Finding Jesus: A Pastiche Memoir
note: This poem repurposes lines from classic Christian hymns and children’s praise songs.
My son told me he found Jesus
under the stairs leading to heaven.
He meant the ones barely anchored
to the side of his grandmother’s house,
pointing straight up to a roof
he’s not allowed to play on.
She collects religious things,
but stashing Jesus under the stairs
is unusual, even for her.
I wonder what Jesus did
to get stuck there in the shadows.
She lets her light shine,
faith’s interrogation torch,
fiery and intense, like the sun
in drought, earth-cracking,
exposing fault lines.
It’s not like her
to hide it under a bushel, no.
I was taught from a young age
not to talk to strangers
except to ask them
if they’d found Jesus.
One door and only one,
on which side are you?
In our game of hide and seek,
a game of who was in
and who was out, forever on the outs,
there’s only one answer
deserving of heaven’s ticket.
Indecision, hedged bets, doubt:
all wrong answers, proof
that stranger is on the way down.
They’ll take you with them
on that wide and easy road, so
stay away, far, far away
from the hell-bound.
Jesus doesn’t play by the rules,
won’t hide properly.
Some days I wonder
if he isn’t a little lost, an elderly man
who wandered off
when the angels weren’t looking.
Maybe he hitchhiked to Canada,
and is quenching his thirst
in a rural Albertan dive bar.
Between songs, Jesus reminds the strippers
they’re worth more than a loonie.
He isn’t the kind to throw the first coin,
won’t pellet them with change,
not the kind that comes with strings attached,
or bruises. Jesus tells the ladies
they’re precious in his sight,
red and yellow, black and white.
That old song, Civil War marching chant
turned Sunday School ditty
hasn’t changed in over a hundred years
but those lyrics still make us uncomfortable.
We taught generation after generation
to sing openly but practice prejudice secretly.
We’re still a divided nation.
At least we can agree
Jesus wouldn’t be welcome in our churches,
not with the company he keeps.
He’s setting a bad example
for all the little children of the world.
“How do you know what Jesus looks like?”
I ask my child, hoping there’s still time
to fend off the white savior complex.
“Jesus probably looked like your friend Ahmed.
Dark skin, brown eyes, carpenter’s arms.”
He gives me a blank stare.
Curse his Christian preschool
and their pasty, blue-eyed creations.
Does he think the Almighty resembles him,
male and blond, with a holy penis
and a long white robe, some fairy Godfather
paving his way to success?
I pray it isn’t too late to rewrite the script.
When we talk about God, I teach him to play
with pronouns, to say She or better yet, They.
Don’t make God in your image,
don’t bow down to idols.
Don’t drink the Kool-aid.
Every Sunday, Christians gather
to worship, chuck coins
into offering plates, practice theophagy.
I used to nibble bits of God between hymns,
washed down with thimbles of imitation blood.
Opinions differ on what flows through God’s veins.
Some churches serve communion wine.
Ours was grape juice, heart-stoppingly sweet,
good for inducing a sacrificially early death.
Tame, though. Nothing scandalous about fruit juice.
It won’t send you out in the streets
to befriend strangers, won’t get you
kicked out of respectable society.
That’s why I stopped imbibing.
What’s the point? I’m of the opinion
God’s blood alcohol content, being omni-
potent, is dangerous, unsafe to drink alone.
We need safeguards, special occasions, witnesses,
like the time Jesus performed his first miracle:
turning water into wine.
They partied hard at that wedding.
Jesus better not try that around here.
We can’t buy booze on Sundays,
blue laws mean even God’s own Bordeaux
is off-limits on God’s own day.
Don’t you know? There’s no drinking
in the Lord’s army. Sober saints
stain glass walls, shoot the artillery,
zoom over the enemy, uphold civility.
I was a good little soldier,
I was a pretty white savior,
not allowed to preach
behind an American pulpit,
(God doesn’t want women
teaching Caucasian men).
So they sent me south of the border
to preach instead,
to find Jesus under bridges,
in the faces of teenage addicts, little boys
with revolvers tucked into baggy shorts.
I found Jesus barefoot and pregnant,
I found Jesus hungry and smoking pot,
I found Jesus everywhere the church insisted
Jesus would never be.
I didn’t do much preaching.
Instead, I got saved,
pushed into a bar by a stranger one December,
as a platoon of police shouted “Ho-Ho-Ho,
we’ll suck out your souls,” firing off round
after round of Christmas carols
with M16 rifles.
Sweet baby Jesus,
I’ve never been so happy to be black and blue,
baptized in alcohol.
I never thanked that man
and his amazing grace
that saved a wretch like me.
I’m still not ready to meet Jesus.
But I take my son’s hand anyway,
I go under the stairs to see his Jesus
and come face to face
with a Mexican icon, Jesus in decal.
He looks like he walked up from Veracruz
with a cross on his shoulders,
he’s a gas station souvenir
stuck to the basement window.
Stenciled Jesus’s cutout sockets
reflect a cloudless sky; his blue eyes
are cast down to the ground, a drop of blood
beads on a thorn-capped brow.
This is a man with peace like a river,
even after he crossed the wilderness alone,
spent forty days in the desert.
He understands PTSD,
he knows what it’s like to be pulled over,
patted down. He’s suffered,
he needs a drink, a little shade,
time under the stairs unmolested.
We can’t ask him to convert,
transubstantiate his blood to wine
though we could use his living water
for this drought of spirit and land.
Oh, we need a miracle, we have to pray
that the rains come down and the floods come up.
Dear God, get us miraculously drunk
on generosity, so our dry fields and drier hearts
will find relief, repentance, forgiveness.
I kneel down and follow Jesus,
no turning back, no turning back
from this son of immigrant laborers,
son of God, son of man,
hiding under the stairs,
finding us finding him,
all of us found.