A few posts ago, I wrote about how, when I came back to Texas, I felt like I’d lost my church. The name was the same, but the belief system was quite different. I wrote a lot about why I was unhappy with the Episcopal/Anglican church in Texas because I felt like they were stealing my Jesus. I realized earlier that I didn’t write much about who my Jesus is, and I’d like to correct that.
My Jesus is not a shepherd who comforts me in my distress, although he does when I really need him to. My Jesus usually distresses me out of my comfort. I’ve had a lot of heartache in my life, but in the years since I’ve taken responsibility for my own faith, I’ve become increasingly aware that I am the product of a white family that is well-to-do, living in the richest country in the world. I don’t have money, but my family does, and I have never once gone without anything I’ve needed (unless I was too proud or embarrassed to ask for help). Rarely if ever have I gone without something I wanted. My Jesus doesn’t need to comfort me nearly as much as he needs to remind me that because of where I sit, it’s easy to lose sight of the rest of the world. If that doesn’t sound like a big deal, remember that cultural ignorance causes hunger, oppression, injustice, and inequality. My Jesus needs me to know that there is no such thing as “power over.” There is only power within.
Jesus reminds me that there are thousands of Iraqi civilians that have been killed in response to the approximately 5,000 we lost in New York, Washington DC, and Philadelphia. Jesus reminds me that there are poor and homeless people as close to me as one block and as far away as across the world. Jesus reminds me that the Iraqis aren’t the only people who have ever lived under a horrendous, evil dictator and that my country never did anything to help them. Jesus reminds me that when there’s a march for peace, I need to be there. Jesus reminds me to sing while I’m walking.
The conservative Christians in my city have claimed Jesus as a blue-eyed, effeminate white man that strangely enough always has shadows that fall across his face in the shape of communion and of the death instrument used to kill him. They claim him as a shepherd who feeds his flock and provides for their every need, even when they already have storage units to hold their excess of material things. But let me tell you something about my Jesus: SHEPHERDS GENERALLY AREN’T MURDERED BY THE STATE.
My Jesus was killed by a group of people who didn’t like what he had to say about the Roman government- which was that they couldn’t treat people as if they were property. My Jesus knows that we are all equal in the eyes of God, and he pretty much thinks that the people who call him the King of Kings are MISSING THE POINT ENTIRELY.
Jesus and I have a good relationship, but like most of the relationships in my life, it isn’t always easy. I struggle with Jesus, because sometimes I have to admit that I don’t believe everything that happened to him. I don’t need the miracles, and I don’t really care whether they’re real or not. Ditto with the way he was born and the way he rose from the dead. I need his message. I want to be like Jesus. I want to shake people up and move them from complacency- not as a call to arms, but a call to compassion. It is so easy in my circle of well-to-do friends for us to go years without truly seeing the homeless, the sick, the friendless, and the needy. It is when my Jesus asks me to open my eyes that I am truly blessed by and filled with the holy spirit. It is in those moments that I truly believe my Jesus did perform miracles, because he is performing them with me.
But since I can’t always believe in the miracles, I believe in the ritual. In Harville Hendrix’s book Getting the Love You Want, he described a couple that came into his office. When they arrived, they sat down on either end of the couch. They took turns telling their story to him, but they never looked at each other. It was as if they were afraid to be vulnerable with each other and had to steel themselves to interact. Yet they both expressed an interest to find love for each other that they’d once had, but weren’t sure was still there.
When Hendrix prescribed their homework for the week, he told them that they shouldn’t try so hard to make themselves feel anything, but that they should go through the motions of caring for each other. For instance, when they prepared to go out, the husband should take his wife’s coat out of the closet and hold it for her as she slips into it. He should open the car door for her to get in. In response, she might pack a lunch for him the next day with a special note inside just to show that she was thinking about him.
When the couple came back the next week, they were shocked and amazed at how much of a difference those little gestures had made in their relationship, because each loving kindness expressed made their emotions grow towards each other.
The same thing happens in my relationship with Jesus. I don’t always believe that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was conceived. I don’t always believe that he turned water into wine. I rarely believe that Jesus died for my sins, and most of the time I seriously doubt whether he rose from the dead three days after he was killed.
But what I am fully capable of is going into the cathedral, faithfully and intentionally. I can kneel and I can recite the words that bring comfort to me and millions of others. When I take communion, it is in remembrance of the man that created my system of religious and political belief- responding to the needs of others and treating them as my equal is not only my answer to being Christ in the world, it shapes the way I want my leaders to act.
When I left the United Church of Christ to return to the Episcopal church, I heard an endless array of stories that all had the same last line: you won’t like it because it’s so strictly ritualized. In fact, it is exactly the opposite. I may not be able to believe everything that the church wants me to believe on any given day, but I can always do the ritual. When I do the ritual, I make the commitment to be present. When I make the commitment to be present physically, oftentimes my mindset changes so that I am fully present spiritually. The ritual forces me into opening up and reaching out.
More than once have I begun an Agnus Dei or a Kyrie Eleison and ended it with tears streaming down my cheeks. That’s my miracle. When I forget to reach out to my Jesus, he quietly (and sometimes not so quietly) reaches out to me.