Right toward the end of our interview, Tom asked me if I ever met Studs Terkel. I did, I said, one time, just a few months before he died. “He was a great man,” he said. “We really miss having him around.” I agreed, sure, but said I thought a few of his questions might baffle contemporary readers.
For example, Studs asked a lot of his interviewees, what do you think would happen if Jesus came back to earth?
I think I asked somebody that, not too long ago.
Tom starts thinking. We were wrapping up our talk, preparing to move on with our respective days, but now he’s getting into it again. Perhaps it’s the setting, the church in Pullman, or maybe, like Studs, Tom just wanted to know the answer.
You know, what comes to mind is, would people believe that it’s him? About 90 percent of the people, they’d probably call the police. Hey you better come lock this guy up. I would find Jesus quite fascinating to meet. I’m not afraid to talk to hardly anybody, so I would give this guy with long hair and sandals an audience at least, and if he began to preach to me the way that Jesus preached I’d say, That’s a pretty odd fellow [laughs] with an interesting delivery, speaking in parables. OK, let’s see where’s he going and where’s he coming from. Kind of a cool guy. Hey Jesus, you know, stick around, I’m sure we got a lot of things to talk about. You’re into social issues, so am I, let me introduce you to some of my immigrant friends over in south Chicago that really need some help. You want to do some volunteer work, Jesus? [laughs]. I’ll give you an environmental tour. Maybe you got some ideas for cleaning up some of these sites around here. I think that would be amazing.
I tend to move away from thinking of him as God. I think of him as a fellow who came here on Earth like all of us came to be and lived his 33 years, or something like that, and worked for change and worked for the poor and worked for the downtrodden.
I have this argument with a good friend, a Lutheran, all the time. I say Ken, You go to church once or twice a week, you subscribe to all these Lutheran things and you consider yourself a Christian. How can you feel that way toward people who are poor? Oh, they don’t belong over here. Well where do they belong? Everybody belongs somewhere.
I hear some cockamamie ideas from other people who consider themselves Christians. I know people who are nonreligious, Atheist or Agnostics, that are more Christian than you are. They subscribe to things that Jesus taught and believed in. So I just find it fascinating how most of Christianity, like our newspapers and other things that we’ve discussed here today, have been co-opted and high-jacked for other means.
Yeah if you see him around, tell him to come down here. [Laughs.]