Protecting the Children, Jesus Christ Superstar Style by Marisa Goudy


“Where is my mother? I am thirsty.”

My four year old is crooning quietly to her dolls. She is making sense of the crucifixion through play, asking her Disney princesses to stand in for Jesus, the Marys, and “the bad guys.”

Whatever she’s working through has more to do with the voice of John Legend and the cast of Jesus Christ Superstar In Concert than it does with a reading of the gospels. My children were raised with an eclectic mix of goddess spirituality, “all gods are one god” thinking, and occasionally attending a holiday mass. Thanks to this soundtrack, however, they’re suddenly saying things like, “Mama, I really love Jesus!” and “can I be Mary Magdalene for Halloween?”

What is it about the sacred, dangerous magic of the Bible that insinuates itself into our lives, even if it is no longer – or never was – our chosen religious text? “It’s ok, it’s from the Bible” opens the door to complicated, confusing, contradictory stories that I’d never offer to my daughters should they come from any other source.

I’m not alone in this “no R-rated movies, but bring on the irreverent, psychological, artistic versions of biblical stuff whenever you want” perspective. When I check in with other moms before I introduce their kids to the Apostolic buzz that’s on constant rotation in my SUV, I hear how much they love the show too. Maybe it’s because my friends have a secret, long-lost love of musical theater. Perhaps their Baby Boomer parents subjected them to the records once upon a time and the nostalgia draws them in. Ultimately I think it’s because we need this dark, compelling, human take on the sanitized stories they force fed us on the journey to Confirmation.

Image result for jesus christ superstarThese stories persist over the millennia – and throughout “spiritual but not religious” lifetimes – because reinterpreting them helps us make sense of our complicated, confusing, contradictory world. And, because grown-ups aren’t really permitted to work out their own questions and confusion while playing with action figures, we stage plays and ask superstars to act out the parts.

There’s one more thing that makes JCS so relevant: we need the bible to be something other than a weapon that the right uses to defend their crimes.

When “Where is my mother?” Is Neither Ancient History Nor Child’s Play

On Easter Sunday of 2018 when this new version of the musical aired, we couldn’t imagine that the US government would soon be separating migrant children and parents at the border. Every feminist you know hadn’t yet started posting the shocking headlines, signing the petitions, and donating to the legal teams that would be negotiating to reunite families.

Innocents that we were back in April, we couldn’t understand the chilling prescience of a dying Christ uttering “where is my mother?” while ten million people watched it live on NBC, bellies full of roast lamb and scalloped potatoes.

When the country was discovering a new passion for a nearly fifty year-old rock opera, we could not foresee that this interpretation of a two thousand year-old story would force us to look in the mirror right now.

Father forgive them.
They don’t know what they’re doing.

“Mama, I Would Protect Jesus Just Like He Protected Mary Magdalene!”

Instinctively, I have protected my girls from the news about the children in tents, the inconsolable toddlers in foster care, and the families that may not find one another for a long, long time. When I’m driving the kids to dance class or to our vacation at the beach, it feels safer to blast songs of ancient betrayal, suicide, and execution than to let them know that babies are crying out “where is my mother?” in the language of homelands that are too unsafe to call home.

We play a double CD set of privilege rather than talk about how real people, real children are lonely and thirsty right now.

And yet, for all my attempts to shelter my kids, my four year-old knows that Jesus Christ Superstar is about more than murder, mayhem, electric guitar, and entertainment. Her favorite part is when Jesus defends Mary M:

Who are you to criticise her?
Who are you to despise her?
Leave her, leave her, let her be now.
Leave her, leave her, she’s with me now.
If your slate is clean, then you can throw stones.
If your slate is not, then leave her alone. 

When I help her understand Judas’s betrayal and Peter’s denial, imagine the tiny voice from the car seat crying out: “Mama, I would fertect Jesus just like he fertected Mary Magdalene!”

This child – insulated as she is by the accidents of whiteness, geography, and class – still seems to understand the phenomenal necessity of protection. She understands bullies, victims, cowards, and saviors. She’s already starting to realize she’s been born into a world that is inherently unsafe thanks to humanity’s sins of racism, tribalism, and exclusion.

Even after I’ve dropped her at preschool and I could switch over to NPR to educate myself about the latest political horror, judicial intrigue, and humanitarian outrage, I let the CD keep playing.

It’s these plaintive voices and screaming violins, not the news blips, the pontificating, and the opinionating that give me permission to cry, to feel what’s really happening. It’s the art, the music, and the play that makes the news more real than the headlines ever could. It’s the way a not-so-ancient, not-so-suitable-for-children story mirrors the hell that more than 2000 children and families are going through right now.

Suddenly, even as I drive the green winding roads of New York State, a distant desert border becomes a very real human frontier.

Suddenly, I realize that I can no longer wrap myself in the privilege of cowardice and sit in the audience anymore while the bullies persecute the victims and we all pray no one kills the savior too soon.

There’s still time to join a Families Together rally on Saturday, June 30 to demand an end to the cruel and unjustified separation of immigrant children from their families.: https://familiesbelong.org/ 

 

Marisa Goudy is a story healer and writing coach with a passion for everyday creative magic. Currently, she’s working on a book project called Sovereignty Lessons which invites women to “free the princess, crown the queen, and embrace the wise woman.” Marisa is fascinated by the Irish Sovereignty Goddess and how her many expressions in myth and contemporary understanding can guide us through 21st century life through life. A graduate of Boston College’s Irish Studies program and recipient of an MA in Anglo-Irish Literature and Drama from University College Dublin, Marisa lives with her husband and daughters in New York’s Hudson Valley. Visit her website to sign up for the free community writing practices sessions she holds regularly and for the #7MagicWords challenges that she offers at the turn of each season. 

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Categories: Art, Bible, General, In the News, Music

Tags: , ,

13 replies

  1. Last night one of my Green Party friends from Athens said to me, “America is lost, everyone voted for Trump.” “No they didn’t,” I reminded him. “Clinton won the popular vote and many many people did not vote at all.” Let’s show them “the other America,” more progressive than the current leadership of the Democratic Party! With care and compassion for all!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, Carol! There’s hope. There is so much hope. Well over 200 people gathered in this little Cape Cod town and it was just one of many rallies here yesterday. People are truly more concerned about the state of the actual country than just blindly celebrating it with flag waving and fireworks, even in a place synonymous with vacation.

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  2. What a powerful, poignant post. It seems that what your girls are absorbing from the story and the music is a commitment to compassion and justice. Thank you for the reminder that we have a chance to show up in the streets today.

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    • Oh, Elizabeth, thanks, as ever for helping me see the bigger picture. As I said above, there is hope. WE are the hope. And even if we take to the streets with a heart heavy with “I can’t believe I am still protesting this sh*t” we still do it. And we trust that there is light and light and light to be found in the midst of the darkness.

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      • Huge rally and March in Kingston, NY. The mayor spoke briefly announcing that the City of Kingston, a sanctuary city, will issue city identity cards to anyone who asks. Glad you marched on the Cape!

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  3. I’ve seen two or three live presentations of Superstar, most of them well done. I thought the NBC version was awful–overdone, oversung, overorchestrated. But I’m glad someone liked it and finds some value to it.

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    • I’m sorry to hear that, Barbara. I do hope that you’ll see this post isn’t so much a music review as a comment on how JCS – and the entire story of the crucifixion – transcends time and generation and artistic direction.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Underway in New York City today, a family separation policy protesters march across the Brooklyn Bridge — crossing a bridge for the march seems absolutely right on to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, yes, Sarah! “We are the bridge builders” is something I have heard at various points since the Resistance has been called to emerge. We are also the bridge crossers. Thank you for marching yesterday.

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  5. “What is it about the sacred, dangerous magic of the Bible that insinuates itself into our lives, even if it is no longer – or never was – our chosen religious text?”

    I would answer this query by saying that we are dealing with a very POWERFUL cultural archetype ( embodying both energy and information – thus the “magical” aspect) that is inherently destructive to everyone but especially to women and children. We are playing out a story that has gone out of control.

    I have a hard time finding solace in any stories that carry such deadly messages.

    My intent here is not to offend anyone – however the feminist in me must – is compelled to – state my opinion.

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  6. First, I love the feminist in you that knows she must speak her truth.

    And I hear and respect where you are coming from, though I disagree that stories with “deadly messages” need to be abandoned in order be true to feminism.

    “We are playing out a story that has gone out of control” – yes. But if we women of wisdom and conscience abandon these stories to the “other guys” then we are giving up too much. We need new stories, we need stories of love and life, yes, but we don’t give up the magic because it’s been corrupted.

    Elizabeth Cunningham, author of the Maeve Chronicles, commented above. I didn’t have room to bring her into this particular piece, but it’s her Mary Magdalene and her Jesus who have made this story even more meaningful than JCS. As storytellers, we can reclaim, deepen, and transform the narrative.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We surely do need new stories.

      Liked by 1 person

      • And we need to re-interpret the older stories. We live in a time when we can brush off the corrosion of Patriarchy and recover the wisdom in the story of Jesus that has been lost.

        Marisa, I thought I had commented on your post, and see that I didn’t write what I was feeling…and that is appreciation for the beauty that is you and your daughter. I think I neglected to write because I was so touched by her openness to compassion, to comforting people who are in pain. I read so many vicious comments online as we try to protect a group of homeless people from those who want them evicted from their “tent city”. The reasons for evicting are given, and they are false. The reason is simply prejudice and fear leading to hatred. But many people have stood up and protected – including a mother who brought her young daughter to the camp with home made cookies she had helped bake for the people there.

        Liked by 2 people

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