Paper or plastic?


“The Star Market


The people Jesus loved were shopping at the Star Market yesterday.

An old lead-colored man standing next to me at the checkout

breathed so heavily I had to step back a few steps. 


Even after his bags were packed he still stood, breathing hard and

hawking into his hand.  The feeble, the lame, I could hardly look at them:

shuffling through the aisles, they smelled of decay, as if the Star Market


had declared a day off for the able-bodied, and I had wandered in

with the rest of them—sour milk, bad meat—

looking for cereal and spring water.


Jesus must have been a saint, I said to myself, looking for my lost car

in the parking lot later, stumbling among the people who would have

been lowered into rooms by ropes, who would have crept


out of caves or crawled from the corners of public baths on their hands

and knees begging for mercy.


If I touch only the hem of his garment, one woman thought,

could I bear the look on his face when he wheels around?”


–Marie Howe

This poem from the1/14/08 The New Yorker caught my eye.  What a perspective-shifting work I thought.  And within the context of Christianity from which this poem was written, I found myself going back and forth on so many issues that would be instrumental in determining the look on Jesus’ face when he wheels around.  Here’s a small section of the winding path of thoughts… 

We can be anything from middle of the road (relatively successful, healthy, and nice looking in our reasonably priced clothes) to elite (living in the upper echelon of society looking magazine-shoot-polished) and anything not that (the old and broken down, the young with less than pleasing attributes, the poor, the disabled) can look anything from piteous to mildly distasteful to utterly disgusting to us.  And yet every single one of us are that vulnerable, that subject to the possibility of being repulsive to another due to our looks, actions, ideas, or aura. 

But could we be repulsive to a divine being that created us, in this case Jesus in the religion he represents, Jesus as God on earth, God incarnate, God being the creator of everything we can and cannot see?  The creator, implicated in the Bible to be the ultimate in goodness, so intensely so, that humans cannot look upon the glory of this creator and live (Exodus 33:7-23)?  The very same creator, implicated as well to be the ultimate intelligence, so unfathomably and infinitely greater than our intelligence which can barely figure out how a fraction of the whole of creation works?  

Would a creator thusly described make something it disliked or despised, such that it could look upon it and pass a negative judgment?  The folks in biblical days interpreted God’s reactions to certain events as anger, jealously, wrathfulness, and vengeance.  These are very human characteristics and so we might falter, wondering if God could also be fallible in other areas. 

In Genesis 1:27 we read that man is created in God’s image, and although we hope that a creator capable of the same reactions as humans at least moderates them wisely, we can still be bothered by the dichotomy.  And if we get stuck in that place we can see how, in the Luke 8 parable the poem alludes to, it would be possible to be bleeding for twelve years and reach for the hem of Jesus’ garment with confidence, knowing we’d be healed because Jesus is God, but still risk the possibility of enduring a pathetical or disgusted look from Jesus who is also man. 

And certainly this poem’s ability to transport us so graphically there, to the Star Market, does immerse us so totally in the humanity of it.  Via the imagery we can feel so disgusted by the wheezing, hawking old man and so appalled by the diseased and near-dead crawling, reaching, that when we get to the last verse we might automatically assume that Jesus, in the crowd that is crushing him, feeling a tug on his cloak, would shout (as opposed to asking tenderly), “Who touched me?!” and turn to look about with indignation showing on his face followed by disgust when he zoomed in on the desperate, bleeding woman in the parable. 

But what if we focus on the God-is-love side of Christianity, that God loves his creation, has always loved it, that he looks on it, looks on us, only with love, and that if the wrath of God is released, it is also out of love, as a parent might lovingly discipline their child?   

What if we go with the Jesus as God incarnate theory and keep to his track record of looking at outcasts with love, of healing and forgiving all who seek healing and forgiveness for whatever reason?  In that regard, would the look on Jesus’ face when he wheels around perhaps be that of the purest love, the deepest, most genuine unconditional acceptance, and we, in our humanness, as doubters and disbelievers in ourselves, cannot withstand it? 

What was your first reaction to the poem?  

And when all your reactions played out, what did you end up with? 

What do you ultimately see in it?



Photos from Getty Images.


13 responses to “Paper or plastic?

  1. This is such a great post and I love it that you ask us questions :)

    At first I identified a little with the author, when she mentioned the man breathing so hard. It happens to all of us. Then I thought the market must’ve been a pretty disgusting place with rotten meat and such. But later, as she went on and on, I started to think that the person had some issues!!

    I had to laugh at your image of Jesus (while trying to cure leper) shouting: who touched me?! haha it’s funny, I can’t help it.

    I have to go with the second section – God must be all-accepting and all-loving. What would be the point of God if He/She was just like the rest of us? ;)

  2. Devil: Oh I ‘m so glad you like the questions and don’t take them the wrong way, like I’m being a witchy school teacher or something! I realize my view of any given thing is one grain of sand on the beach that is the world, and I really want to know what other people think. I love the discussions that can form around a topic when everyone shares their take on it. Well, you could see how jazzed I got when Phish bit the “Give and Take, Part II” bait! ;-) So thank you a million dearest Devil Mood…as usual! I loved how you presented your transition of thoughts to conclusion. Yeah, having a human God would be just like our presidential elections. When all the candidates have dropped off leaving just two, and it’s time to vote, it’s usually just a matter of picking the lesser of the evils! Ick. I’m tired of it! Could we please for a change have someone in office who’s more like God? LOL ;-)

  3. ehehe that would be a relief, wouldn’t it?
    I guess in politics these days we need to be as cynical and practical as we can. Unfortunately, I don’t think idealism does it nowadays.

    I’m starting to think you’re a little too hard on yourself. I think you have the right to ask me/us the questions you want and the way you want (as a friend or as a strict teacher). It’s your blog!

  4. Devil: ever the perceptive one! And polite about it too! I’m not just a little too hard on myself, I rake myself over red-hot coals, I walk on spikes, sleep on a bed of nails, and I doubt myself nearly every minute of the day! What to do? Well at least I realize you have an excellent point…as usual! And I’ve taken it to heart. I will practice: this is MY blog dammit and don’t you forget it. >:-(

    Readers in general: look alive people! I want some answers to my questions and I want them now! Apply different religious views to the “Star Market” poem and show me what that’s about. Give me Hinduism, Atheism, Buddhism, Paganism, Taosim, whatever you like. Be a snob who drives a Cadillac XLR-V roadster, gets $300 haircuts and color treatments, $400 botox shots, $20 acrylic nail fills, etc. and show me what that all means in light of this poem. Imagine yourself near-dead crawling over the expanse of grayness that leads to your final hour, and tell me what that’s like. Get imaginative, for the love of whatever god you like!!!

    Devil: that feels good, I have to say! I’ll keep practicing. ;-)

  5. Some people only get out for necessities. The benefits come at the beginning of the month–disability, welfare, food stamps, retirement, etc. By the middle of the month you will not seem them, because they have run out of money.
    I live in an area where rich, middle and poor income people all shop at the same stores, which is unusual in the U.S. I can always tell how the economy is doing. When it’s good, most poor people pay cash. When it’s bad they use their food stamp cards. The benefits serve to keep people alive and that’s all.
    I don’t look at people according to their appearance much any more; I am suspicious of that. Handsome is as handsome does has real meaning to me.
    This is not because I’m such a good and merciful person; I don’t do much for people outside my family and friends any more, although I once did.
    I have seen friends of mine age and fall into ugliness and poverty and insanity. It’s pretty sad.

  6. Hattie: I’ve been so sheltered… Was brought up in the country, lived most of my life in North Dallas, TX where no poverty would dare rear its prevalent head, anywhere but not there, and now I’m back in the country. But the fear I have of finding myself or anyone close to me in that state hints at my recognition that it could happen to anyone if the conditions are just wrong enough, and I’m thankful beyond belief for everything I have.

    Devil: why thank you. Your inspiration and observations are valued! <3

  7. I think he wheels in awe of the woman’s blithe audacity, the sureness of the faith that guides her touch. I am not of her tribe, a fact I do not state with pride: faced with past disappointments that may or may not have been the result of my insolent disregard of the LOA, I have reveled too much in the wit that cynicism can so easily breed. It’s a wormy consolation, but consolation nonetheless.

    I belittled Ms Annie Lamott for many a year, but ironically jumped on her glory train when I read one of her conversion stories of one day feeling like she was being followed by Jesus, like some irritating cat that wouldn’t bugger off. She reaches her door in a state of exhausting despair, turns to the relentless Son of Man dogging her trail and sez, “Fuck all, just come on in.” You gotta love a sister of such divine blasphemy.

    When we’re in our own miserable lepri-tudes, we all know damn well the look we’ll see when He/She wheels around. Babyhearts never forget.

  8. Paschal: I love this take of the wheeling. That Jesus, with sureness of faith, would be awed at another’s sureness of faith is so surprising a thought, hence the wheeling, the raised eyebrows, the sharp intake of breath, Who touched me?! It’s my take on what I’ve read about Jesus that makes it a surprising thought. It’s as unexpected as the bleeding woman’s touch, to think Jesus felt for a human what humans generally feel for God—the mix of reverence, dread, wonder, etc. that is awe. And this leads me to perception, where I generally end up. My perception of Jesus, of anything, so guaranteed to be skewed a little from the perceptions of the billions of others, of which I know only a handful… It’s the vast mindblowingness of it all… And you, one of the handful, are here with these words that click so uniquely crisply in their random or well-planned places, full of meaning and knowledge and connotations to be ripped open, to gush out the stuff that, in seeing it, triggers the rush of thoughts and emotions. Prolific Anne Lamott, irritating cat, dogging, lepri-tudes… I’ll take it, love it ’til hell freezes over!

  9. Miss A: Apropos of hell freezing, this, from one of my seventh graders today, how the hell we got to hell, I’m not sure, but there we went: I interjected my very episcopagan opinion that I did not believe in the ghouly place, except as places and times we know in our current lives, but what kind of God is Love God is going to yadda yadda yadda, you know the tune, sing it to Lily’s “Smile” melody perhaps. Seventh grader has a wonderful response to the tune of “I don’t think people go to hell, I think hell is where SIN goes.” Awesome concept, this from the urchin who informed me last week (complete with supporting self-made flyer) that the killer squirrels on once again on the march. Just another day in the life at the Instituto.

  10. Paschal: If LOL is “laughing out loud,” what is ROTFL? That’s what I’m doing with the episcopagan, the killer squirrels (they do exist you know), and to hell with sin!

    Hey, Teach? Should I have said “…others, of whom I know…” instead of “…others, of which…”? You probably have an amusing adage or something that helps the young ones remember that whole whom thing. Am I right?

  11. In these End Days of the Advancing Squirrel Horde, I try not to get into arcane grammar talk: I just want the damned margins justified (something for which you have a fondness, too, I notice), they look ever so much cooler, I say. I just wish comment boxes allowed the same decorum. With gun to my head, I think I’d go with “others I know.” Toss those ofs right in the dust bin. I’ve noticed that new age grammar gets around most of the old quandaries by just such consignments. Peace, Miss A.

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