BARNSTORMING 

In which our intrepid reporter scores a rare interview with Jesus Christ just in time for Easter, and well before November.

CHRIST ALMIGHTY I’ve been thinking a lot about Jesus lately, God knows why. I think I’ve been thinking about Jesus because everybody is talking to him these days: preachers, City Councilmen, County Commissioners, Mayors, the noble leaders of all the fashionable countries. He comes up in almost every news story about people -- you know, “doing unto others” -- all in the name of the Lord. Everywhere you turn there’s some invisible sky-buddy telling all his Earthly messengers exactly whom they should destroy and oppress this holiday shopping season. And then, of course, there’s good old Dayton, Tennessee, a city both determined and forward thinking in its ongoing effort to turn a heritage of junk science and religious intolerance into a viable tourist attraction with hotdog stands, marching bands, and pretty little virgins lined up as far as the eye cares to roam. Growl! Oh yes indeed, the very place that was home of the Scopes Monkey Trial, 20th-Century America’s first great legal contest pitting reason, and civil law (Satan) against the Bible’s infallible words (Jesus), has now actually gone and outdone itself. God’s will turned to Tennessee flesh in an eyeblink with a unanimous vote by the Rhea County Commission asking state legislators to introduce a bill amending Tennessee's criminal code. The bill would give counties the power to charge homosexuals with “crimes against nature.” Sure, that plan went down the crapper, but those who proposed it are still in Dayton: they’re still breathing in the word of the lord, and exhaling his latest commandments. I think this is partly why I’ve been thinking about Jesus. Commissioner J.C. Fugate, the moral giant who introduced this godly motion to the right powerful and mostly righteous Rhea County Commission was quoted in the local paper saying,” We need to keep them out of here.” By them he meant, of course, homosexuals. And so I’ve been thinking about Jesus just an awful lot. He’s God’s son, and the very reason why so very many people hate the sin-riddled homsexuals, no? Oh now, now, you step too far sir. Tut, tut sir, you know not what you speak. Hate? This isn’t about hate. Hate has been nearly criminalized in America, has it not? Oh yes, I know there are many, many people who think homosexuality is an abomination in the sight of the Lord, but who would never put things quite so bluntly. Hate is a very strong word, and God advises against the practice. And I must admit, it’s true that many of my good Christian friends would take a more charitable approach to the unsavory matter, offering up some delightful anecdote about close personal friends, a nephew perhaps, or a beloved hairdresser who knows just how to tame the savage cow-lick, who was (whisper) “gay,” and who, in spite of their gayness would be sorely, and bitterly missed in paradise. But DUH! (Yes, I said, “DUH” this is how ineloquent I’m rendered at times). If you really want to deny someone the right to love who they love, not like a criminal in the shadows, but honorably and by the light of day; if you want to rob them of their dignity, their job security; the right to even live in your backwards, pissant town; if you want to take the keys to the kingdom of heaven from St. Peter and place them well beyond the reach of common sodomites... well it’s going to be pretty fucking hard for the Christian Right (and even middle, for that matter) to blame all of this on some uncontrollable excess of charity spilling out into the world like an apocalyptic tidal wave of God’s super-concentrated love. Yes, I’ve been thinking a lot about Jesus, and it’s making me weird. And I’ve also been thinking about his sketchy friends too: all those rough-handed craftsmen and crudely made commoners. What a perfectly awful collection of dinner guests Jesus assembled! You just know poor Mary (mother of God, not the tramp) must have been hyperventilating wondering who’s stupid idea it was to seat the hooker next to the tax collector?” “Oh honey,” she must have thought, “You are running with a motley crowd.” The Pharisees certainly accused Christ of spending too much time among the sinners. Did I mention I’m thinking about Jesus and how weird it is that the hero of his “Good Samaritan” parable is a Samaritan? C’mon! He was pulling our legs, right? Samaritans (and I know this sounds CRAZY) were supposed to be shiftless, no-account abominations in the eyes of God. Jews felt about Samaritans the same way Jerry Falwell thinks about queers. Why in the world would Jesus make such a sinful figure into a saintly hero? It’s almost like there’s this crazy theme running through the whole New Testament that says: “All those people that you hate and who you think God hates too because that’s what all the preachers and the politicians say--well, they’re actually God’s children too and Jesus loves them. And those haters in the bully pulpit: don’t leave those guys alone with either your kids or your wallet.” Am I the only one who sees this? Have I somehow lost the way? I think I may have lost the way. Well, at least as an American Christian of Protestant extraction. Maybe that’s why I’ve been thinking so much about Jesus lately. Maybe it’s nothing but worry for my own blackened soul. In other circles I might be accepted as a progressive humanist with an unhealthy affection for the teachings of a first-century prophet who may, or may not have been an avatar of the one true and living God. I like very much to pretend it’s all true, you see: an exercise in faith, if not a Post Modern manifestation of the real thing. Because, if it’s true then we’ve got God talking on the record about the things he cares most about. Jesus once said that he and his father (God) were one: that he had power of attorney, and could speak definitively for his daddy on any subject under the sun. And he spoke out on a variety of topics still in play today: he spoke out on subjects as diverse as the separation of church and state (all that Render unto Caesar business) and even the common flesh failures (he who is without sin...). That doesn’t mean he was for it, or against it, but it’s hard to imagine that a man who reached out to lepers would refuse to break bread with his personal style-consultant, or invite him in for a glass of freshly miracleized Zinfandel. Jesus only had one commandment: Treat others like you want to be treated. There were no prohibitive clauses. There was only one group of people that Jesus, the benevolent beacon of hope and understanding he was, seemed to despise. The man who once charged the masses to “Forgive their enemies and turn the other cheek” doubled up his gentle fists and physically threw the moneychangers out of the temple. And that leads me away from all this gay conversation we’ve been having, and on to the subject of our President, the honorable George W. Bush. You knew that if I ranted about Jesus long enough the topic would eventually turn to the burning Bush, didn’t you? I heard the stammering statesman on the radio just a few days ago talking about terrorists and God. He assured America that the reasons for terrorism, and for the recent, bloody uprisings in Iraq were quite simple, really. “These people hate freedom,” he said. No surprise there. He’s said the same thing again many times before. There are no geopolitical concerns here, no nuance. There are only bad guys with a blind, irrational hatred of this tyrannizing abstract we call freedom. It’s a condescending explanation, and a crime against reason; it’s like telling a child that babies are delivered by a stork. But Bush knows his constituency well, and how they prefer simple faith-affirming fairy tales to the wonkish details that constitute the mise en scene. Jesus did say, “If you want to really know God you’ve got to have a child’s imagination,” but he gave no such advice to world leaders. Then again, once you’re in the habit of believing like a child it becomes just like cocaine: easy and addictive. Truth be told, I might not be thinking about Jesus at all if Bush hadn’t followed up his patented freedom-haters line with rhetoric that may only be described as jihadist in nature. “Freedom is not America’s gift to the world,” he said, “Freedom is the Almighty’s gift.” “Oh, Christ on the bloody, bleeding cross of blood, what a blithering, bleeding baboon our President is,” I think. “He’s constantly throwing gas on the flame of radical Islam!” Let me attempt to explicate: Bush’s God (someone I clearly don’t know, like, or even understand) makes it a policy not to directly interfere with human affairs like he did back in the old Sodom and Gomorrah days, so in this modern era, he’s tapped the American armed forces to play Santa’s little helper, distributing Christ’s great gift, expertly wrapped in a colorful selection of designer body bags. Since America is now the commanding agent of God, she needs no other allies. Iraq was never a terrorist stronghold. Pretty much everyone with a complete set of genes and/or teeth knows this by now. But in the coming years, it surely will be. For every civilian that dies at the hands of an American soldier, an army of newly minted terrorists will spring up to try their hand at hating freedom. If Bush is indeed some Prophet he is of the eschatological variety, working overtime at The Ranch to insure war and no-bid contracts without end. No matter how I carve this spilled-entrail pie, I can’t imagine how the Almighty could ever accept a slice. It goes against every single word of Christ ever spoke. Could it be that this famously dyslexic President missed all that good stuff about looking at your enemy and saying, “whazzup dawg?” I’m not making fun of the poor man’s debilitating sickness, mind you, but it’s a known fact that narcoleptics make extremely poor designated drivers. That’s all I’m driving at here. So I’ve been thinking about Jesus lately, and I must confess, I’ve been talking to him too: a one sided conversation, mostly. I asked Jesus about our great war president who gives money to the rich, but only hope to the working classes. I ask him about this President who says he receives his military orders directly from God Almighty. After weeks of asking I was about to give up hope of ever getting an answer, and then at the moment of my greatest doubt I heard a still small voice speaking to me in the night. I knew it was Jesus too because he spoke to me in parable, his preferred literary device. “A wealthy man, loved by his community, died leaving half the family fortune to his only son, and distributing the rest equally among the townspeople,” Jesus said. “The townspeople loved the old man, and wanted to honor his memory somehow so they went to the son and asked for his esteemed opinion. “Nobody knew your father better than you,” they said, “Tell us, what would your father have us do, and we will do it.” The son remembered his father’s dying words, “My child, I hope you will become a great man some day.” He, believing in his heart he was fulfilling his father’s wishes, told the townspeople to make him mayor for life: it was his father’s dying wish. And so it came to pass. Now the son was not a bad man, but he was not nearly as good as his father. Sometimes he would refigure the town’s tax structure, or its labor laws in order to benefit his closest friends who remained ever loyal to their great and powerful mayor. When everyone else complained the son would say, “These were my father’s wishes,” and the mob, remembering the father’s great kindness would be appeased. Even after all the wealth the old man had given them was eaten away by taxes, they were appeased.” “But Jesus,” I asked. “What are you saying?. What has any of this got to do with George W. Bush?” Jesus took a deep breath and sighed. I could feel his eyes upon me, judging me for the fool I am. “Vote the bastards out,” he said at length. “Vote the bastards out.” Talk about a miracle!

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