We Believe In Jesus
MULTI COLORED AFROS
It seems like believing in Jesus is a pretty straight forward thing. I remember watching the Super Bowl as a kid and seeing a guy with a multi-colored afro wig. He had a sign that said, “Jesus Saves.” and, “John 3:16.” I remember feeling thrilled that there was a reference to Jesus on TV at the Super Bowl. A few years ago, I saw a different man with a sign that said ruffly the same thing, though he was standing outside Festival Park in Milwaukee. He was there with others who held signs that said, “God hates Fags.” and, “Homosexuality is a sin.” I was much less than thrilled to see them protesting outside of a Pridefest celebration.
SANTA CLAUS JESUS
I have learned that believing in Jesus means different things to different people. Jesus has also meant different things to me over the course of my life. The longer I have been a follower of Jesus, my understanding of what that means has changed. When I was a kid, Jesus was kind of like Santa Claus. I would pray to Him and He would bless me with stuff. At least if I was a good boy. I believed he could see me when I was sleeping and He knew when I was awake. He knew if I’d been bad or good… You get the picture.
In my teen years, I learned in confirmation class that Jesus was the way to eternal life in heaven. If you believed in Jesus, when you died you would go to heaven. This meant that you needed to ask God’s forgiveness every night just in case you died in your sleep. I also learned that Jesus was going to return and take all those faithful followers to heaven and leave the nonbelievers here to suffer, as the world would went up in flames. This was pretty scary if you thought too much about it. I even had a t-shirt that said, “Jesus is coming… look busy.”
Later in college I started to rethink many of my beliefs. I no longer believed that Jesus was coming back. I don’t really know why, other than Christians had been expecting it for 2000 years and it hadn’t happened. It also seemed a bit heavy handed. I did get caught up for many years in believing that the purpose of Jesus coming to earth was to die for my sins. Each Good Friday I would sing, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” The answer for me then was, “I may not have been there, but it was my sins that put Jesus on the Cross.” In part, my guilt and shame, drove me to become a youth minister and later go to Seminary. I wanted to make up for the grief all my sin had caused, and tell others about how their sins had crucified Jesus.”
In my thirties I started to see things differently. I went through a painful time following the shattering of my dreams through divorce. I started to understand the Jesus of the Gospels differently. Not as my judge but as my friend and kind teacher. I read about Jesus treating people who had been on the margins of society, with dignity and love. I started reading books by, Rob Bell, Brian MacLaren and Marcus Borg among others. I realized that much of my understanding of Jesus came from a place of white, middle-class privilege. I also started to rethink some of my convictions about Jesus. I discovered that the Jesus of the Gospels was much less interested in Heaven, and much more interested in creating a new way of being here on earth. He called it the, “Kingdom of Heaven” or the, “Kingdom of God.”
Then in my 40’s I moved into a neighborhood characterized by poverty, drug abuse and gun violence. I realized that young boys were going from elementary school, to gangs, to Juvenile Hall, to prison, at an alarming rate. This was a far cry from the, “Kingdom of God.” One of the lessons I learned from this is, that violence is not Jesus’s way. Violence only begets more violence. Over and over again I saw how young men in my neighborhood were dying, trying to use violence as a solution. It is damaging for the shooter as well as the one shot. It made me reevaluate my understanding of a loving God. I could no longer believe that God was not more creative than that. Would God really send all those who didn’t believe in Jesus to suffer unending torture in Hell? Why would God create people who didn’t have a chance. I saw neighbors for one reason or another beyond their control, who had almost zero chance of coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus. It seemed like such a waste. For what purpose? So we would feel compelled to spread the word about a loving God?
I started to question all that I had come to believe. The Holy Spirit helped me to find resources and people who helped mentor me along the way. I came to realize that Jesus wasn’t killed by God to avenge my sins, but because Jesus stood up to the religious and political leaders of his day. He showed us that it is vulnerability, not domination that is true strength. He was willing to die to get his message out. The message was love. This is why I believe in Jesus.
So it has been a process for me. I try not to judge people too hard if they are at a different place than I am. People need to be loved and given space to figure it out. I sincerely hope that some years from now I look back and say, “wow, I really believed that.” This is what it means to follow Jesus. We need to keep our eyes and hearts open. We need to have enough humility to learn new ways of being Christian. We also need to respect people who have traveled a different journey and ended up at a different place. It is good to challenge, but it is even better to love.