Yesterday the Telegraph published an article I had written about Andrew Lloyd Webber’s search for Jesus. Not his personal spiritual quest, of course, but the hunt for someone to play the character of Jesus in the stadium tour of Jesus Christ Superstar. The response was interesting!
I was careful not to endorse the TV series or the tour, but thought it raised interesting questions for how alert Christians might engage with it creatively. Let’s just say some of the response wasn’t… er… creative. But, I stand by the points I made and the questions I raised. Sometimes the church is landed with a creative and imaginative opportunity to speak a common language with popular culture… and can’t see it. Well, here’s the latest opportunity and I hope people will see it.
The basic question it raises is simple: if you were looking for Jesus, what would you expect to find? A manipulable wimp in a white nightie? A ‘muscular Christian’ figure? Someone charismatic? Someone you might normally just pass on the street? And what prejudiced images do we filter our expectations through?
The question is pertinent not only because of Superstar, but I have just got home from an hour with a group of teenage lads in an RE class where they were exploring through Mark’s Gospel what discipleship is – what it means to commit to what you believe. They made strong points, asked good and penetrating questions, and made it a privilege to be there with them.
I actually spent four hours today (after a meeting with Bradford business leaders over breakfast) in this local Church of England secondary school. This is a school that makes a mockery of current ideologues’ obsession with simplistic measurements of achievement. Brilliant leadership in a building that isn’t helpful has still attracted excellent teaching staff. I loved being there (for the second time this year). Some of what I saw and heard was inspirational. I came away feeling very thoughtful and challenged, too.
The Church of England is constantly slagged off for cherrypicking the best students in the best areas. When people like me counter this with examples such as the school I visited today – and I have visited many, many others – which takes kids from its immediate catchment, including ‘challenging’ areas, we get dismissed. I seriously wonder if some commentators ever visit schools like this and open their eyes to what is demanded of teachers – such as that they should be surrogate parents, extended family, social workers, psychologists, counsellors, spiritual directors, friends, mentors, etc.
Not every school starts from the same point, but some are deemed to be ‘satsifactory’ in terms of certain markers when the starting points are ignored. No wonder that so many teachers and headteachers express the view that the (particularly Westminster) politicians ought to get out more and immerse themselves in these realities before setting policy.
Anyway, Superstar is intriguing. So is being grilled by teenage lads about what commitment really means.