Why I Just Can’t With “Nebraska Jesus”

Not unlike a lot of people, I left my childhood faith when I went to college. I spent four years in high school devoted to Protestant Christianity – Presbyterian-style. I loved almost everything about my church, my youth group, my faith community. I felt connected and cared for by those groups.

Because of my church, I had great resources to turn to when I needed help- resources that were not my parents, which I was grateful for as a teenager. And I got to have fun and explore my inner world at an important phase of my life – I learned early to listen to my heart and connect with my soul.

But when I got to college, the god they had shown me –a god I accepted and deeply loved- was too small. This may sound funny because I come from a metropolitan city. (Or at least the suburbs of a metropolitan city.) You’d think I would be exposed to lots of things. But not really. And certainly not through my church.

My church (as I think most churches do) drew a very small circle around “Us” and “Things that Are Okay For Us.” As I learned when I got to college, a lot of life was outside that circle. The god inside that circle was pretty small, too. (Both by necessity and design, I think.) The god they offered could not describe or categorize all the things I saw when I went to college.

What I saw in the world included:

  • Couples of the same gender who looked just fine to me; not at all sinful.
  • Books like Lady Chatterly’s Lover and MAUS.
  • Ideas such as re-writing Bible stories from another characters perspective.
  • People having sex before marriage and remaining healthy (and maintaining healthy relationships).

Oh, the bogeymen of adolescent religious guidelines.

The god I was given in high school couldn’t hold these things in his creation. The boundaries of his creation was too small for what I saw, heard, and felt in my freshman year of college.

I needed a bigger god, but I didn’t know how to find or make one.
So I quit god.

 

Nebraska Jesus

I grew up with a Jesus that looked like this.

 

Traditional Jesus image from 1960s prayer cards.

 

Basically, he looked like my Dad and all the guys on the church softball team when I was six.
That creamy, smooth Caucasian skin.
The nicely trimmed moustache.
Willowy arms.
Light eyes.
The blondy-brown hair, cut long (‘cause that was the style in Judea, right?!?).

Basically, Jesus looked like someone from 1970s Nebraska. Or a member of ABBA. He obviously got his eyebrows waxed on a regular basis.

I remember feeling somewhat betrayed, but also calmed, when I saw a more historically and culturally accurate picture of what Jesus looked like.

 

face-of-jesus-01-0312-mdn

 

A man of Middle-Eastern descent.
Dark skin.
Dark hair.
Dark eyes.
A working, heavy, muscular body.

By the time I saw this image, I was old enough to realize that it was truer to the historical, actual human, Jesus than the Nebraska Jesus picture. I felt calmed because this was the Truth about the human Jesus. I also felt betrayed because the ‘real’ picture told me (again) that my religion didn’t really care about the truth.

They preferred to worship what was comfortable.
That which was recognizable.
That which was ‘like us.’

 

Truth and Religion (‘Cuz That Isn’t A Hot Mess To Get Into)

Now, I can’t really blame them- the designers of religion. We all do this. It’s so much easier to connect to things that are familiar and similar to what we already know. I get that. I sure as hell wish my path was familiar and easy and similar to something I already knew.

I guess what upsets me is, by using that picture, my childhood religion made god small. And instead of offering me a picture of Truth, they offered me a picture of Easy. And god is not easy. Nor small.

When I quit god it was – at least partly – because they hadn’t taught me that god was flexible and large. I had to learn that on my own. I don’t suppose the culture of any religion is really concerned with the largeness or flexibility of god. They just want the parts of god that work for them.

But that’s just not good enough for me anymore. Because it’s not the truth. Nebraska Jesus is nice (easy on the eyes, actually), but he’s not the truth. I prefer the difficulty of a Jesus who doesn’t look like me and a complex god, because I believe that is the Truth. And I am concerned with Truth.

If we don’t have Truth as a requirement or tool on our path, we have very little to work with.

 

Working with Truth and Its Difficulty

They mystical path is more difficult, but also more prized (IMHO), because we ask “what is the Truth?” we ask “Who am I?” and “What is God?” and “What is the Truth of Life?” And we don’t have any pat answers to trot out and make life easy.

These are tough questions. Complex, large, and frightening to many. What if the answers are different, bigger, or include more people, ideas, or technologies than we had imagined?

Ah, well, then we get a chance to glimpse the real God, don’t we?
God is bigger than all of it.

Even bigger than what I believe is Truth. (Which is painful to admit. I would also like My Way to be The Way.)

But that is the point, I believe.
To discover, over and over again, just how big, how utterly unknown God is to us.

I have no tidy way to tie these ideas together. Just to notice, and remind myself, God is complex. God is big. Vast. And there is no way around that. It is both frightening and comforting.

And it is the Truth (whether we like it or not).

 

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