BY GERALD L. HASTINGS, STONE CANYON PRESS, DALLAS, TEXAS; 1987
Each month, a heavy envelope arrives from Lorenzo
and Doug. Eagerly, I stab at the mylar-lined package with a butcher knife,
anticipating the treasures that they have sent me for review. (Have you ever tried to penetrate mylar? Are you able to open a new videocassette? Why are we spending billions on Star Wars research, when for only $11 million, we could commission Christo to drape the United States in mylar. The sunlight would come through, and the Soviet missiles would bounce off it impotently. The trick is to keep it stretched tight, like saran wrap on a bowl of leftover chickpeas.) When I have finally opened the package, I fumble blindly inside for the largest and heaviest book. Now I will be justly rewarded for the endless hours I spend crafting reviews worthy of publication--perhaps some ten-pound art book to grace my living room. Instead, there is the usual assortment of pop psychology books—Caretaker, Take Care—or self-help tracts—Developing a Spiritual Context for Therapy.
Who, I wonder, gets all the multi-colored art
books that are always at the entrance of Barnes and Noble at 60% off?
the collections of the triptychs of Carpaccio, the woodcuts of Heimlich Fleischimhals, the peasant scenes of Ryppe van ten Pyn? Come on, guys, my coffee table needs adornment!
My fingers withdraw through the cool smooth mylar a small paper-bound book of 165 pages. The title proclaims its holiness in Gothic script: The Windows at Oak Lawn. The monochromatic blue cover features a picture of Jesus on his knees at prayer, transfixed in the beam of a heavenly spotlight, which radiates upon him from a cloud. I know it is Jesus. Who else has both the beard of George Carlin and the hair style of Veronica Lake?
A few years ago, I carried out a psychiatric evaluation at the request of the attorney-general of Rhode Island on a man who claimed to be Jesus. Prior to his annunciation, he had been a second-level Mafia functionary; to be specific, a hit man. He had been brought in from another state, where he was living under th e Federal witness protection program. He was scheduled to testify against a leading mob chieftain in a murder case. His former status as a thief and executioner would lend credence to his testimony before a jury. The prosecutor feared, however, that his new messianic identity would raise some eyebrows.
As proof that he was indeed Jesus Christ, he informed me that his body measurements matched exactly those taken from the Shroud of Turin. Sensing my skepticism, he asked me, "Do you know what letters are engraved right on the cross in church? 'INRI.' Do you know what that means?"
Claiming no ecclesiastic scholarship, I nevertheless replied, "I think it stands for 'Jesu Nazarenis Rex Iudeorum.'"
"Wrong," he said, "It stands for 'IN Rhode Island.'"
As a final proof, he
removed from his briefcase of substantiation a portrait composed of two
halves of two heads, pasted together at the center. On the left was a photograph
of himself; on the right, a portrait of the Carlin-Lake Jesus. The
two halves were identical.
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So here is this same Jesus on the cover of my Christmas gift from Lorenzo and Doug. The publisher's promotional brochure informs me that the author, a Salvation Army regular, offers insights into contemporary social problems through the images portrayed on the stained glass windows of the Oak Lawn United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas, I begin thumbing through the
pages, expecting to read how God's redeeming love will lead us all to salvation. Instead, I am startled to discover a series of brief, thoughtful expositions on the major social issues of our day. No easy solutions are offered. To my surprise, I agree with each of the author's positions. In his discussion of the panel, "Announcement to the Shepherds," Hastings quotes the Pastoral Letter, "In Defense of Creation," written by the Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church:
Subsequent chapters offer similar liberal and cogent analyses of such problems as the crisis in worldwide food distribution, abortion, AIDS, economics, civil liberties, and ecology.We call the United Methodist Church to more faithful witness and action in the face of this worsening nuclear crisis. It is a crisis that threatens to assault not only the whole human family but planet earth itself, even while the arms race itself cruelly destroys millions of lives in conventional wars, repressive violence and massive poverty.
The line drawings of
the windows are stark black and white. While there are no numbers to guide
me, I color them in myself,
leaving the book on my coffee table to await the coming of the Messiah, or the next shipment of books.