Johnny Baptismo


John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. (Matthew 3:4)

Nobody but nobody had a fashion sense like John the Baptist. Roaring like a dust storm in the desert of Judea, John jolted the sleepy world of Jewish religious chic with his bold haute couture and a flair for brash rhetoric. His towering sense of destiny rattled the staid religious industry of his day and established John as the culminating figure in the long line of Jewish outre provocateurs.

John, or “Johnny” as the Jerusalem fashion elite affectionately called him, had little formal training. Though he was the cousin of a community activist, he himself was a loner who eschewed the mainstream culture. Johnny spent much of his time in the Judean wilderness where he perfected his signature Acrididae cuisine which became a favorite among Jerusalem’s eclectic circles.

It was in the fashion world that Johnny made his most durable contribution. He single-handedly revived the hair suit and leather belt motif most notably associated with Elijah which had languished during the period known as the 400 years of silence. Classified by fashion historians as “Hebrew Primitive,” the rugged, anarchic presentation perfectly reflected Johnny’s sensibilities and provided a powerful imagistic reference point for his hard-hitting homilies. Though Johnny can’t be credited as the creator of the prophetic style, he brilliantly anticipated the New Testament era and forever enshrined the Baptismo label as the prophetic look of the age.

All of this, of course, served Johnny’s reputation as an astonishingly powerful orator. Abandoning any pretense of civil discourse, Johnny wielded a brutal eloquence that all but demolished his detractors. He pounced on the religious establishment with a maniacal relish, calling its chief advocates a “brood of vipers” and threatening that they would perish like chaff in “unquenchable fire.” Johnny’s admirers loved it and were often heard repeating among themselves some of Johnny’s more colorful aphorisms.

The most impressive thing about Johnny, however, was his flawless sense of timing. He seemed to know instinctively how long the arc of his fame would stretch and bowed out of the limelight at the perfect moment. When he recognized the inevitable eclipse of his movement by his lesser known but quickly rising cousin, Johnny carefully withdrew. When someone remarked about his new competition, Johnny stated plainly, “He must become greater; I must become less.” But his cousin paid him homage when he publicly said of Johnny, “I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John.”

Johnny’s hard-edged approach has fallen into disfavor in recent days. Contemporary religious taste tends toward the softer, less abrasive style. So, too, the admittedly uncomfortable camel’s hair suit has given way to the cotton open-collar Oxford shirt and khaki pants so in vogue among today’s relational religious spokespersons. Johnny’s edgy cuisine can still be found at some high-end restaurants and on the streets in large Asian cities, but, for the most part, his brazen oeuvre has apparently seen its day.

Considering the fickleness of religious fashion and its endlessly recurring cycles, perhaps a Baptismo revival is around the corner? Only time will tell.


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