Feeble Knees

Friday, November 26, 2004

Why I don't want a Hollywood Jesus

Maybe it's because I identify more with the all the women in the bible who were up to no good when Jesus came into their lives. We didn't need a small dose of cleaning up or a week in finishing school. We needed super-sized Salvation. So I gotta give a tip of my cap to someone who is brave or crazy enough to write and publish the things that every one thinks but never wants to admit they do.

I can't stop thinking about a comment thread I read some time ago. A magazine conducted an interview with Anne Lamott, a rather controversial writer who, because of her views and lifestyle, many Christians would rather not accept as a Christian. What grates on me the most is the magazine chose to excerpt one of my favorite passages from Traveling Mercies, the one in which she first senses the presence of Jesus at a critical moment in her life. She describes the sensation of knowing He wanted to be let into her life, and likened it to a cat that you let in the house in a moment of weakness who ends up staying there for good. When I read this the first time, I immediately identified with what she was describing - the gentle persistence of Jesus' shepherding Spirit coaxing a frightened and hurting person into His arms.

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised by this anymore, but I couldn't believe the comments of people who derided this excerpt and doubted the validity of her experience. The fact that people got all bent out of shape about the cat metaphor she used is ridiculous. They obviously didn't get it. Why? How could you miss the beautiful sensitivity with which Jesus stole into her life? And don't even get me started on people denying the authenticity of someone else's walk and conversion experience. It happens so often, I'm sure I'll have ample opportunity to rant about that in another post.

Truth is, we want a Hollywood God. Christians long for the God of the Ten Commandments: an ocean splitting, fire-on-the-mountain, look-upon-me-and-die God. We pray for God to intervene dramatically in people's lives. We figure if He would just do something outrageously over-the-top, like giving us gold teeth or something, then our husband/wife/mother/friend/co-worker/bill collector would be saved and then treat us much better. Not only do we want Hollywood God, but we want foolproof conversions with instant sanctification. We want the neighborhood drunk to become abstinent in a flash, to prove the power of God to everyone far and wide.

When God chose to split history down the middle, He chose to do so in the form of a meek and mild little baby. Think about how gentle this was of Him! If it wasn't for the hosts of angels singing on high because they could hardly contain themselves, there'd be absolutely nothing at all remarkable about the day of Jesus' birth. If you or I set down to write a script about how the Savior of Mankind would come to visit His people, don't you think we would have come up with something a bit flashier? A bit more Wow? We certainly wouldn't spend the three quarters of our feature film script detailing his nondescript babyhood and early childhood, or His mundane work in a woodshop. The vehicle of choice for His triumphant entry into Jerusalem would not be a donkey. No, we'd want Him in cruising down Rodeo Drive in a Hummer, or even better, He'd just levitate over the Temple using the same special effects employed in The Matrix.

Had Jesus appeared in a flash before the woman at the well, complete with blazing eyes and a fearsome voice, I sincerely doubt she would have hung around to chat much. He came into her life gently, knowing exactly how to approach her and address the predicament of her life. We don't judge that today, do we? Ah, but when we look at the uncomfortableness of his disciples in that situation, we get the sense that they weren't much approving of Jesus' interaction with a woman of questionable character. Ditto the scene where Mary Magdalen washed Jesus' feet with her hair. How many people today would have flapped their gums about that? But because it's in the Bible, we gloss over it and don't give much thought of how shocking that scene must have been to those who were there at the time.

It was not a paragon of virtue that knelt in her living room one night by a window (why I had to be at the window I'm not sure - I guess it made it seem less like I was talking to the thin air). It was not a prim and proper prayer that blubbered out of my mouth, soaked with anguished tears and shame. There was no choir, no signs or wonders following what was said that night. But there was this stealthy Presence, absolutely calm and stilling, that quieted my crying and let me know that all my many and scattered apologies were heard and accepted. It was the same Presence who attended me, after I'd fallen again, and waited in a corner of my heart and mind to pick up the pieces and dust me off once more.

Anyway, regardless of how she lives, the stories she tells, or the person she voted for, I'm with Anne on this one. Think whatever you want to think about her, her books, her politics, or how she chooses to live her life. But in my opinion, she confesses an authentic, genuine encounter with Christ, one with which many of us "unsanctified" folks could probably identify.

Still don't believe it? Well, take it to Jesus honey and let Him straighten it out! ;-)

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