Friday, April 18, 2014

Lent: WWJD? part two

OK, so in the last post we established that I find Jesus to be a difficult role model. He wasn't a parent, he wasn't a spouse. He wasn't female. He was an itinerant rabbi. He voluntarily died for his beliefs. He's a pretty tough exemplar.

It's occurring to me that I'm perhaps I'm being a bit too literal here. Which is odd, because the people who are literalists about the Bible don't seem to have a problem with this. I'm definitely not a literalist when it comes to reading the Bible, but I find it difficult to use Jesus as my moral guide because I just fall so far short of his example--maybe I take him too literally?? I can't live the way he lived.

What am I missing here?

Of course there's grace and forgiveness and God loves me no matter how far I fall short, etc etc. I may not always be good at really truly believing that, but I get it intellectually. It's pretty much the cornerstone of Christianity. I don't think that's the problem.

The problem is something in the way I think about Jesus. When I compare myself to him, all I feel is guilt for how little I do, how selfish I am, how often I want to blow off what's right and just do what I want. I'm not inspired by Jesus. Thinking about him depresses me. (probably this also goes back to what I described in last year's Maundy Thursday post.) So I tend not to think about him.

If you're still reading, thank you. This is not my finest hour.

So. Enter Jim Palmer's third book, Being Jesus in Nashville. You may remember that I've briefly talked about reading his first two, Divine Nobodies and Wide Open Spaces. Honestly, I don't always agree with him, and I find myself arguing with him or rolling my eyes at him almost as often as I am touched and inspired. But I'm starting to realize that's my favorite kind of book.

As a former Evangelical pastor, he's wrestling with many of the same questions I am as a preacher's kid and former Evangelical. Our perspectives are different because Palmer came to Christianity in his late teens after a non-religious childhood and left it in his thirties (I'm not sure I have those ages exactly right, but that's the gist of his story), whereas I was raised as an Evangelical and started leaving it about the time I turned 20. I haven't regularly attended an Evangelical church since I was in my early 20s. So sometimes Palmer will spend an entire chapter going on and on about something that is obvious to me, and I'm sure my musings about my childhood faith would seem equally irrelevant to him. But more often than not, he has insights that are mind bending, or perspectives to share that really, deeply help.

OK, so back to WWJD. The premise of Palmer's third book is that he spent a year trying to recreate In His Steps (the original WWJD book) --hence the title, Being Jesus in Nashville. The first few chapters were of the duh, obvious! type, but by the time he is standing next to a dying dear friend's hospital bed and trying to figure out how he can (like Jesus) heal him, I was hooked. I've done that--not with a dying friend, but I've tried to heal someone. Shouldn't we be able to? Didn't Jesus do it all the time? And like Palmer, I was unsuccessful. How do we deal with this?

Palmer has a pretty simple solution. He says that Jesus was completely and utterly dedicated to living his life according to his gifts and his destiny (except Palmer words it better than that). Jesus was fully himself. So rather than trying to emulate Jesus's actions, we emulate Jesus by following our own path, as Jesus followed his. We can discover our own gifts, and use them to the fullest extent (hence the previous post about understanding our gifts). "I wanted to 'be Jesus,'" Palmer says, "but I noticed that all Jesus ever did was simply be himself. Jesus was never trying to emulate someone else....[he] was simply present to the world."

Palmer also points out that although we tend to think that being "like Jesus" means always putting others' needs first and never having any needs of our own, that's not how Jesus acted. His death was the ultimate act of self-sacrifice, but in his daily life, he didn't efface himself. If he needed time alone, he went off by himself. If He was angry, he said he was (or strode into the temple and started turning over tables). He surrounded himself with people who loved him. He defended the women who performed lavish acts of devotion to him (washing his feet, anointing him with oil, listening at his feet)--he didn't blow them off and say he didn't need anything from them.

So there you go. After two and a half posts worth of setup, it took two paragraphs to type that out, but I can't tell you what a game-changer that is for me. It has fundamentally changed something in my head. I'm still working out the implications (and also I'm still reading the book). There may be more to come on this topic, but that's it for now. Thank you, Jim Palmer.

Happy Easter, or Oester, or Happy Passover-- or whatever version of Spring holiday you celebrate.


  1. I just read your Maundy Thursday 2013 (PTSD). Missed it the first time around. Oh my goodness. It is a wonder you are still a Christian.
    The insight from Jim Palmer is wonderful.
    Interestingly, I've always had a soft spot for Jesus. Nobody told me it was my fault Jesus died in that awful Sunday School way.
    And unlike God, he's been here and put up with ridiculous relatives and fickle friends. And, I don't think his divinity allowed him to know that death was going to be worth it. I think he was afraid to the very end that it wasn't going to work, that he wouldn't be raised from the dead, that the death would not change people's lives and relationship with God. I think Jesus is God experiencing my limitations including self-doubt.
    The connection to the post on gifts is lovely. I do think Palmer has it right. Tim studied a theologian Irenaeus of Lyon who argued that Jesus was "fully human" and that our goal in following him is to be likewise "fully human" - if that includes good wife and mother, so be it.
    And, much of our understanding of what it is like to live up to Jesus example is marred by a kind of fairy-tale approach to his life. He was a radical, a smart-aleck, liked to live on the wild side, and occasionally "lost" his temper.
    What a savior!

    1. thank you for sharing that perspective. It helps me to see how other people see it, I am hopelessly mired in my own point of view most of the time (as are we all, I guess). I finished the book last night, and Palmer's final chapter is about giving up his dependence on Jesus in order to stand fully on his own two feet in becoming himself---hmmm, that doesn't describe it very well, I guess you'd have to read it. But it didn't resonate much with me because I've never connected very well with Jesus. He just seemed like a difficult teacher with impossibly high expectations of his followers. So I appreciate hearing how others see him (you and Palmer).

  2. As a Pagan, we view JC (and his Journey) a wee bit differently. But in the long run, basically your point is exactly our point. So it all works. Excellent series of posts, my friend.

    Happy Spring Holiday to you and yours.

    1. You, too! I am also behind on post reading but should be caught up by the end of the week.

    2. and p.s. I would love to hear more about how a Pagan views Jesus sometime when you have time. Like I said in my reply to cheery-o above, it really helps me to see this from another perspective.