Straight up I’m what my late but so great-grandparents would call a backslider because I have strayed far from the Christian faith in which they raised me. I make no bones about that fact because I’ll let anyone know I prefer Johnnie Walker Black to communion wine and twisting a Saturday night away to making a joyful noise on Sunday morning. My mom is troubled by my slack ways when it comes to the faith much more than me because while she’s in our family church, Baptist of course, every Sabbath praying for my soul down in Albany, Georgia, our hometown, I’m up here in NYC sleeping off my good time and if I’m lucky I’m not sleeping by myself. All that said though I’m still a sucker for the story of Jesus Christ and try to walk His path the best I can. I’ll watch THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD whenever it comes on Turner Classic Movies and the soundtrack to JESUS CHRIST: SUPERSTAR is in heavy rotation on my iPod along with Jimi Hendrix, Kendrick Lamar, and Nine Inch Nails. I make no bones about my fascination with the Judean carpenter either so I guess that baptism when I was twelve wasn’t completely wasted even if the summer locked in my grandmother’s living room and chained to the mourning bench in church trying to get religion was. Something about the accepted story of Jesus sacrificing himself on the cross for the world’s sins speaks to a selflessness I try to live by in my life even when I have a glass of J-Blak on ice in my hand.
I’m much more open-minded about JC’s message outside of church than I ever was inside of it when I didn’t have a choice in the matter so for me it wasn’t too much of a stretch to stay up after midnight on Thursdays the past two months to watch Adult Swim’s BLACK JESUS on Cartoon Network. The show from Aaron MacGruder, creator of the phenomenon that is THE BOONDOCKS, and Mike Clattenburg (TRAILER PARK BOYS) puts Jesus in a South Central LA hood, robes and all, with a new band of followers and detractors but his message of love, peace, and forgiveness is still the same.
It’s a good thing the message remains the same because none of the Gospels I ever read spoke of Jesus and the Apostles facing down gat-packing gangsters, angry baby mamas, and beefing rappers. Then again I could be wrong because even two thousand years ago Jesus bumped heads with similar resistance in Jerusalem in the form of the venal money changers in the Temple, corrupt politicians among the Pharisees, and the sharp end of the Roman Empire. Same message on BLACK JESUS but there weren’t any Judases or spears in the side this season at least.
No, the show for this arc revolved around Jesu Cristo and His new disciples trying to start a community garden as camouflage for the Mary Jane they were trying to grow to sell and spark up. A dodgy premise to say the least but Jesus (Slink Johnson) and the cast of characters along with a few horses make it work some kind of way. Characters like an opportunistic bum played by Detroit John Witherspoon and Don DC Curry as a pimp-turned-city councilman show up to aid but mostly hinder the plan. Even Fred Willard and Coolio get in on the fun in some episodes but Our Blessed Homie, Jesus, treats them all, high or low, with love and kindness whether it’s paying extortion with a smile or turning himself in to the cops to head off a riot. He wasn’t pressed about going to jail though because like He said when the po-po loaded Him into the paddy wagon, “It’s no thing because they put your boy behind a big rock one time and I still got out in three days.”
The show leaves it ambiguous if the homie really is God’s Only Begotten Son or the victim of a psychotic break because most of His miracles are the result of excellent timing nearly as much as faith in Pops. Children and His squad along with a few converted disbelievers pick up what He is laying down though which is how the story went back in the day because not everybody believed Him then either. If they did He wouldn’t have ended up nailed to that old rugged cross but even that’s up for debate by some scholars. Not to put too fine a point on it, it may be best to just Liberty Valance it all if that’s too radical a thought to ponder.
I enjoyed BLACK JESUS immensely as a gentle satire with some laugh out loud bits typically when Charlie Murphy was onscreen as the distrustful apartment manager, Vic. The show is not blasphemous or sacrilegious as many church folks assumed it would be before the first episode aired. I’m sure non-backsliding Christians did object to their Lord and Savior being shown cursing and blowing trees with His boys in an apartment courtyard though. However, as Johnny, a jackleg preacher I used to work with back in the day, used to tell me, Jesus was the coolest man who ever lived because He never judged anybody. Our Savior hung out with prostitutes, pimps, and thieves while always making sure that the wine never ran out. That wouldn’t have worked too good with Reverend Johnny though because he preferred that Yak over the grape every Friday when we’d hit happy hour after work.
Don’t believe the hype or the baseless controversy about BLACK JESUS because there’s more profane stuff about Him on any regular episode of SOUTH PARK or FAMILY GUY. At least they got His color right on this show despite the shiny wig he was rocking. The work is a good reminder that Jesus’s story is something universal that speaks or should speak to anyone regardless of faith or lack thereof because we all need to be reminded that we can treat each other and ourselves with a little bit more kindness in this rat eat rat world we live in whether it’s the Holy Land two thousand years ago or this New Babylon we occupy today. Universality rather than adhering to any particular dogma is definitely a concept I can get behind at this stage in my life. Truth be told though, watching this show may have made me more open to packing one of my suits and a pair of hardbottoms in my satchel the next time I go home for a visit. The J-Blak will still be there waiting for me after services are over.
–Jason O. Logan