The Mary-Jesus-Mary Collection: Playlist

The life of Jesus plays out between two Marys — his mother Mary of Nazareth and Mary of Magdala, who was there at the cross, and then at his tomb, according to all four New Testament gospel accounts, most prominently in the Gospel of John. These four songs briefly trace the arc of those three lives.

We begin with “Honky-Tonkin’ in Nazareth” (1978, from Chronicles of Babylon, Vol. 2), which has offended some people. Some others thought it was a hoot. I guess both took it to be a sacreligious romp. But it isn’t that to me. The gospels mythologize the birth of Jesus along lines of the miraculous birth of Samuel in Hebrew Scripture, with perhaps a bit of ancient Greek anti-materialism mixed in. Thus, while Isaiah 9 prophesies that a “young woman” will give birth to the Messiah, she becomes a virgin in Matthew and Luke. I was still in my twenties when I wrote this song, remythologizing the story in terms of a country & western story-song, from the Father’s viewpoint. I admit some of the lines of this early song are a bit jokey, but the overall intent is serious. All the gospel stories are potentially parables for our own experience. Indeed, each of us is a virgin to the love of God. And each of us is chosen to bear the Messiah into the world. And from there, “everything turns to irony.”

Honky-Tonkin’ in Nazareth

“Jesus Anarchist!” (2011, from The Political Unconscious) explores the politics of Jesus, which are basically anarchist. His movements and sayings, his parables and comments about the kingdom of heaven all have an indeterminate social and political thrust. We may try to “bottle” it all in what we believe to be appropriate institutional arrangements, but God’s realm is always moving over, under, around, through, and beyond them. Whatever one’s religious or nonreligious affinities, faith must remain open to those movements and ready to move with them. (The Brothers and I probably should have waited until we were fully past a sinus infection before recording this song, but the Spirit moved and there it is.)

Jesus Anarchist!

“The Good Is a Merciless God” (2021, from Every Doug Agrees) looks at Jesus’ refusal to be called “good” — “Only God is good” — and his story of the Samaritan in Luke. The song challenges our tendency to put “good” in place of God, and to subordinate God to our ideas of the good.

The Good Is a Merciless God

“The Magdalene and the Nazarene” (2011, from Terms and Conditions, rerecorded 2022) is another long story-song. The relationship between Mary the Magdalene and Jesus the Nazarene remains mysterious. They grew up only about fourteen miles from each other in Galilee and could easily have known each other before his ministry began (with “the descending dove”). Luke’s gospel comments that Jesus had cast seven demons out of Mary. That might suggest what we today would call mental illness. But that might simply be the perspective of the male disciples, whose “minds are clouded by semen” (that is, men’s vexed perceptions of women). In any case, what we often label as mental illness often includes perceptions that most of us miss. Mary is the pivotal figure (especially in the Gospel of John) in recognizing the risen Jesus. As such, she is sometimes called “the apostle to the apostles.” Her experience opened the others to the new revelation. This song explores those possibilities, inspired in part by experiences of my own.

The Magdalene and the Nazarene

Finally, “Event Horizon” (2021, from Every Doug Agrees) again features Mary Magdalene, who takes me to the empty tomb of Jesus. Here we remythologize in astrophysical terms, taking the empty tomb to be an “event horizon,” a term used for the threshold of a black hole, beyond which nothing that happens can be seen from this side. Or at least it cannot be seen from our normal perspective on this side. Mary is the guide who takes me fully through an experience I had only glimpsed earlier. (This relates to a prose piece, “Tomb with a View,” included in my memoir, Life in Gospel-Space, 2020).

Event Horizon

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: