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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

AMERICAN JESUS

 laurel glenn and cemetery

 laurel glenn the entrance

the woodshed

interior the men's side

 interior the women's side

laurel glenn



Driving away from Chuck's garage in Glade Valley after an oil change, I saw Laurel Glenn with the sun bright on the southern face of the house. I turned toward it thinking I'd get some pictures. Haven't seen the place in quite awhile. It's not on the way to anyplace I go, so I never see it. Went there 14 years and left it 20 years ago. The place is a jewel in my heart. Just seeing the structure I remember the people I knew there. I was about to add "brothers and sisters in the spirit," but I don't really see it like that. There was a time I thought that way, but I'm still not so sure. After I left, the only ones that continued to have to do with me were the ones everybody else looked down on, the least of them. And I've appreciated that. By this time in my life after knowing a fair variety of people, I have an idea I've seen what it is about the people we call the least of them that Jesus liked so much. He liked the poor an awful lot, and I think it's because he saw they had something real about them. And I believe they do. There I go using that word real again like it has meaning. I suppose I mean they have no choice but to be who they are. They can't dress up and pretend to be important. 



I have painted the church house exterior 4 times, every 3 years, with a brush. I loved doing it. Scraped it all around. Full sun on two sides was rough on the paint. Scraped an awful lot every time. House painting was my work in those years. One time I was on the extension ladder all the way to the top of that tall eave where I had to stand as high on the ladder as possible, lean inward and reach as far as I could to get that corner. It was dangerous, but I never felt I was in danger. From all the way at the top, I was securing the new bucket of paint by hook to a rung on the ladder, and dropped it. It fell all the way to the ground and slung a long, wavy line of white paint about 10 feet over the grass. It was so beautiful I went to the truck, took out the camera and photographed it. Also wanted to remember it as one of the clumsiest and stupidest things I'd ever done. A lapse in attention. I can still see that bucket falling all the way to the ground in slow motion, my mind willing it to reverse its course. One of those things prayer does not change. 



I noticed they'd put aluminum siding on it. Several places they missed. Around the windows is a mess. It seemed kind of forlorn. The handrails had paint peeling on them from being there so long, and they were put there since my departure. A big street lamp was put above the steps, one of the ugliest architectural combos in the county. The aluminum siding was put on probably from scraps. That's what it looks like. I was thinking at least it's preserving the wood under it. At least there is that. I stepped up onto the small porch floor, wood I'd put down after the other broke through from old age. I was struck by the general disrepair of the place. Spider webs on the door knob. It was locked. I went around the far end and saw the electric meter was gone. That explained the spider webs on the door. I went around to a window in the back. The windows had not been washed in perhaps a few years. I could see inside. The same stove. The same lamps. The same benches. Nothing had changed.



They'd put another Jesus picture behind the pulpit. The one before was Jesus in a red, white and blue gown holding a lamb. This one was Jesus in red, white and blue knocking. I liked the picture of Jesus holding the lamb. I've always been partial to that aspect of Jesus. I like those pictures of Jesus looking like an American college student with long hair and beard wearing a red, white and blue nightgown. Of course, they don't look anything like him. They look like people in the country they are made in. I've noted in museums over the years that Buddha statues have the facial features of the people of the given country. A Buddha from Nepal is very different from a Buddha in Malaysia. I once thought it something of a mild travesty because there's no way a middle-eastern Jew could look like a Ken doll, remembering they came out of Africa, and he lived in a place that was a crossroads for caravans from all directions. When I realized it's right that Jesus be made to look American in America, I started liking these kitch Jesus prints.  



Allan, my neighbor on the next farm, has the most beautiful Jesus print I've seen. It's the one of him kneeling in the garden praying. The colors, the beauty of the painting, it feels sacred. One of the few Jesus pictures of the American kitsch varieties that has that quality. The picture does have a holy feeling about it. I have one curiosity regarding pictures of Jesus that stays with me. At least 40 years ago I gave my mother a book of color prints of paintings of Jesus from the earliest to the most contemporary. This is a woman who is on fire for the Lord, is in the church every time they unlock the door. It was the same as nothing to her. When she opened the package, she didn't even look through it. It ended up on a shelf. I don't think she ever looked at it. I never understood that. I took her to the Nelson art museum in Kansas City. She saw a life-sized wooden sculpture of the Buddha's head, a Chinese Buddha. It took her breath. She unconsciously reached out to touch it and drew her hand back just before touching it, remembering the don't touch policy. She was the same as breathless before its spirit. A Kansas fundamentalist. I never got that either.   



To the country people, the generic American Jesus's are beautiful. I was able to come to see the beauty in the way they saw it. I have one of Jesus on the cross, looking at it one way. Move a little bit and it changes to Jesus in a white robe ascending to heaven with angels like birds around. It changes as I walk by. I think I found it for 50c at the Glade Valley thrift store many a year ago. Printed in Japan. That's my Jesus picture. Since he looked like one of those people that make your heart race when you see them getting on a plane with you, an authentic looking Jesus wouldn't do in the American market. Black, curly, longish hair, beard, olive complexion. Eyes that when you look at them you could fall into them forever. A white cotton gown and sandals. A little bit too scary for Americans. A swarthy foreigner. One of the people you see from the tour bus window on a middle-eastern tour. The kind that makes you clutch your purse a little tighter when they get too close, makes you wish you'd worn shoes you could run faster in. 



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