Rejecting Jesus

Several years ago, I reached a point in my faith development where I had no choice but to reject Jesus. Now, based upon this first statement, many of you will stop reading now and that is totally fine. However, if you yourself experience moments where you question the validity of everything you have been taught about your faith and about Jesus, then I urge you to read along a little further. I do not promise answers. Honestly, my goal for this essay is to create more questions than answers because that is what is required for us to grow beyond our current understanding. Interestingly enough, the older I get, the more my life seems to be filled with more questions than answers and I am alright with that. I think a measuring stick for our spiritual and emotional maturity can be found in our ability to tolerate unanswered questions and this is the very thing that we are going to be exploring today to some degree, but I digress. For as long as I can remember I have been interested in religion and spirituality and for as long as I can remember, I have been uneasy with most versions of institutional religion. Many things that I have learned during my seminary training and in churches left me with more questions than comfort. The more of a student of psychology that I have become, the more I am able to see things others cannot. I can see the dark nature within people, but I can also see our amazing capacity for healing and wholeness that is built into us on the very cellular level. I see the things that motivate people and I see those motivations impact people’s faith choices and spiritual development. If I am honest, the only reason that I became a Christian in the first place was a fear that was given to me by some well-meaning person that if I didn’t accept Jesus that I was going to spend an eternity in Hell. I didn’t have any idea what “accepting Jesus” meant at that time anyway and I kept asking the question in my head as to why an eternal and all powerful God would require a blood sacrifice. I mean, other cultures promote blood sacrifices, but they were usually to appease an angry and wrathful God. That alone should have been enough for me to step back and start asking some questions. “Tell me again how this whole love idea jives with this eternity in hell thing?” Even the very concept of Hell discussed in the Jewish society of the day was no where near close to what is preached today. So many inconsistencies were present. However, yet again, I was encouraged to accept and not to ask questions. I noticed over and over that pastors, lay leaders, professors, and some of my professional colleagues did not appreciate me asking questions of the faith and instead preferred a type of well-intentioned, but relatively infantile approach to their faith. For years, I found myself asking questions and not getting much in terms of answers. After years of asking these questions and not having them answered, the answer sort of hit me like an epiphany. It wasn’t Jesus himself that I was rejecting, but rather is was this mainstreamed and polarized image of Jesus who in all reality serves as little more than a conscience salve and a “get out of Hell free” card for many who profess their faith. This nationalized Jesus has moved from the place of a God creating humankind in his own image to being relegated to little more than a screen for emotional projection as humankind begins to recreate God in their own image. Frankly, it does make some sense. After all, if you create the image of God formed, you have a sense of control and power no matter how misguided it may be. For some, this causes a the illusion of control that assists them in coping. That is until something bad actually happens in their lives. You see, the image of Jesus has shifted over the years and depending who you talk to and what culture that person is from, the image continues to shift. The culturally promoted image of Jesus that exists in fundamentalist Christianity is horribly flawed. When one does a google search for “images of Jesus,” one will find a nice collection of long haired, attractive, and largely Caucasian males in the respective pictures. This notion that Jesus was white is not true at all. In all likelihood, he had the same skin color as most middle easterners with a darker olive complected skin tone. Then there is this notion that Jesus is going to send “the gays” to Hell for their life choices. Ironically enough, in all of the Gospel, Jesus never once mentions homosexuality. That suggests to me that it was not a high priority for him. However, it is quite the hot topic for many churches. Another fascinating development with Christianity is this idea that Jesus apparently hates all of the same people you do. We saw this with the crusades hundreds of years ago and we see it in our present day with the resurgence of Islam and the feelings and projects that come from Christians about them. People understand Jesus from an all or nothing perspective. Slowly as Jesus has immigrated from his origins in the middle east to his current place in America, the image has shifted. Church folks lean on his righteousness all the while siphoning a bit of it off for themselves. Actual religious life looks markedly different from the teachings of a simple and humble man who looked into the shame filled eyes of a woman who was caught having an affair with a married man. He looked upon her with compassion seeing her ability to change. He sheltered her and showed her that she had value. He opened the door for her to forgive herself and in doing so, he took away the idea that she was somehow dirty or tainted. Oh, and by the way, where was the guy she was sleeping with? Somehow he managed to slink away undetected. Yet there was Jesus loving her just as she was. However, flash forward to our current political and social climate. The church loves judgement. They say out loud that they don’t, but that shadow lies awake inside like a hidden guilty pleasure. Our society currently does not have grace. When people do something wrong, there is little to no forgiveness. There is only judgement and writing that person off. We as people love any reason to elevate ourselves to some misguided “moral superiority” over those around us. Yet Jesus preached love. Oh, we absolutely give voice to this idea, but is it really being practiced consistently across the board? So, yes, this perversion of Jesus I reject. Not only do I reject it, but I vehemently abhor it and am profoundly offended by it. This current stale image is what keeps people from having a life changing spiritual encounter and lifelong growth. It is the reason why less people are going to church and membership is declining in record numbers. This false image of Jesus offers no substance or tangibility to their lives. In many ways today’s presentation of Jesus is akin to a kind of idolatry with words and an image that have lost their meaning and sense of purpose. Jesus is not and never was a tall, good-looking white man. He did not run around simply judging people and then writing them off to the depths of Hell. Jesus did not operate out of some ego driven quest for moral superiority. These things are the essence of the “anti-Christ.” So, while I refuse to accept that version of Jesus, I have now come to accept a different Jesus. The Jesus that I do accept is a kind, wise, dark skinned man who was not afraid to lay his bare hands upon the skin of the leper covered in lesions. He was no impressed by money or power and was not afraid of confronting social inequities. The Jesus that I accept is not interested in judgement, righteousness, and holiness as the church presents it today. The Jesus that I accept is not something that stems from outside of myself, but rather is within me and has always been within me. (It just took me some time to notice.) For those dying alone, the Jesus I accept is with them. For the one tortured and subjugated by substance abuse, my Jesus is there and loves that person even when they are too intoxicated to know it. The Jesus I know does not seek out opportunities to judge, but rather seeks out opportunities to extend grace. He sees no use for shame and is constantly working to free the captives from self-hatred, shame, and emotional pain. The Jesus I know has a sense of humor, not laughing at me, but laughing with me. He exists in the place within me that is able to reach out to others even when I hurt. The Jesus that I accept is more interested in my growth than my comfort and sometimes affords me with opportunities for growth in the shape of trials. However, he doesn’t ever leave me alone in those dark spaces. I see Jesus in the kindness that one person extends to another and the Jesus that I accept recognizes that everything that we experience is interconnected leading to an awareness and an ability to see ourselves in everything and everyone around us as well as seeing everything and everyone around us in ourselves. The Jesus that I know is not limited by language, name or title. He is unable to be labeled and simply must be experienced. He is the one who leads us to salvation, enlightenment, Nirvana, Valhalla, and the like. To be saved is not to simply receive some magical pass for avoiding Hell. It is to be accepted for all of your strengths and all of your shortcomings. It is the realization that you have and continue to be saved from yourself. The Jesus I know loves us where we are and accepts us unconditionally. Perhaps the folks pushing the idea that one needs to accept Jesus to be “saved” should consider that their approach could be wrong. The Jesus that I know, loved me even when I was unaware of it. The unconditional acceptance and love was simply waiting on me to discover. This Jesus that I have spent the last few lines attempting to describe and find myself experiencing daily is the Jesus that I accept and although I have tried hard to describe my experience, my words can never fully capture what it is to experience this relationship both within and outside of myself to something so much greater than myself. Coming full circle, I have finally realized that it wasn’t Jesus that I needed to reject, but rather it was the false Jesus that I had been taught for all of these years. I now see Jesus in a different light and he now has become something that I can embrace and accept wholeheartedly. He is not mine alone, but I am his. So, if you find yourself in a place where your faith feels lacking or your idea of Jesus is a little stale, then I would encourage you to ask the hard questions about your God and faith. While it is uncomfortable to ask some of these questions, eventually they will grow you and move you from an impotent version of your faith into a mature, capable, useful, and integrated version that is yours and holds great power in your life. It all starts with having the courage to challenge the status quo and to ask the hard questions. In time, you too may find that the real and authentic Jesus with his unconditional love and acceptance has been there all of the time simply waiting to be discovered.-

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