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Greg Garrett

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This, That, and the Other Jesus

Posted: 03/28/11 07:22 PM ET

I can't speak for all writers, but I can say I tend to be thin-skinned. Although I strive for healthier practice, I still often hear the one critical voice standing in an approving crowd. And when you write things that lovingly but honestly ask hard questions about religious beliefs and practices, there may, in fact, be more than one critical voice out there. Just ask Brian McLaren, or, of late, Rob Bell.

When you reject one idea of Jesus to suggest another one that seems more authentic to you, some people take it personally.

Of the criticisms I've been getting about my book The Other Jesus (and I'm not wading through anything like the abuse that Mr. Bell and Mr. McLaren face), the one I take most seriously is the accusation that I've just rejected an angry Jesus built by frightened people, and replaced him with a peace-y, justice-y Jesus of my own creation. I know we are prone to such things; Albert Schweitzer opined that we tend to find the Jesus we are looking for.

It's probably still true. Although I've been hard pressed to find anything in scripture or the Christian tradition that suggests lower taxes are an absolute value, I know a lot of Christians who think Jesus would support them religiously, since they do. And although I wasn't a very Christian-y person for most of my adult life, if anyone had asked me during those years who Jesus was, I'd have told them that he was probably equal parts Oscar Romero, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Dorothy Day, because I aspired (and aspire) to be a peace-y, justice-y person, even if I was a largely secular one.

That innate tendency toward finding what we're already looking for is why now, since returning to a faith that saved my life, I try to listen, not just talk.

It's why I try to be aware of my own filters and desires and read scripture and tradition as honestly as I can to see what new things God has to teach me.

One of the things I found soul-killing about the tradition I was raised in was the insistence that Christian faith was about unswerving belief that could not accommodate questions or disagreement.

And one of the things I have found life-giving is the idea that God is always doing a new thing, and that, as the Reformed tradition would have it, the Church is always reforming to try to get on board with that new thing God is doing.

I'm pretty confident that now, in my own life, The Other Jesus is the Jesus I am supposed to be following instead of the Angry Damnation Jesus. There may, in fact, be another Other Jesus out there -- I don't claim to have answers so much as questions -- but seeking the identity of Jesus through the Bible and in the tradition, I find that these days Jesus looks surprisingly like -- well, Oscar Romero, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Dorothy Day.

Like them, Jesus loved so much he was willing to live and die for the poor, the broken-hearted, the castaway, and all the rest of us schmucks.

Like them, Jesus was a spiritual leader whose beliefs led him to feed, comfort, heal, and speak out for justice.

Like them, Jesus was a person who rejected the earthly values of wealth, power, and possession for the heavenly values of compassion, prayer, and hope.

I want to be like this Other Jesus, but not because he looks anything like what I see looking out of the mirror.

I want to be like him because I see him peering out of the Bible and the Christian tradition.

And that is the way it ought to be.