So we are in the third week of Adult Swim’s new controversial show,Black Jesus. In the realm of satire,anything in that general vein promises some level of entertainment. So being an educator who is always seeking juicy writing topics from the news,I jumped on the opportunity to have students reflect on Black Jesus —especially since my students are non-white,native Americans living in poverty with some semblance of religion in their culture. I thought they would have some unique and non-conventional perspective on a Jesus who was an anathema to white evangelicals.
The students enjoyed the exercise and showed outward amusement but inner frustration in their writing. I was proud of how seriously they took the exercise. Some sample lines below:
“I don’t think Jesus would be chilling in my backyard with me. I don’t think he would cuss back at me if I yelled at him…If Jesus were really like this,I would not judge him. It shows that he’s human and not perfect…we all make mistakes.”
“If Jesus were really like this,I would lose my faith in God! …I would not worship a black Jesus. No way! Life would be like living in hell,if hell really does exist.”
“If Jesus was black and drinking and smoking and cursing,he would have a lot of followers because he would be one of us,having the same problems,trying every way to hustle to make ends meet …giving more of a reason that our god is still number one.”
“Black Jesus is a joke. Jesus shouldn’t be cussing,drinking,or smoking weed…I am glad I don’t get this channel. I would probably feel like God would send me to hell just by watching this show.”
“He’s got kindness and love. He speaks what’s on his mind. Also,he tells it how it is. Hell,yeah! I would love to drink with him. I would like to have him in my backyard for a cookout. …If a black Jesus TV show gets people to watch and listen,then hey he just won some more souls to the kingdom of heaven.”
“Would I still worship and honor a Jesus like that? Nope,I probably won’t. Because he regularly cusses,drinks,and smokes. …Actually,it would probably be kind of scary seeing this black Jesus with a long perm and dusty tan robes,walking around.”
As part of my attempt to model for them how an essay looks,I came up with this. It provided me an opportunity to authentically share about my faith in Jesus.
Sometimes it takes a cup of cold water thrown in your face to get your attention,to interrupt you from life as usual. That’s what the new series on Adult Swim,Black Jesus,did for me. Through its controversial 21st century portrayal of Jesus as a cussing,smoking black man in Compton,Black Jesus created both amusement and unease in me while challenging my core assumptions about who Jesus is.
First of all,I had a hard time hearing homeboy Jesus drop f-bombs and use the N-word with other black people. Based upon what my memory of what the real Jesus talked like in the bible,I don’t remember Jesus talking so casually like that. Having said that,I will admit that He probably would keep it real and not talk in King James English,only saying “Hallelujah,” “Praise God,” and other religious-speak. Because He can see people for who they really are,I think Jesus would be quick in His replies and even have an edge to His words when He calls people out. For example,when the real Jesus got mad at thieves in the temple courts,He flipped out and broke their stuff. He stripped down the fake but super religious people of His day (The Pharisees) with His words and regularly humiliated them in public. So while I don’t think He would call people the N-word due to its complex history and racist overtones,I do think He could/would speak in anger and find appropriately harsh words for those of us who pretend to be righteous but really are not. Could some of His harsh words be curse words? Why not? Seriously, why not? Who am I to say no? And who am I to say certain curse words are ok but others are not (F-bombs and N-words)? I am no more an authority on curse words than the person next door. Black Jesus exposed that I am inconsistent with my understanding of curse words. Moreover,it exposed that,at the end of the day,I want to determine what/where “the line” for appropriate language ends up being. Score:Black Jesus – 1;Mike Kim – 0.
Second,I was also challenged to see Black Jesus smoking weed;in fact,I still have a hard time erasing it from my visual memory. But if I sit down and think about it without the stigma of m@rijuana being an illegal drug,I don’t think it would be that much of a stretch of my imagination to think that Jesus could partake in it. It’s not like cocaine or meth;it is all natural,not chemically-addictive,and doesn’t turn its user into a compromised or dangerous person. If we were to take an objective look at it,m@rijuana is just a step or two beyond cigar smoking and better than cigarette smoking if it is not smoked – hence,the wider-scale acceptance of purer grade marijuana for its medicinal purposes amongst both the medical community and the informed public. But due to cultural prejudices and plain ignorance,m@rijuana is grouped together with h3roin,m3th,and other significantly addictive and life-altering drugs. Is the real Jesus so approachable and real that He could smoke an illegal Cuban cigar with you for the pure pleasure of it? How about enjoy a glass of Napa Valley Merlot or high grade Scotch? Of course. Ok,then how about smoking a blunt with you or drinking a marijuana-laced iced tea with you – not to party,of course,but to step into your world and share conversation with you in an “OMG!” way? Based on my observations and experience,I believe He is that approachable and that radical. Would He actually smoke or drink it? I don’t know and would prefer that He did not. And that’s where I’ve been exposed! Score:Black Jesus – 2;Mike Kim – 0.
I guess I’ll have to ask the real Jesus that question in person when my time comes;it would be my own variation of WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?). In the meantime,I’ll have to open up my mind and heart to the fact that I still have much to learn about the real Jesus. Thank you,Black Jesus,for helping me get there.
So if you get a chance to check out Black Jesus,please do so. And let it take you back to His original questions:“Who do people say I am? Who do you say I am?” It’ll make all the offense and entertainment well worth it.
N.B. –I recognize that not many will share my take on m@rijuana,and that is perfectly fine. I’ve never smoked or ingested it in my life. But I have done research into it because a medical m@rijuana dispensary was coming into our town,and I helped write a proposal to keep it above-board,safe,and in partnership with our city police and city council. We figured it would be better for Jesus-lovers to set the tone on that than those who were in it for $,power,or pleasure. And we did. I’m glad I researched it. I came to see that a lot of my bias was not fact-based but based on fundamentalist culture. I regularly see what crystal m3th does to people where I live and where I work. It is a terrible,family-wrecking drug that I wish was never invented;people pay a mere $20,they’re immediately addicted to it as are their babies in utero. People out here commit suicide after taking m3th. Not so with with m@rijuana. They don’t die from its overdose as with h3roin. They just get really happy and hungry. M@rijuana is nowhere close to m3th. In fact,where I work,alcohol is worse than m@rijuana in the the way that it has stolen the soul of an entire nation of once proud and strong people. And because m@rijuana is considerably more benign and superior to all synthetic (dangerously addictive and full of side-effects) pain killers that pharmaceuticals are raking in the billions with, it is a near inevitability that all 50 states will soon legalize it for financial reasons,if none other. It’s important for us to understand it and to understand what it means for a modern day reinterpretation of Jesus to be engaging in it. For me,it’s part of the shock value of Jesus entering into the world of the worst of the worst —undeterred by what any moralistic mortals would ever say of Him. We still have a lot to grasp about the God-Man. There is one thing I know for sure:I know I don’t want to be on the Pharisee side of that discussion.