Just a few days ago, I wrote a brief blog about the new South Africa movie entitled "Son of God" that seeks to retell the life of Christ in a modern setting. Apparently independently, the BBC has now announced that it will do its own modern retelling of the story of Jesus, but instead of being set in South Africa, the setting will be Manchester, England. Moreover, the film will be backed using songs by New Wave musicians such as the Smiths, New Order and the Buzzcocks.
While I had some reservations about the South African movie, I have even more reservations about this "Manchester Passion." It is not due to a lack of love for the music. I have a couple of Smiths albums in my collection, and several New Order albums ("Shellshock" is one of my favorite songs). Thus, my concern is not the result of being a fuddy-duddy about music. Rather, my concern is actually over which songs will be used and the context of their use.
The BBC press release is pretty innocuous, and actually sounds pretty hopeful. It says:
Manchester Passion is a contemporary retelling of the last few hours of Jesus' life using popular music from the cream of Manchester bands.
This contemporary Passion follows key moments in the Gospel story and unfolds in a procession through Manchester City Centre. * * *
The event will mix the words of the Bible with versions of classic popular songs by Manchester bands from the last 30 years.
The music will be given a vibrant new twist and is performed by the characters in the drama, accompanied by a string band and well known local musicians.
It takes its inspiration from the way Bach and other composers fused music and the Passion story.
All fine and good so far, but it made me wonder what songs would be used, and whether the "versions" would be altered in any way to make them more suitable for the story being told. After all, some of the songs by these bands are not exactly "Christian" in nature.
An article about this "Manchester Passion" at CMJ.com entitled "Buzzcocks, New Order Featured In BBC Passion Play" suggests that some of the musical choices are not only inappropriate, but would tend to say things about Jesus that would give people the wrong idea of what type of person He was. The CMJ article reports "[s]ome of the sure-to-be-unmissable musical moments include Jesus singing the Smiths' 'Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now' as he is being lashed by Roman soldiers, and Mary Magdalene, accompanied by a string quartet, asking the Buzzcocks' immortal question, 'Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn't Fallen In Love With)?'" Now, I don't know if CMJ has inside information about what songs will actually be played or whether the author is merely speculating on the song choices, but if it is correct, then I have some serious problems with the songs.
Jesus sings "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now"? Consider the lyrics which begin:
I was happy in the haze of a drunken hour
But heaven knows i'm miserable now
Jesus was happy in a drunken haze? Again, while I personally like the Smiths' song that Jesus sings, I don't think that having Jesus say that he had been in a drunken haze would give anyone a favorable or accurate depiction of the type of person He was. Likewise, Mary Magdalene is reported as singing "Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't Fallen In Love With)?" concerning her relationship with Jesus (taking a page from all of those horrible novels that suggest that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a romantic relationship). This Buzzcocks song begins,
You spurn my natural emotions
You make me feel like dirt
And I'm hurt
And if I start a commotion
I run the risk of losing you
And that's worse
So, Jesus made Mary Magdalene feel like dirt? As near as I can tell, the Jesus of the Gospels gave those around Him reasons for living -- not a reason to feel like dirt. I suppose it is possible that Mary Magdalene developed a crush on Jesus, but the Gospels don't record such a relationship, and even if such a relationship would have been portrayed, I don't think that Jesus would have let her feel like dirt over his lack of desire for a romantic relationship.
Perhaps I am looking at this too critically. Perhaps I should be looking at this more like Canon Robin Gamble of Manchester Cathedral who CMJ reports as saying, "I wouldn't know a Buzzcock from a ballcock so I couldn't really comment on the music. All I can say is that they are not doing a Christian service, it is a piece of contemporary theatre and that is going to get people to think about the story in modern terms." Yes, I am always happy to have people thinking about the story, but I am also concerned that if we take too many liberties with the story, people will think that the story says something it doesn't and draw the wrong conclusions about Jesus, His purpose and His diety.