Godspell

Nov 11, 2009 | | 12 comments

Jesus from GodspellPlease don’t tell my Sunday School teacher, but I watched Godspell, a musical from 1972 based on the life of Jesus from the Gospel of St. Matthew.  I was 14ish when it came out in movie form and being Southern Baptists, my peers and I were forbidden to see it.  I (being an obedient young fellow) didn’t see it.  By the time I was old enough to decide for myself, I had forgotten about it and it was not readily available (VCRs hadn’t even been invented yet).  I never saw it until tonight.

I can understand why they didn’t allow us to see it.  This modern, artful depiction of Jesus and his followers was way too “out there” for most of the folks in my parents’ generation.  In this musical, Jesus is a hippie and is dressed clownishly.  The whole “hippie” thing of free love and irresponsibility, chafed against their values  for hard work and conformity.  To make matters worse, his disciples are both black and white, male and female and the songs are rowdy rock and roll (for the time).

While I understand and even respect the stance of those church leaders (oddly, I don’t remember ever discussing this with my parents), I was not part of their generation and I feel like I missed something good.  The movie I watched tonight was quite dated.  The video quality and the style of music were typical of the 70’s… but there was something about it that moved me.  I think I would have been moved as a teenager too.  I saw a creative, artistic expression of the life of Jesus that I think would have inspired me.  Clearly, it was never intended to be taken as a literal interpretation of the Bible, but that fact was likely missed by the folks who ran things in my church.  Their position was that dancing, joking, references to drinking wine, etc were sacrilegious and disrespectful.  To them, acceptable depictions of Christian themes in art would be limited to “normal” church music and art.

I remember some of the songs from the musical like “Day by Day” that came into their own as pop tunes.   I could never understand what they found offensive (apart from the association with the musical itself).  According to the wisdom of Wikipedia, “Most of the score’s lyrics were from the Episcopal Hymnal, set to music by the cast members.”  I think it was a good desire to protect the young people from something, but in retrospect, their control kept me from an experience that would have been enriching to me.

Day by day
Day by day
Oh Dear Lord
Three things I pray
To see thee more clearly
Love thee more dearly
Follow thee more nearly
Day by day

Posted in: church, memories, movies, personal

12 Responses

  1. That’s interesting. Because my Catholic high school (a seminary, no less) put on Godspell as a production. And pretty much all of us saw it as a movie before that.

  2. Thanks mjh… Two thoughts: 1) I believe that would be about 10 years after my experience, which would be an entirely different situation. In 1973, the whole hippie thing was still an issue with the “establishment”. In the 80’s, not so much. 2) Catholics were off limits for us too. That’s an overstatement because I knew people who were Catholic, but that was like knowing someone who was German. I didn’t have any context and they weren’t considered to be of the same faith.

    In fact, I still hear Christians refer to Catholics as something other than Christian. I’m sure there are many Catholics who are not serious about following Jesus, but there are likely just as many Protestants who are the same way. One of these days, I’ll explore that in a blog… but not today 🙂

  3. Yes, Jim…that is exactly the way I remember it too. The same stance was taken when Jesus Christ Superstar came out and I never could understand the objections to that either. The times have surely changed. However, I do believe that you have grown in your perception of things around you in all these years. I wonder if you would have felt the same if you had seen it then? Me too…

  4. I just watched this movie last night, flipping through channels, being boared out of my mind. I saw the movie and decided hey, why not. So i turned it on and was completly amazed. I know the movie was made in the late 60s, early 70s, but i was completly drawn to it. Im 17 years old, and this is one of the best films i have ever seen. I am a follower in christ, jesus ever since i was 9. This movie helped stregthen my relatinship with God, and I am forever greatful to the people who made this movie. So thank u, thank u so much.

  5. @jimazing
    🙂 Your welcome, and thank you for sharing your story about the film, I found it really inspiring that you listened to your elders even though you wanted to go see it, and how God made a way for you to see it in the future:)

  6. @Hannah. LOL. I was obedient to a fault. 🙂 One of the most beautiful parts of the message of Jesus is how we are all part of one body. Each of us has something to bring. Artistic people tend to get shut out because they are “weird” and don’t fit in. They can scare people who are uncomfortable with questions or doubts.

    People in leadership positions sometimes make rules for less than noble reasons. I believe the rules I was subjected to forbidding me to see Godspell were born out of fear. It would have been better for all if they had been able to address their fear in a more healthy way. I believe it squashed my own creativity just a little. I got over it, sure. But I sometimes wonder how my life might have been different if that flame had been fanned instead of having water thrown on it.

  7. @jimazing
    i totally agree with you. it more then likely would have started a spark in you:) And your right the messege in godspell was beautiful. Artistic people do get shut down alot of the times because they’er labled “weird” i see it all the time at school, and just in life. And it probly would have been better for them to face their fears. I think alot of that has to do with people just not knowing what the messege is about. Alot of the adults i know think the music and the movies that alot of the youth today are listening and watching is’nt godly. But i know that Jesus can be shown in so many ways,shapes, and forms:)

  8. @Hannah. The number of people who are willing to face their own fears is very small. The result is that there are an awful lot of people who are motivated to convince themselves and others that they are not afraid. All of us can be afraid of things we do not understand. People who are afraid of things they don’t understand and unable or unwilling to see that in themselves are dangerous. They can knowingly or unknowingly hurt many.

    You seem to have a clarity that will serve you well. I want to encourage you to use your own perspective to recognize the beauty and art in the lives and work of others and to encourage them as you have me. Everyone needs encouragement, (not insincere praise), true encouragement. You are an encourager. You may not get lots of recognition for encouraging others, but you will make a real impact in your world.

  9. @jimazing
    Thank you so much:) Im honored that i can encourager you, because you have encouraged me as well. I hope i can be just as inspireing as you are one day:)

  10. @Hannah
    You already are. Thanks for this little conversation. I don’t know if you noticed but I wrote this blog post in November 11, 2009. We picked up and had a conversation about it as if I had just written it. That is very cool to me.

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