For some reason (OK it was Lent) I felt nostalgic recently for the 1970's show and movie called Godspell. Thanks to YouTube, I watched the entire movie on line, including a very young Victor Garber who went from being an Art Garfunkel iteration of Jesus to being Jennifer Garner’s dangerous dad in the series Alias. That’s versatility!
Anyway, I remember when it came out, and as a lifelong (actually four lives long) Unitarian I was intrigued and impressed as it presented a timely and appealing and dare I say ‘non theological’ version of Jesus of Nazareth. Parts of it are way dated and hokey, but that says more about the moment it was made. And yet there is still a sweetness in the idea that Jesus was a counter cultural character, and a poignance in the innocent confidence of that vision.
This morning, Easter morning, as I prepare myself for worship I am tugging to reclaim a bit of the naivete and confidence.
It helped to spend a few minutes watching Rick Warren and following that with “The Green Pastures.” Warren captures the current mainstream of evangelicalism. His genius is not the message but the package, for which I give him credit.
The Green Pastures is a 1936 film that blithely presents a racially stereotyped heaven down to an Uncle Remus assortment of characters including a “Lawd” and a heaven full of black angels who have heavenly fish fries and relish 10 cent cigars.
As outlandish as the movie is in its unthinking racism, I actually found that sense of God to be more appealing than the Rick Warren version (which is Robert Schuller’s and other mega-preachers).
I think it is the intimacy, the simplicity, the honesty that comes through. American megachurches are big, bright, spectacular, almost cinematic. Large halls, orchestras, big screens, fancy lighting, make God a celebrity. People want to be seen with this God like one craves to see a movie star or rock star.
The God of Green Pastures who walks about unrecognized in a slouch hat with a cane, or a Jesus with hokey suspenders and a huge 'Jewfro" who acts like second rate street mime, remind me of that song from a few years back “What if God was one of us?”
As I read the story of Jesus, that was precisely the point.