Like many descendants of the Italian-American immigration boom of the early twentieth century, I was raised exceptionally catholic. And as an exceptionally good catholic, I dutifully checked holy sacraments off my metaphysical to-do list, attended C.C.D. (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine), worked the altar for the high mass with the extended homily and even spent a good amount of time practicing my pious gesticulations in the mirror;
Grooming myself, as they say, for the priesthood. This made my family very happy which in turn, made me very happy, as I could now use my future Papal seat and the threat of excommunication to fend off the near daily atomic wedgies, choke holds and the ever hilarious, “hang-the-little-guinea-by-his-ankles-until-he-passes-out-then-take-all-his-clothes-off-and-throw-them-in-the-pool” gag from any one of a dozen greaser cousins.
You see, in the Italian heritage, having a priest in the family is much like having a friend waiting at the back door of a movie theater to sneak you in. Suddenly, you become a living golden ticket, a “get-out-of-hell-free card” and EVERYONE wants a piece of you. People start giving you things as though they were making payments on an insurance policy like; a personalized copy of the bible or a rosary carved from the remnants of the cross or a recipe for communal wafers or… myrrh.
Then one day, tragically, I turned eleven and “discovered” my penis. I’ll spare you the gruesome details save to say that I did not; in fact; ultimately decide to become a priest, much to my family’s collective dismay. No, I instead went to art school and spent much of my off time exploring the full potential of my discovery.
The women in my family remain veiled in black to this very day. True story.
So, you could imagine my surprise when, twenty five years later, one of my house plants unexpectedly burst into flame and began emitting in a thunderous, albeit hurried, somewhat nasally voice: “The following message is from the office of the Lord your GOD, please stand by…” Then, in a puff of smoke the plant went out. A moment or two went by of me checking to make sure that I was still wearing clean underwear, when the plant abruptly re-ignited and boomed:
“This is the Lord your GOD, here… How’s it going,’ kid?”
I looked into the flames, frantic for an appropriate response. “Uhh… Could be better, could be worse, your godship sir?” If a flaming ficus could nod approvingly, then this one did: hallelujah.
Then his godliness spoke: “Fine, fine. Glad to hear it. OK so, here it is: There’s been a lot going on down there that I just don’t like… wars, corruption, reality entertainment – it’s Babylon all over again. And while I’d like to step in with a flood or a meteor or something, well, it’s just not my thing anymore. Besides, I promised I’d let you guys handle things and I’m nothing if not a god of my word.” I nodded stupidly, humbled by an obscure sense of déjà vu. “But,” continued the plant, “the fact remains that SOMETHING needs to be done and quick – the End Times is still a good ways off and I simply refuse to be hurried, you follow me?”
“Yes, sir.” I said, instinctively falling to my knees for indeed, I did “Follow.”
“Therefore,” said the Lord, “it is after much consideration that I have decided to grant you and you alone, an exclusive, one-on-one interview.”
Then I answered and said, “Uhh, an interview sir?”
“Yes.” Said the Lord. “You will compose ten questions which shall then be answered with ten replies filled with the poignant, candid honesty of the Holy Spirit and then present this transcript to the world’s media elders and with I as your witness you shall say unto them; ‘the Lord GOD has spoken unto me and these are the words thus spoken!’ Or, you know, something along those lines. Feel free to ad lib.”
Again I answered the highest of highs and said; “Ad lib? Your godliness, are you suggesting that I ‘wing’ an interview with you?”
“Wing -- what? Hah! No, you won’t be interviewing me, kid. No, no, no.” Said the Lord, “The full magnitude of my actual presence in the room with you would snap your fragile human intellect like a twig. No, I’m sending you my son, instead.”
“Your son, sir?!?” I exclaimed, suddenly lightheaded, “Jesus Christ!”
“Yes, exactly.” Replied the Lord. “My boy Yahshua. His flight is just coming in; you should expect him within the hour.” And with that, my house plant again went out in a puff of smoke, leaving behind the charred, smoldering remnants of what was once a hearty and easy to maintain Ficus Religiosa.
The next half hour was a blur of preparation as I did my best to make my crappy little apartment as presentable as possible. I called a few friends; “Ok, I’m Jesus and you get to ask me one question – GO!”
I brushed my teeth.
I put on a tie.
I skimmed through the New Testament, anticipating a pop quiz and breathed deeply into a brown paper bag.
Somehow, I had been chosen to represent the entirety of humanity. Me. The guy who had once felt up Maureen Houlihan in a confessional during her brother’s christening. Was this Judgment day? Was I really going to hell like Sister Shelia once predicted?? Is there actually a hand-basket involved??? I ran to the nearest window, scanning the sky for falling brimstone when my panic was interrupted by two soft knocks at my door.
As I open the Door, I am greeted by a Middle Eastern man in his early thirties. He is lean, clean shaven and smells faintly of cloves. His shoulder length hair is pulled into a loose ponytail and he is casually dressed in flip-flops, an old pair of blue jeans and a tight fitting tee shirt with a graphic of a potato addressing an order of fast food fries with the inscription; “You’ve changed, man.”
Without saying a word, he sets his well-worn rucksack just inside the doorway and embraces me.
Jesus Christ: “Hey guy… thanks for seeing me on such short notice.”
Me: “Y-you’re joking, right?”
After a length of time bordering on uncomfortable, Jesus pulls away, pats me on the cheek, shuffles over to my trendy, overstuffed papasan and settles in.
JC: “Sweet place you have here. Much nicer than that hostel I was staying in.”
Me: “Where were you staying in a hostel?”
JC: “Amsterdam. I just spent the last year back-packing across Europe and that’s where I ended up.”
Me: “Amsterdam? You don’t say. I’ve never… h-h-how was it?”
JC: “Relaxing. Really, really relaxing.” (he winks at me)
Me: “That’s very… ah… illuminating. Uhm, can I get you something to drink or eat – are you hungry?”
JC: “Oh no, thank you. I ate on the flight over. Some milk and honey would be nice, though…if you have it.”
I hurry to the kitchen and quickly microwave a glass of milk and grab a fistful of KFC honey packs from the fridge.
Me: “Please don’t take this the wrong way Jesus sir, but you don’t look anything like your pictures.”
JC: (shrugs) “Gotta love the renaissance, right? (grins slightly) I WISH I was that ripped. (laughs) Might explain all that fuss at the airport, though. “Randomly selected” my tuckas.”
Me: “Aw CRAP! Really?!”
JC: “It wasn’t as bad as all that... the guard was very gentle. And afterwards, he gave me a lollipop.”
Me: “Sir, on behalf of the entire human race – I am very, really and truly sorry.”
JC: “Oh, it’s OK. Honestly. I completely understand… things are a real mess right now... which is why we’re here today, having this little interview. Besides, it could’ve been a whole lot worse. (holds up his hands) ”
Me: “Yikes! Why do those look so… y’know, current?”
JC: “Ignorance leaves wounds that never heal, my brother.”
Me: “That’s what’s up!” (the lord and i fist-bump)
JC: “This is fun.” (jesus claps to himself, lightly) “So, do you have your questions ready?”
Me: “Wha? - Uh... Yeah but before we begin, I have to know: why me Jesus?”
JC: “Why you what?”
Me: “Why was I chosen for this interview?”
JC: “Ah. I drew your name out of a hat.”
Me: “I’m sorry, did you say a… a hat?”
JC: “Yes, my father is very fond of hats, especially derbies.”
Me: “Hats. GOD is fond of… hats. Seriously.”
JC: “Well, ever since the Paleolithic Period when he started going bald…”
JC: “Anyway, he wrote down the name of every living man woman and child over the age of four onto little scraps of paper, put them into his hat and then I closed my eyes, reached in, picked one out and well… there you go.”
Me: “So… you’re saying we’re here today -- in my living room -- because of a sort of lottery?”
JC: “A lottery, that’s right. Its how most decisions in the universe are made, actually. Keeps things fair – are you… alright? You look kind of pale.”
Me: “You’ll have to excuse me… my mind’s kind of blown right now. Maybe we should just get started.”
JC: “I’m ready whenever you are.”
I check the counter on the recorder I have going, tap the mic to test the levels and make the appropriate notations on my ledger.
Me: “Ahem. Check, check, check… uhm… The following is my interview with our lord and savior, the messiah and one true son of GOD. Yahshua, bother, teacher -- Jesus Christ, welcome.”
JC: “Shalom, brother and if I may? A very happy forthcoming Festivus to you as well.”
Me: “Excuse me?”
JC: “You know, ‘a Festivus for the rest of us?’ Seinfeld??”
Me: “Uhh, Seinfeld, Lord?”
JC: “Funny, funny guy…”
Me: “I-I didn’t realize you were a fan.”
JC: “Are you kidding?! The Soup Nazi? The contest?? (chuckles) Genius.”
Me: “You don’t say.”
JC: “Oh absolutely. If he had been my opening act, y’know, instead of that leper -- things might have gone much differently during my ministry.”
Me: “Wow. I am SO reminded of this joke I once heard…”
* The next few moments of the Lord and I exchanging off-color jokes involving priests and rabbis walking into various bars have been omitted for the sake of time and in the name of tact. *
JC: “Forgot the Tip! Ha! That’s Hilarious… WHOOO!”
Me: “Yes, well… thank you… anyway, let’s let that lead into my first question; which path or ‘religion,’ if you will – is the correct one?”
JC: “Well, that kind of depends on you, don’t you think?”
Me: “Not the answer I was expecting – could you expand on that?”
JC: “Sure. Religion is a subjective and uniquely individualistic experience. What works for you, may not work for someone else… and that’s totally OK. The point of a religion or any organized life philosophy for that matter, is to help keep you focused on your connection to the world around you. For many, it’s a cultural unifier, a way to feel some sense of purpose within a group. Belonging, as it were. In my experience, I’ve observed that people often find comfort in community. But then there are others who think outside the box and set out for a greater sense of oneness. Some choose to rely on their intuition while there are those who choose a more intellectual route. Ultimately, what does it matter? The point is to live your life as best as you can. And, if you can get through life learning through adversity and savoring happiness where you find it and to do so without harming others along the way – awesome.”
Me: “Having said that, do you ever think that there can be peace in the Middle East?”
JC: “Peace doesn’t just happen, brother. You have to work at it – learn to compromise and try to meet people half way.”
Me: “Agree to disagree?”
JC: “Something like that, yes.”
Me: “Well, so far, we seem to really suck at it. What might you suggest?”
JC: “Honestly, I don’t know anymore. Every time someone comes along talking about goodwill and love and treating people as you would want to be treated, you nail them to a tree. Or if some poor soul even suggests that you try imagining it, you gun them down in a confused rage. God help anyone who ‘has a dream.’ But if I were to really think about it, I might offer you two words; ‘Time Share.’ At this point, what can it hurt?”
Me: “I suppose there are worse ideas…”
JC: “Then instead of guns and suicide bombers, you’d have rental agreements and guys maniacally grinning at you with their crazy, larger-than-life capped teeth offering you a free getaway in exchange for a half hour of your time so that I can get stuck with one third of a condo I never use… by the way, brother, have you ever been to Colorado?”
Me: “Yes. Once, and I got altitude sickness. So when can we expect your big comeback?”
JC: “If you were me, and everywhere you went there were people sporting charms and iconography of your dead and mutilated corpse -- would you plan a comeback?”
Me: “Point taken. Moving on… there are those of us who truly feel your fathers absence in these modern times – care to comment?”
JC: “Dad? Absent?? I guess I could see that. He’s been pretty preoccupied with his current project.”
JC: “Opposite end of the galaxy. Humanity 4.0.”
Me: “I’m not sure I heard you right, did you say… four?”
JC: “Yeah, the first two versions never went much beyond the research and development phase.”
JC: “Oh for sure. Believe me, you’re glad he got over that whole ‘tentacle’ thing… involved a lot of mucus and was ultimately pointless and kinda gross.”
Me: “Please tell me that you’re just messing with me…”
JC: (here, the lord merely shrugs.)
Me: “OK then... here’s one that a buddy of mine suggested – Do you have any super powers, like can you fly or bend steel bars with your mind?”
JC: “Whoa! That would be pretty cool… no, but how about this… clear your thoughts and visualize a playing card -- but don’t tell me what it is!”
Me: “Oh, a card trick. Alright…”
Suddenly, I am overcome by an intense coughing fit, resulting in a casino style playing card jettisoning out of my mouth and onto the floor. It’s the queen of hearts. The exact card I had pictured only a moment before.
Me: “Wow! That was amazing. (hack) Unnecessary and a little slimy but still (cough, cough) – pretty amazing.”
JC: “Keep that card, in remembrance of me.”
Me: “I… will… Uh, thank you. So… what’s heaven like?”
JC: “It’s like the happiest you’ve ever felt EVER, times a million, on a loop – all the time, always.”
Me: “Disneyland on shrooms. Got it. Let’s see… Ah… Here we go… You’ve been quoted saying; ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ Really?”
JC: “Well… See, that’s what you’d call a metaphor… I’m also not actually a lamb, in case you had any follow-up questions in that regard.”
Me: “Hey look, if I’ve offended you…”
JC: “No. Don’t be silly, I’m not offended… and I apologize if I seemed curt. It’s just that I get so tired of constantly being misquoted. People don’t take Lau Tzu or the Buddha so literally… why am I the lucky one?”
Me: “Perhaps if you were more direct? Y’know, spell out the truth in a way that would prevent corrupt religious and political leaders from preying on the rest of us by twisting your words to suit their evil needs and agendas?”
JC: “Brother, if history has taught us anything, it’s that people don’t want the truth – what they want, is confirmation of what they believe the truth to be.”
Me: “I see.”
JC: “And apparently, ‘HD’ everything.”
Me: “What makes you say that?”
JC: “You might be surprised. People pray for the weirdest things…”
Me: “Then you do hear prayers! I honestly thought that was all a bunch of – Uhm... Do you handle those directly or do you outsource to other deities?”
Here, the Lord glares at me -- apparently displeased with my off-handed remark.
Me: “Er… Ah… allow me to rephrase that... do prayers ever get answered?”
JC: “Yes, but not always and then – only to a point.”
Me: “I’m not sure I understand.”
JC: (jesus takes a breath) “It’s quite complicated and all depends on how and what you’re praying for... wait… I’ll start again. Essentially, I… I try to deal with prayer on a case-by-case basis. For example, if you were to pray for strength or clarity or wisdom, you could be assured of a prompt and positive response.”
Me: “But what if I prayed for… say… a promotion or a nicer house or increased musculature?”
JC: “There. That’s exactly my point. I’m not a genie, OK? You don’t rub on the bible or some holy relic and expect me to spontaneously appear and POOF! grant your every wish. That’s’ idiotic and quite frankly, a little racist. Besides, that’s not how prayer works. Prayer is about meditating on what is good in your life and what is not. If you want a promotion, work harder. If you want a nicer house, either re-decorate or move, man. And bigger muscles? Don’t be so lazy! Why do you think you were given free will in the first place? You’re given what you’re given and take it from there. Anyone who thinks otherwise has COMPLETELY missed the point of my teachings.”
Me: “I can see that this is real bone of contention for you…”
JC: “Please. Don’t get me started.”
Me: “Yes. Well, just so you know – this next question was my grandmother’s idea.”
JC: “Lay it on me.”
Me: “What was the deal with you and Mary Magdalene, I mean were you and her – uhm… That is, did you ever… Y’know…”
JC: “Hook up?” (shaking his head) “Thank you, Dan Brown.”
Me: “Too personal?”
JC: “A bit… there was that one retreat… (he blushes) You know what? Rather than completely derail this interview and potentially scar my credibility, I will -- how do you Americans put it? ‘plead the Fifth?’”
Me: “Fair enough.… my Gram will never let me live it down, but I totally get it. Well then… this brings us to my final question: what, in your opinion sir, is the meaning of life?”
JC: “Oh that’s easy. The meaning of life, of course, is to live it.”
At that, Jesus waves a hand over his empty glass which then abruptly fills with what appears to be a vintage port. Before downing his drink, he tips the glass in my direction:
Me: “Alright now, see -- that’s just cool.”
JC: (smirks) “I have my moments.”
Me: “Well Jesus, thank you so very much for this eye opening and somewhat unsettling interview. Hopefully, it will reach the minds of those who need it the most.”
JC: “I’ll certainly keep my fingers crossed.”
There’s a flash of light and what sounds like a hundred party balloons popping simultaneously and then he and his rucksack are gone. Just like that. On the floor, is his half-full glass of fine port and a still soggy queen of hearts casino style playing card.