For unto you is born this day the Washington Auto Show, and we were sore afraid of coming home with new-car fever. The smell of fresh carpet and clean rubber and that godly aroma of leather interiors. (Breathe it all in!) Also, the angels, glittering as they do in their tight miniskirts, perched on their revolving daises, extolling from on high the glories of the Lexus SC430, the Nissan Z, the Audi Cabriolet.
Here, surrounded by all these new cars, there's no better time to ask the question everyone wants to know the answer to lately: What would Jesus drive?
Certain Christian congregations are mulling over this very issue. Pastors are asking their SUV-driving churchgoers to consider the broader environmental impact of their lives on the rest of God's green Earth. Does Christ call us to hog parking spaces and guzzle gas? It's an appropriate time to give pause, as Americans ready themselves to wage war in the oil-rich Middle East, and so a certain vibe of WWJD has come to the annual car show as well. This doesn't seem like the kind of crowd that's in the mood to drop $73,000 on a 2003 Mercedes G-Class sport ute just now, even though it is shiny and tempting. There's no sin in lookin':
"Jesus would love to drive one of these," says Laneeah Parkson, stroking the seats of the G-Class. Parkson, of Laurel, joined her boyfriend, Micah, for his annual after-Christmas drool stroll through the show, which is open daily at the Washington Convention Center through Jan. 1. "I mean, I guess He has to be humble, being Jesus and all. Do people know He's Jesus, though? Is He all in robes? Or is He all updated? If He's Jesus here-and-now, He needs Him one of these."
That's one view.
"He needs the Hummer H2," says Doug David, pushing a stroller with his 3-year-old son, William, while his wife, Peggy, chased after their 1-year-old, Markie. "You never know, He's wandering around in the desert and He needs to get around. That or a camel." (Squatly massive, the Hummer still feels too militaristic to transport the Prince of Peace.) "Jesus needs a full-size van," Peggy David says. "He needs room for the Apostles."
The Gospel message is very HOV -- loaves and fishes, big crowds, mass transit. Adam and Eve were driven out of Eden "in a Fury," but beyond that the Bible doesn't tell us much, vehicularly, rife though it may be with Rams and Tempests. (And the lesser-known prophet Camaro.)
You can see Jesus in almost anything: Jesus with the top down. Jesus in a Beetle. Jesus in a pickup. Jesus in the Buicks and Cadillacs so loved by the ministers in stereotypical comedies, or in the Hondas and Nissans preferred by nuns. Christian environmentalists do have a point: The higher the price and lower the mileage, the harder it is to imagine the Messiah behind the wheel. The bigger the car, the less pious the driver. You could sooner get a Beemer through the eye of a needle than get to Heaven . . . or so the WWJDrive thinking goes.
As we lust over an Acura RSX, Mike Jones, a salesman at Chevy Chase Acura, asks us if we have any questions.
Yes, actually: What would Jesus drive?
Jones doesn't miss a beat. "What Jesus would want to be looking at is the MDX," he says, with a gentlemanly gesture toward Acura's luxury SUV. "If it's snowy, Jesus will get through. If it's rainy, Jesus will get through."
Yes, because He's Jesus.
"He'd also want a high safety rating," Jones continues, undeterred, "to protect Him if there are devilish drivers in other cars. It has smart air bags, so if He was in a devilish crash, it would protect Him with a customized deployment, like a customized blessing. It has a rear camera, too, so Jesus won't back up onto an innocent child.
"Also, Jesus would want a vehicle that seats Himself and seven of his favorite friends, and yet it wouldn't be uncomfortable for any of them," he says. "And in terms of the environment, Jesus is going to be very pleased that the MDX has the best EPA rating in its class."
Jesus'll think about it.
A crowd gathers around this year's auto darling, the Mini Cooper. People who are large, very large and small all pack into it and marvel at the miraculous legroom. The flat-screen televisions play a loop of music video montages that make the Mini Cooper seem saintly: "Let's lay off the horn," a slogan flashes across the screen. "Let's put away the middle finger. . . . Let's create our own techniques. Let's teach them unto others . . ."
Everyone, from the Jaguar salesman to the little children, instead tries to steer Jesus toward the vaunted hybrids. These Toyotas and Hondas run half on gas, half on electricity and get a highly virtuous 50-plus miles a gallon in the city. Everyone agrees that this is Jesus's car.
But everyone also looks bored with the hybrids. It's so like church: We know it's good for us, but does it have to be so unfun, so preachy, so safe? Jesus may still be a sandal-wearing contrarian, but is He so lacking in style that He can't at least sit in the SC430? (Actually, no one can. It's roped off and out of our reach, a holy object on a pedestal.)
So Jesus walks. He walks, or hitches a ride, or takes the bus. He's Jesus, after all, and He's just looking. The Washington Auto Show -- so enticingly idolatrous, so skilled at milking the covetousness of automotive lust -- is a wonder all its own. Salesmen with microphones hawk the latest chamois cloths and powdered waxes to shine up the objects of our desire. These are just some of the reasons to love the auto show, how it feels a little sinful without much actual sinning.