Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Jesus Obsession

I taught French today and once again we degenerated into theology. I let the girls derail me because I'd actually rather talk about God than conjugate verbs and they know it. (I also rather enjoy conjugating verbs). Morgaine wants to know why her next door neighbor believed Morgaine would burn for all eternity if she didn't believe Jesus was divine. Sabrina says Jesus claimed to be God and rose from the dead. And that you have to accept Him to be saved. She says it cheerily and with great certainty. My daughter, Jane, (have I given her a name before now?) tries to change the subject by talking about vampires.

And I ask them, What is 'divine,' what is 'saved,' what is 'God?' What do we mean? I think that evangelical Christian culture is hoping to bring people to wholeness by asking them to accept Jesus into their brains: to assent intellectually to a set of propositions about him with no context and no particular reason to desire connection with him.

Morgaine says she thinks Jesus was a "really great guy, very wise, a good teacher." And I think of how many youth group talks I used to hear telling me how to debunk the 'wise teacher' argument. But for Morgaine, all this is irrelevent. She did not grow up being told Bible stories (except by me, whenever she came to my house), does not have any particular emotional connection with Jesus. To her he is an historical figure. Why on earth would she decide that 1)there is a hell 2) she's going there if she can't figure out the proper Christian understanding of Jesus? That's absurd.

We've got to back way up, I tell them. We have to think what we mean when we say "God" and "soul" and "heaven." We've got to back up even further than that, because this is about our lives now -- how we treat one another, how we go about being good.
And then I think, but it's possible to just fall in love with Jesus, the man, by reading stories about him -- to just hear the stories and think, "I want that." So maybe it doesn't start with questioning the meaning of the word divine. Maybe Jesus could just trump all of that if we told the story.

I want to just talk and talk and talk about this stuff. That's how obsessed I am. The girls know it; my kids know it. And I'm trying to figure out why I'm so restless tonight. I tried to talk about this at the dinner table, but the kids kept interrupting. And I need to let them talk. It can't just be Mom and her Jesus obsession again. Could they ever long for this as much as I do? I can't make it important to them. And I'm afraid I wear them out with it.

Am I saying this just because being obsessed with Jesus somehow makes me a good person? Will I read this back to myself and say, 'Ah, how holy you are, Tess!'
Yes. That's what I'll do. I'll think that anyone that obsessed with Jesus is a really good sort. She's got her priorities in order, I'll think. She's focused. Jesus is undoubtedly pleased, too.

But I'm thinking I want to go out on a limb someday. I want to get out of my comfort zone and make my life mean something -- not by becoming a famous author, but by dying to myself. I haven't the foggiest notion how to do that. I think that if I could figure it out, I might be able to accept a future as a "famous author." Maybe it wouldn't seem so frightening then.

This isn't quite what I mean. It has something to do with going out into the world in an inescapable way and risking being publicly flawed. No, it doesn't. It's not about flawed it's about failed. If I just tried to feed the hungry each day -- physically, spiritually, emotionally -- maybe I'd begin to know.

I think I need to approach every word I write, every verb I conjugate, every kid I listen to as an offering to Christ. No, really! I've got to do that not thinking it's something monumental and I'll be able to tell this fabulous story about it later so that I can be a saint in my own mind. I hoard my moments and my words. I do not love. Not really. Or if I do, I love only me -- the idea of me as a great, romantic heroine poet, penning her words to the dying masses.

But if they really are dying, just as I am dying, don't we all need those words?

I'm editing a manuscript this evening by a man who lost his wife to cancer. I'm allowing myself to love this woman I never met and I am grieving his loss and it is changing me. The author had never written a book before; he doesn't know how. But he did it anyway and I'm charged with the task of taking his words and bringing them to greater clarity. And we all get changed because someone decided to take a risk, to write down his pain for others to be healed and supported.

Does it matter if I tell my students about Jesus? Yes, it matters so much, but not because I think they'll be punished eternally if I don't. I'm not just wanting them all to believe properly. The idea of the creative force, the origin of the Universe, incarnating as a human being, teaching, healing and struggling with and defeating death is like a poem. It's also a hard story to incorporate with day to day life for most people. Why would Morgaine even care?

She's curious, and I don't say that in a gleeful, anticipatory way. Her mom is a dear friend of mine and has serious issues with Christianity. I think Morgaine would feel disloyal if she took too great an interest in the Bible. I don't want to undermine my friend's parenting, but maybe that's not the issue. The issue is that I still can't articulate my love for Jesus in a way that it makes sense to anybody else. Do they long for Him? I just don't know.

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