Tag Archives: Jesus

Why Jesus?

There are a few things about me that are pretty consistent. I drink a lot of Pepsi, I frequently forget not to cuss in front of other peoples’ children (sorry other people and your children!), I hate reality TV (unless there are ghosts in it, then I think it’s hilarious), stuff like that. One of the things that are pretty consistent is a question I frequently ask, which is “Why Jesus?”

Let me start by saying that I believe in Jesus. I believe he did all the stuff people say he did, up to and including the dying thing. The difference is that I don’t believe in him the way most people do. In my head it’s really easy for me to accept that Jesus is also God and God is also Jesus (and the holy spirit fits in somewhere as well) so there’s no huge need in my mind to differentiate between one and the other. When I say “Hey God, would you >insert request here<?” I know I’m talking to all three of them. Jesus/God knows I’m thankful, and Holy Spirit/God knows they’re invited to come hang out with me. I don’t feel the need to make the distinction, or place him on a pedestal, or worship him exclusively with pictures and love songs and whatever else. Once I heard someone say “Jesus prayed to God, we pray to Jesus.” I thought it was all the same, so I was a little boggled.

Anyway, stuff like that makes me ask “Why Jesus” and it wasn’t until recently that I think maybe I might have found an answer for that.

Let me explain. No. . .there is too much. Let me sum up.

What the Faith: Only stealing from the very best since 2011.

What the Faith: Only stealing from the best since 2011.

A couple of weeks ago, my phone was stolen by someone I thought was my friend. This was a person that, while I wouldn’t say I was “tight” with, I had gone out of my way to be cool towards. I had really thought that there was some sort of mutual feeling of friendship and community. Imagine my surprise when five minutes after this particular person left my house I reached for my phone and found it gone.

Little bit of background story here, I live in a very poor and very ethnic section of my city and have felt very strongly called to love these people and to fight to shine light on the good things about the community in which I live since I moved into it.  Then again, maybe “called” is the wrong word. To say I was “called” implies that the feeling somehow came from outside of me. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that I have oddly, but strongly, felt love for these people and, that I’ve oddly but strongly had a compulsion to fight to shine light on the good things they bring. So some time ago I began building bridges with my neighbors, who are as different from me as .  .two really different things.

Some of them are barely older than teenagers, others have children older than me. It didn’t matter. We were all piled up on my tiny porch, hanging out, drinking, eating, laughing or whatever. Color, age, sexuality, creed, ceased to matter in the little world we created, so perhaps it isn’t surprising when it started to grow from my neighbors to my neighbors’ family and friends, and sometimes just a random person walking by. I guess they saw something happening on my porch that they wanted to be a part of. I don’t know.

I’ll be honest, I loved it. I’m not very good at loving, or maybe I’m not very good at letting myself be loved, but when you’re in “the hood”, and all the hood homies tell you that you’ve been adopted, and you’re fam now even though you’re one of two white families in the whole neighborhood and the ONLY one on the block. . .

. . .not everyone gets that.

I felt special. I felt loved. I loved them back. That’s not why I started building the bridges, but it was a pretty cool by-product of it.

As opposed to the UN-cool side effect of bridge building - a boom in the troll population.

As opposed to the UN-cool side effect of bridge building – a boom in the troll population.

So when all other possibilities as to my phone’s location had been exhausted and I had no choice but to accuse this person who I had let come into my house, who I had fed, and bought bottles for, and given rides to. . . I was pissed. I didn’t want to think he would do it, but when I couldn’t deny it any longer, I was furious. I was so enraged that I saw black. I was ready to end his life and throw mine away over a cell phone. Granted, it was a new cell phone, less than 3 weeks old, and worth $500, but unless I missed the point of everything here, $500 does not equal the value of a life. I feel like maybe that reaction was disproportionate.

Anyway, that’s not the story. The story is that I felt amazingly betrayed. Here I am, learning to love and be loved by strangers, which if you’ve followed this blog at all you know I’m terrible at, and the thanks I get for trying to learn these things is getting robbed!

So perhaps understandably, I sat on my porch fuming dangerously, fantasizing about all the ways I was going to hurt, injure, maim, murder or otherwise teach this shiesty little bastard a lesson in respecting other people’s property. I was about to go full on hood on his little ass.

I’m not proud of this, but for a while I was lost in it, drowning in a sea of black.

Those of you who know me know I’m prone to outbursts which are loud and angry but which quickly dissipate. If you know me well enough you know that those outbursts are relatively harmless. This was different. This was a cold, calculated anger, and it was scary. Scarier was how easy it was for me to be there.

I didn’t think of any of this while this was happening. While it was happening I was sitting on my porch fantasizing about hurting a teenager for the theft of a phone. It never occurred to me that any of this might be wrong, and I might have been lost there forever, but as I was sitting there, full of hate and murderous intent, a thought occurred to me that changed everything and broke through the tempest of my thoughts and mood like light cutting through the clouds after a storm.

The thought was, “What if I were Jesus?”

If you re-read the beginning of this post, you’ll understand why the “W.W.J.D.” was so alien to me that it couldn’t possibly have come from me. It was so strange that it startled me out of my black and violent thoughts and cut through the hateful ink I was floating in like a scalpel. Immediately, my brain tried to answer that question, deflating all my rage with one fell swoop and taking away all the wind from my sails. I wasn’t ready to not be enraged, and in a blink, instead of enraged I found myself sad. I’d seen this kid a handful of times, and I don’t think I’d ever seen him wearing a different outfit. What kind of place must he be in, what kind of deep seated hurts must there be in him that would make him steal, not from some random person, but from someone who’d been nothing but loving and friendly to him, someone who had fed him for nothing, who’d given him things asking nothing in return? My heart broke for him and I knew in the deepest part of me that if I were Jesus, that I would track him down and say, “Hey, you left so fast with that phone I gave you, that you forgot the charger and headphones I was going to give you with it.” I cried for him a little bit. Admittedly, I cried for me a little bit too.

Pete called it “The Les Mis Moment” and it broke me.

If I had to rate my weeping, I'd say it fell somewhere between "I Dreamed a Dream" and "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables."

If I had to rate my weeping, I’d say it fell somewhere between “I Dreamed a Dream” and “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.”

I thought about this uneducated high school drop-out, who at 17 is already so hopeless that he thinks the only way he can ever come up in this world is to go banging around with his clique and stealing from people who only wanted to love him. He didn’t even sell the phone for drug money, like some (I) might have thought. He was using it, making calls and texts and leaving a paper trail a mile wide if I wanted to press charges on him. He even offered to sell it on Facebook. . . where I have him friended. Clearly these are the actions of a master thief, right? Somehow, these stupid decisions broke my heart even more. This isn’t a strung out druggie, or a rabid kleptomaniac, this is a desperate kid who wanted to be able to have the status of having a new S3 and thought the only way he could ever get one was to take it.

My friends and neighbors don’t understand my reaction to this. They don’t understand my decision to not go after him despite the fact that he’s sort of handed himself to me on a silver platter. They don’t understand why I should care about what happens to the life of the kid who wouldn’t spare a second thought for what happened to mine. They don’t understand it, and it’s led to questions that have led to conversations that always lead back to God. These conversations have led to more questions, which have led to these boys coming over with their Bibles, opening them, and asking me questions about stuff they’ve read inside of them. These conversations never could have happened if I had reacted the way I wanted to, the way any of them would’ve, the way their life and background demands that they do. They wouldn’t have been angry at me for tagging their friend with a felony for stealing my phone. In their mind that was a reasonable response to his action and he brought it upon himself. They would have continued coming over and hanging out with me, but we couldn’t be growing together as friends, and searching together for what the Truth looks like.

I’ve already replaced that phone, It cost me my deductible and a few days. I still haven’t pressed the person who stole from me. If I saw him today, I would invite him over to my porch and ask him if he wanted to share a cigarette with me. I might talk some shit about him walking off with my phone, but maybe I wouldn’t. I’m not sure. I know that I wouldn’t shut him out, for sure. While I might not let him back in my house, I feel like it’s important that I keep loving him despite the thing he did to me, and that I show him that, not so that he thinks its ok to steal but so that he knows I see the person he is beyond what he did, and that he is loved.

And, I think, this is “why Jesus”. Whatever else there might be, without Jesus we would have a book that illustrated an all-powerful God constantly smiting us for getting it consistently wrong. The Bible without Jesus would be a book about how God acts. Jesus shows us how we should act, even when it’s hard, even when it sucks, and even when we’d rather be furiously fantasizing about maiming and murder.

Jesus fills the gap between “I believe in God” and “I’m a person that other people see God in”.

This experience was an emotional roller coaster, and I’m exhausted from dealing with it. But I’d do it again for the realization that I really can emulate Jesus, and even if I never see that kid again, the bridges that have been built between me and my neighbors and his friends because of it have been worth every moment.

Well, worth ALMOST every moment. . . . goddamn trolls. . . .

Well, worth ALMOST every moment. . . . goddamn trolls. . . .


Affectations for Christ!

Last Sunday, when I was at church at River Heights Vineyard, I raised my hands up during a worship song.

I don’t usually do that. Here is why.

Have you ever seen that movie Saved? If you have, do you remember that scene near the beginning, at the Christian high school, when the worship band is playing and the singer is singing and all of the students have their hands raised high, rapturous looks on their faces?

My years of fervent anti-Christian sentiment taught me to hate that shit.

Okayyyy guys, who here is the holiest???

Okayyyy guys, who here is the holiest???

There’s nothing like a raised hand, a lowered head, and closed eyes to show anyone who happens to be looking that you’re having a Moving Holy Experience. It’s like holding a sign up that says “Spirit Moved” with an arrow that points down at the bearer. Nothing else says, “Don’t talk to me unless it’s in tongues!” in quite the same fashion. As such, I spent years assuming that it was an affectation. After all, people can’t be moved by the holy spirit every goddamn time a worship band plays!  It seemed to me very suspect that every person at this church was feeling the ol’ holy shakes coming on a the same time, and I began to judge people for showing their faith in such obvious ways. After all, I reasoned, didn’t Jesus constantly tell us to keep shit subtle?

As time has passed, and my confident anti-Christianity was replaced by a tentative Christianity, I learned that there is some honesty behind the raised hand, the lowered head, the closed eyes. For one thing, when I was convinced by God to hang out with Christians at Christian churches, it seemed that part of his pitch was that, occasionally, a weird, heavy feeling was going to settle over the room. It might make my skin tingle. It might feel like a light change in cabin pressure to my ears. If my eyes were closed, it might give me a light case of the head spins. It might make everyone want to shut up, all at the same time, so that the room became damn-near silent (with the exception of babies, who seem to either ignore the presence of the spirit or feel compelled to talk to it). It might happen at any time, but it would definitely be more likely to happen when a bunch of people all asked, at the same time, for it to show up. People refer to that feeling as the Holy Spirit, and when it shows up it’s kind of big deal.

"Hey guys. You called?"

“Hey guys. You called?”

When that happens, it can be ignored, for the most part. There’s no rule stating that people have to react to the Weird-Tingly-Cabin-Pressure-Thing. Some people might not even notice it. (As an aside, God knows I’ve sat in congregations that seemed to be moved to swaying like voodoo practitioners without feeling any such urge to sway myself, and while it’s tempting to assume that they were all delusional while I was clear-headed, that stance takes a bit more self-assurance and pride than I’m able to summon right at this moment. ) But in our western Christian culture, most people seem to have trained to react with those gestures I mentioned. They close their eyes, because that feeling is (honestly) kind of like a mild high, and because closing your eyes kind of seems appropriate for some reason. Their hands go up, usually in one of two ways. The first way is with the arm stretched up, hand and fingers fully extended, like a student eager to answer a teacher’s question. Alternately, some people raise both hands from the waist up, elbows bent, palms facing the ceiling. That pose vaguely resembles someone holding an outstretched samurai sword across their palms as they present it to their daimyo.

Yeah, you knew I was a geek when you came here.

Example One - Teacher, teacher!

Example One – Teacher, teacher!

Example Two - Domo origato, Jesus.

Example Two – Domo origato, Jesus.

Now, I won’t say that I feel the Weird-Tingly-Cabin-Pressure-Thing every week, because you don’t. And when I don’t feel it, I don’t raise my hands, or close my eyes, or lower my head, because to me, that would  be an affectation. I’d be acting like I felt something that I didn’t. That doesn’t mean that everyone else follows my “rule”. In fact, most people who attend the churches I’ve attended just do that stuff as part of their worship. Maybe it’s how they remind themselves that they aren’t just listening to music and singing along – they’re worshipping. It’s something special, something set apart from singing in the car to the latest Imagine Dragons single.

Could some people be raising their hands and closing their eyes to show off how Christian they are? Could be, I suppose. No way of knowing, really. But the thing is, when the Weird-Tingly-Cabin-Pressure-Thing is happening, questions like that seem comparatively unimportant. Last week, when our worship pastor Justin Law (really his name!) was playing “The Offering,” I felt that feeling come over me. And I resisted lifting my hands for a moment, because I was afraid that I would feel like a fake. But then it occurred to me – the only reason I was resisting was because I wanted to, and my holding my hands at my sides, I was being a fake.

So, Samurai Sword it was.

After the song was over, and my eyes opened, and my mild “spirit high” faded away, I saw the people around me having the same heavy-lidded look on their faces that I felt on my own. Brandi was seated next to me, head in her hands. And Justin, up on the stage, was idly strumming.

“Wow,” he said, “the spirit is really heavy in the room right now. Jesus, thanks for being with us.”

So in that spirit, I’ve amended my rule – I will raise my hands, but only when Jesus shows up. That seems fair.


NT Wright, Skeptics, and Jesus Christ Superstar

I was browsing through my Facebook feed today, and I caught a post from my good friend (and fellow blogger) Jenn with 2 N’s. Her post was a quote from NT Wright, former bishop of Durham and a theological hero of mine. The quote was about Jesus’ resurrection (cuz it’s Easter, see?) and how skeptics see it. Here is what Wright had to say.

“But the other part of the answer to what the skeptics have said is that is in fact the skeptics, from that day to this, who are guilty of the very thing of which they are accusing Christians. It is the skeptical world-view that has been blown apart by Jesus’ resurrection. Ever since that day they have been only too eager to find stories to tell to show that actually it didn’t happen, that their original world-view (in which dead people cannot, do not and will not rise again) was correct after all, that some other story will explain it. You can feel the sigh of relief in the skeptical camp each time one of these stories is put forward, however unlikely it may be. Phew! We don’t need to believe that Jesus rose again. That’s all right then. We can cope with him as a great teacher (with whom we may from time to time disagree). We can even see his death as a great example of love in action. We can share his vision of a world in which people live in peace. Only don’t ask us to accept that he rose from the dead. That’s just too much.”

When I read this, I was tempted to respond to Jenn’s Facebook post. I am, after all, a former skeptic. In fact, there are days when I feel rather “not so former.” Plus, the author’s tone came off as a bit smug, and as you’ll soon see, I have a long history of arguing with self-righteous Christians. So Wright’s assumption about the nature of skeptics, and their take on Jesus, seemed like something I was uniquely qualified to respond to. I didn’t, though. I stopped in the middle of mentally preparing my comment, which would have gone something like this:

I’m a fan of NT Wright, so it’s with some fondness that I say that he apparently doesn’t know skeptics as well as he believes. Most skeptics aren’t on the fence about the resurrection of Jesus – they do not believe it happened. A staple of the skeptical mindset is the adage that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” The resurrection of Jesus is about as extraordinary a claim as can be made. Skeptics believe that the people making the extraordinary claim have the responsibility of providing the extraordinary evidence to support it. Conversely, the skeptic’s claim about Jesus – that Jesus did not come back from the dead – is a rather ordinary claim. After all, it’s said that seven people die every second, and none of them come back to life (at least, not after three days, as in the case of Jesus). Therefore, only ordinary evidence is needed to support that claim. Skeptics are not, as Wright asserts, secretly fearing that their claim could be proven wrong. They don’t latch onto evidence that supports their disbelief in the resurrected Jesus, because no such latching is necessary. The evidence that people who die and stay down for three days are basically going to stay that way is reaffirmed every day a thousand, thousand times.

 

Your honor, I rest my case.

Your honor, I rest my case.

 

But I didn’t post that comment to Jenn’s Facebook, and here’s why. In my very first post ever I mentioned being “saved” as a kid, and then sort of drifting away from Christianity soon afterward. I spent my teenage years as an on-again, off-again Neo-Pagan. My mid-twenties found me exploring Gelugpa Buddhism. In between those periods, I’ve called myself an agnostic, an atheist, a deist, and a secular humanist. Clearly, I didn’t know what I was. What I did know was what I wasn’t. I wasn’t a Christian. Christianity was the religion I despised the most. I was convinced that while a few individual Christians might be great people, Christianity as a culture was hypocritical, judgmental, lazy, and damn-near worthless. I was so not Christian that at times I found it hard to stop focusing on how non-Christian I was.

And yet, in my quiet moments, I was aware (almost fearfully so) of the fascination that the religion held for me. I remember being in high school when my best friend’s church put on a production of Jesus Christ Superstar. My buddy came to me one day in drama class, and asked if I would be willing to volunteer my time to help the production. They needed a couple of guys to work the spotlights, and would I be available? It happens I did have time on my hands, so I joined up with the church folks to help out. It would be my first time seeing Jesus Christ Superstar, a show that so enraptured me that I have since seen it live four times – once, with Skid Row’s Sebastian Bach in the lead role.

 

Oh man, it was awesome! At one point he turned water into wine, dirt into cocaine, and pharisees into hookers and the SHOW HADN'T EVEN STARTED!

Oh man, it was awesome! At one point he turned water into wine, dirt into cocaine, and pharisees into hookers and the SHOW HADN’T EVEN STARTED!

 

It was during one of the productions that I had the strangest thought. I was working the spot on the stage left side of the balcony, and I was focusing on my best friend’s girlfriend (and now wife!), who was beautifully belting out “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.” My eyes were tearing up, which wasn’t a surprise to me even then – good music almost always makes my eyes rain. By this point I’d seen the show a couple of times, not counting rehearsals, so I already knew I loved it. But this time, something seemed to hit me with unusual poignancy. I remember thinking, “Man. I wish this story were true. It’s too bad it isn’t.”

That wasn’t the first time I felt the siren’s call of Christianity in my coal-black pagan/Buddhist/agnostic/deist heart, but it’s one of the times I remember with the most clarity. Those moments aside, I was quite the good anti-Christian. I argued against those that claimed that Christianity was logical – and I argued gleefully. I turned high-school level apologetics over my knee and spanked them mercilessly in my eagerness to prove the logical inferiority of Christianity. But, aside from my enthusiastic debating, I was a nice guy. I did my best to be a good person, to treat people well, to do what was (as the Boy Scouts’ motto put it) “morally straight”, and to make it known to anyone who asked (or didn’t) that I was doing this despite the fact that I was not Christian. I wanted everyone to know that Christians didn’t have a monopoly on morality – far from it, in fact. Most people weren’t all that moved by my efforts – high school students at the time had more pressing things on their minds, like AOL chat rooms or the Nintendo 64 – but one person took notice. The aforementioned best friend, who happens to be named Robert, once told me, “Dan, you’d be a really good Christian.” I was flattered – I knew the spirit in which the compliment had been given, and I wasn’t that anti-Christian as to be a jerk about it – and I thanked him with the comment that I hoped I was already a good whatever-I-was that time. But even as I semi-deflected his compliment, I was pleased by it.

Part of me, you see, wanted to be Christian. Part of me had always wanted to be Christian. What I didn’t have was the reason to be Christian. It wasn’t enough for strangers to tell me that Jesus was a big deal. I needed Jesus to tell me that he was a big deal. After all, the claims surrounding Christianity – big, bold, impossible miracles; small, intimate, improbable miracles; the goddamn dude coming back from the dead – made the religion hard to buy into. It was one thing to buy into the Neo-Pagan idea that a person’s thoughts affect their world; it was another to believe that Jesus fed five thousand people with (what my pastor calls it) a kid’s lunch. If I was going to believe in the model of reality put forth by Christians, they were going to have to explain things better than they had. I even once told somebody, “If God wants me to be a Christian, God is going to have to tell me so himself.” God would have to pull off the impossible – he was going to have to make me believe in miracles.  Until such a time, I told myself, I would stick with a more rational system of beliefs.

 

In hindsight, I'm not sure it was more rational - but the home made wine was pure tits.

In hindsight, I’m not sure it was more rational – but the homemade wine was pure tits.

 

Years later, when events in my life would lead me to conclude that Jesus was sending me the old proverbial text message (did they text in proverbs?), my journey to Hillside Church in Duluth would begin with an email conversation with pastor Ryan Bauers. After some pleasant chat, Ryan recommended that I read a book called Not the Religious Type: Confessions of a Turncoat Atheist, by author Dave Schmelzer. Brandi and I bought the book for my Kindle, and through a series of zany mishaps, we were forced to read the book aloud, together. Dave Schmelzer had spent a period of his life in a state of anti-Christianity very similar to my own. Like Dave, I was considered the “atheist debater guy” in my school, and like Dave, I was good at poking logical holes into the arguments of the Christians I dueled wits with. I could relate to the author, who came out of atheism into Christianity and has been practicing a life of Jesus Type Stuff for over twenty years. I could relate to him so much, in fact, that there was one question I was dying to ask him. As luck would have it I was able to meet him, some six months after reading his book, at a church conference in Minneapolis. One night of the conference, as I sat next to him drinking beer and eating a Rueben sandwich, I got to ask him my one question.

“Dave, when you were debating all of those Christians in college, were you secretly hoping that one of them would beat you?”

Without the slightest hesitation, Dave said yes. He’d debated, hoping to lose. It was the answer I’d expected, because it was the answer I would have given, had I been asked the same question. As crazy as it was, my vehement anti-Christian sentiment had lived alongside a deeply hidden desire to believe in a story as crazy, as unlikely, and as wonderful as the story of the man Jesus and his resurrection. And clearly, I wasn’t the only skeptic to feel this way.

So maybe NT Wright knows a bit more about skeptics that I was originally willing to credit him for, even if his words seem a little condescending. While I am not ready to believe that all skeptics are just Christians waiting to happen – that is an idea that, as a previous skeptic, I still find a bit offensive – it is easy to see the truth that some of them are. Dave Schmelzer was, and I was, too. And while I doubt that there’s ever going to be enough scientific evidence of the resurrection to get all the world’s skeptics through the church doors, that’s okay – Jesus is a big deal because Jesus is a big deal. We can trust him to send that proverbial text message when the time is right. These days, everyone has a cell phone.

 

"Totes time for a new profile pic."

“Totes time for a new profile pic.”


The Man Jesus

My last post talked about my struggle to determine whether I believe in Jesus at all, and it (kind of) explores why I chose to do just that. That’s a big question, and one that I needed to answer before I could delve into the subject matter behind this post. I’m a girl who loves extremes, so why stop at, “Why do we believe that Jesus was God”? when I can uselessly speculate on “What do we know of Jesus the human?” In this post we will discuss Jesus as a man, exploring such varied subjects as  teenage crushes, workplace boredom, and poop. You have been warned.

I’m not sure this entire subject isn’t sacrilegious, but it’s one that sticks with me, nonetheless. See, its easy for me to think of Jesus as this distant “grown-up” who did some pretty awesome stuff (miracle wine, zapping insulting fig trees – you know the stories) and then changed the whole world. That’s pretty epic, but the point you should have taken from that sentence is that Jesus was distant. Its easy for me to think of Jesus the way I might think of some politician or other kind of world changer – important, notable, good for the world as a whole, but not actively involved in my day to day life. I can’t imagine being an omnipotent man-God with super powers. Not me. I’m too normal, too “every day”. I get up in the mornings and I smoke a cigarette and I take a shower and I put on my poly/cotton blended blouse and my slacks. Then I go spend all day taking calls at a call center, doing nothing of any miraculous import. After work I kill time by being generally foul-mouthed and lovingly disrespectful with my friends. How much could someone like me really relate to someone who was perfect, and did miracles, and was fucking God for God’s sake?

One of the points of being a practicing Christian is learning how to retrain your brain toward focusing on Jesus and his example. I’m still working on it. But no matter how hard I try to put myself in Jesus’ sandals, even with him being more relatable than the Big G, it’s still pretty hard to imagine Jesus living a life like my life. That’s probably why the question of whether or not to believe in him comes up so frequently. It’s one thing to read the Bible and to take the stories of the characters described within as metaphor. I mean, who cares if Joseph really had a technicolor dream coat before his asshole brothers threw him in a hole and sold him to slavers? The point is that Joseph served God even in the worst of situations and ended up being the ruler of Egypt (or damn near enough). You can take that story, sift out the moral, and move on. But it’s another thing to treat Jesus the same way – his stories are more than just colorful fables written to show us examples of how to behave in a given situation (even if his parables definitely include that). Even a little kid can point out how different Jesus’ stories are from the others – his are in red ink. Without Jesus, without the character of the personification of God, the very nature of God is defined in Old Testament terms – and many of us Christians believe that God is more than wrath, plagues, and the divvying out of virgins. How would we know that, if not for what is written about Jesus? Christ is the legend by which the rest of the Bible can be understood. Without Jesus, we’re just reading a bunch of books.

Knowing this, how am I supposed to justify the fact that I do kind of clump him in with the rest of the biblical characters? Or, more importantly, how do I mentally separate him from those secondary characters and re-envision him as someone who seems more real, more relatable?

Lately, I’ve been thinking about Jesus a lot more than I used to. It started with late-night conversations with Daniel (I would just like to pause here a moment to say that deep and thoughtful conversation/debate with one’s spouse is a huge help in untangling yourself from the weeds and keeping yourself focused), then I wrote my most recent blog post. Now it’s almost Easter and so Jesus stories are basically freaking everywhere. Not to diminish what Jesus did for us, but the stories that get played (and played, and played, and played) throughout the holiday season are so familiar that even atheists know them by rote.

This year, though, I’ve been thinking about things a little differently. The holiday (literally, the holy day) that occurs this upcoming Sunday is supposed to focus on the culmination of Jesus’ life. Obviously people will focus on his death and subsequent resurrection. But I find myself wondering about the life of the man that lived as God among men, knowing where his road would lead, and drinking from that cup anyway.

Did the fact that Jesus died willingly mean that mean he never felt torment? We know he struggled in the garden of Gethsemane, but how did he react the first time he learned that he would be tortured to death? Was he tempted to stick with carpentry?He accepted God’s will, but did that mean he wanted to?

Did Jesus’ divinity mean that he was never hungry, or too cold, or too hot, or sick?

Did he, as a youthful apprentice carpenter,  ever fall in love with someone he knew he would never be with because of where his path would lead?

Did he spend days teaching, all the while looking out across the Sea of Galilee and watching the sun sparkle invitingly on the waters, wishing that he could be doing something else? Did he feel those things and serve anyway?

Jesus was a man – but was he a man like us?

Of course these are questions we can’t ever answer. Jesus lived two thousand years ago, and the only people that actually hung out with him are super dead. The main source of what information we actually about his life is in the Bible, and the Gospel writers chose to focus on his supernatural side. That’s fair, as that is the part of Jesus that separated him from all the other dudes around him. It seems to me, though, that focusing on Jesus’ divinity only tells us half of his story.

I’m not alone in my musings about the man Jesus. Author Johnnie Moore wrapped up the whole subject really nicely in his article, where he basically explores Jesus and how relatable he must have been to the average poor person of the time. Why? Because he was probably dirty, stinky, and occasionally suffering from dysentery. Just like you or I! Its an awesomely insightful read and I’d take a few minutes to do do if you haven’t. It went a long way toward showing me a side of Jesus, albeit a grosser one, that made him much more relatable to me.

A cigarette smoking, slacks wearing, foul mouthed American girl might not have much in common with a messiah, but I can relate a bit more to a carpenter who gets his hands dirty just like I do (metaphorically. . . I work in an office.) I feel like this Jesus is the sort of dude who wouldn’t be offended if I had to leave the Sermon on the Mount to make a potty run. Additionally, I imagine he would enjoy just chilling around a fire pit listening to Daniel and I suck at the guitar. That is so cool to me.

Thinking about Jesus’ story lately, it occurred to me that Jesus’ mission started when he was 30. That’s exactly my age. That shed light on him in a whole new way. Suddenly he wasn’t this grownup who had it all figured out. Suddenly I’m in his shoes, still feeling 21 and immature and irresponsible. Hell, sometimes it takes a forklift to get me out the door to work, and I’m not facing crucifixion at the end of my job. I can’t imagine knowing I had three years left before I was horribly killed. I can’t imagine being able to find motivation to keep going – especially after he went back to Nazareth and was so disrespected that he couldn’t do any of his messianic stuff. Didn’t they like chase him out of town and try to pitch him over a cliff or something? One of them is noted as saying something like,  “Isn’t this that carpenter’s son??! Wtf?”

In his hometown, he wasn’t the messiah. He was just “that guy Jesus. Y’know, the carpenter’s kid. Big scandal over his birth, I’ll tell you about it sometime”. When he tried to be more than that, they mocked him right out of town. Feels like my highschool years all over again.

And when exactly did Jesus become aware of his destiny? There’s some suggestion he knew fairly early, like when he got left in Jerusalem during that Passover. His parents didn’t realize he wasn’t with the caravan until they were halfway home. They found him right where they left him, posted up with the rabbis. I think he was fairly young then, and there’s a whole lot of life between prepubescent temple Jesus and 30 year old homeless missionary Jesus. Did he ever have a sweetheart? A schoolmate that he crushed on before realizing that marrying that poor girl would be a horrible idea? Did any girls secretly crush on him? I had tons of relationships in my life between “dating age” and “grown up”. A few of them I even thought were pretty serious and I hung out with them for a few years during that space of time. I wasn’t focused on dating, I didn’t care all that much about sex, and I was brainy and I still managed to break double digits. . . I think. I didn’t count. Either way, I wonder if there were any flames in young teenager Jesus’ life. I wonder if he dealt with heartbreak or separation or even the temptation of jealousy.

I know Jesus was sinless, but does that mean he never felt that prickling of reactionary emotion that you or I might? Does feeling that, regardless of whether you act on it or not, count as a sin in and of itself? I know Jesus got fed up with things. The story of him and the fig tree was such a wonderful mix of divinity and human frustration that I feel closer to him every time I read it. I just smile and nod and say, “Yeah, I’ve been there.”

Putting Jesus’ life in the perspective of my own makes it suddenly mind-breakingly obvious what a huge and awesome thing it is that he was willing to do what he did for us. For me at least, these meanderings make me feel closer to Jesus, and through him, God. It makes his death, celebrated yesterday on Good Friday, all that more poignant.

What about you guys? Any casual meanderings about Jesus that make him seem more real and relatable to you? Any real moments of humanity you see from him in the scriptures that make you see him in a new light?


Feeling pretty great – a WTFaith Quickie

A lifetime of worried cynicism (seriously, I’m like a fat Woody Allen) has left me woefully unprepared to express how I feel today. For no good reason, I feel awesome right now. I don’t have more money than I had yesterday. I don’t have fewer debtors or fewer “Final Notice” bills coming in. I’m not any thinner, or more popular, or better looking. I am not, objectively, better in any way.

All the same, I feel like the goddamn king of the world.

I’m pretty sure that Jesus is connected to this feeling. I’m not positive that I could explain in what way he is connected. I know I went to bed praying last night, which is something I don’t do most of the time. I prayed on the drive to work, which is something I rarely do at all. Yesterday I heard a great sermon at River Heights Vineyard, which, as it turns out, is pretty rad.

Sometimes, I read my blog posts – which are 85% “tough questions” and 15% “stupid jokes” – and I think, “Well, my blog is certainly honest, but am I actually showing any of my readers why being Christian is a good thing?”

The reason that being Christian is a good thing, readers, is that some days, Jesus metaphorically craps a handful of twinkling stars into your stomach-hole for no good reason. Some people call it a “peace beyond understanding.” That sounds nicer than the way I said it, but whatever, you knew what blog you came to today.

Enjoy your day, along with that mental image I just gave you. ❤ ❤ ❤

"Pictured: Me"

“Pictured: Me”


What’s up with this Jesus guy, anyway?

I said last week that I wish  the group of Christianity that I seem to exist within could be called something else –  anything else, actually. Whatever it takes to separate ourselves from the Neanderthal nonsense that certain types of Christians spout on a regular basis. I’ve mentioned this to friends of mine, none of whom are Christian. All of them immediately respond with something like, “Ok, so you’re not a hate-filled fundamentalist. That’s good. Ok, you say the Bible has been used for so much harm, and is also too contradictory, to be useful as anything but an interesting text amongst interesting texts. That’s valid. But, the real question is do you believe in Christ?”

And I guess that is the question isn’t it?

I’ve always thought of Christ as, for lack of a better term, an avatar of God. I believe that the breaking of this world caused a schism between our finite world and eternity that only Jesus could breach. I believe Christ was God made flesh, that what he experienced went directly back to the entity that is God. And I believe that happened so that God could experience humanity without the separation that normally exists between the finite and the infinite.

 

Like this, but with slightly higher stakes.

Like this, but with slightly higher stakes.

 

In addition, I’ve always found the Christian practice of Jesus worship (particularly their fixation on the instrument of his death) to be bordering on maudlin idolatry. Despite believing in him, I’ve noticed through my faith journey that I talk directly to God, and that only twice has Jesus been the focus of my worship specifically.

The first time, I was thinking about the Jews, and how they had the automatic in with God. (Not really, but . . . you know. God’s chosen people and all that. You get it.) And then I thought about how it was only because of Jesus’ sacrifice that I was able to experience the things I was experiencing with God. I was so struck by that for a moment that I, for the first and only time in my life, said the words “Thank you, Jesus” without a hint of irony.

The second time was a particularly bleak period for me; I was having some first world problems and being a big baby about the whole thing. Long story short, I generally felt like shit. I was about at the end of my rope, when I had a dream. In the dream, Jesus and I were hanging out. Just hanging out, like any two friends might. We were talking, and through the process of our talking, Jesus did what I imagine Jesus did to practically everyone he met. He looked at me, and in seconds broke down all of my walls, saw right to the heart of me, and said some gentle thing that unraveled the entire core of my problem.

“Well, *I* recommend a hot oil treatment once a month, exfoliate daily, and try to eat lots of foods rich with Omega-3 fatty acids.”

“Well, *I* recommend a hot oil treatment once a month, exfoliate daily, and try to eat lots of foods rich with Omega-3 fatty acids.”

 

The whole dream was striking and vaguely uncomfortable because I HAAAAaaaaAAAAAAATE being on display like that, even to Jesus himself. But, it was also comforting because I felt such love and unconditional acceptance. When he suggested (not commanded) that I change some behaviors or habits, it felt like a suggestion given out of an undeniable and tangible sense of love and a desire for my well-being. I’ve never felt so exposed or so accepted in my entire life. The sensation of that dream stayed with me for days. For weeks.

Aside from those two situations, Jesus doesn’t enter my thoughts as anything other than the way I am able to do the things I am able to do and experience the things I’m able to experience. When Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no one gets to the father but through me,” I read that as, “Because I did this thing, you get to talk to God.” Most people seem to interpret that statement to mean something more like this:

“Immediately disregard everything I said about not worshipping me. I never wanted that before, but now. . . I died for all you assholes! So . . . make with the worship or be forever condemned to the fires of hell!”

"Awwwwww, are you SERIOUS? And I paid for supper, too!"

“Awwwwww, are you SERIOUS? And I paid for supper, too!”

 

Now, I’m not sure I believe in the fires of hell – at least, not in the way that hell is often portrayed. But that’s another blog post entirely. Either way, when left to my own devices, I don’t pray directly to Jesus any more than I would express profuse thanks a computer for allowing me to access the internet. The computer isn’t the internet, it’s just my doorway to it, and no man comes to the WTFaith blog but through it. (Disclaimer – I do not pray to the internet.) So it is with Jesus and God, in my mind – because of Jesus’ sacrifice, I can pray directly to God.  And that’s great – but that doesn’t mean my prayers need to be directed toward Jesus.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate what Jesus did for me. Really, it’s more to do with the difficulty in determining what I know about him. The problem is, the only place Jesus is ever talked about is in the Bible. I have some issues with the Bible, more-or-less because I have issues with people.  Everything humans touch, we tend to fuck up – and the Bible has been touched so much it has to point at a doll in a closed room meeting. I doubt its infallibility, because I recognize how easy it would have been for power hungry people, with access to the early books,  to change the Bible to suit their desires. People tell me that wouldn’t happen, because it’s the Bible and people worked very hard to preserve it. I find that to be a very sweet idealism, and I hope they never see the cynical, stop-at-nothing face of humanity that I have seen. Call me paranoid, but I just don’t trust us. Even if it started as the inspired (and therefore infallible) word of God himself, it has been used to justify and cause so much pain and harm that it no longer resembles its original self at all. I don’t know about God, but when I’m dealing with my kids, and they start using some toy I bought them to hurt their siblings, I take the damn toy away and revoke their privilege to use it.

And yet, despite all of the reasons I shouldn’t, I believe in Jesus. With my inability to believe the Bible as infallible, why do I believe in Christ? Why is it Christianity that drew me through the door? Why is it, despite all of my issues with being associated with the beliefs and actions of (what the majority of the world considers to be) Christians, here I am writing an off-color blog about practicing the Christian faith? I have an answer to this question, but it is kind of simple and unsatisfying. I believe in Christ because that seems to be the direction all the signs and portents I’ve experienced point to. More importantly, no matter how pissed off I seem to get at Christians, when I think about throwing Baby Jesus out with the bathwater, it feels . . . wrong.

I compare the feeling I get when thinking of no longer believing in Jesus, while still maintaining my faith in God, to looking at a car’s engine and trying to fix a problem. I know it’s an engine, but that’s about where my understanding of its mechanics stops. That engine is very complex,  and since I’m only kind of sure what I’m looking at, I should probably not mess with it. I should probably call in a professional.

Something tells me I can’t fix one of these with pithy  comments. . .

Something tells me I can’t fix one of these with pithy comments. . .

 

That’s kind of how I feel about maintaining a belief in Christ. The interpretations we have of who Jesus might have been or what he was trying to teach us differs a lot from person to person. I’ve heard people that depict him like a vegan, hippy sort. I’ve heard people depict him like a biker or hunter, kind of a grizzled sort. I picture him as a dude wearing a hoodie, hanging out and enjoying being with the people around him. We have such a brief glimpse into the life of this person, all of it only ever documented in one place. It stands to reason we would compartmentalize him to be someone we could relate to. Because of that, though, we tend to put our own interpretations on his character, his actions and his words. That makes it hard to really know who he was. Be that as it may, I recognize him as important even if I don’t fully understand all the mechanics and inner workings of that importance. Given my lack of understanding, I should probably leave that alone and get a professional if something breaks with it.

So, why, if I don’t believe the Bible as a literal and infallible word of God, and if I disagree with most modern day Christians, why do I continue to associate with them? The best answer I can give is that the things I’ve felt from God and his interactions in my life are, for me, beyond doubt. When I was lost and looking for a home, God led me to Hillside – he made his stance on Jesus pretty clear. And, most importantly, despite how uncomfortable some of the things surrounding believing in Christ make me, when I think about separating that from the experiences I have, it just feels wrong.

I’ve decided to trust my instincts and my intuitions on this topic, and thus far it hasn’t done me wrong. How about you guys? Has there ever been a core tenant of your faith that you found yourself struggling to believe? Did you find it hard to keep your faith around it, or did you determine you were just getting lost in the metaphoric weeds and got over it?


Introducing Big Geebus

I’m getting pretty goddamn tired of fear. Like, seriously tired of it. I’m tired of hearing rhetoric about any damn subject and hearing nothing but, “If this happens, destruction.”

“If gays get married, straight marriages will be made illegal, and the Homosexual Agenda will force everyone to perform same-sex acts!”

 “If Obama gets elected, the economy will collapse so profoundly that it will usher in a period of living terror, when the only currency accepted by our Muslim overlords will be the babies of white parents!”

 “If Romney gets elected, the one percent will turn the other ninety-nine percent into a caste of unpaid workers who are only allowed to rest on the day of their death, moments before they are turned into Soylent Green!”

 “If Rob Bell continues to say words, his demonic followers will be allowed, willy-nilly, to bludgeon old women to death with night sticks!”  

 

“Mwa ha ha ha haaaaa!”

 

I understand – we live in a scary world. Everyone needs stuff, and sometimes it’s hard to get stuff, and people might want to take our stuff, and some people eat different food than we do and wear funny clothes. It’s horrifying. I get it. But is it possible – even remotely – that maybe all of this freaking out is making it harder to do. . . well, anything productive about it?

The shootings in the movie theater in Colorado, or the Sikh temple in Wisconsin, have intensified debate about gun control. On every side of the debate, I see people reacting out of terror.

“If we don’t create stricter laws to control guns, we will never, ever, ever be safe leaving our homes!”

“If we create stricter laws to control guns, then law-abiding citizens will be surrounded by bad people who do have guns, and they’ll have no ways to protect themselves!”

I’m not saying there isn’t some room for reasonable debate about things like gun control – obviously both sides have some smart people among them, and this conversation should happen. But it won’t be a productive conversation unless people can speak logically, and civilly, and unburdened by the omnipresent terror and mistrust that, sadly, defines our current rhetoric, and has for the past several years.

The first casualty of the rhetoric of fear is common sense. Of course homosexual marriage is no threat to heterosexual marriage. Mitt Romney isn’t going to set this country on a collision course with oblivion, any more than Barack Obama is. And the gun control debate is too complicated to be conquered by a single triumphant sound bite. So why are we so damn terrified?

What makes me the saddest, when I think about how polluted the national conversation has become, is how much the Christian community has contributed to this pollution. Just the other day, I saw an article about Pat Robertson telling people not to adopt children, because they might have a history of sexual abuse or food deprivation that leads them to grow up “weird.” Seriously, he said this.  He then goes on to say that of course he loves orphans – his organization has ministered to thousands of orphans across the world – but that it’s not anyone’s responsibility to rescue them. “You really don’t have to take on other people’s problems.”

 

“Uh. . . what?”

 

Here’s a dude who has been in the “pray trade” for more years than I’ve been alive, and his response to the idea that some children have been through torture is “if you try to rescue them, they could be weird.” I don’t doubt that there is love somewhere in his wrinkled, old Grinch’s heart, but it’s been (at least in this case) overruled by fear.

The easiest explanation for the state of our current rhetoric, I think, is that it pays (other people) for us to be terrified. “Big Media” has turned the news into entertainment, and panic drives viewership, which jacks up ad revenue. And obviously the Dems and ‘pubs want to galvanize their bases, which is more easily done when the message is, “We are on the verge of the greatest disaster since the cancellation of  Firefly!”  

(In my head, everyone loves sci-fi.)

 

“Romney/Ryan 2012 – They’re your only hope.”

 

Of all the groups who are invested in fear to drive profits, the one that offends me the most is the one I call “Big Geebus.” The Christianity-for-profit industry bugs the shit out of me. Big Geebus wants you to fear, because fear brings you to church. Big Geebus wants you to doubt, because they sell books for that. Big Geebus wants you to see enemies in “the world”, because “the world” doesn’t go to church – which means they give no money to Big Geebus, and thus, they are not needed or wanted. The Christo-industrial complex loves the culture war, because – like the RNC or DNC – it galvanizes the base.

Paul wouldn’t approve of this message of fear. Paul was all about love, and faith, and hope. Paul didn’t hate “the world” – he dove right into it, mimicking the people of the cultures he was trying to save. Check out what he says in 1 Corinthians, chapter 9, verses 19-23.

19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”

 

“I should fear WHOM? I’m sorry, I can’t hear you over the sound of me kicking ass for the Lord.”

 

Those are clearly not the words of someone who lived in pants-shitting terror of the people who weren’t exactly like him.

Here’s a thought exercise for today – imagine the members of the early church, around the first century. These are people who could be put to death by both Jews and Romans. They had few powerful friends, they made no political policies, and there was nary a Christian publishing company to be found. Did they fear the world half as much as Big Geebus tells us to?