Pastor shares her thoughts on Jesus, theater, and the HUB's production of The Cotton Patch Gospel

Pastor shares her thoughts on Jesus, theater, and the HUB's production of The Cotton Patch Gospel

Image: Jesus (Rich Stanley, right) comes to John the Baptizer (Adam Lowery, left

Written by: Anne Abernethy Wepner

I have been involved during the Lenten season on three separate occasions with a musical that depicted the life of Jesus.  The first was a community theater production of Jesus Christ Super Star.  The second was a production written by a local musician, entitled The Darkest Side of Midnight.  Now I am reliving the story of Jesus through the Cotton Patch Gospel.  Some people would say that taking the time for a musical during a traditionally busy church season is not a particularly good idea for a pastor.  But, in fact, I have found that in each of my theatrical involvements, I have come away with a much stronger connection to the story of Jesus.  Hopefully, I have been able to communicate that sense of “walking with Jesus'' to my congregation through Bible study and preaching that has taken place as we approach Good Friday and Easter.

The Cotton Patch Gospel provides its own unique spin on the Jesus story by modernizing it and “Southernizing” it.   To place Jesus in the context of a situation that seems very close to our own brings the story to a new level of relativity to current issues.  During one scene of the musical, I am part of a group that is watching television that depicts horrible, unspeakable acts of violence and cruelty.   As part of the cast, I am eating popcorn as I watch these horrors, thus depicting our modern-day ability to distance ourselves from the pain of the world.  Each time that I am involved in this particular scene, my mind turns to the current situation in the Ukraine.  The atrocities in Eastern Europe seem to us almost more like a horrible movie (fiction) than a real life drama unfolding before us (reality).  

The search for Jesus for our Cotton Patch rendition has added its own unique contribution to the meaning and significance of our performance.  After losing the initial Jesus candidate because of his moving 1200 miles away, our director launched into a lengthy and frustrating search for someone who was capable of filling this necessary role.  Our ongoing mantra of “still looking for Jesus” caused me to think deeply about our own personal searches for the Jesus around whom our spiritual cores are centered.  Who is Jesus for each of us?   What does that Jesus “look” like?  What qualities of Jesus are we trying to emulate?

Upon locating the person who was finally able to fill the role of Jesus, I was struck by another set of questions about our perception of God’s anointed One.  Are we trying to create Jesus in our own image or are we open to following a Jesus who embodies mystery and uncertainty?  Do we embrace a familiar Jesus who causes us to feel good, or are we open to allowing a radical Jesus to lead us into territory that is new and different and possibly even scary?  The bottom line of God’s plan for us and for the world is this:  We do not get the luxury of choosing Jesus.  Rather, Jesus chooses us.

Finally, I would like to comment on the sense of community that can be found through involvement in theater.  For me, this musical came at a time of personal transition and the pain that has accompanied the loss of certain things around which I identified.  Director Keith Smith has created a warm and welcoming environment and has brought together a group of people who are talented, yet humble and who care in a unique way about the work in which we are involved.  We are all hopeful that the result of our efforts will be meaningful to those who watch our show.  But the process of achieving the final product is also a meaningful journey.  I am grateful that I am part of this journey that is not made alone but in community with others.

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