Thursday, March 20, 2008

Judas & Me

My friend and I began our preparation for the marathon of the Pascal Triduum by watching Jesus Christ Superstar last night. We both love the 2000 version, with Glenn Carter as Jesus and Jerome Pradon as Judas. You can see numerous cuts from the film at YouTube.

This particular version is very edgy. It is set in an ultramodern Jerusalem, where the Roman guards wear Star Wars-type armor, and the chief priests sit in an underground bunker, watching everything on television cameras. The disciples are portrayed as gang members, and the threat of rebellion is much more intense than it is in the 1973 film version and the versions I've seen on stage.

(As an aside, Glenn Carter is the only blonde Jesus I've ever found convincing. He is amazing in this film, and the smoldering homoeroticism between Carter and Pradon is electrifying. Carter has the most expressive face of just about any actor I've ever seen, and his pain, confusion, and terror are utterly convincing.)

The first time I ever saw JC Superstar was at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta in the late 1980s. I can't swear to it, but I believe that Carl Anderson--who sang the role of Judas in the original film version--may have played Judas in that production as well.

I was completely blown away by the play. And I left with a whole new idea of why Judas had betrayed Jesus--and a new feeling of connection to the greatest villain in history.

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I'm going to confess up front that I'm not sure why I got the idea I'm going to share with you. Now that I know all the lyrics to the show, they don't support what I thought I understood that day. But the lasting impression from that performance has shaped my thinking about my own relationship with Christ, so I'm going to offer it anyway.

What I understood was that Judas thought all this talk of heaven was a distraction from Jesus' real purpose. That, by turning Jesus over to the priests and the Romans, Judas believed he could force Jesus to reveal himself as the Messiah and hasten the coming of the Kingdom--by which he would have meant the overthrow of the Romans and the restoration of a Jewish state.

I believed that Judas wanted (in modern lingo) to help Jesus "reach His full potential"--and thought He needed a bit of a push in that direction. I believed that Judas did what he did for the sake of his nation--not for 30 lousy pieces of silver or at the behest of the Devil--and with the belief that, when push came to shove, Jesus would fight the occupiers and re-establish the reign of God in Jerusalem.

So imagine his pain and anguish when he realized that Jesus was not the Messiah he had believed Jesus to be--and that he, Judas, had sent an innocent man...his closest friend...to His death. When Judas hangs himself in the play, it is the action of a man who is in anguish and who is desperately sorry for what he has done.

As I said, the lyrics themselves do not support my impression--in some way, I probably confused the characters of Judas and Simon Zealotes, who (given his name) would have been the likely one to betray Jesus for such a reason.

But over the years, I have become ever more convinced that it is at least one logical explanation for why Judas might have handed Jesus over to those who wanted to destroy Him. And a cautionary tale for me.

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You see, I find it all too easy to try to force Jesus to be who I want Him to be. To cut and trim Him to fit my own little mold.

In this way, I am no different from the Judas I thought I saw on the stage that day.

Writer Anne Lamott is well-known for her quip "You know you have created God in your own image when He hates all the same people you do." The longer I am on this journey with God, the more I have to remind myself of that quote--and that there is very little difference between Judas and me.

Lent is a time when I am forced to look at myself without the rose-colored glasses that allow me to gloss over my faults for the rest of the year. My laziness. My judgmentalism. The fact that I live in relative luxury, while thousands of children die of starvation every day.

During Lent, I have to look at my failure, each and every day, to live out the faith I proclaim.

Judas did it once--with grave consequences to be sure. But I betray Jesus every day of my life by failing to do what He has commanded me to do--love God and love my neighbor.

This is why I am so grateful that--in the end--Jesus was able to say "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." He knew the worst of what we are capable of doing---and forgave us anyway, without our even asking or repenting.

That is why I am a Christian--because I believe that a God with that much love and that much capacity for forgiveness is the only God worth worshiping.

I believe that Jesus' absolution covered Judas--who was so grieved by his sin that he could not live with the knowledge of it. I also believe it covers me--the one who, two years ago on Maundy Thursday, went to my rector in tears and told her that God Herself had stopped me from ending my own life.

You see, Judas and I both know something of anguish. I believe that God soothed Judas' anguish after death...but He has seen fit to help soothe mine in this life. And for that great gift of love and mercy, I must remind myself that it is *I* who must be molded and changed.

God is God--infinitely loving, merciful, and gracious--and I am not. I am just plain Doxy--sinful and flawed, but full of hope. I know that there are hard days ahead, but Easter is coming... and when it does, Judas and I will both weep for our sins. But then...oh then...we will laugh and dance with joy. Thanks be to God!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

For Grendel

I love many, many people and animals in the blogosphere, but I must confess that Grendel is dearest to my heart. So when he asks me to do something, I simply cannot refuse.

He has tagged me for the Middle Name Meme. Now something you need to understand is that I have more than one name (both in blog-land and in real life). Our friend MadPriest is responsible for my long blog name, because he once tried to make an unpleasant acronym of my initials. I had commented that "ambiguity is my middle name"---and he assumed that "Wormwood" was my first name. He was about to start referring to me as "WAD"--and I couldn't have that!

So I christened myself "Doxy Eustachia Ambiguity Royale." How's that for a fine and fancy name?! (Grendel always refers to me as "Doxy Dear," so I wonder if that's where he got it?)

Anyhoo...here are the rules:

1. You have to post the rules before you give your answers.

2. You must list one fact about yourself beginning with each letter of your middle name. (If you don't have a middle name, use your maiden name or your mother's maiden name).

3. At the end of your blog post, you need to tag one person (or blogger of another species) for each letter of your middle name.

I am:

E=Easily Distracted. The Internet has made this immeasurably worse...

U=Understanding. I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt.

S=Searching. For love, connection, mercy, and grace.

T=Talkative. Is anyone surprised by this?

A=Anxious. I worry. A lot. Mostly about things that never happen. I tell myself they don't happen because I worried them away.

C=Conflict Avoidant. Except over the Internet...

I=Independent. Despite my tendency to avoid conflict, I'm not much of one for being told what to do...

A=Affectionate. Affection is like oxygen to me...something my ex-husband was never able to understand.

A=Aware of all the blessings in my life. I try to count them and thank God for them every day.

M=Messy. Wish I weren't, but I think it would take a personality transplant at this point to cure me.

B=Beautiful. Now this sounds boastful, I know---but I'm in a relationship with someone who, for the first time in my adult life, makes me feel beautiful. I cannot tell you what a gift that is.

I= Incandescent. See the previous letter...

G=Goo-Person. The highest accolade to which I could ever aspire---thanks, Grendel!

U=Unique. But aren't we all?

I=Intuitive. I have a sixth sense for lots of things. I can almost always tell when something is wrong with someone I love--and I long ago learned to trust my intuition about my work.

T=Tired. I'm a single mother with young kids, a puppy, and her own business. Who wouldn't be?

Y=Young-no-more. But that's okay--I wouldn't go back in time for anything. Now is a great time to be me!

I love to be tagged, but I don't tag others (it's a Southern guilt thing...). If you feel moved to do this yourself, leave a comment or link to your own blog.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

For Luddites Only

On December 1, 2006---World AIDS Day---the Federal Government launched AIDS.gov, a Web portal for information on domestic HIV/AIDS programs and resources. I played a small role in the gestation and birth of that site (content, not design or engineering) and I'm very proud of it.

Recently, the AIDS.gov team started a blog on using new media tools in the fight against HIV/AIDS. We have blogged on things like RSS feeds, wikis, and text messaging. We talk to experts in the field and try to put things in plain language for the Luddites---like me.

Our goal is to get people to think about new ways of delivering HIV prevention, testing, and treatment messages to those at risk for, or living with, HIV. Infection rates are rising again--particularly among young people. We are trying to stay current with technology, so we can reach those most likely to be infected.

I've learned a lot from working on those entries, and now I've been asked to spread the news about the blog to those outside the public health sector. So if you would like to learn exactly what an RSS feed does, or how a wiki works, here's your chance--free of charge. If I can understand that stuff, anyone can.

And if you want to help us stop HIV/AIDS, go get tested. Whether you think you need to or not.

You knew I was going to say that...