Please 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