DB Hamill writes of his realization that his exclusive focus on Jesus as Hamill’s friend and invisible companion was less than helpful to his spiritual growth.
The phenomenon of thinking about Jesus as an invisible friend, of the sort that lots of children have in their youth, is not terribly common experience in the Episcopal Church, but it is so within Pentecostal circles. Perhaps it’s more common because within Pentecostal churches there’s more of an experiential and emotional aspect to faith. (Not something that I personally find compelling, but I’m odd that way.) Perhaps it’s common in the American South because of it’s deep Baptist roots and the Baptist thread of ideas around solo, not sola scriptura. (Solo, as I mean it, is that it is the job of the individual believer, guided by scripture, to determine the truth of God.)
Whatever the root cause, the idea of the individual experience of God taking precedence over the communal or common, a special American charism apparently, must underlie the idea of Jesus as personal God and guide. Good Buddy Jesus. Precious Moments Jesus. “He walks with me and He talks with me” Jesus.
Hamill describes his own experience in rather therapeutic terms, and as growing out of his own psychological needs, but I think you can properly broaden the causes. The idea of personal Jesus is so endemic in American religious thought that there must be more than one constellation of cause.
At any rate Hamill describes the thinking that has led him to a “breakup with Jesus”:
“The man who took the romance out of my relationship with Jesus was a theologian called James Alison and he pointed out that, if the witnesses are to be believed, Jesus had some quite specific concerns about the ongoing relationship that his disciples would have with him. The same Jesus who gave himself again to his disciple after they had contributed to the process by which he was killed, this same Jesus was concerned (prior to his death) that he be remembered precisely for and in his death. This is my body broken for you. This is my blood shed for you. Do this to remember me! The Jesus of Christian faith is not an invisible psychological aid. The experience of resurrection is this: living he confronts us with his death. He wants us to know him as a man who poured himself out for the world and also as a man who was broken by the world. This death is the culmination of the person and it is this that determines whatever kind of ‘relationship’ we might have with him.
I guess if there is a sense now that I have a ‘relationship’ with Jesus (and the term relationship certainly sticks in my throat) it is in the sense that I know Jesus now as my ‘victim’ – my divine victim. What I need is something like a ‘liturgical’ relationship with Jesus rather than a romantic one. I need to be constantly addressed by the drama of God’s encounter with the world as it culminates in the great revelatory victory of the cross of Christ. As I am addressed by this drama I learn to respond to it, to act a part within it. After all in spite of it I still find myself constantly drawn into a world process which produces new victims and I am constantly drawn to deny my complicity in this process. Unless I am liturgically confronted by the forgiveness of my divine victim, Jesus, I will never be truly human nor truly participate in God’s life for which I was created. My hope is that eucharistic liturgy is the Spirit’s way of casting out romantic narcissism and making disciples.”
Read the full article here.
H/T to Ben Myers
If you’re looking for something to meditate upon this Lent, this would be an excellent line to follow.
My sermon from Sunday discussed, from the idea of the Hen of God, the idea of Jesus as ur-victim. I’ll post it later this morning, he writes hopefully…
I remember, as a child, having a profound distaste for the song “Jesus Loves Me.” I wasn’t able to articulate why until I was in my 30s, after a conversation with a Pentacostal woman while I was in the throes of a breakup (and a foundering atheist). She said, “Girl, you don’t need a boyfriend, get Jesus!”
When a year or so later I did go back to church, I realized that there was some metaphoric truth to this. My return to faith was hinged upon the realization that I’d been placing too much faith in humans. The narcissism was of a different stripe–I couldn’t understand why people I loved would not love me back. But then, when I opened myself up, that needful place was wrapped in a blanket, if that makes any sense; I became more able to participate in a functional relationship rather than, as that ex of 2002 put it, suck the life out of someone.
I think it’s that comfort that people ascribe to Jesus loving them, especially for folks who can’t quite parse the great big Love Of God. And if that comfort makes them more able to become disciples, it’s not a bad thing.
That said, I still don’t like “Jesus Loves Me.” I guess I’m more of a “For God So Loved the World” kind of gal.
Helen – I think there’s a big difference between the idea of a God who loves you personally, and a personal God. I think you’re talking about the former and not the latter.
But either way, I’m glad you found a way to be part of the Body!
Language is difficult to use. I was brought up in an abusive school. School and family were both severely broken bodies. For the last 40 years since my 25th or so, I have both needed and known a ‘personal’ ‘relationship’ with the One who is not ignorant, nor abusive, who grows me out of my own abuse, and whose body broken for me is whole even within its fractured state. I am in the elect from Adam to Abraham to Christ Jesus to those anointed per John’s first letter. Election is not my doing but I am doing and am done within this body of God’s beloved.
Finding words to express this close relationship – no holds barred – is a gift. ‘Yes, Jesus loves me’ and also invokes me into unimaginable fullness of life now and in the age to come. This One is gift – but not ‘taken for granted’ – such a love includes rebuke as well as kindness – both words can be understood from the covenant chesed of the Hebrew scriptures. And such a love allows me to complain and question.
I am also convinced that the same anointing is gracious in all ages and to all who call, the elect of Israel as well as those ‘in Christ’ who fear his name from the Gentiles. (Such is the inclusive message of the psalter). This is no cheap sentimental ‘buddy’ but equally – this is no distant, impersonal, wrathful or unavailable abstraction. There is more to Spirit than meets the mind. God incarnates metaphor in us.
Our theology (and ontology) of the three Persons is one based upon Persons-in-Communion (koinonia). The same can be said of our own personhood with the caveat that we are not perichoretic in the same ways as the Three AND that our personhood while shaped by one another is ultimately residing in the Three. To speak of Jesus as person and personal is not at odds with a communal faith. The two cohere. After all, Luther emphasized “for you,” pro me, of the eucharistic distribution. What I see lately here is a want to emphasize the communal that does not adequately account for the sometimes need for God to rebuke the community when particular persons are not treated as part of the commons. Imbalances can be both of a personal or communal nature. In the latter, they tend to codependence or worse. After all, the worst examples of humanity in our time were communal affairs. I recommend reading Miroslav Volf on the Trinity as a moderator of over-enthusiastic Trinitarian and thus communitarian theologies/ecclesiologies.
I would add that warmth of piety toward Jesus in prayer and poetry is a long-standing Anglican tradition we dare not dismiss just because we’re turned off by some expressions of such. Thinking of God in terms of friendship is also a longstanding tradition and indeed has been the heart of some theologies, St. Aelred (and surprisingly is at the core of Andrewes’ eucharistic theology), for example. To separate out out to strongly the homo-affection, that is affection for the same, of our desires by which only the God become one of us in the flesh can work through us and reorient us (work salvation once wrought in us) is to dismiss a major part of the liturgical complex, namely piety. Piety is a multifaceted thing, and rather than focus on others’, we might better focus on developing our own.
“We never experience God as a vague atmosphere of the divine; we encounter God always as a person who confronts and challenges us.” Anselm Gruen, Benedict of Nursia: His Message for Today, 24.