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Jeffrey Hunter Is No Longer Jesus

April 5, 2019

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In 1961, the movie “King of Kings” came out.

I know this because every Easter evening, we went to “Aunt Fanny”’s House (my dead grandfather’s surviving 3rd wife, who we had no genetic ties to) for Grey Lamb and iridescent, canned, mint jelly. And cigarette smoke.

And a movie after dinner. Of course the kids’ bellies were all fully filled with chocolate and sugar, so an unappealing dinner became, virtually, nauseating, but we labored on through the “instant” mashed potatoes.

In 1963 or 5 when I was not yet 10, the post lamb leg feast was watching said “King of Kings” with stomachs fully distended. Jeffrey Hunter played Jesus. He was Mid-Century’s perfect mirror of The White Guy: like his other GI or Cowboy movies, his piercing blue eyes were deeply loved by the camera.

The then insanely long hair made him 1990 years old, little did we know it made him 1968 just a few years later.

But the movie’s stagy pretense was like Wonderbread – without texture, complexity, let alone irony, or, even reality. And it was just a little creepy.

“King of Kings” was Caucasian Cinema for Caucasians in full cultural dominance. In a few years or 20 we white guys will be outnumbered by the rest of humanity here in the US, and the comfort of White Guy Jesus will mean even less.

Those misfits, first with history, where Jesus was middle eastern, and not from California, and today, where movies seen on black and white TV, with commercials filtered thru the blue haze of cigarette smoke, are becoming rarer and rarer. People have moved on.

But I think these misfits happen, have always happened, because we like looking at what we know. And we change. So what we like changes. So misfits between image and desire happen. And we move on. Vaudeville is dead, soon, sadly followed by Gilbert and Sullivan.

The meme above, cribbed from Instagram this AM captures that disconnect. I work with the Connecticut Episcopal Diocese in Connecticut to rationalize a quick and deep drop in the number of people who go to church in the last generation. We have closed nearly 20 churches in the last decade and will probably close another 20 in the next.

I think it is because Jesus was Jeffrey Hunter for too many, too long.

I see no magic website, no transformative meme, no transporting Icon that will make The Risen Lord compelling to those falling away into brunch and binge watching. I think meaning has ceased be found in the fixation upon the cathode ray tube to see what 4 broadcast channels deign to offer in Prime Time. There are millions of images, voices, messages unrelentingly bombarding everyone all the time.

That reality is not happy with benign reflections of a knowable life for the Caucasians that included checking off the box of “Religion” as part of our human vitae. No it is becoming more complex.

I do not search for validation, or even believe it much when the cappucino swirl evinces Mother Mary. I think the reality of Jesus is in the places I cannot see, but, unrelentingly, feel.

Perfecting hope in describing what should be, as in “Make America Great Again”, captures desire, not what’s here, now. The problem with hope is that absent evidence, it is pretty dangerous. And if the only evidence is faith, you have to think beyond imagery and ritual. Not easy.

You have to be open to who you are, not what you see and do – in a world obsessed with seeing and doing.

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