When I was in my twenties I had this job at a colonial site where we historic interpreters would sit around in cute servant’s clothes by this giant fireplace as big as a walk-in closet and chat while we waited for tourists to come around.
Many of the ladies there were old, at least by my standards at the time. We’d talk about what was going on in the big house where the colonial governor had lived (we were but peons over in the kitchen), we’d gossip about what was going on in our small town, and we’d occasionally talk about something non-gossipy, like, say, religion.
Because in the South people talk about religion at work.
Well one day we were talking about the Bible and Jesus, of course, which somehow led to the question as to what Jesus looked like.
Now usually we spoke in vague terms, such as how blessed (one syllable here, not two) we were for this or that reason, or how Betty Jo had come down with the cancer, which meant we’d all put her on our respective prayer lists at church.
Well I thought it was obvious in the current day and age that Our Lord and Savior may not have had blonde hair and blue eyes after all. I honestly thought that was where the conversation was headed.
So I pitched in, saying I’d seen an article in a magazine, maybe even Time if I recall, about some theories that Jesus may have looked Ethiopian.
There was silence.
The ladies took off their glasses and put down their cross-stitch.
Then, using a highly effective move I now call the conversational hand grenade, this sweet, particularly old lady cleared her throat but good and told me, “Oh no, I feel certain Jesus was a white man.”
With that, I never uttered the words “brown skin” and “Jesus” in that room again.
I’d overlooked the tendency for religion to harbor racism. Hey, I was young.
Best I can figure is that people just want their religion to match their sofa. Or something like that.
And if that makes the current Jesus a white, gun-totin’ capitalist American, then so be it.
Doesn’t really fit in with Jesus being the Prince of Peace the prophet Isaiah foretold, but never mind that.
And I guess never mind that Jesus’s weapon of choice was his quick wit and a sharp tongue. Dude was kind of a smart ass, pointing out hypocrisy left and right.
What about Jesus the friend of poor people, lowlifes, and ladyfolk?
It’s probably just me, but if Jesus was supposed to be a he-man of a hero, what the hell was he doing acting all bleeding heart?
Maybe I’m exaggerating. Maybe not.
I suppose there’s a really, really remote chance that Jesus was a white man, and that the picture that’s been hanging on many a wall for a damn long time is a factual depiction.
But not really.
The man was a Jew—he was a middle-eastern Jew.
And he was a peacemaker, not a war-monger.
He was humble, but he was no pushover.
He told us to love our enemies.
He told us to treat others like we want to be treated.
He didn’t like arrogance and elitism and self-importance.
He just wasn’t big on ego.
And he was nobody’s fool.
Yet evidently we sure are with what we do, say, and believe in the name of religion.
All I can guess at this point, is that Jesus is pacing the heavenly living room slapping his forehead complaining to God,
“I don’t get it; I just don’t get it. I thought I was pretty clear about all this.”
p.s. Hat tip to Gayle Adegbalola and the Wild Rutz for their song Lying Preacher Blues, which inspired this post.