Jan 15, 2006

WDJG: Where Did Jesus Go?

My mom has this biography of the President entitled: The Faith of George Bush. The cover jacket features a photo of Dubya, his eyes cast down in a pious, contemplative moment. I'm guessing the book was published during his reelection campaign. I'm also guessing his faith is real. I mean, who am I to judge? But I'm also baffled how a man who's running his government like the Billionaire Bullies Club, believes in the same Jesus I believe in; the same Jesus whom Bono and Mother Theresa and Jimmy Carter believe in. I just thought Jesus was for the poor and the defenseless, not Halliburton.

I was surfing cable TV and stopped at TBN, the religious channel that inherited Liberace's interior decorator and Barnum and Bailey's makeup artist. A garish stained glass window overpowers the back wall. Everything else on the set is shiny. Host Paul Crouch sits in an overstuffed comfy chair, too-tight double knit slacks, legs splayed open. His gut busts under the polyester, and below that I'm forced to notice he didn't commit to one side. Mortified, I look at the only other thing on camera: his wife Jan. She looks like a watercolor of Tammy Faye left out in the rain. I don't know what Jesus' personal style was, but I doubt he went in for big makeup.

I surfed a bit further and found a Sunday service: the newest celebrity-pastor Joel Osteen in his shiny hair, giving his coliseum-sized congregation various tips on wealth and success. I imagine his biggest problem must be finding two parking spaces together so he can park his Lexus SUV. I doubt his show plays well in, say, the Sudan or Guatemala.

I used to call myself an "evangelical" Christian, back when the word "evangelical" meant you'd come to your faith with a clear and sober mind, as opposed to jumping on the feel-good 1980s bandwagon of Ronald Regan and Debbie Boone. Today, the worst a Born-Again could do to you would be sing “Kumbaya." But Evangelicals are joyless bullies. They’re angry and pushy and they want the rest of the world to obey their laws. Look, I believe faith has a place in the public forum. Everything does. But I never remember Jesus trying to change Roman law. Evangelicals co-opted Fundamentalism, only none of the FUN and all of the MENTAL. Now when people ask me what I am, I just say, I'm Lutheran. It sounds jaunty and nonthreatening, like a tuna hot dish in a Garrison Keillor monologue.

I find more authentic spiritual searching in my writers group and my yoga class. Don't worry, I don't chant "om" or call down Shiva, Goddess of Destruction. Their greeting is "namaste," which means, "I see the light in you" or "the god in me salutes the god in you." I just say, "the god in me can crush the god in you." No seriously, I just say, God bless you. But the point is, why is I find more real quest there than at church? Am I at the wrong place? Is my heart cold and hard?

So why don't I walk away? Why can't I just accept the fact that, even if I love Jesus, I’ll never get along with his friends, and leave it at that? Because for one, we're out there. We're not pro-gun racists. We just want to know Jesus. Or God. Or maybe we've just gotten as far as knowing we want to find the Source of love and beauty and redemption.

I also can't walk away because I remember too much. I remember being 8 years old, watching my brother fly a kite in the March sky. The clouds were so high you could see them hug the curvature of the earth. Suddenly God felt so big, and so close. Then I felt his Presence falling on me like a blanket. Like the way your arm gets its feeling back when it's gone to sleep on you. I knew I was not alone. I knew I was loved and loved by a Person. Ever since then, I've being running toward or away from that knowing.

A year ago I woke up from a dreamless sleep: I had heard something deafening, like all the notes of the audio spectrum had been swept up into one whispered word: My name. I heard my name. It was terrifying. And it was over too soon.

That's why I can't let go. I want to free Jesus in my mind from all the tasteless, loveless culture that's attached itself to Him like a parasite. I want to get back to that moment of knowing Him in the March sky. I want to hear all the sound of the world whisper my name.

And I'm not the only one.