Vox Populi

Vox Populi: A Public Sphere for Politics and Poetry

Patricia A. Nugent: Resurrecting Jesus

“…Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.”

Bow head at His name.

Finish the Hail Mary.

Make the sign of the cross.

Blow out the votive candle.

Crawl into bed.

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Thus would end my nightly routine as a child. I’d kneel on my chubby, dimpled knees in my flannel nightgown in front of my homemade altar. There I displayed my rosary, my ceramic statue of the Virgin Mary holding her baby, my cream-colored plastic Jesus with two broken-off blessing fingers, and my red-caped Infant of Prague palming the globe.

I blessed Mommy and Daddy, my sister, all my relatives – especially those who had died, so their souls would be released from purgatory. I prayed we wouldn’t be bombed, a fear instilled by the air raid drills at school. I recited rote prayers, including the Our Father and Act of Contrition.

Jesus was my Lord and Savior. He was the Son of God who died for my sins. MY sins! I felt responsible for his bloody palms and feet nailed to the cross. I wore a gold cross around my neck and gold cross earrings. Friends playfully called me Sister Mary Patricia. (In high school, the Virgin Patty.)

I was obsessed with Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar, although I didn’t fully grasp how Jesus could be God and God’s son at the same time. As the Doobie Brothers reprised, Jesus was just alright with me.

But in my thirties, I became confused when Jesus got hijacked by Evangelical Christians. They coopted his name and message to be used as weapons against oppressed people – people he’d defended in his parables. Jesus’ name was suddenly invoked whenever there was the opportunity to sidestep social justice. Since their political advance, the Religious Right made it their mission to deny marriage to gays, equality to women, a safety net to the poor, scientific study to students, health care to sick people, stem-cell treatments to the disabled, sanctuary to immigrants, reproductive choice to couples, and religious freedom to non-Christians.

Some “good” Christians even put white hoods over their heads to murder blacks, gays, and Jews, while burning a cross. Then praised Jesus in church on Sunday.

The praise and glory of Jesus’ name for self-serving and politically-conservative reasons revolted me. He no longer seemed like that guy I’d get into that fishing boat with. Either I’d had him figured all wrong (and so had my nuns) all these years, or his message was being bastardized. Like he’d been abducted and forced to read a ransom note someone else had written.

Even though I’d denounced both my church and my faith, I remained fascinated by Jesus because his story forever divided the world into Christian and “Not.” I read The Passover Plot and The Mystical Life of Jesus. I attended a session with the Episcopal bishop and author John Shelby Spong who challenges the fanciful stories of Jesus’ birth and resurrection. I questioned the holes in the Biblical story: Why were those Bible pages censored explaining where Jesus had been from childhood until appearing at the temple eighteen years later? And how did Mary get pregnant exactly? (By then, I was no longer the Virgin Patty.)

Skipping ahead in my own story another thirty years, I read the New York Times’ bestseller Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (2013) by Reza Aslan, a Muslim who converted to Fundamentalist Christian, later returning to his faith of birth. Zealot traces the life of Jesus in historical and cultural terms. It was a time of widespread healing and miracles – a spiritual Renaissance – as well as a time of horrific violence and oppression. While Dr. Aslan has faced scrutiny over his credentials to be an authority on Jesus, he concludes, as do many Biblical scholars, that Jesus was a talented and effective organizer of a rebellion against the oppressive Roman government and the religious ruling class of Israel.

By placing Jesus in context with that setting, Dr. Aslan gave me a new way to view him: As a resister. A man born into poverty to an unwed mother. A man who knocked over the money changers’ tables, defended an adulteress when others stoned her, and delivered the Sermon on the Mount: Love your neighbor as yourself. A man of faith who healed others and blessed the poor, humbly washing their feet. A man with the God-like quality of unconditional acceptance of those less fortunate, coupled with fierce resistance to those who would oppress their freedoms.

But that’s not the Jesus the Christian Right hides behind. In fact, they’re more likely to demonstrate fierce resistance to those less fortunate, coupled with unconditional acceptance of those who oppress their freedoms. Jesus spoke not a word about abortion, although women were arranging them even in his day. He did, however, harp on the sins of the rich – their likely exclusion from Heaven should they not repent their selfish ways. Evangelicals, mesmerized by the Prosperity Gospel, have strayed so far from Jesus’ message that they might not recognize him if he returned today, as they hope he will. In the parable-book by Roland Merullo, The American Savior: A Novel of Divine Politics, Jesus returns to run for president only to be killed by an Evangelical who deems his message of empathy and compassion to be weak and blasphemous.

At the end of Zealot, Aslan writes, “…the one thing any comprehensive study of the historical Jesus should reveal is that Jesus of Nazareth – Jesus the man – is every bit as compelling, charismatic, and praiseworthy as Jesus the Christ. He is, in short, someone worth believing in.”

I’d rejected Jesus because his followers had distorted his message, throwing their redeemer-baby out with the baptism water. Zealot resurrected Jesus for me, reunited me with a Jesus I could believe in. Churches couldn’t do it; Evangelicals preaching The Word couldn’t do it. Their hypocrisy only further alienated me. The writings of Aslan, a Muslim scholar, brought me back to my practice of praying to Jesus, whom I now revere as an ascended master or spiritually-enlightened being.

For me, Jesus is a son of God, just as we are all children of God – or however one chooses to characterize the Source of Universal Energy. He’s a principled dissenter, revolutionary, model for civil disobedience, preacher of social justice and compassion. He wasn’t killed because he claimed to be the son of God; he was killed because he challenged injustice and Emperor Caesar Augustus. His throng of followers had become a serious threat to governmental and religious institutions. He had to be eliminated, like Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Mahatma Gandhi.

I once again have an altar with a votive candle, displaying a rosary, my childhood statue of Mary, glass and ceramic angels, a statue of Jesus with open arms, a crucifix, a brass Quan Yin, and the Qur’an. Jesus would approve of the company he’s keeping. On my arthritic knees, I pray to heal a culture irresponsibly using his name and teachings as a shield and divisor – taking his name in vain. I pray for his intervention in a world filled with oppression. I pray that the bombing stops all over the world.

My resurrected Revolutionary Jesus is geared up to take on changeling Evangelical Jesus. I invoke my Jesus’ name in response to oppressive language and inhumane government initiatives. I ask “What would Jesus do?” reverting back to the time when following Jesus was synonymous with the moral imperative to be forgiving, kind… and resolute about social justice.

Hearing my invocations, some progressive and/or non-Christian friends worry that maybe I drank the wine. I assure them that my goal is to use his name in the true spirit of his time on Earth and as a role model for fighting oppression through civil disobedience today. Not as a vehicle to judge, justify, hate, divide, or exclude.

I invite people of all faiths to remind the so-called religious right of Jesus’ true message.

He is risen. In his name, let’s raise some hell against injustice.


 

Copyright 2017 Patricia A. Nugent

Patricia A. Nugent is the author of They Live On: Saying Goodbye to Mom and Dad.

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The author’s current altar.

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10 comments on “Patricia A. Nugent: Resurrecting Jesus

  1. majokmindfuleating
    April 18, 2017

    Love this Pat! It’s so helpful to those of us who are on a journey to make sense out of what we were taught as children.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. sharondoubiago
    April 17, 2017

     Hi! I’ve gotten so much positive response for this poem I thought I’d submit it to Vox Populi. Thank you for all you do. I read almost all of it.  SharonJesus Was A Terrorist“The most important deficiency in the U.S.counterterrorism policy has been the failure to address the root causes ofterrorism.” Philip C. Wilcox Jr., former US Ambassador at Large and Coordinatorfor Counter-Terrorism, September 2001.  – The Week Before September 11The novelist defined aterroristas one who has no heart,cares for nothingbut himself. Anothercharacter in her bookMother Theresapicks up a diseased beggar inthe streetand carrying him in her armssees Jesus.The author, a Jew, gaspedtelling us this.I walked out gasping Jesuswould carry a terrorist inhis armsand see Himself. I walked down to the pub. Aterroristthe Christian on the stoolbeside me offeredis one who has no heart,caresfor nothing but himself. Hedrankto the oldest cliché, whycan’t those people get along?They’reexactly the same people. Isawthe light then, television’sthe night before. I walkedoutrather than be kicked out,walkedthe foggy streets, hearingfrom somewhere Loveis all you need.  2.       September 11-October 7: “We have theopportunity to forgive them,” Doug Chateau Jesuscarries the terrorist in his arms and sees himself.  AnArab.  An Israeli. A Middle Easterner.  A Jew from Nazareth.  A Palestinian.I am not being metaphorical.  Exactly a terroristby definition of the State,the Westernoccupying Army that executedhimfor crimes against it.  Areligious fanatic.  A suicide for his  Cause. A martyr for us.He gave his only bodythat the prophecy befulfilled.  I’m not beingChristian, a Believer.  Notmetaphorical. Why can’t weget along?  We’re exactlythe same people.  Illegitimate from the start.  (A teacher of this)  Conceived out of wedlock.Born of a girl into poverty,bornhomeless to a stepfather onthe road in a winter barn.  Born wanteddead or alive.  The soldiers killedall the baby boys in the landin the search for him. Hisparents fledacross the border.  Illegal immigrants from thestart.  Terrorized refugees at the exact heartof our hate.  When do we riseabove this oldest story?Or is this the script we’rereally nailed toto live and relive until theApocalypse? Atthe exact root of Western Civilization, at the exact heartof “the American Way ofLife” hangsa murdered Arab, an executedMiddle Easterner, an assassinated Palestiniana crucified son given by hisfathera son tortured by other sons,every one of whomdenied his mother.  A Jewdead of Capital Punishment who gave his lifein order that the old way— “Youhave heard it said, An eye for an eye,anda tooth for a tooth”—be overturned.”ButI say unto you resist notevil:  Whoever shall smite theeonthy right cheekturnto him the other also”  who gave his life—withoutheart? fornothing but himself?—in orderthat the old way of revengebe overturned. “You have heard it said,thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate their enemy.But I say onto you:  Love your enemies, bless themthat curse you, do goodto them that hate you  and prayfor them which despitefullyuse you andpersecute you.” Hewas not being metaphorical.  He didn’tmeanstrike back.  He didn’t meanbomb them.  He saidforgive them.  He didn’t mean God bless our money.  He saidgive to every man that askethof thee.  He said if any mansue thee and take away thycoat, let him have thy cloke also.  Sedition and blasphemy!  They crucified him for overturning the tables ofthe money lenders.  For teachingcarry not a purse, don’t beafraid for your next meal, acceptthe food of your hosts. Hewasn’t a Christian.  He didn’t sayGod Bless America.  God bless our might.He said blessed be themeek.  He saidblessed be the merciful.  He saidblessed be the peacemakers.  3.   October 7until the Apocalypse?We’re bombing the Holy Landagain.  “Jerusalemthe  mother of us all.”  We’re bombingthe Tigris and Euphratesagain, the cradleof civilization. He said belike the creatorwho made the sun rise overthe evil the same as the goodand sendeth the rain to fallon the justthe same as the unjust.  We’re bombingour only selves again,exactlythe Divine made flesh wecarry in our armsexactly the terrorist whodidn’t kill anyone.  Forgive us, we don’t know what we’redoing.  Face and bodyof that dead son (not afather) our mirror, killedby the Roman soldiers, nowRoman Catholics, this Crossroads of our insanity.  Lovethy enemy means love thyenemy.  Why are we breaking the CosmicLaw?  Whyare we committingsuicide?  Whendo we turn the tables?  I’m not being metaphorical.  Whyare they nailing us upagain?  Whoare these soldiers?  These old fatherswho call themselvesChristian, Muslim, Jewish?  Blasphemy and sedition!  All the great religionssay the same four words.  How can they kill us?  Whywill they make all the worldGolgotha?  Love  is the easiest betrayal Beye therefore Perfect                       *              October-December, 2001                                    SharonDoubiago_______________________________________Recent online posts by Vox Populi:https://voxpopulisphere.com/2016/07/05/sharon-doubiago-free-him/;  https://voxpopulisphere.com/2015/05/14/6776/ (Preface to The Visit: “I Am My Brother’s Keeper”); https://voxpopulisphere.com/2015/06/27/sharon-doubiago-mass-execution-of-aboriginal-children-of-the-mohawk-residential-school-brantford-ontario-1943/; https://voxpopulisphere.com/2015/01/16/sharon-doubiago-abu-ghraib-guantanamo-bay/PublicationsHard Country,West End Press (epic poem); The Book of Seeing With One’s Own Eyes, Graywolf Press (stories); El Nino, Lost Roads (stories); Psyche Drives the Coast, Empty Bowl Press (poetry); South America Mi Hija, U of Pittsburgh (booklength poem); The Husband Arcane     The Arcane of O, Gorda Plate Press (booklengthpoem); Body and Soul, Cedar HillPublications (poetry); Love on the Streets,U of Pittsburgh (poetry); My Father’sLove, Vols 1 & 2, Portrait of thePoet as a Child/as a Woman, Wild Ocean, (memoir); The Visit, Wild Ocean Press (booklength poem); I, Poet, Omerta Publications (sequenced poems)

    From: Vox Populi To: sharondoubiago@yahoo.com Sent: Sunday, April 16, 2017 2:01 AM Subject: [New post] Patricia A. Nugent: Resurrecting Jesus #yiv5092270023 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv5092270023 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv5092270023 a.yiv5092270023primaryactionlink:link, #yiv5092270023 a.yiv5092270023primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv5092270023 a.yiv5092270023primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv5092270023 a.yiv5092270023primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv5092270023 WordPress.com | Vox Populi posted: ““…Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.”Bow head at His name.Finish the Hail Mary.Make the sign of the cross.Blow out the votive candle.Crawl into bed..Thus would end my nightly routine as” | |

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  3. jfrobb
    April 17, 2017

    Amen! Well said (as always). You speak for so many of us who are offended, dismayed, and angry about hijacking of Holy Spirit for mean-spirited behavior. As reflected by this high level of written responses. There are many paths to God – but the behavior we have all been seeing ‘in the name of . . . ‘ is not one of them
    I agree – resistance is important. To stand up. Which can take many forms. Your powerful words, our representatives’ swamped emails, phones and mail bags, gatherings in large groups to show what we believe. And letting our ‘lights shine’ in our circles of all within reach (including with some stretching).

    Liked by 3 people

  4. PARVISANI
    April 16, 2017

    It is tragic how the message has been corrupted.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. PARVISANI
    April 16, 2017

    A resister and revolutionary. It is tragic how his message has been so corrupted.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Patti Williams
    April 16, 2017

    I soooo relate to the journey described here, having been raised ‘evangelical’ myself, and having run, screaming, from organized religion at the earliest possible opportunity. I too have come back to my own incarnation of Christianity after spending several years abroad, learning and practicing selected tenets of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Judaism. As was the case in my teens, I still have zero tolerance for the hypocrites in the Church – particularly those who use ‘Christianity’ as a fig leaf for abusing and denigrating ‘the least of these’, but now I am much better equipped to deal with them. Thank you for a thoughtful and beautifully written piece.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Rebecca Clark
    April 16, 2017

    Thank you for returning Jesus to me.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Daniel Burston
    April 16, 2017

    People who resonate with Patricia’s blog may enjoy reading “Jesus and the Jewish Revolt”, by Hyam Maccoy, published in 1975 – long. long before Reza Aslan’s reflections.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Patricia A. Nugent
      April 16, 2017

      Thanks, Daniel! I’ll look for that book! -PN

      Like

      • Daniel Burston
        April 16, 2017

        Brava, Patricia! But I misspelled the author’s name. It Hyam Maccoby.

        Liked by 1 person

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