Saturday, May 31, 2008

Jesus Christ Superstar

Last night Jessica and I went to see "Jesus Christ Superstar", the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. It starred Ted Neeley, who played Jesus in the movie that came out in 1973. I was really excited to see this because several years ago I saw a production that starred Carl Anderson, who had played Judas in the same film, and he was absolutely amazing. (In said production, Jesus was played by Sebastian Bach, who was the lead singer for Skid Row, and he played Jesus like a guy in a hair metal band. Surprise, surprise)

I was disappointed in Ted Neeley's performance, although in retrospect I guess I shouldn't have been. He played Jesus in the movie that came out 35 years ago, and I think he had played the part on stage before that. So the guy has been playing this same role for nearly four decades, and it clearly shows. He knows every word and note by heart, and I think he was just going through the motions. 

Neeley is a ridiculously talented rock singer. When he hits the high notes he blows every eighties rocker off the map. But going through the motions the way he did, seeming kind of bored with the part, made the character of Jesus seem very etherial, almost like a divine ghost inhabiting a human shell. The strength of JCS is that it reminds us just how human Jesus really was. The scene in the second act where Jesus is praying in Gethsemane just before his arrest is one of the most powerful pieces of musical theatre I've ever seen, and when it's really performed and not just sung, no one in the audience is unmoved, regardless of their religious affiliation.

So although this wasn't the best performance of JCS I've ever seen, it's still an amazing show that I never tire of, and I'm glad I went.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Further Shameless Self Promotion

Worship Connection, an online worship resource by Cokesbury, published an article I wrote on collaborative preaching. Check it out if you have a few minutes. Comments are always appreciated, of course.

For those who can't access the link above, copy the following into your browser:

Friday, May 09, 2008

General Conference wrapup forthcoming

I haven't fallen off the face of the earth, I promise. I have, however, been quite ill the past few days. It's an occupational hazard when you shake hundreds of hands every Sunday (I wonder how presidential candidates keep from getting everyone's germs?), but I'm better now. Over the next few days I'll take some time to collect my thoughts and give my overall assesment of General Conference. I can say this much right now: it's a mixed report card, as I expected it would be. We succeeded in some ways and failed in others leaving our denominational future a very open question. More specifics in a few days.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

General Conference- May 1

I'm disappointed, although not really surprised at the way many things have turned out at the 2008 General Conference. Perhaps no issue encapsulates the stalemate we find ourselves in as the issue of sexual orientation.

I saw one report that said there were more petitions submitted to General Conference on the issue of sexual orientation than on any other single issue. They ranged from one petition that wanted to make it unconstitutional for any person to try to change the denomination's stance on sexual orientation (thus making it necessary to change the Constitution before any changes could be made), to petitions allowing homosexual persons to serve as clergy and allowing for clergy to perform same sex unions. We have seen at this General Conference, and at many previous ones, that some of the strongest lobbying has gone into this issue by all sides.

So I am not surprised that no real progress was made on this issue at this General Conference. I am disappointed, however, that the delegates chose not to take a step that might at least relieve some of the tension. A majority report from one of the legislative committees recommended adding a clause to the Social Principles that said, “faithful and thoughtful people who have grappled with this issue deeply disagree with one another; yet all seek a faithful witness.” It would not have struck the clause that said that the UMC "considers homosexual practice incompatible with Christian teaching", nor would it have changed the fact that we exclude people from ordination and marriage based on their sexual orientation.

I don't see what would have been wrong with at least acknowledging that we're not all on the same page when it comes to this issue. The United Methodist Church prides itself (sometimes too much so) on that fact that we are a diverse, global church. Would it not have been in the spirit of "Holy Conferencing" to officially admit that we may not all agree but that we acknowledge that people with differing opinions are still good and faithful followers of Jesus?

It's even more unfortunate that when the issue came to the entire assembly that such hateful language was used in the debate. I received an email from one person who was present at the session in question who said that the tone of the debate was even more hurtful than the outcome of the vote. Again, how is this practicing "Holy Conferencing"?

This is especially sad in light of the sermon that Bishop Violet Fischer preached on the same day as this vote was taken (I think the video is available online). While the primary subject of the sermon was on the sin of racism, Bishop Fisher's text was the incident in the gospels where Jesus overturns the moneychangers tables in the Temple courts. She preached very powerfully that for the church to truly be living out the reign of God in the world, some unpopular actions will have to be taken and a number of people made uncomfortable if all of God's children are to be equally welcomed. 

It is unfortunate that such a prophetic message was preached in the same space on the same day that a sad social status quo was upheld by a slim majority who feel we're not yet ready to fully include all of God's image bearers in the life of the church. Hopefully one day we will truly hear this message and act on it accordingly.