in the first place?

Music heals. Music congregates. Music lifts the spirit and wallows with it in agony. It carries sentiments of love and strengthens the summons to revolt. Rhythms and tones are discerned in the expert thumping of hands on animal skin, carrying a message or supporting a communal dance. Music clears the mind and can clear a space, and it touches the deepest parts of us, indelible. A song can conjure the angsty, stomach-churning feeling from junior high while ice-skating with friends (and that boy I liked); or the comfort I felt when hearing my father sing How Great Thou Art beside me in church.

The power of music is indisputable. And it is incredibly fulfilling to really appreciate all types of music (well, except Country—I just really can’t appreciate Country music). It has changed throughout human history; the combinations of sounds and the sequences of chords are infinite. There is no inherent virtue in any specific sequence. One cannot determine an ethic of sounds ought or ought not to be combined. Music is art—it is an audible expression of the soul, meaningful to the composer and capable of evoking meaning for the audience. And music is to be celebrated.

We do not all appreciate the same style (or volume) of music. Why would anyone think that any community that gathers on Sunday morning would always fully appreciate all of the music all of the time? Charles Wesley wanted to put theology to music, expressions of devotion to Jesus in song, so people might carry them through the difficult week and be encouraged.

But I suspect the deeper issue is not that I think this music is unholy or that song not appropriate for church. The weightier concern is that change is uncomfortable, and listening to each other is work. It isn’t the music. It’s that I am more concerned about my well being than those in the community. And then I miss out on hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit in a new way. And sometimes, there is music even in the silence. Because it is not until I have ears ready to listen that we can grow together—in worship, in community, in Love.

Practice with me mindful listening: sound a chime or bell (the one on your phone is fine).

Listen for that space where the sound ends and the silence begins.

Listen some more.

What do you hear?

Rustling in the kitchen?   A bird chirping outside the window?   Water running on the other side of the wall?

Listen.

Be grateful.

Put Your Record On – Day Twenty-Four

let your hair down greer

Around the time when I was born, in the late 1960s, James T. Russell invented the technology behind the Compact Disc. Russell was a huge music fan and wanted to enjoy it via media that recorded the music with better precision than LPs and cassettes. The writable CD comprises a thin layer of dye sandwiched between a layer of protective polycarbonate and a layer of aluminum. Lazar light passes through the (normally translucent) dye, bouncing off the aluminum and back out. A higher-powered lazar, then, will “burn” a dark dot that acts as a “0” and passes back to make a space – “1,” and so on, creating a binary code of information.

This first type of CD cannot be changed—the code is burned, indelible. Developers, then, drew from a fundamental premise of chemistry that atoms are arranged differently based on configuration and state (liquid, gas, solid): Replacing the dye with a layer of metallic alloy that can exist in two discrete solid forms and shift between the two, a lazar can alter a spot to crystalline (reflective “1”) or amorphous (non-reflective “0”) and back again. Now it is rewritable, a CD-RW. DVDs and Blu-rays work on the same principle. DVDs are forged with red lazar beams that produce light waves with a wavelength of 650 nanometers (less than 100th the width of a human hair), and Blu-rays use the still shorter wavelength emitted by blue light.

These days, on some days, I feel like an LP etched in unyielding grooves save the scratches that accumulate and distort the information stored within. I wonder if I’ve become too worn and scratched to play anything pleasing or beautiful that others might enjoy. Or will they tire of straining past the scratched bits and the places that repeat, and repeat, and repeat until someone lifts the needle past the rants and move it to the next spot. Some days I fear that I am become as irrelevant as that record, everything changing in nanoseconds around me as my body aches and groans, grooved and scratched, while infinitesimal nanoscaled wavelength’s of light dodge and burn unfathomable ideas and technologies. Some days.

And then my sons come home from school and plop themselves down on the chair in my office, tell me how they hate school . . . and then how this kid told him he would totally win the debate, or how that teacher plays math games on the chalkboard with him before school . . . . And I remember that we are much more like that Blu-ray – and really, containing infinitely more information because God’s word is written on my heart and is stored there where bits become alternatively crystalline and amorphous, rewriting my story, again and again and again . . . with the same infinite supply of information . . . .

And the Word became flesh . . . and dwelt among us . . . and in him is life and the life is the light of all people . . . grace and truth . . . God’s heart . . . unfathomable love. And love does not become scratched. It yields and heals and rewrites, perfects, never fails. Sometimes I am afraid. Things change – and remain the same. God never changes and I do. So, it’s all right. Today I’ll put my records on, go ahead and let my hair down.