The Other Side of Life: Remarkable tidings

By : Jason Leclerc
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Jason Leclerc

Jason Leclerc

Recently, in a storied, New England Museum of Art, I stood in front of a painting of Christ on a cross. Beside me, a beautiful Reform Jewish family punctuated by twin girls, fought to gain control of voice volumes and squeaky, scampering feet. When at last, the first-grade bundles of energy were wrapped, I heard them cry out to their yarmelke-topped father: “Tell the story again.” I listened hopefully as they stood—innocent and excited—beside me, eyeing the same ab-perfected, long-haired, halo-sporting figure. I tried to not overhear. Of course, I listened with every bit of my heart.

After an elaborate dance—Na’ale Na’ale, or was it a cha-cha—around the subject, the uncomfortable father began his story, “So this baby was born in a barn,” only to be cut off by the boisterous inquisitors, “No, tell it like Mommy did.”

With every ounce of frustrated energy, I clenched my palms: self-induced stigmata.

What about the story of Jesus—the man to whom this gallery was dedicated—made this handsome and otherwise articulate father of two uncomfortable? Was it the concept of savior or virgin birth? Was it a liberal bias against religion (yarmelke-as-fashion-piece) or, more specifically, disdain for modern Christian boogeymen?

He had married, I intuited from my righteous eavesdropping, outside of his “faith” and although he may have required his wife to take part in a “traditional Jewish” marriage celebration, never bothered to learn about the faith that she continued to carry in her bosom. I granted that this young, progressively-minded father simply did not know the story of Jesus. Then it occurred to me that perhaps not everybody does.

In this, the season set aside to celebrate Jesus and Judaism, allow me a moment to share this story of love and understanding for those who’ve—for whatever reason—never heard about Jesus: a remarkable man highlighted in the story of his birth, life, and resurrection.

A woman claimed to be a virgin in a time when a woman could be killed—at best ostracized—by a husband who discovered otherwise on his wedding night. She was pregnant and he believed her—goaded, perhaps, by a dream of an angel who identified the fetus as divine—anyhow. Trust and love.

A superstitious and jealous territorial warlord, fearing that prophecy was being fulfilled, sought to murder the child who was born to the virgin; he sent spies to ferret the child out so he could be killed. The Wise Men found the baby Jesus and instead praised his special place among men—predestined for greatness. They kept the location of the baby secret so that he could escape the wrath of the spiteful king. Hope and protection.

The baby was carried by his birth-mother and earthly father to a foreign land where they would be protected from the evil forces that wanted to destroy him. To his parents, he was but a child. Some recognized him, even as an infant, as able to become a king. Refuge and promise.

The baby grew into a man, the son of a carpenter, to become a carpenter. Inspired by love, he spread a message of peace. He ministered to the poor and underprivileged in a way that was anathema to traditional religion of his day. He transformed religion by empowering common people; he shared a path to paradise that resided in the heart-and-mind instead of ritual-and-sacrifice. Generosity and faith.

He transformed from carpenter to teacher to leader. He was always the life of a party, a master storyteller with a power to perform—magic—what some might call miracles. He surrounded himself with young, energetic, sometimes broken men who traded their sinfulness for his vision of hope and egalitarian love. He respected the sanctity of a woman’s body. He made the boundaries between heaven and earth less clear; he redefined what a god should be by granting clemency in the name of what he allowed to be a collective, “Our Father.” Brotherly and Rabbinic.

Ultimately, he became popular among his tribe for the gospel of hope he shared among a conquered people. The prevailing power structure, threatened by his teaching that undermined established governmental and religious institutions, tortured and murdered him as a caution against insurrection. Truth and sacrifice.

After his mob-sanctioned murder by the state, he was found to be alive—and elusive. He rose from the dead a far more powerful force than when he was alive. Whether a myth or ghost or saintly spirit, he continued to inspire the best in people. He became a beacon of goodness, a symbol for salvation, a way to touch the divine by embracing the weakness of flesh with forgiveness, healing, and love. Life and paradise.

The story of his birth and life and death gathered the power of myth—though to many it was as true as the sun rises—and he became an inspiration for humankind. If he is not god, or the son of god, or part of some ecclesiastical theory, he is remarkable for his impact upon the world. If he is god, or son of god, or part of some ecclesiastical theory, he is remarkable for his impact upon the world. Myth and reality.

Whether standing before a 9th Century woodcutting in a New England art museum, in front of a Christmas tree at a sprawling Mall at Millenia, an alter at midnight on December 25th, or in the living room of Muslim, Jewish, or atheist friends any day of the year, this story and this man—from conception to crucifixion to resurrection—inspires. Praise and thanksgiving.

Through my clenched teeth and under the cloak of my museum voice, I wish I had shared what I knew with this family for whom a picture was worth at least these thousand words. This Jesus is not a religion, he is a template for the American story. This Jesus stands for all the good and resilience that resides in all of us.

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