A Poem by Carl Sandburg

I am a follower of Jesus, an Evangelical with a high regard for the Church. My respect for the Church is not necessarily based on what I see in today’s Church or in the long history of the Church. When we Christians have gathered together, we’ve often tended to transform fellowship into an institution. Institutions are always power-structures and power is one of the greatest, meanest enemies of the Church. We have also tended to be manipulative, trying all sorts of disagreeable ways of making people agree with us. The beauty of the Church is not that we are so good but that we are so deeply forgiven.

Carl Sandburg, that plain-talking poet of America’s 20th century, looked with disgust on one of the worst of the manipulators, the evangelist Billy Sunday. He knew that Sunday was not to be taken seriously for one central reason: Billy Sunday was not like Jesus. Sandburg was right on target in recognizing the standard by which we believers ought to be measuring ourselves. Doing so would bring a wonderful humility into the Church. . .


BILLY SUNDAY by Carl Sandburg

You come along –  tearing your shirt –   yelling about Jesus.  I want to know what the hell you know about Jesus?

Jesus had a way of talking soft, and everybody except a few bankers and higher-ups among the con men of Jerusalem liked to have this Jesus around because he never made any fake passes, and everything he said went and he helped the sick and gave the people hope.

You come along squirting words at us, shaking your fist and calling us all damn fools – so fierce the froth of your own spit slobbers over your lips – always blabbering we’re all going to hell straight off and you know all about it.

I’ve read Jesus’ words. I know what he said. You don’t throw any scare into me. I’ve got your number. I know how much you know about Jesus.

He never came near clean people or dirty people but they felt cleaner because he came along. It was your crowd of bankers and business men and lawyers that hired the sluggers and murderers who put Jesus out of the running.

I say it was the same bunch that’s backing you that nailed the nails into the hands of this Jesus of Nazareth. He had lined up against him the same crooks and strong-arm men, now lined up with you paying your way.

This Jesus was good to look at, smelled good, listened good. He threw out something fresh and beautiful from the skin of his body and the touch of his hands wherever he passed along.

You, Billy Sunday, put a smut on every human blossom that comes in reach of your rotten breath belching about hell-fire and hiccupping about this man who lived a clean life in Galilee.

When are you going to quit making the carpenters build emergency hospitals for women and girls driven crazy with wrecked nerves from your goddam gibberish about Jesus?  I put it to you again: What the hell do you know about Jesus?

Go ahead and bust all the chairs you want to. Smash a whole wagon load of furniture at every performance.  Turn sixty somersaults and stand on your nutty head. If it wasn’t for the way you scare the women and kids, I’d feel sorry for you and pass the hat.

I like to watch a good four-flusher work, but not when he starts people puking and calling for the doctor.

I like a man that’s got guts and can pull off a great, original performance; but you–hell, you’re only a bughouse peddler of second-hand gospel – you’re only shoving out a phoney imitation of the goods this Jesus guy told us ought to be free as air and sunlight.

Sometimes I wonder what sort of pups born from mongrel bitches there are in the world less heroic, less typic of historic greatness than you.

You tell people living in shanties Jesus is going to fix it up all right with them by giving them mansions in the skies after they’re dead and the worms have eaten ’em.

You tell $6 a week department store girls all they need is Jesus; you take a steel trust wop, dead without having lived, gray and shrunken at forty years of age, and you tell him to look at Jesus on the cross and he’ll be all right.

You tell poor people they don’t need any more money on pay day and even if it’s fierce to be out of a job, Jesus’ll fix that up all right, all right–all they gotta do is take Jesus the way you say.

I’m telling you Jesus wouldn’t stand for the stuff you’re handing out. Jesus played it different. The bankers and corporation lawyers of Jerusalem got their sluggers and murderers to go after Jesus just because Jesus wouldn’t play their game. He didn’t sit in with the big thieves.

I don’t want a lot of gab from a bunkshooter in my religion.

I won’t take my religion from any man who never works except with his mouth and never cherishes a memory except the face of the woman on the American silver dollar.

I ask you to come through and show me where you’re pouring out the blood of your life.

I’ve been to this suburb of Jerusalem they call Golgotha, where they nailed Him, and I know if the story is straight it was real blood ran from His hands and the nail-holes, and it was real blood spurted out where the spear of the Roman soldier rammed in between the ribs of this Jesus of Nazareth.


About mthayes42

I am a retired pastor, interested in the Bible, cross-cultural ministries, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the current and past history of western civilization.
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