A Prophet and a Genie

“And I’ll call down thunder and speak the same
And my word fills the sky with flame
And might and glory gonna be my name
And men gonna light my way.”

Words by John Perry Barlow; music by Bob Weir
Recorded by the Grateful Dead

If you spend very much time downtown and you keep your eyes open, you’ll notice this man standing quietly, generally on the edge of what is happening, overlooking the scene with a calm exterior that seems to reflect an understanding or a knowingness beyond words. Approach him, and you will find a very friendly person with strong ideas and convictions about the world, and who has as many words as you’d like.

This is Zeus. He lives in east Knoxville, but is often seen walking the streets of downtown or standing silently in the doorways of abandoned buildings. He introduces himself as a prophet and a genie. In the Koran, he tells me, that would be “jin.” Not “djin.” Those are evil and he exists only for the good. He says he has always known he was a genie, which he defined as a sort of powerful prophet. He is here to spread good and to show people the right way.

I met him on the occasion of a memorial for Michelle Rivera (see below). He insisted that the Bible is clear: an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. A man who kills should be killed. Just as fluidly he moved from Old Testament theology to Revelation and pronounced we are in the last days when men will be blessed who have died to this world. Death is like a vacation. One rests.

He says that Jesus is the way. He likens him to a car wash. If you want your car clean, you have to go through. If you want your soul clean, you have to go through Jesus. Still, he insists God is no Christian. All religions are like branches that lead to the tree of God. They must all be taken together to make a whole. He sees judgement coming. When we feel the heat in the city this time of year, that is a warning of the heat that is to come. He is here to help us avoid that fate. What we send into the universe is what we will receive in return. Everything is the Yen and Yang. Christianity is like the light, while Islam is the dark. You cannot have one without the other. God will bless both because each comes from a son of Abraham.

He’s certainly not your typical downtown preacher, but you’d be hard pressed to find someone nicer, more soft spoken and fascinating than Zeus. He gives handmade gifts to those to whom he feels inclined. He accepts donations, but he never asks for money. People give if they wish and God provides. He lives on faith, which is what he must do in his calling as a Genie. Whether he succeeds in making it better may be up for debate, but he certainly makes downtown Knoxville a more interesting place.