Paul Weekly E-mail

Weekly E-mail: He is Risen!

March 31, 2024

Hey friends,

Jackie and I just wrapped up our annual Easter tradition: watching the 1973 film version of Jesus Christ Superstar. I’ve written about this movie a number of times because it is a foundational text for me. To steal a line from Las Culturistas, it’s the culture that made me say culture is for me. (More specifically, it made me say that the culture of musical theater is for me.)

This being Easter, I am compelled to confess that I’m not actually that knowledgeable about the genre. It’s a combination of two fantastic art forms – music and collaborative storytelling – but I’ve just never really been into it. I think it’s because it’s so raw, so earnest. Rock musicians are different because they’re typically holding instruments. Even lead singers who don’t simultaneously play guitar still have a backing band. But with musical theater, the performers are just letting it hang out there.

It’s a perfect medium for certain types of stories: transgressive interpretations of well-known tales. And what could be more transgressive than presenting the Gospels with Judas as the narrator? It allows the audience to see themselves in the Son of God, in Mary, in Judas himself. The Bible, after all, is a collection of stories. They are essential texts for thousands of millions of people because they provide a core narrative: there was a social order, a young radical showed up talking of a better way, the powers that be got scared and killed him, but the idea lived on.

Last week, a coworker sent a group message inviting us all to see them perform at their church on Good Friday. I’ve been there for two weeks, and part of me thought that my attendance would help deepen my connection to this community. Then I realized: no, I shouldn’t go to a religious service in the same way I’d check out a friend’s 5 minute standup set at an open mic. The coworker’s performance is part of a larger performance, a ceremony meant to evoke certain feelings and contemplation. I wasn’t ready for that. Because as much as I talk about Jesus, I don’t really know much about the institutions that claim him as theirs.

I used to be angry about religion. A decade under the influence of Catholic school will do that to a brain. But I’m tired of being angry about things that I’m not currently experiencing. I’ve spent so many days and nights gripping an outdated worldview that I missed the chance for love and joy. That’s not to say my life has been devoid of those things. There just hasn’t been as much as there could have been. What a shame, to have lived in fear, to have turned on myself and the causes I held dear – all because I thought somebody bigger was gonna yell at me.

We don’t need that kind of thinking anymore, gang. Let them yell. Let them crucify you. Because the secret is: we all get resurrected. Not as ourselves, unfortunately. Jesus didn’t get to stay on Earth as Jesus. But he became something else, and we’re still talking about him. At the very least, that’s something.

But at the granular level: the bits and pieces that comprise your body will just because bits and pieces of some other body. You may not be aware that you were here before, but you’ll catch glimpses. You’ll see yourself in others, see yourself in stories centuries old.

Last week, I spoke of these Weekly E-mails as secular sermons. I should now make it clear that I’m not asking you to believe in anything. I couldn’t even really tell you what I believe in an organized, reproducible format. I’m just asking you to see yourselves in all of the characters of all of the stories that exist. Find a way in to the humanity, into the soul. The rest of it will take care of itself.


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