Friday, January 7, 2011

Soul Searching and F-bombs- Thoughts on "The Last Days of Judas Iscariot"

Just like all art, theater is an interactive and responsive thing. It is meant to draw the audience into the experience and speak to them through the words, movements, and objects of the production. Yes, the actors and crew do the portraying of the piece but it is the audience that is being reached and the audience who decides what to do with the art they just experienced. I am in a group of students participating in the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (let's just refer to it as it's acronym KCACTF) and we got the chance to see The Last Days of Judas Iscariot that provoked a broad spectrum of feelings and thoughts.

When I heard about the play we were going to see, I inwardly cringed. Many of the skits and plays at the festival can tend towards the riske and scandalous. Shock value is worth it's weight in gold around here and I was afraid of what that meant for a play that was portraying biblical events. However, I knew this would not be the typical "Jesus play" and I wanted to see what that looked like.

As we waited for it to start I prayed over the audience and our own hearts. "Dear God I don't know what this play is going to entail but I just ask that it brings people to questioning and searching and that You will be what they find. Protect our hearts from things that draw us away from You and use this play for Your glory." What else was there to say? I started to feel more peaceful about the play that was about to begin.

It began with Judas' mother lamenting her son's demise. She grieved as she remembered having to bury her son alone after he hung himself. Why had I never thought of the fact that Judas had a mother? After her heartfelt monologue a man in a humble white shirt and carrying a bucket of water walked out to her and kissed her on the cheek. Jesus had arrived.

After this the play began with a boom. It was set in Purgatory courtroom where a female lawyer was trying to release Judas from his fate in Hell. Different witnesses were called, from Judas' mother, Freud, Pilot, and Satan himself. Each was a modern day portrayal of each character. Some of their accounts had deep biblical truths and some had blatant false portrayal of the gospel.

The thing that people found most risky was the plethora of language and innuendos throughout the play. F-bombs were dropped often and references to the human reproductive system were not rare.

Ok, here's where my review of the play stops and my opinion starts. As the director's notes stated (and much more importantly, the Bible), Jesus did not hang around with a bunch of Sunday school graduates who got their mouths washed with soap if they mentioned a crude word. No. His company was prostitutes, fishermen, tax collectors, and the unwanted. We can water down reality as much as we want but the truth is they weren't going to present themselves like little Billy Grahams in turbans and leather sandals. There was one particular part that would not have gripped my heart as much were it not for the language. Judas sat on the floor of his place in Hell, desolate, bereaved, hopeless, and very aware of his transgression. Sadness seemed to grip his very being. He is not speaking, has no desire to say anything out of his paralyzing despair. Jesus enters and approaches him, kneeling down to him and placing his hand on the broken man's shoulder:

Jesus: Judas, I'm here

Judas wrenches his shoulder away from Christ and he begins to weep.

Judas: Fuck off! Get away from me! Just fuck off!

I winced at the language being thrown at Christ. It made my stomach twist. But a thought crossed my mind that I later discussed with my roommate: Isn't that what we do all the time? Whether it be as a nation or a person our actions and perhaps words tell our Savior to F-off and not to interfere with our despair. As a character from the play put it: "Despair is the ultimate development of pride so great and stiff-necked that it selects the absolute misery of damnation rather than select happiness from the hands of God and thereby acknowledge that He is above us". No we may not literally scream curses at our Savior but when tragedy hits or we are caught up in our own mess of sin do we acknowledge that God has the grace and ability to pull us out of it or do we wrench ourselves away from his hands and tell him to leave us be with our mess?

This was just many of the moments in the play that brought thought and an examination of my own life and treatment of my God. Were there moments that were not less than offensive? Yes. I will not pretend that there weren't. I can't say that I would choose to see this play again yet I am so very glad I was able to watch it.

As a Christian, it's okay to be righteously angry at the mistreatment of Truth. However, the play was up there and performed, whether I like it or not. It is what it is, and that is life. The only thing I can control is how I react to it. If I walk out of the theater in a pissed off fast-walk then what does that accomplish? If anything I am grateful this play may have provoked thought and questioning in the minds of those who may not have given God a thought before! If I am busy playing martyr I am not available to guide their thoughts and questions towards Christ. Do you see what I'm saying? I don't feel like I should think God so little that He can't use this play to bring people closer to Him. And when He works in their hearts, which he will, I want to be available to glorify Him through the discussions that happen afterward. Yes, there were parts that made me sick to my stomach and times when I completely disagreed with their portrayal of certain events or facts, but there were times that challenged me in my faith and my understanding of how I treat God.

My prayer is that God would use that conundrum of a play to provoke thought and help people remember that there is indeed a Christ and that He loves them dearly. As for me, I continue to search for what it means to follow Christ in a world that does not always agree, and how to draw near Him whether I am hearing praise songs in chapel or curses in an auditorium seat.

Peace in Christ