This was an abortive pitch to Geez magazine back in 2009. The topic, crudely paraphrased, was ‘what does Jesus mean to you?’
Painted only using what my mother used to tell me, my portrait of Jesus at age seven cast him as something of a magical religious hippy. His compassion was matched only by his affable propensity for forgiveness. My adolescent sensibilities were particularly titillated by his pacifist streak- a seemingly impossible characteristic in the playground state of nature. Needless to say, I eventually discovered that my personal interpretation of Jesus contrasted starkly with that of the church, which is coincidentally the only place where someone can hear dust.
While churchgoing and turtleneck sweaters ended up as casualties of my teenage years, my own personal hippy Jesus managed to survive. To me, he didn’t have any magical powers; he was just a stand-up guy. It’s like Jesus was moping around church all forlorn and downtrodden until I came along- someone who really understood him- and we both ditched the place together. The highly personalized nature of my interpretation is just one example of the symbolic drift that Jesus suffers from, embraced by anarchist college drop-outs and supporters of the establishment alike.
The reasons behind this drift become more apparent if Christianity’s serpentine course of evolution is taken into account. Even the most fervent of theologians must sometimes have a hard time keeping track of what’s what. One day the meek are getting ready to inherit the earth, then bam, they receive Calvin’s memo that states they’re all damned to hell. Similarly, just when everyone was getting used to turning the other cheek, they’re told that they can in fact kill, but only with the best Christian intentions.
The church’s history of dogmatic about-faces affords people space to carve out their own personal Jesus. My Jesus, for example, still loves the poor and shrugged off the spiritual advances of Saint Augustine, thus maintaining a semblance of pacifist street cred. Devoid of the institutional taint of the church, he hooks me up with the ‘411’ for my salvation-neutral quest to become a decent human being. Unfortunately, he is stuck in an eighties time-loop and can only materialize on a Pogo Ball wearing neon pink sunglasses.
Hippy Jesus is all about the virtuous path, particularly when following it is difficult. Have you ever actually tried to love thy enemies? It’s quite challenging, especially since your enemies are likely to interpret your benevolence as some new and mysterious avenue for getting back at them. Though exceedingly difficult, to love thy enemies is to overcome an easy and automatic gut reaction, and in doing so avoid a spiral of mutual animosity. It’s an ethically sound ideal to strive for. After all, the inverse would be the importance of hating thy enemy, a moral ethos more becoming of a philosophically-inclined chimp.
Beneath my own personal Jesus’ moral fortitude is the heart of a shit disturber. Maybe it’s just a level of confidence you would expect from he who believes himself the son of God, nevertheless my Jesus didn’t shirk from rabble rousing. As a youth, he strutted into the Temple to take on pillars of the community over doctrinal matters. Later in life, his sermons would come to contest the religious orthodoxy of the day.
While these may be exploits that are expected of one who would eventually precipitate a religious schism, what’s most impressive is the scope of his compassion. Outcasts and the societal fringe were not beyond redemption, in fact, Jesus seemed to gravitate towards them. It’s therefore hard to escape the irony of Jesus’ name always being invoked as a weapon against the vulnerable in society. At times like this, I can’t but picture my personal Jesus shaking his head in disapproval, mid-Pogo Ball jump, stupefied at how the other Jesii can be so off-target.
Hippy Jesus has so far weathered all attempts by the church and others to prove his fallacy. To me, he teaches the importance of doing the right thing and not casting off any group as beyond redemption. My Jesus is just one of many: Marxists have rebellious personal Jesii, and Feminists gravitate towards the Jesus that hung out with prostitutes and habitually honored his mother. There is, after all, enough Jesus to go around.
Of course, I could be wrong, and the only thing that will be waiting for me in heaven is a bitterly disappointed Jesus who can’t get over the fact that I didn’t even bomb one single abortion clinic.