When Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ came out in 2004, I went to see it so I’d know what I was talking about if I were in a conversation about it with someone. The film was a grossly morbid ‘snuff’ film made by someone claiming to be faithful to his faith.
But all I could see was the imprint of violence throughout, and tried my best to come away with ‘something’ redeemable about it, or about the death of Jesus on the cross to begin with. As my friend Ken Sehested recently said, “The Romans didn’t kill Jesus because he called people to get right with God.”
So the best I could come up with is this – the image of the cross – any day of the week, or on Good Friday – bears witness to every helpless soul who has been attacked violently in the commission of injustice. Lynchings, honor-killings, imprisoning political dissidents, separating children at the border from their families, and more.
Gruesome crucifixion (or lynching) of anyone bears witness to the brutality of injustice in the world, and in Jesus’ case, an otherwise redemptive response to it – forgiveness and love, even.
Meanwhile, whether one regards the Resurrection as an historical event, or as a symbol or an encounter with the mystical, the image of Resurrection is one where the Love of the Divine and our own acts of love, represent the utter defeat of the kind of violence that lynched Jesus of Nazareth.
Both violence and redemption are present in the accounts of Jesus’ demise and Resurrection – and so they are in our own actions and outlook on the world. I’ve done my best over the years to incorporate these ideas in song, but rarely with a specifically religious connotation included – but definitely with a decidedly spiritual connection.
My wife and I visited one of our favorite haunts for local live music here on the coast, today – the San Gregorio Store – and listened to one of our favorite bands, there – The Atkinson, Kincheloe and Beynon Band – of which all the members, as well as the store’s owner, are dear friends.
The guys graciously asked me beforehand to bring my guitar, and to come up and do a number with them – one of my original songs, perhaps. On previous occasions I’ve chosen to do Upside Down – a song I wrote during the Reagan years and rebooted by putting it on a CD during the W-Bush years, and now, singing it again in the era of Trump.
Upside Down takes to task both Church and State, and their abuses of power on the most vulnerable, and speaks to the very ‘upside down’ nature of the way I view the Divine’s will for how we should live with one another – and that way does not include the violence that both the Church and State have perpetrated on its victims.
But today I sang Nightlights (from my Jump! album), a song deliberately celebrating my own resurrection from a proverbial ‘dark night of the soul’, where a very small faith community was there for me, when things were pretty rough.
There is no mention of God nor Jesus in either one, but then again, it seems to me that Jesus himself actually said more about how we treat one another than he did about God by the way he so linked one with the other.
This great model is something I’ve attempted to replicate in my songs – not specifically religious – countering the violence of those perpetrating it. Upholding those who might be victims and celebrating the deep life-giving sense of community people create in order to see each other through.
I was honored beyond compare when the owner of the San Gregorio Store came up to me after I’d sung, and said, “Your songs represent perfectly how music is medicine for the soul.”
Good to know – and glad that comes across in my music – I was hoping it would.
Peace and Blessings for the Celebration of Passover, Good Friday, and a Happy Easter…