Wheat Field Jesus was crouched down along the side of Main Street, also known as interstate 70. It was, in fact, western Kansas – near the edge of Russell County. Wheat Field Jesus was peering over the tops of wheat stalks and wearily watching over Kansans in their pick–up trucks and Chevy Malibus.
I had to stop, if only briefly, to explain to Wheat Field Jesus that it wasn't safe for him here. A short while ago I had traveled this way and Wheat Field Jesus was missing. I was looking for Him, expecting Him, fearing the worst had finally happened. Perhaps I had just lost vigilance on my previous trip and slipped by Wheat Field Jesus. Perhaps He was hiding. Either way, I was compelled to warn Him.
Wheat Field Jesus is painted on a relatively small board, maybe ten feet wide and six feet tall. He stands low to the ground, hoisted by a single supporting column. And he floats in a sea of wheat, only his head and wheat–holding hand visible. The artist who painted Him, Phyllis Shanks, is convinced that Wheat Field Jesus is an all–american hippie, caucasian, of course. History be damned. Or re–written. Or just ignored. Take your choice, in the Land of Dorothy and subverted reality truth is negotiable to those who Believe.
The inhabitants of planet Kansas are proud of the fact that they can thump the Bible as loudly and hard as anyone on the planet. Someone recently noted that Kansas' newborn are increasingly seen with flatter and wider palms than the rest of the humanoids here on earth. His inference was that we are witnessing evolution in progress. Those in charge of such things in Kansas have laughed him off. Clearly, they say, God is working in His mysterious ways to create a new form of believer to better serve Him. And Kansas, of course, is leading the way. Evolution has nothing to do with it. Okay, none of that is true, except in a metaphorical way. But these days the conservative farmers of the 34th state do pound their religious beliefs into every aspect of life, yours and mine as well as their own.
In my experience only Mississippians can compete with Kansans with regard to Bible thumping. Both have elevated their game to Olympic Gold status. "They ain't no one better," as they say in towns like Colby. "We're good, God–fearin' people in these parts." But other places throughout the Bible belt are close behind. In the Land Of The Free Kansas does not have an absolute lock on zealotry.
It is on the political front that I fear for Wheat Field Jesus most. The politics of Kansas are similar to many other conservative areas in the U.S., fraught with battles between Good and Evil where the constitution takes a back seat to 'God and Country'. (Your place in the battle, if you don’t already know, is determined by your open–mindedness and tolerance, with the scales soundly tilted in favor of those who possess neither.) That truth is at odds with everything Wheat Field Jesus ever taught.
In 2005 Kansas passed into law an amendment banning gay marriage. The bill won with a whopping 70 percent support. Kansas representative Dan Burton said, “I believe it is wrong for a select minority to impose their definition of marriage on the nation.” His sentiment, obviously, is shared by the vast majority in Kansas. Wheat Field Jesus’ message of tolerance and brotherly love is not welcome here. Outsiders – those on the wrong side of the scriptural divide – beware. Kansas doesn’t tolerate tolerance.
The politics of education are another battle ground. Connie Morris, a member of the Kansas State Board of Education, wrote in 2006 that evolution was “biologically, genetically, mathematically, chemically, metaphysically and etc. wildly and utterly impossible.” Theories, based upon decades of collected facts and supported by objective proof at multiple levels (fossil, genetic and molecular) are easily dismissed in her world. Unfortunately for the children in Kansas she is in a position authority. She tells the children of Kansas – teaches them – that the world was created 6,500 years ago. Our dinosaur–riding ancestors, according to Connie Morris, were spawned by the hand of God from a lump of clay. It’s that simple. There is no need to look further. Is there any wonder why our children rank 17th in the world in science when so many of them are taught that fairy tales equal science.
Wheat Field Jesus would be in trouble with Ms. Morris. He doesn’t teach beliefs. Every day that this cosmic island we live on hurls itself through space and time we learn new things about life, the earth, the universe and our place in them. Beliefs necessarily change. Wheat Field Jesus never asked us to believe the earth is flat, or at the center of the universe. He only asked us to have faith in his teachings, His philosophy towards life. Ms. Morris and the rest of the religious right don’t like Wheat Field Jesus for this. They need solid lines and to know which side of them to stand on.
In 2011 there were 374 anti–abortion bills introduced by republicans across the U.S., and Kansas leads the nation in submitting bills for law to curtail, ban or de–fund abortion. Before the 2010 elections the Kansas republicans promised that their state would no longer be ground zero for “Values Legislation”, however their behavior tells a different story. Economic growth and small government were their buzz words for the season. But once in office their only significant contribution towards alleviating our economic woes was to continue coddling the uber–wealthy while contributing more than their fair share of “values legislation”.
The problem with all of these laws, bills and amendments is that they fail to recognize the primary function of our constitution: to protect our freedoms. The federal and states’ constitutions sole function is to protect the rights of each of us, including the lowest of the low and the smallest of the small. The majority be damned. Freedom isn’t measured by the ability of the majority to have its say. It’s just the opposite, in fact. Freedom, with all of its warts and foul odors and uncomfortable postures, can only be measured by the ability of the least amongst us to be heard. This isn’t for the weak or timid, protecting the rights of those we disagree with. But the majority too often fails to honor basic human rights. That’s why the lone voice of dissent is the one thing we should all value and protect.
These are the same basic principles that Wheat Field Jesus taught. There is a reason why He hung out with lepers and whores (the lowest of the low) and taught that we shouldn’t judge others. And yet, in spite of claiming Wheat Field Jesus as their own, the Christian Fundamentalists want nothing more than to judge anyone with values different than their own.
Making it illegal for gay couples to marry doesn’t protect the freedom of our fellow americans, nor does it in any way bolster the already failed institute of marriage. Destroying a woman’s right to choose regarding her own health care doesn’t, either. And teaching our youth that some words which you believe to be sublime take precedence over facts isn’t a form of freedom, religious or otherwise. Legislating values has never been a path to a free society, for any one, any where, any time. That guy on the billboard that Kansans claim to love knew this and taught us not to do it.
One can view Wheat Field Jesus in two basic ways: either as an optimist or a cynic. The optimistic view of Wheat Field Jesus – and the one required for humanity to survive itself – is this: He is simply waiting for the right time to return, for a time when His message will be heard and taken to heart. Floating in the wheat are the concepts of brotherly love, non–judgmental acceptance and inner spirituality. Patiently they wait to be resurrected, once the Bible–Thumpin’ Kansan evolves beyond his club wielding homophobic ways, if he can.
Some – the cynics among us, like the conservatives that want to legislate our moral perspectives to be in line with their own – might believe Wheat Field Jesus is sending the message that God is watching and judging everything you do, like a hard–ass Santa Claus with an army of ninja elves, ready to put you on the naughty list and commit you to everlasting damnation. This perspective is the most consistent with Kansas politics, but not the teachings or philosophy of the man hovering in the wheat.
It isn’t safe for Wheat Field Jesus in this place. He isn’t liked here, contrary to what they will tell you. What Wheat Field Jesus taught is impossible for any honest person to reconcile with the bulk of the Old Testament drivel, hatred, and divisiveness. That’s why He said “I’m here to show you a new way.” And there is no way the politics of Kansas can be thought of as friendly to His teachings. How can one talk of brotherly love and not judging others and still revel in the hatred of any group different than his own (LGBT)?
The disconnect runs deeper than this, of course. Kansans, in general, want to be led. They like being told what to think and fear and hate. But the truth isn’t always so malleable or nearly as blurry as they would like us to believe. Truth, the right’s ever–present devil, hangs over them like a wrecking crane ball, poised to crush them should gravity have its say, or should the winds of reason blow against them. It is in–humane to tell others that they can’t love or be bonded in matrimony because of their sexual preference. It is in–humane to force a woman to bare a child, knowing she was violently raped or that the child may cause her own death. And there is a great deal of irresponsibility in telling our children that evolution is a sham and that the only truth lies in a religion that copied most of its greatest stories from other religions that came before it.
It’s a cold wind that blows this day on the plains of west Kansas. Wheat Field Jesus doesn’t mind. He stands guard, watching over the plains, biding his time, waiting. His resurrection will have to wait. He still isn’t welcome here. The Bible thumpers here and elsewhere will not allow Him to show Himself. Perhaps I was wrong before. Wheat Field Jesus isn’t watching over the people of Kansas as they drive by in their pick–up trucks and Chevy Mailbus. Perhaps in this land of subverted reality they are watching Him, keeping Him in his place.
in category Life