Review: Jesus cleans up his act

The Son of God is famous for His Easter comebacks, says John Lyttle, but this time He's developed a more user-friendly image
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Like Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, God used to be big. Disaster movie big. Global floods; entire cities devastated; stopping the sun in the sky so the Israelites could have a little more daylight for genocidal slaughter, burning bushes miked for Dolby stereo. The FX were too, too fabulous, even when the script needed work: "Remove your Reeboks, for where thy joggest is private property." Sure He was bossy. But who were you going to complain to? Ofgod?

Back then the Big Guy Upstairs had the market pretty much to himself. Give or take a Gog and Golden Calf, He was the sum total of early showbiz; Spielberg as Deity. Mr Entertainment owned all the front-of-Tabernacle concessions: pillars of salted popcorn, flat and fizzy holy water, kosher hot dogs. No one ever talked during the performance, unless it was in Tongues, and no one, but no one, was ever heard to ask for a refund.

Now we're multi-media and spoiled rotten for choice; that's unregulated spirituality for you. Not that it's just the novelty of competing cults. We are also blase post-Crucifixion connoisseurs who have wined and dined on Terminator II, The X-Files and Tomb Raider. We are hard(er) to impress. God is everywhere. The idea was once creepy, comforting or awesome. But commonplace? Never. Today, God is still everywhere and so are the Spice Girls, Coca-cola, Leonardo DiCaprio and the Internet. Please: after Stock, Aitken and Waterman, even the Devil no longer has the best tunes. Who cares?

God cares. It's in His job description. And once more God is giving us His Only Begotten Son to be, as Depeche Mode sagely foresaw, "Your Own Personal Jesus".

For instance, here's Christ on cleaner Patricia Cole's duster: "I had just finished polishing the stair railings at Leeds City Council offices. I normally just throw old cloths into a bucket to be washed when I have finished with them. But for some reason I felt I had to look at this one. When I saw the face of Our Lord I froze and kept staring. The face is as clear as day. My first thought was that Jesus had come to take me but it was nothing so drastic. I did not know what to think so I immediately took it to my parish priest to find out if the face was a message, a sign or a miracle."

Actually, it's none of the above, ducks. It's market repositioning. Millennium- bound and Murdoch-dominated, it makes perfect sense for the previous Sky God to morph himself into a Household God, if not an HG traditional theologians will recognise, though the face should strike - or smite - them as familiar. If you won't come to church - and increasingly you don't, along with over 90 per cent of the population - then Jesus will just have come unto you. Not Jesus of Nazareth - we've seen the series - but Jesus the logo. God may not be corporeal but he is corporate. Ask his bankers on earth at the Vatican. The face of Jesus is a priceless asset and has been since the unfortunate 14th century faking of the first J-cloth, otherwise known as the Turin Shroud. To maintain brand loyalty the face on Mrs Cole duster resembles that burned into the Shroud (which means it is sheer Nordic- Cutie cum Renaissance Religious and not a whit like a swarthy wandering Jew). Important point: we might have to ask for Starburst today, but we're still chewing Opal Fruits. The medium and context of J-cloth Jesus makes Him different. He's updated, downsized, soft-sell and no-smear. User-friendly. J-cloth Jesus could have been sponsored by Nivea Visage.

Don't laugh. Oh, go ahead. That's partially the trick. New, Improved Face of Jesus also flaunts the prankish sense of humour the post-modern consumer demands. The punters are quite willing to sample the product as long as they're allowed to feel superior and hip to it. "God is everywhere" is a bore, but God's Son cropping up everywhere is a gas.

Of course, there's your respect, as Alf Garnett would say. You wouldn't want other members of His immediate family trying this at home (your home, that is): no one except the mentally ill would seriously expect the Virgin Mary to wander into the living room in a boob tube and ra-ra skirt. Sick, sick, sick. Besides, she hasn't the legs for it. (Well, have you ever seen them?) Jesus can be transformed into the People's Prince of Heaven, but Mary's walkabouts remain very, not merry, House of Windsor. She is ordained to glow in the clouds and keep children and sheep on the hills and off the streets.

The VM is Label continuity, a fine figure of a weeping statue of a woman. Whereas the face of Jesus has 1001 uses, as befits a hybrid: Godhead yet human, we are taught that the face of Jesus is the supernatural made flesh. So why not made wallpaper, fax paper and kitchen window glass? There at the bottom of a coffee mug or smiling benediction from a pancake, even if the latter can only be fully appreciated with back lighting and maple syrup. Beats the taste of a wafer.

Sightings accelerate - only last week He was found lurking in a coal scuttle - and daily become more Father Ted surreal. It is the temperature of the times. Why shouldn't the Holy Trinity exploit the trend? We may no longer credit the mystical notion of Resurrection but we all buy into the high concept of Refreshment. Feeling unloved? Craving worship? Change your image. Spice up your after-life.

Mea culpa: research does indicate that such visitations are invariably to those of a Christian faith. Preaching to the converted would seem a weird method of expanding a shrinking fan base. But the Lord moves in ways nearly as mysterious as Salome, His wonders to perform. And preaching isn't quite the same as PR. One lays the way, the other waylays. Publicity stunts work. Proof: I'm writing this, aren't I? Cynical and swinging as you doubtlessly are, you might pause, put down that Easter egg and consider that I am merely the instrument of a greater force, and that, in the words of the Sainted Sondheim, Something's Coming. I'm not sure what, but chances are when Jesus has a hankering to meet His flock face-to-face, it's probably not to compare and contrast the fates of George Michael and Deirdre Rachid. Remind me: just how many hours remaining until 2000?

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