Saturday, April 10, 2010

Street drama and confrontation

from w
Last Saturday three people dressed up as Jesus and two weeping women performed a drama for forty minutes in the Geelong City Mall outside shops until the police arrived and pulled out the microphone plug. Though the actors were not committing a crime the police decided, after a few complaints, that the performance was offensive. It was the drama of Good Friday with music and some moaning and groaning. Now what constitutes offensiveness I wonder? It was certainly confronting and made children cry said one mother.

Should the story of Good Friday and Easter be sanitised so that we only have decorative gold crosses or whould our community be confronted with some 'reality' of how cruel people can be. I am all for street theatre but in this case I wonder if it was in the right location. I like youth teams doing presentations such as the Youth with a Mission down at the waterfront a few weeks ago - dance, drama, singing, and I also like strong drama but in a different location. I disagree however with someone who said it all should be done within the 'church' meaning a building.Here's how some of the media wrote about the incident:

Members of the Heaven on Earth church in Norlane staged the life-like performance outside Market Square Shopping Centre at 1pm. It featured two women mourners in black and a semi-naked “Jesus” covered in fake blood “crucified”‘ on a large wooden cross. Other members of the Heaven on Earth church were in attendance. According to an organiser of the crucifixion re-enactment the show came to a sudden end when the police arrived.

“We were pretty disappointed the police did it the way they did it,” Pastor Sarah Kenneally said. “They didn’t talk to us first, they just came and yanked the cord out of our amp and said we had to stop. We got through 40 minutes of Jesus hanging on the cross with two women mourning and instrumental music. I was a bit disappointed we weren’t allowed to have a one-hour demonstration.”

Hamlyn Heights mother Louise Bridges slammed the performance, calling it an “absolutely disgusting’ She said she was “fuming” at the public display and said it would “scare children away from religion”. Mrs Bridges, who had picked her six-year-old son up from a party at Time Zone said it was impossible to avoid being confronted by the scene, made worse by Jesus moaning loudly, mourners wailing, and teenagers “running across the road screaming and aggravating the situation”. She said her son was very disturbed and wasn’t able to differentiate between real and fake blood. “It was in your face. Coming out of either shopping centre you just couldn’t avoid it, I was horrified,” she said. “My son was worried they were really hurting (Jesus) because he was covered in blood and moaning and calling out “why, why. With the violence problem in Geelong, what is the difference to a six-year-old with a man lying bashed in the gutter and this?”

Police stepped in to stop the performance in response to public reaction, according to Geelong acting sergeant Matthew Sims.
Bits from the Age
The Jesus figure - fitness adviser Leigh Clough - was hanging from the cross smeared with fake blood, and the re-enactment was timed to attract the attention of Easter Saturday shoppers just after lunchtime.

However, police said the realistic display had frightened children.'The closing down of the display was not about religious beliefs. It was due to numerous complaints from the public regarding offensive behaviour,' a police spokeswoman said.

Mr Clough said he had been on the cross to remind people of what Easter was all about and it was disappointing the message was cut short. 'We celebrate Easter and we take the weekend off because of it, but I think our society is becoming less and less aware of why we do the things we do,' he told The Age. 'We were just bringing the Easter message to the people, and it is a happy message.' He did not feel he was being persecuted for his religious beliefs, saying others had suffered far more for what they believed in.

Ms Kenneally said: 'We were not trying to cause any trouble, but they threatened to fine us unless we stopped. We stopped and asked them what offence we were committing, and they said technically we were not breaking the law. It was disappointing. They just came and yanked the chord out of our microphone.' Ms Kenneally said the microphone was being used only to transmit music and not to preach. The male officer said if people wanted to see this sort of thing they could come to our church and see it,' she said.
Geelong Advertiser EDITORIAL: Police did right thing
April 6th, 2010
THE Geelong police were right to close down the crucifixion re-enactment in Malop St last Saturday. It was unneccessary, unsavoury and, as police decided, unlawful.
It was confronting and without religious merit. Because the re-enactments have a cult following in some countries _ particularly the Philippines _ does not mean Malop St, Geelong, Australia is ready for it or, indeed, welcomes it. And that it had young children in tears through a combination of fear and shock is a terrible thing. It is the role of the church on occasions to be confronting and make people re-evaluate their beliefs but in Australia a gentler, less graphic nudge would be appreciated.

That's not to say there should be a blanket ban on demonstrations of faith like this. Not at all. But there is a time and a place for everything and the point of a crucifixion re-enactment should not be to provide such confrontation in a public place.

This is not like something which is confronting on TV when the simple answer is that if it offends or disturbs you, simply turn it off. In the busiest thoroughfare of a city of more than 200,000, challenging images like this are more likely to put people off the idea of church rather than encourage them to explore their faith, the relevance of their beliefs and the sacrifices peope have made on their behalf.
Yes, the church needs to be more relevant in this day and age and, yes, there need to be more attempts to connect with the youth, but is this the best way? The challenges facing young people today are far more prosaic than the rights and wrongs of chocolate eggs on Easter Sunday.

The Catholic Church in the Philippines does not condone or encourage the re-enactments but they are powerless to stop them as crowds flock to villages to watch the gruesome ritual. It is a mixture of self-flagellation and morbid theatre and something not suitable for public consumption.

With the instant world of communications, internet sites are today providing you with up close and personal images of people being literally crucified as they publicly affirm their faith. It's not pretty viewing.

There are obviously sections of the Christian church which wish to make an issue out the re-enactment but they also have to recognise the principle of choice. Have the re-enactment at a place of worship. Make it an ecumenical event so members of other denominations who may wish to observe it are able to, but don't make it a public spectacle which frightens and offends people.
I asked some of my friends what they thought about it. One woman said very strongly that no-one should ever act as Jesus, not in a film, not in a drama, never! I didn't even mention the very violent way that Mel Gibson did the story!

I think the emphasis was wrong, incomplete without the good outcome stories that came later. So, what do you think?

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