Sunday, August 06, 2006


Humans being an inquisitive sort of beast, we start asking questions as soon as we have mastered enough language to frame them. As we wander through the gardens of childhood, the questions we ask, and the answers we receive, help us to frame the world around us.

I remember questions that Elder Daughter asked back when she was a two-year-old Only Daughter. Questions like, “What would happen if the plane went on the grass?” “What would happen if the plane went in the water?” - both asked while sitting in a jet aircraft awaiting takeoff at La Guardia. Those were some damn good questions, coming from a two-year-old, and I had to be careful how I constructed my response. The Toddler Mind is not equipped to deal with a literal, truthful answer - all the people on the airplane would die screaming, sweetie! - so a certain amount of finesse is called for.

I’m sure many of my Esteemed Readers have had similar issues dealing with the inevitable Santa Claus and/or Easter Bunny questions. When our myths are called into question by children, we need to decide how hard we want to push those myths.

All this is by way of saying that there are certain Big Questions that come up from time to time…and last week, She Who Must Be Obeyed witnessed one of the Biggest.

She was at the interminably long-named Atlanta Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, awaiting the boarding of her Delta Airlines flight to Kansas City. Waiting, yes indeedy: Delta boards their aircraft by row numbers, and SWMBO had ended up in Zone Nine. (Zone Ten includes the people who fly while strapped to the underside of the rudder.) Also waiting to board amongst the steadily diminishing crowd at the gate were an African-American woman and a little white girl - about five, from the look of her - with her Mommy and Daddy.

In those moments before Zone Nine boarding was announced, the little girl looked at the African-American woman intently, and then came out with the Big Question:

“Daddy, was Jesus white or black?”

The question was asked just loudly enough so that there was no question of everybody in the boarding lounge hearing it. How would the little girl’s Daddy answer? SWMBO wondered to herself.

The young father looked at his wife, then asked his daughter, “Well, what does he look like in all the pictures you’ve seen of him?”

“Oh. Yeah.”

Tough question...and an answer that probably works for a little Caucasian child.

Of course, the conventional representations of Jesus in the Western world all show him as a White Guy. Not just white, mind you, but European white. Northern European white. Light brown hair, blue eyes, the works. Which, considering his physical origins, is pretty ridiculous. But see what kind of response you get to your depiction of Jesus with dark, curly hair, brown eyes, an olive complexion, and a taste for falafel.

My Christian friends are probably all familiar with the rationale that says that it doesn’t matter what color Jesus was; that he was sent to be the savior of all Mankind. But when you’re a five-year-old kid who looks more like Stymie than Spanky, it’s gotta be hard to wrap your mind around a God in whose image you have ostensibly been made, and yet who looks different from you.

As a Jew, of course, I don’t have this problem.

Our concept of God is of a totally spiritual, completely incorporeal being. “No form or shape of body has He,” we sing in our hymn Yigdal. It solves a lot of issues when your Deity is not subject to anthropomorphism…and makes it much easier to answer the little girl’s query.

But I’m not here to call other people’s belief systems into question. I am curious, though.

What would you have told that little girl if she were your child?

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