One early morning the other day as I was having my coffee at our veranda, I heard the loud voice of one of our senior neighbors who, as usual, was doing his walking exercise with two other elderly street mates of mine. I imagined he was frothing at the mouth and I could instantly deduce what he was fuming about: the controversial viral clip of an individual portraying Jesus in a drag outfit while singing a punk rock version of the “Lord’s Prayer.”
I tuned in to his wild peroration for a while. He was making it clear that he was espousing the bandwagon declaring the said controversial individual as “persona non grata” managing to splutter homophobic statements like he was spitting out phlegm.
A line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet came to mind: “Methinks the lady doth protest too much” in reference to the insincere and hypocritical overacting of one character in the play. While feigning indignance, was my neighbor perhaps himself guilty to some degree?
It’s easy to join the bandwagon of condemnation because it seems to be the righteous and popular thing to do, but for crying out loud, aren’t there other more unsavory personalities who ought to be considered persona non grata, as in obnoxious, odious, disgusting, repulsive and abhorrent? Do they receive the same indignant flak from Catholic groups?
So many transgressions against Christian values have been happening right before our eyes, yet we never give a damn in the real sense of the word. So why is there so much hypocritical ado in this particular case?
Personally, my problem with that drag performance is a matter of taste, not religion. I thought it wasn’t artistically successful. Sablay. But because he is after all a performing artist, I give him some slack. An artist can get carried away by his creative whims at times. Maybe the performer should have heeded the truism that art is restraint not excess.
Artists have always been notorious for scandalous acts and performances. Especially performance artists who intentionally want to offend sensibilities to provoke new ways of seeing life.
To think that this is not the first time that artists have caused public outcry and rebuke regarding their controversial depictions of Christ.
Remember the novel written by the Greek author Nikos Kazantsakis entitled the “Last Temptation of Christ”? Many Christians find it shocking, disturbing and blasphemous. But if you open your mind, you will recognize that Kazantzakis is exploring the eternal conflict between flesh and spirit, which each of us is experiencing within ourselves on a daily basis. By the way, Director Martin Scorcese made that book into a film, and he too was excoriated for it.
Then there was Jesus Christ Superstar, the rock opera. Do you know on opening night at Broadway, Christians picketed it? Jewish groups were unhappy, too, because it revived charges that Jews were responsible for Jesus’ death. My then girlfriend who became my wife confessed that she was at first shocked by the rock opera format but she soon saw the creativity that made Jesus come alive for the modern generation.
But be that as it may, scratch the surface of an artist’s work and you will find a kernel of truth, which some will find inspiring, and some will find disturbing.
My advice is for us to use this incident and the indignation it aroused as an opportunity for deep self-reflection. Perhaps it’s time we became more thoughtful believers of the message of Jesus.
For one thing, being judgmental is not the way of Jesus. Based on the Gospels, Jesus is one person who will not condemn even those who mock him. Consider the prayer “Ama namin,” which was being sung in that video clip. In it is a line that says, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
To Catholics and adherents of other Christian faiths who love to quote the Bible, here’s St. Paul in Romans 2:1: “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.”
It is also important to note that Jesus is not exclusionary. His essential message is about fellowship. This is why I found the homophobic asides regrettable. The persona non grata declaration is to me just a mask for a half-expressed disdain or scorn for the person’s gender orientation.
Maybe underneath her frivolous drag performance is a pained prayer for greater understanding and compassion as in “what do you mean, you never answer our difficulties” to use the words of the poet Stevie Smith. Who knows: the said individual may even be more devoted to her faith than those who judge her.
Instead of being far more concerned with perceived slights against our religious beliefs and traditions, let us break out from the prison of old-fashioned expressions, creeds and dogmas. Let’s loosen up and have an honest to God inner conversation. That way, we can be free to follow the moving light of new insights, new expressions, and greater understanding of the far deeper truths in Jesus’ teachings.
By having a deeper and greater understanding of our personal faith, we can meet the challenges, hardships and sorrows of life in the light of that spirit. We would be able to face up to any future incidents, no matter how whimsical, frivolous or vile, disturbing and blasphemous, and not be so easily scandalized and incensed. That’s because our strongly held faith will enable us to transcend all the trespasses and misdoings that will continue to happen in this world.
So let’s tone down our indignation and strive to live the kind of life that will make people say: “He was ever a persona grata.”