Sunday, October 14, 2012

Jesus was a white man

To hear some tell it, you might think Jesus was a white man.

Further, in this presidential election season when all sorts of American churches have dipped their oars in the political waters, you might think Jesus was a gimlet-eyed, parsimonious censor ready to apply the religious thumb screws at the drop of an abortion or same-sex-marriage hat.

Leaving history and common sense aside, you might have some problem selling a white Jesus to newly-minted converts in Africa or Asia or India. And the tight-fisted judge-and-jury depiction might run into some problems with those suffering the lash and confusion of ordinary life.

But let's just stick with the the one premise: Jesus was a white man.

Those of a certain education level and a certain smugness may have a knee-jerk reaction to such an assertion: "How ridiculous! I would never fall into such a comic-book trap! Those poor, benighted, back-water idiots! I'm not like that!" And of course the reaction may not be quite so bold or brash and instead form a critical mass of whispering at the back of the mind.

Jesus was a white man, just like me ... ludicrous!

And yet....

I know Buddhists who claim to have a handle on the "true" Buddhism, the "authentic" Buddhism, the "pure" Buddhism that does not partake of the myriad confusions and errors other Buddhists might lay on. And if I had enough energy to do the research, I imagine the same Jesus-was-a-white-man approach might be found in all sorts of venues, not all of them religious.

Everyone has got a piece of the one true cross and woe betide the observer who suggests that a piece of wood is just a piece of wood.

But of course what observers say is not the point. Is there any object or idea or ideal that cannot be a truth to one man and a lie to another ... or vice-versa? What others say may encourage study or a smug satisfaction in the company we keep, but what others say seems an uncertain staff to aid anyone on life's trek.

Jesus was a white man ... and?????

It hardly matters if the assertion is true or false. What matters -- and it's the same for "authentic" Buddhists as well -- is what effort is anyone willing to bring to bear to find out (to assure by experience) whether the assertion makes any sense. Pick your truth ... pick your lie ... and then find out.

A Jesus-was-a-white-man lifestyle -- a lifestyle resting on the applause or disapproval of others -- is so harrowing and sad over the long haul.

The orthodox mind (the mind that seeks out the comfort and companionship of others) may recoil in horror at the idea that each man and each woman might be capable of finding out the truth of what is proclaimed with the lips. If everyone found out for themselves, wouldn't things just fly apart in some amorphous anarchy in which you did your thing and I did mine and ... well, shit, what sort of communal peace would that bring? But the faithlessness and inexperience of this fear is apparent in its rigid assertions.

My own sense is that human life is grounded in a peaceful enjoyment, not some dumbed-down agreement. There are things to-do and things not-to-do and those things make themselves apparent as each searches out his or her best understanding. Will there be goofs and glitches and downright fuck-ups along the way? Sure ... these are the errors that encourage an even more determined investigation, a willingness to look and look and look some more ... a courage to set aside intellect and emotion in favor of ... what you already know before the audience applauded or threw rotten eggs.

Jesus was a white man if you like.

Jesus was not a white man if you like.

Authentic Buddhism is authentic Buddhism if you like.

Authentic Buddhism is inauthentic Buddhism if you like.

Pick a truth, any truth. Pick a lie, any lie.

Just don't neglect to find out.

And try to maintain a sense of humor along the way. Remember, perhaps, the old joke about the fellow who had a near-death experience. When he came to, his bedside companion tells him he had been "dead." "I know," says the patient, "I was there." So, his friend asks excitedly, what was it like ... did he see God? "Yes," the patient says, "I did." And what was that like, the companion asks. The patient grew silent and thoughtful for a moment as if trying to decide how to explain. Finally he begins ... "Well, first of all, she's black ...."

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