What You Are Here
Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, SD – God, that guy’s always so serious. Jesus. I’ve never seen the guy laugh. Only seen him crack a smile a couple of times. He stayed overnight, slept on the couch, then headed out first thing in the morning after a second pot of coffee.
I wanted him to help me cut a truckload of firewood, but he said he had a ton of work to do, left over from yesterday, all he had was sandals, and people were starting to lean on him for his time.
After he left, I got to thinking about what he said yesterday, about the refugees, when he asked me, ‘Isn’t that what you are here?’ and I wasn’t sure if he meant, ‘you’ rhetorically, like, all the Indians trapped here on Pine Ridge, or ‘you’, like, me.
Wasn’t sure, and still am not, and never got a clarification.
Here I was, the one all depressed when I pulled in from Chadron, it turned out I was the one trying to pull HIM out of the doldrums. He was in a better mood after a night’s rest.
We’re pretty much like this (crossing my fingers). If you asked me if we had a personal relationship, like I’ve been asked by complete strangers, I’d say, ‘Sure!’ He’s a friend. He can pop up at any time. He helps out a lot of people up here, and a lot of people call on him all the time.
But I forgot to ask him about that guy on the radio who said I needed to accept him as my Lord and personal savior. That’s almost the same thing Father Paul, the sun dancing priest had asked me, except he said ‘believe’, rather than ‘accept’, and I said no, that he’s more like a brother, deducing, if he’s the son of God, and we’re all already children of God, then don’t that make Jesus my brother?
“Well, he’s much more than that,” Father Paul had attested.
“Says who?” I asked.
Paul appeared stunned for a moment, then said, “Well…scripture.”
We’d previously had the ‘Word of God’/ ‘Inspired by God’, scriptural discussion under the arbor at the sun dance, between rounds, so we already knew where we stood on that one. For Paul, it was absolute truth. For me, a relative perspective from the back of a camel.
“What are you doing?” Father Paul had asked with a laugh, “trying to shake my faith?”
“No,” I replied. “These are legitimate questions, and I want to know what you think.”
Six weeks later, Dave Frankel, who was fixing toast there in Loretta’s kitchen, had said something about ‘ascended master’, and as I recall, Father Paul remained silent, but I knew he was thinking relationship-wise, Jesus is more than just one of the bros.
Well, I already know that. Too many people would say otherwise, like Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now, fanatically defending Col. Kurtz as a poetic genius, when everyone else, including his legion of followers, thought the Col. was mad. What one individual may think collapses under the weight of popular belief, which in Paul’s or Galileo’s case, would be ‘The Church’, which you could say, is significant.
Tom Cook, who was sitting there eating Corn Flakes, said, ‘”Jesus said, ‘All men are created equal,” to which Father Paul looked up, as if befuddled, and said, “Jesus never said that,” and Tom responded, “Well…that’s what he would’ve said, had he said it.”
Jesus was already up and fixing coffee and oatmeal on the stove when I woke up. It seems there’s never enough time to sit and talk. Over coffee, we picked up the previous night’s conversation where we left off.
“Belief is the animating and determinant force behind reality,” He said. “That’s why when Indians die, they go to the Spirit World, and when Christians die, they go to Heaven or Hell. Belief and faith is what shapes outcomes. What did you tell those kids? ‘Create your universe, then go live in it.’?”
I wanted to get all that for my next conversation with Father Paul, but Jesus was talking too fast and I’m not sure I got it all straight, especially the part about theoretical philosophical constructs. Plus, most of it was cryptic and metaphorical. You couldn’t exactly call it straight talk. His rap is always cloaked with mystery.
“What about agnostics?” I asked. “Where do they go when they die?”
“Back into the mix,” he said.
We sat here a while just being quiet, listening to the Meadowlarks, and I was wondering how love fit into it all when a fly landed on the table, and then I remembered.
“Hey,” I said suddenly. “There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you.”
“What’s that?” he said.
“You already know everything already, right?”
“Pretty much,” he replied.”
“Is it a sin to kill flies?” I asked, “and does a ’82 Mazda have a serpentine belt?”
He responded without hesitation. “Can’t say,” he said.
Sometimes his zen-like indefinitiveness drives me crazy. But that characteristic is balanced by his unfathomable compassion, and toleration for all those sacrilegious jokes we make about him.
Like any intimate relationship, you see both the public face and that other side that only those close to you can know. Apart from the serious discussions, we like to tease the hell out of him because of ‘his ways.’
“I gotta tell you something,” I said.
“Some people are saying you have an anger problem, that maybe you should seek treatment.”
“Who’s saying that?” he asked.
“Oh, a lot of people…some of those women down in Colorado and California. And that you’re jealous, too. Jealous of Buddha and Allah.”
“I don’t have an anger problem,” he said. “Maybe they were talking about Moses.”
“Yeah. And denial isn’t just a river in Africa. No. They specifically said you.”
“Well,” he said. “Boulder or San Francisco’s no measuring stick. That’s not what they say in Des Moines or Sheboygan.”
I could see he was getting his dander up, frowning down into his coffee cup, so I thought it best to humor him.
“I saw a guy in Vang Viang, upper Laos, wearing one of the funniest T-Shirts I’ve ever seen,” I began. “It had your picture on it, very angry, pointing at the viewer, and underneath, it said, ‘Jesus HATES You!’ Whaddaya think of that?”
“I know where Vang Viang is,” he said. “I’ve seen the shirt, and I know who you’re talking about. What’s funny about it?”
I swallowed hard. “Well, don’t you see the humor in it?” I asked.