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My Childhood Jesuses

“If Jesus was Jewish, did He believe in Himself?” (Josh Goetz – 6) It all started with “Get-Out-of-Hell Free” Jesus, the earliest one I can remember. This Jesus gets “asked into your heart” and then when you die, you get saved from the fiery torment of an eternal damnation in a very literal place called hell. Before you click away because you are worried that I am going to be marching down the path to preach a hell, fire and brimstone blog post, calm your hearts. We’re just taking a little ride together. 🙂 I am reading a very light-hearted, yet serious-at-the-same-time book called Stolen Jesus. One day, the author, Jami Amerine, notices that the portrait of Jesus at her local YMCA lobby is gone. Finding out that He is now relegated to “behind the filing cabinet,” she sneaks Him out and hangs Him over her mantel at home, thus the title of the book. She goes on to unpack all of her Jesuses (including Mormon Jesus, High School Jesus and Michigan Jesus), filling my mind with all of my own Jesuses. Two weeks ago, I would have told you that I know Jesus pretty well. I’ve got a pretty good handle on who and what He is and who and what He is not. I’ve spent a lifetime figuring Him out. After spending some much-needed time with Jami Amerine delving into all my different Jesuses, I’m thinking, “Maybe not.” After all, the Jesus I believed in when I was three, eight, 12, 19, 28, 41 and 50ish are all completely different and some even contradictory. Is He none of them? Perhaps. Childhood Jesuses formed hard and deep for me. They continue to be a part of who I am today, some I long to embrace further and others I wish I could banish. I would imagine you have your own. Here is a glimpse into some of mine: Get-Out-of-Hell Free Jesus I asked Jesus into my heart every night for my whole childhood. If you didn’t have Him in there, you were going to burn in a “lake of fire” forever and ever. That was super scary. Who wants that? I certainly didn’t. At the end of most days, I was never sure if I had done it right or meant it based on my troubling behavior earlier in the day, so the cycle continued endlessly. Poor Jesus. He was not a lot more than the best fire insurance a very frightened child could muster up. (Little known fact: this ended when 12-year old Esther wrote down the “date” I finally meant it in my Bible: January 25, 1979. It was for sure this time. God help me.

Boarding School Jesus (also known as Verse Group Jesus and Behavior-Management Jesus)

Every morning during my boarding school years, we were wakened and marched downstairs to some room (even before breakfast…but my memory might be a little fuzzy here) to memorize verses. We got a prize at the end of the semester (lunch out at the local airport…big deal for this “never-eat-out” tot) for memorizing them all. After all, “hiding these verses in our heart” would ensure that we would “not sin against” God (see Psalm 119:11 to get the picture) or more happily for our dorm parents and teachers, not sin against them. It was an amazing “behavior management” technique. (Quiet thought circling in my head: Little Esther was good at this. Especially on the outside. Maybe not so much the inside.) Aslan Jesus It’s crazy how you can have simultaneous Jesuses that are nothing alike. At the same time as Verse Group Jesus, I had another Jesus. Many nights, after being fed and washed up, I listened to the Chronicles of Narnia being read by our dorm mother. Enter Aslan Jesus. He was a kind and gracious lion who loved and took great care of children, playing with them and even dying for them, even one of them who betrayed Him. He seemed like the kind of Jesus and friend that I wanted and so desperately needed, very different from the first two that I had learned about or conjured up in my head. I wished he was real. I loved him. Who wouldn’t? (Secret: I still love Aslan Jesus. He’s a keeper.) Bible Quiz Team Jesus

When I was a very nerdy high schooler, I belonged to a Bible quiz team. We would memorize entire books of the Bible and compete with other teams for a chance to go to the National Tournament. It happened all four years for me. In fact, I was ranked the “#1 Bible Quizzer in the USA” my senior summer! It’s probably the only time in my life I was the actual “master of the trade,” not just the “jack.” I performed superbly. I was highly rewarded for it. This Jesus loved me. I was acceptable in His eyes. I had finally proved my worth to Him. (Another secret: This Jesus has pestered me to this day. I daily battle with this Jesus.) What we believe about Jesus is paramount to how we live and love. If we believe He’s out to get us, we may be afraid of Him. If we believe His goal is to keep us in line, we will probably avoid Him (I was the queen avoider for years). If we believe He accepts us only when we are “good,” we may perform well, but we also may feel like it’s never enough. On the contrary, if we truly believe He loves and cares for us, and understand that in the core of our souls, we will have safety and freedom to love and respond in kind. I have a lot more Jesuses that formed during my adult years, some I will speak of at some point in the future. Again, just like my childhood Jesuses, there are some I long to cling to and dive deeper with and some that don’t describe the Real Jesus at all and that I should run far away from. I am still on my adventure to get to know the Real Jesus, the One who isn’t bound by all my experiences and thoughts and frailties, the One Who is completely Himself. I hope you are too. I do know one thing for sure: I won’t be disappointed when I know Him fully! It might take the rest of my life and even into forever for this to happen, but He will be worth it! I love this journey with Him!

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This is the journey I am on. I am so happy to have found you guys to go on this journey with. I am embarking on this just as I begin to really study the Bible for the first time in seminary for social justice work. This time I am truly reading it for understanding and with my own interpretation (and not from the KJV-though we all love it :).

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