The kind of Jesus I find myself believing in (or wanting to believe in) might shock you...
There's a running joke among my seminary friends. Some people, especially those on the mor conservative end of the spectrum, often believe that seminary—at least the kind I attend—will "take your Jesus away." In my case, as hard as it is to admit, they may be right. No more do I believe that it was Jesus' sole purpose to come to Earth and die a brutal death at the hands of humankind just because God the Creator is a bloodthirsty, tyrannical warmonger. No longer do I think that we are wretches in the eyes of the Almighty. And no longer do I believe that the Bible is inerrant, infallible, or remotely comprehensive when it comes to helping us who God is and how God works in the world.
Still with me? Are you sure? Okay. Good.
Early in my seminary education, I read a book by Robert Goss, a former Jesuit, called Queering Christ. In there he talked about coming to terms with his identity as a gay man, trying to find his place in the world of the faithful, losing his sacred orders because he didn't feel called to celibacy, and then losing his partner during the prime years of the AIDS epidemic. He shared how, Sunday mornings, the two of them would make love and then break bread, merging sex and sacrament into one ecstatic practice. At times, I could tell he was being sincere. And at others, I felt he was pushing his readers' limits simply because he could. I didn't always know what to make of him, at least until recently.
Last week, a seminary friend and I were talking about where each of us is in our own spiritual journeys. I shared with him something I'm about to share with you...
I no longer feel like the title of Christian fits me.
Christian. It's a powerful word these days, and it carries with it too many connotations. It's all so... messy. When someone else tells me they're a Christian, I often want to ask, "What kind?" And I have before, and they look confused, as if there's only one kind: the right kind. The kind that believes in both Heaven and Hell. That the Bible is the "Word of God," perfect just as it is (at least in certain translations). The kind that believes that all three Persons of the Trinity are ontologically and anatomically male, never to be made feminine. The kind who puts more emphasis on the death and resurrection of Jesus than on his life and ministry. Who thinks that one's eternal resting place is more important that one's quality of life here on Earth. I could go on, but I think you get the point.
Don't get me wrong. I know people who believe all these things who are amazing people. They love others around them. They do good. They care. They try to make a difference. Simultaneously, I know people for whom these beliefs are true who are complete and utter assholes. If you were to put them in the same room as Jesus, I can't help but picture him asking, "What in my name do you think you're doing? Seriously?!?! Where did you come up with this? What made you think what's what I would do?!?!"
And then there's me. I feel as if I've become the resident cynic and devil's advocate in my courses. And it's been hard. Isolating. Depressing to feel as if there's some gaping hole inside me that sees no hope of being filled. I know what some of my conservative evangelical friends might have to say to that, and if you're reading this, don't. Just don't. Please.
Want to know the kind of Jesus I believe in? I'll tell you this much. You won't find him in the Bible.
My Jesus didn't come to die. He came to live. He came to love the people around him, even those who might annoy him or demand too much of his time or energy. He knew when to say no, not now, or maybe later. He came into this world not knowing who he was, and when he asked Peter, "Who do you say that I am," he wasn't testing his friend. He was asking for an answer to life's biggest question: Who am I? After all, isn't it our friends who know us best, who help us figure out who we are and why we're here?!
My Jesus isn't strictly macho, and he isn't completely straight
While I might not put a lot of stock in Scripture these days, I still believe the author of Hebrews when they tell me that we have a high priest who can empathize with us in all things. My Jesus understands what it's like to be attracted to the same sex. To have desires. Yearnings. To not want to be alone. To want someone to know him and to be known by him. He's the kind of man who would lay next to me on the bed, my head on his chest, running his fingertips over my shaved head. With every touch, breath, and heartbeat, he would know me and I would know him. He's every bit as insecure as I am, and because of that, he knows what I really want, need, and desire. My Jesus understands just how messy and complicated sex is for me, and he calls me out on the times I misuse it to make up for feeling inadequate or insecure.
My Jesus isn't all there. Sanity, in his perspective, is overrated
He knows depression. Anxiety. Thoughts of suicide and self-injury. He knows them because I know them. Because others know them. And in order to know us and love us in our wholeness, he makes himself vulnerable to such burdens and demons. He knows what it's like to feel worthless and have to fight to breathe at times. He knows the itching in your wrist when the thoughts come. He knows the uncontrollable crying spells. He knows the isolation of mental illness. What it's like to think about—fantasize about—dying at your own hands. Not because he wasn't loved, but because sometimes love isn't enough. Love doesn't fix everything, but that doesn't mean we give up on it. It's for this very reason that we love harder, deeper, stronger. This is the kind of love Jesus has for me. For all of us. The kind of love that gets you through a crash, through a rough patch, through a hard spell.
My Jesus wants the best for me right here and right now
I'm not talking prosperity gospel here. I'm not talking about wealth, riches, or anything of that nature. I'm talking about life. Abundance. The capacity to live and experience love, joy, intimacy, friendship, desire. To have everything one needs (notice I didn't say wants). To be a part of community. To be loved, affirmed, and welcomed for the entirety of who one is. To have people around who make you better, and who will stick by your side when you aren't at your best.
My Jesus doesn't hang out with the cool kids, with the best dressed. He hangs out in the slums, on the corners with the tranny prostitutes and the meth addicts. He spends time in the psych wards and the VA hospitals. He loves all people, and it's not an easy love. It's a love that takes something out of him, that leaves him feeling drained and depleted at times. He spends time with those who don't know how to receive love much less love themselves. The whores. The junkies. The thieves. The criminals. The poor.
I don't always see institutional Christianity as the representative of this Jesus. Maybe he's too messy for them. Maybe he's too chaotic and uncontrollable, and so they'd rather box him in, making him out to be something he's not while forgetting parts of who he really is. And he understands. He gets it. And he still loves them. Meanwhile, he steps outside the church walls to spend time with people like me who feel too broken and beaten up to step foot back inside those walls.