Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Jesus Junkie

Sometime last year, my friend Joe called me a "Jesus freak." He wasn’t saying it in a teasing or mocking way, and he wasn’t being accusatory. He was saying it as a matter of fact. Since then, at least one other friend has called me a Jesus freak.
And I’m okay with it. No - more than that, I’m proud of being a Jesus freak. Just as I’m proud of being gay.
After all, just as I have rainbow laces in my Doc Martens and my Converse high-tops, I go around sporting a picture of Jesus sewn onto the bib of four of my overalls (including a pair of shortalls) as well as onto the front of a blue hoodie.
Who knew I’d end up being a Jesus freak? And who knew it would take my being involved in an universalistic silent Quaker meeting after falling away from the Catholic church? And, later, coming out as a gay man?
Who knew I’d be down with Jesus and wanting to show it off after being embarrassed as a child when I was repeatedly pointed out and told I was special because Jesus would save a poor, unfortunate, crippled boy like me?
Then again, I was always the religious one in my family. My brother and sister would roll their eyes when I wrote little poems and prayers to be read at Thanksgiving dinner. I was the only one who wanted to go to midnight mass on Christmas Eve, and I think I didn’t say anything about how I set a series of prayers to say during mass while we lived in Italy for a year when I was 10 and didn’t understand the language that well.
There’s another catch, though. The Jesus I’m down with isn’t the one most people are familiar with - the Jesus used by the loud Christian right to say that gays are bad, that women should be subservient to men, that war and torture are okay, etc. The Jesus I’m down with is the man who talked about turning the other cheek and loving your enemies and who ran around with 12 guys (I wish I had 12 guys who were always with me!) and hung out with fag-hag whores. Yes, I’m a follower of Jesus, and I love having him for all to see on my gay, crippled chest, but I can’t say I’m a Christian. (Following this entry is a piece I wrote a couple years ago - "Taking Back Jesus" - in which I explain this more.)
It helps that the patches sewn onto my bibs and hoodie also have the words "Another Hippie for Peace." I love this! I love it that this probably drives those Christian fundamentalists crazy - that Jesus was a hippie, let alone one for peace.
Besides, ever since I was a kid, long, long before I came out, I’ve had a crush on Jesus. I have a thing for guys with long hair and beards. And then there are those piercing eyes, that beatific smile...

Last Fall, a young man that I hired as an attendant would often show up to work wearing a blue hooded sweatshirt, on the front of which he had sewn a picture of a Hindu goddess. I was intrigued by this and told him I thought it was cool. He suggested that I have a picture of Jesus Christ sewn onto the bib of my overalls. "That’d be dope!" he enthused.
Jesus on my bibs! That would be cool, if not dope, I thought. Those who know me know that overalls are what I wear, that they are very much a part of my life. Jesus is also a big part of my life. Most likely because of my significant, in-your-face disability, I have long been attracted to his message of love for the different, the outsider, even the enemy. Why not have Jesus, who I admire - indeed, love - and try to honor in how I live my life, close to me, on my bib, and for all the world to see?
But then I got worried. If I went around sporting a picture on Jesus, people would get the wrong idea about me. Never mind that they would think I was out to convert, or "save," the world. People would think I am a right-wing fundamentalist nut.
People would see me with my picture of Jesus and think I was saying that women shouldn’t be able to get abortions, that gays and lesbians are bad, that it is not only acceptable but honorable to go to and also start war, that it is okay to torture people.
This is what many people think of when they think of Jesus - or at least of Christianity. The sad, shameful fact is that Jesus has been taken by conservative Christians, the Christian right, and used as their exclusive spokesman. This man who preached and demonstrated radical love and inclusiveness, who showed it to the world, has been hijacked and made to say that women and gays shouldn’t have equal rights, that war is good, that torture is fine.
Jesus has been made to say and condone things that he never said and condoned. How else can President Bush, who is against same-sex marriage and a woman’s right to have control over her own body and life and who sanctions war and torture (not to mention the death penalty), claim not only to be a Christian but also that Jesus is his most-admired philosopher?
It is bad enough that this gives Jesus and Christianity a bad name. Earlier this year, I saw Jesus Camp, a documentary about a summer camp for Christian fundamentalist kids, and I was struck by how the audience at the college screening was laughing. While much of what is said in the film is outrageous and funny, I came away very concerned that Jesus has become a laughing-stock.
Jesus has also been used in other hurtful ways. Since I was a young child, people have stopped me on the sidewalk to tell me that if I believe in Jesus, I will be healed. I have even been told that I will walk if I pray to Jesus! The message is less about Jesus and more of a judgement - that, in being disabled and in a wheelchair, I am sick or not a complete, whole person and in need of healing and not worthy (at least in their eyes, if not Jesus’) until I am healed.
I have no doubt that all of these people are quite sincere and well-intentioned, which makes what they do with Jesus all the more disturbing. (Indeed, the director of Jesus Camp said at the screening I attended that Christian fundamentalists have embraced the film.) Is it any wonder that, especially as a disabled and now gay man, I have become wary of Jesus or at least talk of him? I am sad to say that I am all but ashamed to say that I love Jesus. I notice this, for example, when I’m with my gay friends, and they get frightened and angry when I mention Jesus. This is a tragedy.
I wonder how many other people who would otherwise consider themselves Christians have been scared off or driven away from Jesus by the way he has been appropriated and represented in these ways. Could this be why some or many of us in Pacific Yearly Meeting feel more at home with our safe, warm universalism than with what at least I see as the old-time, Christo-centric Quakerism of George Fox?
It is time to take back Jesus. I want to embrace him as the man of peace and love that he truly was. Indeed, I want to wear him and show him off proudly on my gay, disabled body. I dare say that he, with his world-changing message of all-inclusive love, would like it.


  1. Good to see you here, John. And I'm glad to re-read your piece "Taking Back Jesus."

    You should know: I'm a contributing editor to the online Quaker social network, QuakerQuaker, meaning that I tag posts that are about our experience among Friends that may bring a new perspective to the online conversation. So consider yourself tagged (not that it's a bad thing; just that you might get some other Quaker bloggers and blog-readers dropping by...).

    Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

  2. Wow John,
    Your posts are a breath of fresh air! I was recently at Brian Drayton's workshop, "Speaking of Christ in Liberal Meetings." If I had had your blogs prior to the workshop, I most certainly would have passed them around because you strike the right tone, a happy tone; and that makes F/friends, of all stripes, less worried or fearful of the Christian path or those of us who try to walk it.

    Way to go!

  3. Thanks, Friend John.

    It hadn't occurred to me yet to wear Jesus on my shirt, but I share your joy in him.

    And your concern:

    "I wonder how many other people who would otherwise consider themselves Christians have been scared off or driven away from Jesus by the way he has been appropriated and represented in these ways."

    I'm exploring my own path back to Jesus on my blogs: more seriously on The Empty Path, and from a tragicomic Gay/Pagan/Christian/Quaker perspective on Walhydra's Porch.

    Thanks for your encouraging words.

    Blessed Be,

  4. Hm. This is a new image for me--not the hippie Jesus so much as (perhaps?) a queer Jesus, in the spirit of the Queer3 message of your blog itself.

    In a Christianity that is about anger, condemnation, and self-righteousness, I guess that Jesus would be queer, and maybe honored to be so.


  5. Coming from an Orthodox Jewish background, I always think of Jesus as a good Jewish boy who listened to his mother.
    Love reading your blog.