Was Jesus black? Was Jesus white? Does anybody really care?

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comDecember 24, 2013 

A creche at Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church

FILE: A creche at Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church, Hilton Head Island.

DAVID LAUDERDALE — Staff photo Buy Photo

It has been decreed by one of the television blabbermouths that Jesus was white.

As opposed, I presume, to black.

We pea brains have always tried to pigeonhole the Messiah, whose birth the world celebrates today. It has always been our bent to shape him into a form that suits ourselves, which, of course, misses the whole point.

Surely, there's a solid answer to the pigmentation puzzle.

But what difference does it make?

Isn't that like waving off a lifeboat circling the Titanic because it's the wrong shade of mauve?

As a white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant male, I must admit that it came as a surprise to me the first time I encountered a black Jesus. In my world, he always had the appearance of a Gerber baby, or a blue-eyed hippy.

But I found a whole different world at the intersection of Wild Horse and Gum Tree roads on Hilton Head Island of yore.

That's where I saw black Jesus. He was wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a plaster manger.

As I stood there, trying to absorb this, I looked up to see another black Jesus. And another and another, all plump and happy in the night fog of fuzzy green and red Christmas lights.

It was in the late Dorothy Young's yard. She liked to make plaster figurines, and she liked to decorate for Christmas, and she went hog wild with crèches all over the yard, one in a john boat, another beneath a magnolia.

Lights were strung so high in the magnolia that people came from afar just to marvel at such a wonder. And somewhere in the branches were hidden little speakers that spread great joy with the ancient carols sung by Lou Rawls.

As I got to know Mrs. Young, it became clear that she, an African American from the South Carolina Lowcountry, was just like my white grandmother from the hills and hollers of Natural Bridge, Va.

Granny would roll over in her grave to hear me say that. But Mrs. Young doted over her family, her grands, her potted plants, her stove, her kitchen, her yard, her church, her house, her radio, her coffee, her crafts. So did Granny. And they both did it with impish humor, tickled the most by the parade of characters tripping and traipsing through their world.

And when Mrs. Young died, something else clicked with me in the Rev. Ben Williams' funeral sermon at Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist Church, where the house rocked to "When We All Get to Heaven." The story of Jesus was the same I'd heard all my life in the frozen, chosen, white edifices.

Last Sunday at a family church in rural Georgia, the pastor made an interesting point about the shepherds startled by angels as they watched their flocks by night.

He said that the stable they were told about, as opposed to a grand castle befitting of a Messiah, was open to everybody.

Was Jesus black? Was Jesus white? Does anybody really care?

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

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