Here's this month's newspaper column, a somewhat fizz-less reprise of something written recently. Because the computer tower is in the computer hospital at the moment, I have no access to other, more peppy ideas I store up on a folder there. Oh well ... I handed in my homework, which appears under the headline,
"What would (a female) Jesus do?"
NORTHAMPTON — Having been forced by his own father, a Presbyterian minister, to memorize great hunks of the Bible by candlelight, my father came to abominate religion. He took pleasure in jousting with the theologically informed since he had much the same ammunition in his well-stocked magazine as they had in theirs.
Later, when the lights came on, he took up the religion of the intellect and taught Shakespeare at Smith College for many years. On the side, he was an enthusiastic acolyte of James Joyce.
But there was a time as well when he proposed to teach a course on the Bible as literature, which was approved for trial and fell flat on its face because, of course, religion is often such a personal matter (pro or con) that it excites an understandably personal reaction – something distinctly different from the distances imposed by literary analysis.
To treat the Bible as a mere story — well, duck and cover. Not for nothing did the etiquette-prone advise our forbears to “never discuss religion or politics at the supper table.” These were topics that pressed the belief buttons and belief was never a matter of proof or certainty or, for that matter, good digestion. Better to enjoy belief than enjoin it.
Last week, Northampton High School put on its version of “Godspell,” a musical that opened in New York in 1971 and ran for years. It was a toe-tapping musical that wove bits of the New Testament together and created songs to go with it.
It had laughter and tears and was too good-natured for even the grumpiest of grumpy old men to dislike. It was a bit like a calliope – what’s not to like?
But the strange delight I felt in reading in the Gazette that the high school had chosen this play derived not so much from the play itself as from the fact that the school had selected a young woman, Hayley Hemminger-Martin, to play the role of Jesus.
As someone who lives in a Christian country as a non-Christian, I try to understand my environment even when I don’t agree with or enjoy it. And I could imagine some of my Christian friends quietly grinding their credulity-filled teeth. Not enough to bring the matter up at the supper table, mind you, but still ... a female Jesus?
I hesitate to bring this matter up, not least because I live in a Valley that is rife with politically correct thinking, and political correctness is almost as unconvincing to me as its smug mirror image.
True, I dislike the patriarchal histories that cloak most religious efforts. True, women have often received the short end of the social stick. And true, I am prone to agree with comedian George Carlin when he said that clearly God must be a man because no woman could ever have messed things up so badly.
But more seriously, since I live in a Christian culture and feel it my responsibility to know something about the religious culture in which I live, my Zen Buddhist background has always made me feel somewhat sorry for the youthful insistences of the Christian religion.
Why, for example, must Jesus be depicted as an impoverished white man when, as the Los Angeles Times once reported with considerable historical back-up, he was almost certainly a sinewy, brown, middle-class fellow who spoke three languages in order to pursue his business interests? Why must Jesus be boxed in in any way? Sure, it’s good for the calendar business or the stained-glass window market, but seriously?
Rich or poor. Tall or short. Male or female. Is the message changed by any of this when the adherent chooses a pay attention to that message?
A female today, a male tomorrow. Ain’t that “Godspell?” You go, girl – whoever and wherever you are.
Adam Fisher lives in Northampton. His column appears on the third Wednesday of the month. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.