Now, as we are about to drive off, two priests run up, waving and tapping frantically at my car window. They are from Poland, they explain. They were passing by when they recognized my passenger walking along the icy sidewalk in his bare feet and white robe. "We saw you on television and just had to tell you what an inspiration your ministry is!"
After ten minutes of this, the SUV backs up. The cameraman glowers at us from behind the wheel.
Whatsyourname, as he likes to be called, is an itinerant preacher who, from the robe to the beard and shoulder-length hair, is a dead ringer for Jesus. More precisely, he bears an uncanny resemblance to Warner Sallman's popular 1941 portrait, "Head of Christ," which was reproduced 500 million times, becoming one of the most recognizable images of the 20th century. Whatsyourname strolled into Hazleton, Pennsylvania, seemingly out of nowhere, last October. He preached on the streets and when asked his name would reply, "What's your name?" Even after the local paper revealed him to be Carl J. Joseph, 39, Whatsyourname stuck.
People knew only what little he had revealed--that he'd taken a vow of poverty and lived on charity; that he claimed he was called to spread the Gospel, a mission he started nine years ago. He said his mission had already taken him through 47 states and 13 countries. Police ran a check and found nothing of concern--an arrest in Ohio for failing to disband a disorderly crowd gathered to hear him preach. (Charges were dismissed.) The Rev. Gerard Angelo, pastor of the Shrine of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, visited Whatsyourname and deemed him genuine, "He has a strong religious faith and doesn't claim to be Jesus." Eventually, Father Angelo invited the missionary to participate in a Mass.
In "Training in Christianity," philosopher Soren Kierkegaard pondered what it would be like to be a follower in the presence of Jesus. He wrote that 19th-century Christians vainly believed that if they'd been around at the time of Christ, they would have instantly recognized him as the Son of God and rallied behind him. Kierkegaard disagreed: Jesus looked so much like every other Joe that his divinity was utterly unrecognizable. That's why his claims to be God were considered an offense to reason and demanded a leap of faith. Kierkegaard said his fellow Christians, failing to find an idealized Christ, would have responded to Jesus as others did--by crucifying him.
After Whatsyourname addressed a senior religion class at Hazleton's Bishop Hafey High School, the principal told the local paper, "He confronts you with the question, What if Jesus was here?" This put a twist on Kierkegaard I'd never considered. Whatsyourname showed that standing in the presence of a man who resembled a popular image of Jesus, but who claimed not to be Jesus, not only didn't violate reason, it somehow managed to inspire an amazing display of faith.
"I was driving home from work," says Muir, "when I spotted this man in a white robe walking along the highway. Because it was October 25, I thought the robe was a Halloween costume. Then I saw the bare feet, and I knew he was a missionary or prophet." She asked her son-in-law, who shares a small duplex with Connie's daughter, their two kids, and Connie's other two children, to drive back and offer the man a ride. "When my son-in-law brought him home, Whatsyourname walked in and said, 'Peace be with this house.'" He's lived there ever since, on a futon in the living room.