I have been reading Brian D. McLaren's, a Generous Orthodoxy, and it has really been making me think a lot about my faith. At the end of each chapter, he asks numerous questions, and I have been learning a lot about the faith I actually believe.
Over the next couple of weeks, I will be sharing with you my answers to his questions. I invite and encourage you to read the book and share your answers too. We discern the voice of the Spirit in the witness of the faithful.
McLaren begins by talking about the Many Jesuses he has known in his life. I thought I should use his labels (and one of mine) and share my own story.
The Conservative Protestant Jesus
I grew up in a Baptist home. My grandfather and great grandfather were both Baptist ministers. I used to go up to talk about the Bible with my great grandmother all the time. I would read the story and we would talk about the text. In many ways, some of my happiest and most disturbing memories of religion come from this period of my life.
The happy memories are all with my family and Brother John. The disturbing ones are memories I don't like to dwell on for very long. I attended a Baptist school... the teachers prided themselves on scaring the children. They constantly threatened us with corporal punishment, and gruesome stories about the tortures of hell that awaited us if we did not behave exactly as we were told... The other more despicable things they did, I will not go into.
The Pentecostal/Charismatic Jesus
The next phase of my life started after we moved to Maryland and I saw Pat Robertson on the TV for the first time. I was young, and the God he talked about was God of Magic and Might. It was easy to how this cosmic Super Savior would appeal to a young kid. This Jesus is not only superheroic, but he will include you in his circle of super friends. It was like magic, and I wanted that magic so bad. There was only one problem: I am gay.
I have known this since I was about 7 or 8, but I never new what the word for it was until Pat Robertson defined the word and said that all people like that were going to hell... Imagine my horror. The Baptist school I used to go to had burned images of hell into my mind.
This initiated what was for me the worst period of self-loathing, an act I was assured made me pious. I often thought about killing myself. If God hated people like me, maybe God would reward me if I took myself out. It all seemed so natural.
One night, I decided to do it. I went into the kitchen to get a knife to do the deed, but luckily I met:
The Roman Catholic Jesus
Over the silverware drawer, I found a copy of a book my cousin gave me, The Secret of the Rosary, by St Louis de Montfort. The preface of the Black Rose promised that even the darkest sorcerer with one foot in hell could be saved if they said the Rosary faithfully. So instead of killing myself, I prayed the Rosary for the first time in my life.
It was amazing. I began to pray it everyday and read the other works by St Louis de Montfort. Soon I was asked to leave the small nondenominational church that I attended for wearing a crucifix. I started taking classes and walking to church every Sunday for Mass and Eucharistic Adoration.
I would often go up to the Shrine of St Elizabeth Anne Seton to pray.
The Charismatic Catholic Jesus
One summer, I went to live with my sister in Pennsylvania to watch my niece. While I was there I encountered the Charismatic Catholic movement. It was amazing. I will never forget the profound experiences I had that summer.
Imagine the ritualism of Catholicism and the exuberance of Pentecostalism mixed together into a single thing. This summer changed my life.
The Eastern Orthodox Jesus
By the end of the Summer I found the Philokalia and the Way of the Pilgrim. I began saying the Jesus Prayer in addition to the Rosary, and hunting down more books on the Eastern Orthodox faith.
What impressed me the most was with the way one book answered the question: if Adam and Eve had never tasted the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, would Jesus have still been crucified?
The answer was amazing to me. Yes, it is in the crucifixion that Christ was hung on the border of faith and doubt, hope and fear, life and death- at the very transit of every pair of opposites and points the way to God through it all. Wow! The Crucifixion as a love letter to humankind. How refreshing.
The Liberal Protestant Jesus
As was almost inevitable I began my own quest for the historical Jesus. I read everything I could get my hands on. The numerous gospels and works of the early church. I began studying the various expressions of the early church as it struggled to express their encounter with the Risen Christ.
I was amazed that doctrine was regional. Creeds varied so much from place to place as did the books that were considered Scripture. I began to see these expressions as a mosaic. The more disillusioned I became with the church, the more attracted I was to the God of Paul Tillich, Bishop Spong, and Marcus Borg.
The Jesus of the Oppressed
Then I discovered Matthew Fox. His writings about the Cosmic Christ and Creation Spiritually completely transformed me and my faith. In his call for a new reformation, I found my spiritual home. This Jesus speaks with the same voice as the one I meet in the gospels, and helps me to Live God into the world every day.
These are the Seven Jesuses I have known in my life. They are different from the ones McLaren met in his life, but the lessons that I took away are very similar. It left me looking for a relational Divinity who is truly present with me in my life.