Somewhere—in between thinking Jesus was my ‘bro’ and imagining God not being able to crawl out of bed for cynicism that the world wasn’t changing—I wondered if I’d lost the Plot.
Let me confess something that’s probably not groundbreaking: I’m in the habit of domesticating Jesus. I know plenty of evangelical books swarm around this topic of following a real, living Jesus, but I’m serious. If I’m not careful, when I read the gospels, Jesus is just like me. He’s got the same agenda as me. He pushes for the same theological nuances that I do. He approves of what I approve and he calls injustice what I call injustice.
And then I wonder about our postmodern age: you know, how we’ve lost this sense of a universal story that freights our life with meaning. We’ve become so cynical about spirituality as potentially public truth and story with a capital ‘S’ that we’ve thrown them into the ghettoes of individual conscience.
I’m a Bible and theology major, so I’ve had my face shoved into the annals of church history. You don’t have to sell me on why us Westerners are cynical about spirituality and universal stories. I know that Jesus has become reduced to Mickey Goldmill cheering on the Rocky Balboas of church, politics, and oppressive movements.
I know that the Crusaders had Christian language rolling around their brains while they traversed forward to all kinds of evil. I know that white American men held Bibles in their hands while they supported human cruelty and paved the way for systemic injustices we’re still left trying to untangle. I know Hitler exploited German people into believing they were God’s chosen nation and that his propaganda was funded by religious garb. I know much of the German church tipped over completely to that story.
The more I’ve been confronted by these realities, the more insecure I become about getting it right now. I mean, what am I supposed to do with homosexuality? Or what am I supposed to do with political involvement? Or what the heck am I supposed to do with all the books written in the name of Jesus that talk about heaven as an escape from a world I love and hell as a place ruled by a God who delights in punishing people who don’t accept God’s invitation to life?
I honestly don’t know where to draw the lines or when to tag Jesus as the author of any movement in me or around me. But I wonder if that’s OK because to uncover the Story—or to encounter a real, living, non-plastic Jesus—means to experience something I hadn’t known before. Put in short: God isn’t like me, and God isn’t completely like you either. He doesn’t cozy up completely to any culture and he doesn’t completely reject any culture.
So at least part of knowing we’ve begun to live into Jesus’ brand of life includes Jesus challenging us to believe and work against inclinations within our communities and ourselves. Because Jesus is alive and all cultures both reflect and distort Jesus, Jesus doesn’t tip over completely to any one culture but has both appreciation and correction for each.
So the problem with the Christian flavor of oppression, I propose, is that we’ve lost sight that to encounter God is to encounter a God that both celebrates certain things in us and our communities while refusing to cozy up to other parts of them.
If we do nothing but criticize people and cultures different from us, we don’t have Jesus’ vision for full and diverse human life. Conversely, if the brand of life we think Jesus invites us into doesn’t require time, repentance, and grace to embody it, we’re probably living with a handcrafted, plastic Jesus.