When I was tasked with living my life as a famous literary icon might, my initial concern was that not I’m a particularly voracious reader. Or at least, I’ve never really devoured epic works by larger-than-life lions like Ernest Hemingway. I tend to admire non-fiction essayists, dry satirists and morbid realists, and even then, I can’t think of one or two particular scribes whose published thoughts I’ve collected on a shelf in tribute. I am, essentially, the laziest and most uninspired writer you’ve probably ever encountered.
And in my personal life, I could best be described as an agnostic, largely secular Jew (which, of course, makes me fairly generic among my tribe’s generational Western constituency). This, naturally, led me to think that perhaps the literary icon whose life and principles I should be most curious to embody would be that great Jewish philosopher himself: Jesus Christ. (No offense to those who deem various Testaments to be authentic word of God and son.)
With the Christian Bible Reference as my guide, I cherry-picked four of Jesus’ essential teachings as laid out by the site – “Love Your Neighbor As Yourself,” “Forgive Others,” “Help the Needy” and “Follow the Golden Rule” (i.e. “do to others what you would have them do to you”) – and tried them on for a whole week (which, in fairness, is one day longer than God spent curating Earth’s many splendors). Below is an informal diary of how I lived up to the standards of my chosen one, and whether he would have welcomed me as part of his flock (short answer: No).
It’s only decent to forgive my counterparts for 50 percent of their wrongdoing. That way, they’re still at least a quarter to blame.
Tenet #1: Love your neighbor as yourself
While Mr. Christ wasn’t being super-literal with this one (“neighbor” is basically a stand-in for “anyone”), it just so happened a new family moved in across the street earlier this month, giving me the perfect opportunity to flex my newfound hospitableness. This was no small step, since I was still just a couple years removed from a decade of sharing glorified New York City tenement dwellings with dozens of adjoined, anonymous renters whose names were less familiar than their irksome quirks. And admittedly, I spent several days watching the new kids (or, more accurately, two adults and one child) on my block lug their belongings inside and maneuver around assorted utility men without so much as offering to carry a box.
But with Jesus’ pappy as my witness, once the threat of physical labor lifted, I marched over there, rapped on the door three times, introduced myself to the missus and boldly suggested that they should they ever need a thing, I’m just yards in the way in the little brick ranch opposite their enormous multi-bedroom home. I was so caught up in my suburban goodwill that, the next morning, I even wheeled my next-door neighbor’s garbage can back safely into their driveway—albeit not the extra 50 feet to its original station—once the sanitation worker had emptied its contents. The best part: No one’s actually asked me to go out of my way for them yet, which is the most neighborly quid pro quo I could have hoped for.
What Would Jesus Think? That I’m aces.
Tenet #2: Forgive others
This one’s a toughie. The only thing I hold dearer than writing evaluative columns about my threshold for an enlightened lifestyle is a good, old-fashioned grudge. Or even a new-fangled one. But, in light of this assignment, I got to thinking: Two-way streets demarcate most of what divides us, and if I can accept that my wrongdoing accounts for at least half of any animosity in my life, then it’s only decent to forgive my counterparts for 50 percent of theirs. That way, they’re still at least a quarter to blame. Though just in case that math doesn’t add up, I likewise began observing my friends’ and loved ones’ good deeds in earnest, allowing them to atone on their own for any past transgressions. For example, when a close pal intervened in, and helped ease, a family emergency, it occurred to me that his generosity in that moment effectively rendered some minor squabbles from our recent past rather moot. Being in the moment of one small, but profoundly thoughtful and genuine, act of kindness helped me see the bigger picture of our bond. And even if he didn’t need, or even know he’d just been bestowed, my gratitude, I felt lighter from knowing I’d found forgiveness.
What Would Jesus Think? Aw.
When my son clamored, “More milk! More milk!” I provided, even though all I received for my efforts were continued cries for milk.
Tenet #3: Help the needy
Bible passage Luke 6:38 reads: “For if you give, you will get! Your gift will return to you in full and overflowing measure…” And upon encountering it, every Mets fan in America likely thought, “See: Nolan Ryan for Jim Fregosi.” Still, this would not dissuade me. Over my experimental seven days of Jesus-like philanthropy, I rebuked my pizzeria owner’s offer to accept four dollars for a $4.25 order, instead adding $.75 as a tip. When my son clamored, “More milk! More milk!” I provided, even though all I received for my efforts were continued cries for milk. And when broadcast-radio consumer-research company Arbitron (whose website is in dire need of a charitable facelift) rang me, unsolicited, asking if I’d help their mission to better understand what the public dials into by keeping track of my own listening habits for one week, all for the appreciative stipend of two U.S. bucks, I said, “Sign me up.” Would I have helped a homeless person or buoyed a busker had I come across one during my trial period of compassion? Maybe. Could I have gone the extra mile and donated a few hours to a local synagogue, church or volunteer organization? Definitely. But I’m a work in progress, and at least now whoever pays Arbitron to confirm that no one listens to radio will know that I do on occasion.
What Would Jesus Think? He tuned out a long time ago.
Tenet #4: The Golden Rule
For this final essential, moral bit of wisdom, Christian Bible Reference cites the following rhetorical question from Matthew 7:1-5: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” Well, largely because my family isn’t carpenters. But I get the basic gist about being less judgmental. This is tricky though, and more nuanced than forgiving those close to you by taking accountability for any friction. The Golden Rule implies I should cease being critical of those I come across in passing as well. Moreover, that I assume everyone’s inherent depth and stop short of assessing them superficially.
This proved the most challenging of all four tenets, and the one at which I most shamefully failed. I attempted to view other moms’ and dads’ parenting methods with patience and objectivity, but couldn’t shrug off my sense of paternal superiority. I watched reality television like E!’s Total Divas and did my best not to cast stones at Eva Marie for trying to force her husband’s conversion to Catholicism, but all I could scream was, “You’d be so much cuter with your natural brown hair, and all that flame-red dye is going to make you go bald!” Even with my wife, every moment I tried to hold back from wondering aloud why she’d manage her time a certain way resulted in an explosive outburst of incredulity.
At the end of the proverbial day, and by the end of my exploratory week, I’d concluded that silent judgment is what stands between each other and unending vitriol, because human beings are endlessly irrational and enraging. Personally, I’d amend that Jesus’ Golden Rule be broken.
What Would Jesus Think? I’m flexible.
In The End: I discovered that while I may not live up to the standards Jesus set for his followers, or have even read the Bible, at least I don’t have disciples doing all my writing for me.