Terry, a longtime friend of Fabric, has been turning people's thinking upside down his whole life. His books “Blue Collar God / White Collar God” and “Surprise Me, God” did it. He then turned generosity on its head starting Free Bikes 4 Kidz in 8 cities giving away 5-6000 bikes a year. Just this month Terry stood us all on our heads publishing “Jesus asks America to kindly ‘cease & desist’ in using his name” in City Pages. Come do a little paradigm adjustment with stories and wisdom from Terry on March 3.
In February, Terry published this story in City Pages:
Here are a couple other stories. Rather than wondering if you agree or not, let all these stories help you wonder for yourself about who Jesus is and who we’ve made him into. And enjoy! Thanks Terry.
"The Miss Jesus Pageant" By Terry Esau ©1998
Madeline was clad in the most gaudy dress, an unflattering collision of sequins and silk. As the hostess of tonight’s show, she was perkily strutting the runway on three-and-a-half inch spike heels, blessing everyone in sight. Had she been prancing on my Kentucky Bluegrass, she would have completely aerated my lawn with her size seven Ferragamo pumps. The show was T-minus three minutes to air time.
This was the big night. The night that all Christendom had been waiting for. The anticipation was intense. Every church in America was shut down for the night. The holy hype had been hot and heavy for a solid week! A Christian multi-media feeding frenzy.
It was the World Series of Faith.
The Superbowl of Protestantism.
It was..."The Miss Jesus Pageant!"
Paul, Madeline's co-host for the night, was starting to get wound up, practicing his spiritual clichés as he adjusted his red bow tie and buffed his fish-shaped lapel pin with his hanky. (At one point during the show the fish tipped on end and looked conspicuously like an AIDS pin, which caused a momentary clamor in the director's booth.)
Always the jokester, Paul started schmoozing with the panel of judges. An interesting lot, to say the least.
"Electric Eddie" - America's premiere tele-pulpit pastor
"Bible Thumpin' Bill" - renown expositor of little known and often misinterpreted scriptural passages.
Mertyl Magneson - missionary to Tim Buk Tu
P. Ronald Larson - founder and president of "Prayers R Us"
Jesus - Son of God
Electric Eddie was dressed to the nines for the night. Of course he rarely missed an opportunity to make a fashion splash. He was all about bigger, brighter, louder, spangly, dangly. A bling-bling Baptist if ever there was one.
Bill never closed his mouth. The flow of verbiage was incessant, relentless...projectile alphabet soup. He drooled drivel.
Mertyl was the Cathy Bates of the foreign fields. A Bible in one hand and a machete in the other. Believe or die. One scary mama.
P. Ronald, in an effort to make peace with Miss "Scissorhands", was trying to engage Mertyl in some friendly conversation. "Whither thou wilt be beholden to the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, wherewith, then, shall the proclamation of sanctification be evermore indwelt among his people for the sake of his glory? Amen." (To P. Ronald the word 'Amen' was the direct equivalent of 'Stop' on a telegram. It was the caboose on every one of his verbal Burlington Northerns.)
Mertyl stared at him, a full inch gap separating her upper and lower partials. She obviously wasn't sure whether she'd been asked a question, sworn at in Swahili, or given a compliment. She opted for a simple, "Uh huh" and left it at that.
And Jesus? Well, you've read the book. You know who he is and what he stands for. He looked pretty average tonight. No fire-eyes, bronze feet, glowing-like-the-sun Revelation imagery. Kind of incognito. A regular guy.
Jesus hadn't "officially" been invited to judge in tonight's competition. Well, I take that back. At one of the organizational committee meetings they had prayed and casually invited him to be present at the festivities, never suspecting he'd actually show up. But when he did, they felt a certain obligation to allow him to sit on the panel. They were just hoping he'd stay cool. You know, no money-changer temple temper tantrums or distracting Sermon-on-the-Mount type outbursts.
The producer's countdown reached zero, the orchestral engines ignited and proceeded to blastoff...lights, camera, action...the Miss Jesus Pageant was under way!
With each contestant's appearance, the crowd would explode with applause in zombie-like unison, obviously accustomed to coaxed reactions.
The audience was a veritable "who's who" of the faith with all the V.I.C.'s (Very Important Christians) lined up, front row, along the runway.
Paul walked the first beauty down the runway on his arm. Her name was Miss 1st Alpha and Omega Congregational Fellowship. She was a perky little number. Very well put together. Her sanctuary only held 400 people but she was hung with the latest in theater lighting, curtains, and sound equipment. She had a couple of oversized display screens symmetrically book-ending her stage where she interspersed video clips with a sound-bite rhythm to keep her service moving and entertaining. She proudly wore her innovative ideas like a tiara, and as she made her final spin on the runway, she gave the judges one last confident "look-at-me" wink.
Electric Eddie flew to his feet in adulation for this ravishing specimen. He'd been lusting after her techno-excellence for years. She was his trophy church. Sure, he loved his church, but if this little trollop ever gave him a second look he'd be copping a feel of her pulpit before you could recite John 3:16.
"Bible-thumpin'" Bill didn't much care for her. He was a one-hour preacher and this girly only allowed 15-minute sermons. Shoot, he couldn't even do an alter call that fast.
Jesus looked at Miss Alpha and thought, 'She's certainly attractive, and has some good intentions, but I know that's not the real color of her hair. And the excessive makeup is hiding something. She's forgotten whose she is. She's lost that glow she had when she was young.'
The announcer's voice boomed over the loudspeakers, "Our next contestant is a tall shapely beauty that reaches 20 stories into the sky. Designed by Vellapeche' Bellinni, she contains 230,000 square feet of mirrors, 22 miles of stainless steel railing, and enough glass to "bio-dome" the Grand Canyon. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Miss Palatial Palace of God."
(Hearty zombie applause.)
Miss PPG strutted her striking figure down the runway to an Up With People arrangement of Majesty. With every move she made, the lights would carom off her miles of mirrors and chrome, blinding the crowd with her brilliance. This baby sparkled like the streets of Heaven.
As she took off her jacket and fashionably tossed it over her shoulder she revealed an even more stunning display of opulence. Around her neck she wore a diamond-studded choker boasting 34 full-time pastors, 167 support personnel, 10 full-time grounds keepers and maintenance engineers, and an army of volunteers. Her wrist was wrapped in a jeweled bracelet of countless programs...kids clubs, adult congregations and electives, community involvement, AA, MADD, ACA, Big Brother, Big Sister, Big Daddy...
But all of those accessories paled in comparison to her gown, which was awash in a blatant display of celebrity. Movie stars, singers, television personalities—frequently parading in front of the cameras delivering their ever popular message, "I did it, and so can you, if you'll just look to your power within."
With one last flash of her seductive celebrity smile she exited to the cheers of an adoring, star-struck fan club.
P. Ronald almost wet himself. As he had watched Miss Palatial Palace of God sway down the runway he had imagined himself calling on the name of the Lord from the 20th floor of her glass pavilion. 'That wouldest be forevermore...cool. Amen.' he thought.
Jesus was conspicuously quiet. 'I wonder if my father is treated like a celebrity there?'
The parade of beauties continued for another hour and a half, each one breathtaking in their perfection. There were contestants with great sophistication who preened with an undeniable elegance, and some with bubbly personalities that were an emotional roller-coaster "thrill-and-chill" ride. Still others reeked of religiosity, wearing a legalistic crown of do's and don'ts.
One funky little filly really captured the crowd's fancy, Miss F.O.G. Town. ("Family of God Town") She was an avante garde little tart with a swooping neckline revealing her flirtatious fascination with the world. Get this—she was a franchise church. That's right. You could put together some investors and buy one of these "super models."
Like a Burger King or Wendy's.
They'd come out, set you up, get you going and voila`, you were in business. And the biz of God was profitable. Her stock was going through the roof!
In each contestant Jesus saw some good qualities. But they were so heavily masked under the cover of self-promotion and pride that it was difficult for him to see them as beautiful.
"Well, that's all of our contestants. Now it's up to the judges to decide who..." Madeline was interrupted by a commotion back stage. The director of the show instructed her that there was one more contestant. A late entry, somewhat of a surprise. As the announcer introduced her, a young disheveled looking girl walked out onto the stage, her eyes a blend of insecurity and determination.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Miss Oak Village Neighborhood Church."
A smattering of applause welcomed this little "nothing-to-look-at" church. She didn't even have her own building. An elementary school gymnasium was her sanctuary. She wasn't tall, particularly attractive, or well dressed. A simple one-pastor church with a congregation of about 120 people. She was average in every sense of the word.
But...there was something about her smile. It wasn't perfect but it was warm and inviting, honest. As she stood on the runway and shared her love and passion for God, the crowd started mumbling, becoming somewhat bored with her inexperienced delivery and obvious lack of pizzazz. For the first time she looked out at the waves of people and felt their cool, white-capped stares. Her confidence began to sink. Her eyes fell to the floor and she felt herself drowning, losing her breath in the critical glow of the floodlights.
As she was quietly pleading to God for strength, out of the corner of her eye she caught a glimpse of Jesus...and instantly, her confidence was reborn in his smile. Again the passion of her mission began to course through her veins with renewed vigor. Suddenly she was walking on water again!
As Jesus watched her, he thought, 'She's the first contestant of the evening to recognize me.' But then, that didn't really surprise him. They had known each other before this night. Jesus spent a lot of Sundays with this little church. They had become the best of friends.
As she concluded her remarks, Jesus couldn't help himself, in an unbridled display of partiality he sprang to his feet applauding wildly and screaming, "That's my girl! She's the one! Way to go Miss Oak Village!"
The director of the show, not recognizing Jesus, screamed for security over the headphones, "Get that idiot out of here! Now!!"
Within seconds, the son of David was being whisked out of the hall, a blue-suited Goliath griping him on each elbow.
As they ushered him out, the confused crowd was whispering, "Who was that lunatic? And what did he see in her? She's so...plain. So simple. One pardon-me-for-living pastor with hardly any programs. No building. No choir. No cantata. No big, extravagant holiday production with real live camels and everything. All she seemed concerned about was Jesus. 'Jesus this, and Jesus that. Love, love, love.' How are you ever going to reach the world that way?"
As Jesus walked out the doors of the convention center into the early evening air, an unlikely smile snuck across his face. He was thinking about Miss Oak Village. 'She'll be OK.' he thought. 'She's my girl. Someday I'll come back for her...and make her my bride.'
(All church names are complete fabrications. Any similarity to an existing church is purely coincidental. But, if the tiara fits...)
Milk and Cookies
By Terry Esau
Christmas is for people who believe—believe in Santa Claus, Jesus, Saint This or Saint That, and the wingless yet levitating Rudolf. It’s not really for people like me. I’ve nurtured a long-standing tradition of disbelief.
It all started with the Tooth Fairy. Come on. Really? I’m supposed to believe in a nocturnal gnome who gets off on pocketing decayed teeth? That’s the best our fairy-tale-telling ancestors could come up with? Then I graduated to skepticism over the Easter Bunny. I went to Target with my mom and saw the candy in the cart. Shouldn’t the Bunny shop for her candy without the recipients present? Shouldn’t she be as prudent about hiding the ‘shopping’ as hiding her eggs?
Eventually my distrust in happy endings led me to doubt elves, flying sleighs and Santa himself. While soul-crushing at first, soon I noticed that my skepticism had no negative effect on my under-the-tree present quota. The gifts still arrived (via Amazon) and the stockings were still hung by the chimney with care. My disbelief still came wrapped with a bow. For a while I continued to put milk and cookies out for the faux fattie, but even mom knew I was just humoring her.
Enter Jesus and the virgin birth. Even before I understood the mechanics of the birds and the bees, I was pretty sure there was a necessary two-part biology to baby-making. Much about this season involves the suspension of belief, but monogenetic pro-creation seems unrealistically far-fetched.
It’s interesting that millions, maybe billions of people buy into this story. I suppose I have to admit it’s a pretty compelling narrative. I mean, who wouldn’t want a God who loved us so much that he came to live with us, got to know us, actually became one of ‘us.’ Seems irrational, but generous. I’m pretty sure if I were God I would not reduce myself to mortal status to convince a horde of disbelieving partially-evolved amebae’s that I loved them. And I certainly wouldn’t allow them to kill me. Doesn’t love have to be reciprocal to be love?
On the other hand, I suppose if humans were my idea, my creation, I’d have some parental attraction to them. A sort of familial obligation. As a kid, I wasn’t always the most respectful to my parents, but they never threw me out. They still fed me. God may have a guilt complex about disowning his delinquent dependents and tossing us out of his will.
Sometimes I wonder if my skepticism is one-sided. I disbelieve what seems clearly unlikely, yet I tend to take at face value some things that I probably should question. For instance, what was it about this Jesus that makes us still talk about him endlessly two thousand years later? If he was ordinary, regular, why has he been written about, sung about more than any other person in history? What’s our fascination with this guy? Santa I get—he’s a Pez dispenser of treats. Jesus asks us to deny our base instincts, to sacrifice ourselves for others. These are not simple asks, not requests wrapped in bows.
Yet we sing about him. We celebrate his birth. We tell the story of peace on earth, good will to men. Year after year. This mythical God, that I’m not sure exists, won’t go away. Won’t leave me alone.
I suppose if I were to choose the kind of God I would believe in, it probably would be this kind of God, whose capacity to love is a tad elevated beyond my feeble attempts. What if there was a love that didn’t demand reciprocity, but just was—pure and perfect? Love for love’s sake. What if his asks of us were actually designed to benefit us, bring us into a fuller, more beautiful version of ourselves? What if he knew who was naughty and nice, and yet delivered love under both trees, irrespectively?
If I were to be totally honest, I’m not so sure I put the milk and cookies out simply to humor my mom. I think I bore my disbelief with a skosh of suspicion. On the outside chance that Santa was real, I kind of wanted him to know. I might believe. Or more truthfully, I didn’t totally disbelieve.
Maybe that’s where I am with Jesus, with Christmas. I want there to be a God like that. I want there to be love like that. I’d like to believe.
But as of today, Christmas Eve, I can only say I don’t totally disbelieve. The milk and cookies have been prudently placed.