Monday, January 31, 2011

Everything's Moving Quickly Now

Well, the subject outline for THL111 at Charles Sturt University have been put up, the guide and readings sent out, luckily Koorong had the text book in stock and all I need to wait for is the forums to be put up.

Subject consists of a number of modules which follow the structure of the text book Faith Seeking Understanding by D. Migliore, with two essays and participation as the method of assessment. The essays seem "short" for their subjects especially since other theologians have written tens of thousands of pages on any of their subjects. Whereas, we have less than 2001 words to justify them.

Ah well, the joy of University.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Jesus Christ Superstar - Part 2 (The Plot, Part 1)

Before I discuss the actual show, I should probably summarise the plot. Too many times one sees arguments, debates or theories made when it is clear that the participants do not agree on what they are arguing about or the reader is unaware of this matter. Without this knowledge it is wholly unwise to enter into a debate or expound a theory though of course it is valid to disagree about the basis of any knowledge presented.

So, Jesus Christ Superstar has a number of characters. The principal protagonist is Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of our Lord. The principal antagonist, of course, is Jesus Himself. Then there are the other apostles, the priests, the Roman guard, Pontius Pilate and a support crew who variously play the poor, those who are sick and the crowds. In Jesus Christ Superstar, Mary Magdalene is given what I would term a major-minor role. Given that this is meant to be a plot summary as opposed to an analysis I will not discuss this role yet.

In the beginning are words but these words are the words of Judas. He is complaining to Jesus that they are “getting much too loud” and that Jesus’ followers are “blind” because they have too much “heaven on their mind”. It is a succinct and powerful way to paint a picture of what has happened without actually having to show it being played out. Jesus uses no words to respond although it is clear by His facial expressions and the interaction with Judas that He’s fed up with hearing it.

The next scene has the apostles asking “What’s the buzz?” The words and questioning are rhythmic but it is clear that they are sung with a contemporary (for the 1960s) tone. There are no “thees” and no “thous”. They do not elevate Jesus to a divine being unless the plot requires it. In between Jesus berating the disciples for worrying too much about the future and being too ready for fighting, he says they should go back to fishing. It is here we meet Mary Magdalene.

Mary begins to minister to Jesus in an almost sensual, provocative way. Remembering that her actual profession is a prostitute, Judas wonders why Jesus lets her do this. Judas is worried that this will attract attention from the authorities and claims he is not bothered by her profession. He claims that “she doesn’t fit in well with what you [Jesus] teach and say.” This prompts Jesus’ first outburst. He shouts at Judas and asks him “[w]ho are you to criticise her?” He then goads the others to “throw stones” but only if their “slate is clean”. He states they are all ‘shallow, thick and slow’ and that they do not care if He comes or goes. All but Judas contradicts this last accusation but Jesus emphasis that not one of them do.

I must say I love the next scene and song. Mary, who alone understands what Jesus needs, is trying to calm Him down. Realising that He is all too human she ministers cooling water and ointment to Him reassuring Him that “everything’s alright” and the “world can turn without [him] tonight.” Judas, though, says that using the ointment to soothe Jesus is wasteful and “should have been saved for the poor.” Turning to Jesus, Judas claims that the poor, the starving and hungry need this money more than Jesus needs the anointment. Jesus responds that there will “always be poor, pathetically struggling” and they should take stock of the good things they have. He then boldly states that they will be “so so sorry when [he’s] gone.” Mary takes the oil back from Judas who looks suitably annoyed and continues to minister to Jesus who finally falls back to sleep.

In the temple Caiaphas has called a meeting of the council. As High Priest he is concerned that this Jesus will overturn the established order and cannot understand how Jesus is so popular despite the lack of riots, mobbing or slogans. He senses prophetically that their position will be eliminated “because of one man.” The other priests cannot figure out what to do since Jesus was “bigger than John when John did his Baptism thing.” Caiaphas - who says the other priests are fools - says that “like John before him, this Jesus must die.” Perhaps because of Caiaphas’ high position they wholeheartedly agree with him and each other.

In the next scene there is a huge crowd but they are singing a celebration. Jesus has arrived at Jerusalem and in childlike joy they are greeting Jesus with a stylised version of “Hosanna”. Caiaphas, on the other hand, is not too impressed. He tries to silence the crowd but Jesus retorts that even if the crowd fell silent “the rocks and stones themselves would start to sing.”

Meanwhile, the crowd’s song has turned from childlike joy to a call for Jesus to fight for them. The musical moves into a new number where Simon Zealotes is encouraging Jesus to start a more military-like campaign. He claims there must be more than fifty thousand and that they are as strong as the Roman occupiers of the land. The crowds are joyfully singing their love for Jesus and claim they believe in Him and God. They clearly believe that Jesus can save them even by a touch or a kiss.

Jesus is having none of this call to arms and turns to the crowds and tells them all they do not understand what power or glory is. He implies that he knows Jerusalem is doomed and that the only way to overcome death is to actually die.

Pontius Pilate has had a dream. He has dreamed he has met a Galilean who was a very strange man who refused to answer his questions even though Pontius was the Emperor’s own representative on earth. He foresees “thousands of millions” calling for this man’s execution and foresees that they will name and blame him.

The next day Jesus is at the Temple, the place where God Himself might come down in a cloud to address His chosen people. Yet, Jesus encounters merchants selling all types of goods including wine, birds and even selling bets on cock fights. He sees money lenders peddling their services and then He becomes angry and throws all these people out singing “[m]y house should be a house of prayer but you have made it a den of thieves!”

After this, flocks of poor people, sick people, lame people and the downtrodden are tracking down Jesus to be healed. They clearly believe a touch or kiss from Jesus could mend all their ailments. However, Jesus, being crowded and pushed by these downtrodden people yells at them, “Heal yourselves!”

To be continued...

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Jesus Christ Superstar and the Gospels (Part 1)

Jesus Christ Superstar and the Gospels

Most of my generation would know the rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar”. Its most famous number, of course, is the title named after the musical but there are two other well-known tracks, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” and “Everything’s All Right” as well. In its time it caused some raucous because of its portrayal of the gospel stories and the movie certainly caused some stir - not just for the way the story is told but also some of the sets - since when did they have machine guns in the 1st century? They didn’t.

The musical tells the gospel story from Judas Iscariot’s perspective. Judas betrayed Jesus so that Jesus could provide the ultimate sacrifice. Although the gospels talk a lot about the disciples they really don’t say too much about them apart from the fact that even though they were Jesus’ chosen ones, they too had a lot of difficulty and even hardness of heart understanding his message.

Although Jesus stated He, and therefore His Father, would raise them to be the leaders of Israel in His next coming, more often than not we see them not understanding Jesus, disbelieving Him or failing to find enough faith to even acknowledge they knew Him. They are almost like Israel itself though - prone to lose faith, prone not to believe, prone to test God.

Yet if there is one disciple that the gospels are a little too silent about, it is Judas Iscariot. We know a little of his history, we know that for 30 silver pieces - enough for the Priests to buy a field to bury the poor (although I suspect the Priests could get ‘discount pricing’) - he betrayed Jesus’ location. We know he becomes guilty because of his betrayal.

But do we really get an insight into what he thinks? Not really.

So, after a success with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Coat, another story based on the Bible, this time from the Old Testament, Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber were casting around for ideas for the next masterpiece. Bearing in mind that the world they were in then was much more ‘religious’ than today and that many people had learned (or been forced to learn) about the gospels in Sunday school and the like, their next choice of subject - the gospel from Judas’ perspective was quite profound and unsettling.

I am not going to comment on whether they should or should not have done this. It is done now. It has been and still is a best-selling musical. The actors playing Jesus for the most part are humble about the role and see themselves as actors playing the role or helping others learn something about the musical’s protagonist, Jesus Christ.

But the question I want to ask is, is the musical coherent with the gospels? Does it contradict the gospels? Does it give a perverted view of the gospels? If one only knew Jesus from this musical would it be the Jesus we know from the gospels or some other “Franken-Jesus”?

Before I do, though, I want you to think a little on this. Listen at least to the show’s beginning number “Heaven on Their Mind” and its third to last number “Jesus Christ Superstar” - its final number is John 19:41 a very beautiful, beautiful music only rendition of Gethsemane.

It would, of course, help if you read at least one of the Gospels; I would suggest maybe Matthew or Mark. The synoptics are going to be the most helpful here although by all means don’t let this advice stop you from reading John or even all four of them.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Short Note (Deuteronomy 8)

In this chapter of Deuteronomy, Moses talks about what will become of the people if they follow the Lord's will, laws and commandments. He pulls no punches in telling the people that they have wronged the Lord but what strikes me here and other places is that the Lord doesn't remove His promise of the Promised Land (although at times He was tempted to and Moses intervened on Israel's behalf).

But the chapter talks about the land, about Israel being given the land. We can assume that Israel will one day receive their land - the Lord does not lie - but then what? What are they to do in order to keep it, in order to be supported by it? The answer, Moses says, is to keep the Lord's will and His laws.

Yet today at church I was reminded that we listen and cling onto the laws about how we relate to each other but not so much about how we should relate to the land. The mainstream churches have not, yet, been a voice for the land but a voice for the people to exploit the land. One of the words I heard was 'dominate the land' - yes we can do that. But we can dominate and not destroy, we can have control of the land and not destroy it.

We can certainly do better than we are today.

I'm not advocating the mainstream churches become part of the Greens or the environmental movements; although I have seen that there are now theologians who bring the environment into the realm of theology. I don't actually believe we need to do this to save the earth, God's creation. What we need to do is remember who gave it to us.

God gave it to us.

And we should respect His earth as much as we are commanded to respect the little children who come to Him. Although I firmly believe it is quite impossible for us to destroy His creation, without His earth - the land in which we live - how can we perceive any children coming to His hands, where would have Jesus ministered?

We need to take heed of what the environmentalists are saying and I think together we can present a comprehensive, not just a 'scientific' reason for reducing our impact on the earth, on God's creation; and we need to do this sooner rather than later.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Numbers (Musings Part One - Incense, Aromas, Sacrifice)

Scofield points out that the Hebrew name for this book, ‘Desert’, is more apt. It is because this book talks about Israel in the Desert and the Wilderness. There is little argument that this book features two ‘takings of a census’ but it is clear to me - at least - that the type of census is very different from what we might expect from the Australian Bureau of Statistics in its general census. There are differing numbers and for now I’m happy to defer to other theologians or apologists to answer them; this isn’t the point of my post.

Whilst I knew very well the tribes were wandering lost in the desert, what struck me was the rhythm of the sacrifices. There were always a set number of tribes who did and they didn’t sacrifice wily-nilly. There were a set number of animals, a set number of grains and such to be given to the Priests to bless and to make holy. The priests were permitted to have some of the sacrifice but again in a consistent way.

And whilst Numbers appears to lean towards the Aaronic and Levite priests, they too were bound to offer some sacrifice to the Lord.

I haven’t finished contemplating this book or its words but I will commit to writing this: in the days before Jesus, the Lord God clearly delighted in the rhythmic aroma and offerings of sacrifice. If He did not, why command all the tribes to do so, so consistently and with such insistence? Scofield argues that these sacrifices and aromas were only just enough to soothe the Lord God before the sacrifice of His Son.

This raises to me a question: if I today raise incense to the Lord, will that remind Him that my sacrifice is so much less than the faith in my heart, but that the scent still is pleasing to his senses?

I wonder.

Monday, January 24, 2011

My Current Reading Bible

My Bible

The choice of a bible is a very personal thing for any Christian. I grew up reading the King James Version. This was partially a linguistic choice. Few would dispute the majesty of its language. But it was also a choice rooted in tradition; although I had access to other versions including the Revised Standard Version, the New English Bible and the New King James Version I never quite found that these sounded ‘right’ to me. Although I would, from time to time, consult the NKJV when the phrasing in the KJV was too obscure for me to understand, I always felt most at home with the KJV.

Now that I am a little older but not necessarily more mature, I’ve not lost my love for the King James Version. However, I am finding that its phrasing can be quite confusing and it is difficult to use to discuss the Bible with others. Fellow Christians in Australia are using it less and less and thus are not used to some of its idiosyncrasies, especially the distinction between the various tenses. Worse, I have experienced some non-believers claiming to win some argument by erroneously calling my views ‘archaic’ and ‘old-fashioned’. I might concede that some of my views fall into one or both of these categories but it’s not because of the Bible that I read.

As a simple example, let’s look at Matthew 5:15. The KJV has:

Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. (Matthew 5:15, KJV)

I have always understood a bushel as a weight for grain: a bushel of corn, a bushel of wheat. Or that it could stand for the actual grain. Clearly I would not put a candle underneath some dried out wheat or it will probably catch alight!

Here is what the NKJV has:

Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand [sic], and it gives light to all who are in the house. (Matthew 5:15, NKJV)

Rendered this way is somewhat more understandable. Whilst I may not picture the right type of basket at least I know what object is talking about.

So, seeing that I have quoted from the NKJV you would be forgiven for assuming that I chose the NKJV as my current ‘favourite’ Bible. I did for a number of years use this version as my chosen Bible. It is, really, a laudable piece of work and I find nothing in particular wrong with it or inconsistent with the KJV. However, that also brought its downfall for me.

I found that the NKJV was too much like the KJV. When reading it I always have this niggling voice in my mind saying, “That’s not quite right. It should read like this.” Therefore after many, many years of faithful use I’ve decided to read another translation.

My current choice of Bible to read and study from is the New American Standard Bible, also known as the NASB. It is commonly touted to be the most literal translation to the extent where its first revision does sound a little stilted - the 1995 revision has, for me, cleared up the English enough to make it an easy enough Bible for me to read.

That said, for reading out aloud, the NKJV sounds less stilted or at least more familiar to my ears than the NASB and it is certainly my Bible of choice for doing so.