It’s been hard to think about Jesus lately, but I was meditating on Him today.
I place the blame for this on Adrienne, and my bad taste in music.
Adrienne likes to stay up late and sleep way in. She will make a good college student someday. She hates loud music, so I’ve developed a torturous routine for waking her up for homeschooling. First I ask nicely, and go downstairs and wait. Then I come back up and pull the covers off, and wait. And when I get annoyed, around noon or so, I put on some very loud music until she comes downstairs and turns off the television.
Michael is actually the one who invented the process, threatening “Black Sabbath in ten minutes!” and then finding “War Pigs” on Youtube, which is how I discovered I like Black Sabbath. The lyrics to “War Pigs” reads like a sermon.
Personally, my annoying musical tastes are different. I’ve been using the original concept album of Jesus Christ Superstar.
Jesus Christ Superstar was one of the records my father had when I was very little, in the 80s when people listened to records, back before we descended into the madness of the Charismatic Renewal. He also had the original cast recording of Cabaret and Judy Collins singing Marat/Sade. I used to sing and dance to the records in the living room, using the fireplace hearth as a stage. I still like all of that music. It reminds me of good times, before the madness began. I wonder what the family would have been like if we’d remained ordinary Catholics.
When I was a little girl, I wanted to play the part of Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar, but as I got older I wanted to be poor old Judas. He’s got all the best lines. And now that I’m deconstructing my toxic religious practice, suffering from religious trauma from the Charismatic Renewal, I identify with Judas even more.
It’s surprisingly fun to sing “You sad pathetic man! See what you’ve brought us to? Our ideals die around us, and all because of you!” when you are actually furious with Jesus and His groupies.
Earlier today, when Adrienne didn’t come down to do her school work, I queued up the playlist and started blasting Simon Zealotes. I stimmed and sang along to the music as I’ve done since I was three. Lord you know I love you! Did you see I waved? I believe in you and God so tell me that I’m saved! I’ve been complimented for my singing voice but I am not a dancer. That made it even more fun.
In my head, as I stumbled around the living room, I saw the play staged in a different way– not weird people from the 70s gyrating in the desert like in the movie, not the way I’ve seen it staged in more modern productions either. In my head, that musical number took place at a Festival of Praise.
If you’ve not been to Franciscan University of Steubenville, I don’t know if I can adequately describe the Festival of Praise for you. It’s pandemonium, something out of a nightmare. A Festival of Praise involves the whole school crowding into the fieldhouse where the basketball games are held on a Saturday night. They put a great big San Damiano Crucifix up on a stage in the front, and sometimes they expose the Eucharist in the monstrance there as well. Volunteers pray over the gymnasium and sprinkle the floor with blessed salt. And then they hold a two-hour rock concert which is also a Charismatic praise and worship service. A student band plays bad praise and worship hymns at ear-splitting volume while student volunteers run the lyrics on a power point projector. An energetic youth runs back and forth across the stage with a microphone directing the worshippers to worship differently whenever he sees fit. After every couple of songs, the band starts playing softer chords for several minutes so that everyone can pray in tongues along with the chords– and everyone does pray in tongues, each trying to have a louder tongue than the person next to him. People who think they have been given the interpretation of the tongues go up to the stage to alert the energetic youth, who passes them the mic. Sometimes six people with different interpretations line up at once. Then it’s time for the band to play again. There’s dancing in the aisle. Sometimes a priest takes the monstrance and parades it up and down the aisles of the fieldhouse so everybody can wave their hands at it, still screaming tongues and worship lyrics at the tops of their lungs. Sometimes the worshippers have panic attacks and overstimulation meltdowns, but nobody assists them or gets them outside to quiet and safety because they think the suffering person is just being slain in the spirit. They do this at Franciscan University once a month. And, combining their love of silly nicknames with their innocent inability to recognize a double entendre, they refer to the Festival of Praise as “the Fop.” They really do. The Festivals of Praise where the priest carries the monstrance around is called a Eucharistic Fop.
In my head, I was at the Fop, singing and dancing, while a bewildered Jesus wandered up and down the aisles. “Jesus I am with you! Touch me, touch me, Jesus! Jesus I am on your side, kiss me, kiss me Jesus!” And I was also Simon yelling at Jesus to add a touch of hate at Rome. And I was also Judas, standing off to the side, looking disgusted.
Immediately, I wanted to direct and stage manage the whole performance as well as playing Judas. I decided that the high priests and scribes would all wear Franciscan cassocks with the three-knot belt, except for Annas who always sings falsetto. He’d be played by a woman, a real opera soprano, screeching in an old-fashioned nun’s habit. The whole chorus would be decked out in the kind of Catholic kitsch t-shirts that Charismatics wear; some of the girls would be in long modest jean skirts with three-quarter length shirts under their t-shirts. They would wave Rosaries at Jesus to see if the chain turned gold, something I learned to do from Apparition culture. The Roman guards would be seminarians in chasubles. Pilate would be a bishop. Herod would be a megachurch preacher with a Joel Osteen accent, singing in the midst of his giant arena. At the end, all the fervent Christians would turn on Jesus and murder Him, as they do.
I guess that’s a more serious meditation I’ve been thinking of in all the silliness today. Where you find a fervent adoring crowd, swept away in emotional contagion and calling it devotion, you’ll find the people who murdered Jesus. It’s true in the Charismatic Renewal and I think it’s true in all of Christian history.
I’m beginning to think that Christianity, if it is anything good at all, is the act of realizing you’ve become part of a mob that’s screaming that they love Jesus and about to lynch Him by the weekend, and stepping away, and becoming Mary Magdalene trying to serve Him instead. And then doing it again and again, always, on a path of continual conversion. Every time you find yourself in the crowd screaming tongues louder than the person next to you, you can know you’ve got it wrong. Every time you’re just serving Jesus, you’ve got it right.
I don’t know what that will look like for me, but it’s something I’m working on.
We’ll see where we go from here.
image via Pixabay
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.