[I wrote this as a guest post for Matt Mikalatos’ blog The Burning Hearts Revolution. Matt is running a series of guest posts to celebrate the release of his new book Night of the Living Dead Christian, a fabulous book that I’ll be reviewing soon. If you’d like to comment on the content of this post, please head over to Matt’s blog and join the conversation there. As usual, though, I’m open to comments about the writing and presentation in this piece. So, if you have thoughts along those lines, go ahead and leave them in the comments here. Thanks.]
It’s been too long. I feel weak. Dizzy. Can’t think.
There. Down there. A woman. She’ll do. She has to.
Drop behind her. Cloak flapping in the wind. Didn’t make too much noise. Perfect.
Grab her shoulder. Push her head to the side. Savor the smell.
It’s time. Bite. Pierce the tender skin. Let the hot blood flow. Taste life. Feel it.
My strength returns. My mind clears. For the first time in days, my cold flesh feels warm again. I’m still dead. Nothing can change that. But, now I get to be dead for another day. She took care of that with her unwilling gift.
Blood is life.
Everything was so good just a few seconds ago. The concert was amazing and I haven’t had a girls’ night out in so long. A quiet walk home under the full moon seemed like the perfect ending to a lovely, summer evening.
Now something has changed. I can’t pin it down, but it’s not right. I’ve got that tingling feeling on the back of my neck that you get when you think someone is staring at you. But, there’s no one here. I’m probably being irrational. Maybe I shouldn’t have walked home alone.
What’s that? It sounds like a flag flapping in a stiff breeze. That’s odd. There’s no wind.
Someone’s grabbed me! I have to struggle, fight, scream, get away, anything. But, I can’t. Something’s wrong. I’m getting weak, dizzy. I can’t think clearly. Everything’s fading. Where am I? What’s going on? What’s happening to me?
I’m on the ground. How did I get here? A few bright red drops hit the ground in front of my eyes. Blood? My blood? I must….
Blood is death.
One substance, two very different results. Life and death. Twin moons circling the same planet.
That’s how the Bible views blood. On the one hand, blood is what keeps us alive and allows us to be what God intended. In Eden, God created blood, and it was good. But, sin and evil entered the world and shattered God’s good creation. And, blood came to mean something else. Still the source of life, it also became the symbol of death.
You can see this most clearly in the biblical sacrifices. If you stop and think about it for a moment, sacrifices are weird. Imagine that you’re an Israelite and you’ve just sinned. What should you do? Why, go lop the head off some poor, innocent lamb, of course. That’s a great system. At least it is for the human; I’m sure the lamb sees things differently.
The point of the sacrifice, though, wasn’t to take out Israel’s problems on some innocent animal. That would be weird. No, the sacrifices demonstrated the devastating connection between sin and death. With clocklike regularity, the Israelites brought their animals to the priests and shed blood as a reminder of the fact that they lived east of Eden, in the brokenness of sin, in bondage to death. As Paul says later, “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 3:23). And, every time the Israelites brought forward their sin sacrifices, they reminded themselves of this truth.
At the same time, though, the blood brought a promise of life. Israel always knew that somehow it was only by shedding blood that forgiveness and life would be restored to God’s people. God promised he would forgive and cleanse his people when they brought their sacrifices to him.
But why? What is the connection between blood and death on the one hand and the promise of forgiveness and life on the other? The Old Testament never says. The Israelites just take it on faith that God will be faithful and will do what he promises.
Then Jesus came.
And, we killed him, shedding his blood on the cross.
And the truth became clear.
But the blood of Christ means so much more. Jesus died so he could break the power of death. His death was not the pointless sacrifice of a tragic Shakespearean hero. It had purpose. Jesus died so that we might be reborn as those who have the gift of life.
Blood is death. Blood is life. On the cross, both are true.
“This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
Come and drink. An invitation to vampires everywhere.
[This post is part of our series on the Gospel. Please feel free to check out the posts and let me know what you think.]
If you’re not familiar with the book, here’s the Publishers Weekly comment from the book’s Amazon page.
The Apostle Peter punches Jesus in the face, then chases him out of a coffee shop. And that’s just chapter 0. In this quirky tale the publisher describes as not-quite-true, former missionary and comic book store clerk Mikalatos disguises his critique of Christian life in an action-based quest to find the real Jesus. It’s A Christmas Carol meets Oz, but instead of ghosts and tin men, it’s a talking donkey, a motorcycle rider, and Mikalatos himself. The cast of characters drags the reader through the streets of Seattle and ancient Judea to introduce a host of fake Jesuses: Magic 8 Ball Jesus, Harley Jesus, even Liberal Social Services Jesus. They’re constructs of the human mind. People invent a Jesus for one specific reason and then discard him when they don’t need him anymore, says one of the Jesuses (the one with an expensive suit). Peter teaches Mikalatos that he must quiet falsehoods and mold a deeper relationship with the living, historical Jesus. Mixing questions of suffering and free will with a nexus of weirdness, Mikalatos throws Christian fiction into the world of Comic-Con and Star Wars. His silly quest is startling, contemporary, meaningful, and occasionally exhausting when the reader is puzzled. It begs for a comic book counterpart.
HT Brian Fulthorp (via Facebook)
I’ve commented before about Matt Mikalatos’ book Imaginary Jesus (see here and here). The local newspaper here now has a nice article about Matt and the process that he went through in writing the book. The article is very well done, and it’s good to see a Christian author getting some well-deserved attention around here.
Yesterday I started a review of Matt Mikalatos’ Imaginary Jesus. As I said before, this is a book that manages to be both fun and theological at the same time (terrifying, I know). But, I also said that I would offer a few critical comments as well (mostly because I like being mean).
My first criticism is one that I need to be careful with. Imaginary Jesus is a satire and, consequently, you should expect a fair amount of biting (though humorous) criticism. And, like all satires, there will be some places where you get a bit uncomfortable. Again, that’s the point. But, for satire to work effectively, you can’t cross the line to where the criticisms begin to feel unfair. For the most part Imaginary Jesus succeeds. But, there are a couple of places where the satire stretches a bit too far. This was particularly noticeable with Meticulous Providence Jesus. Now, I’m not a meticulous providence guy, so this isn’t me defending my own imaginary Jesus. But, I know a lot of people who hold to some version of meticulous providence, and I’m not sure that they’d see enough truth in the caricature for the satire to be successful.
Second, I think Matt lets us off too easy at the end. After all his wrestling and struggling with his imaginary Jesuses, Matt seems to suggest that we can arrive at that point where we have finally found the real Jesus. But, do we ever really arrive at that point? Is my vision of Jesus ever separated from my own culturally conditioned expectations, needs, and desires? Of course not. And Matt knows that. But, he lets the story end without offering what I think would have been a needful caution that we will wrestle with imaginary Jesuses for the rest of our lives. Maybe he intended to suggest that by offering a real Jesus at the end of the story whose face was hidden – suggesting that we will always supply our own. But, if so, I would have liked to see that made more explicit. A little less of a “happy ending” and a little more emphasis on the not-yet of our present understanding would have been appropriate.
I was also surprised and frustrated not to see the church play much of a role in the story. Matt is on this amazing adventure to find the real Jesus, but apparently that is something you do entirely on your own. (Assuming that you don’t count the Apostle Peter, the talking donkey, and the former prostitute.) I would have preferred to see Matt engage with the church at some point in the process. In this way, the atheists again come the closest. They’re at least working together in trying to understand the Bible and what it says about Jesus. So, although I liked the emphasis on finding Jesus in the text, I would have liked to see a strong emphasis as well on finding Jesus through his people.
I also think George Barna gets off too easy. Come on, George Barna in a book that satirizes evangelicalism? That’s just begging for some scathing satire in its own right.
I just finished reading Matt Mikalatos’ Imaginary Jesus (BarnaBooks 2010), and I must say that it’s a fabulous read. Any book gets my vote that includes a fistfight between Peter and Jesus, a conversation where Peter tells Matt that they need to go “find a whore,” Jesus hotwiring a car, and a whole bunch of Jesuses getting into a brawl in Powell’s. (Really, it all makes perfect sense in the story.) The whole book functions as a narrative satire on different ways that we misconceive, and in a sense “tame”, Jesus by fitting him to our preconceptions and perceived needs.
Now, in the interests of full disclosure, I should also say that Matt is a Western grad. But, he only took one class from me, so I can’t take any credit (or blame) for anything he’s written.
Imaginary Jesus is a satire that tells the story of Matt coming to realize that the “Jesus” he hangs out with all the time is not actually the real Jesus. Instead, he’s an imaginary Jesus that Matt has constructed out of his own needs and desires. So Matt goes on a search for the real Jesus (along with the apostle Peter, a talking donkey, and a former prostitute). Along the way, he confronts quite a large number of imaginary Jesuses as he discovers that nearly everyone has their own personal Jesus (to steal a line from Depeche Mode). And, eventually he has to struggle with his own inner needs and weaknesses that have caused him to hide from the real Jesus for so long – a struggle that will cause Matt to deal with the difficult questions of pain, death, loss, and the love of God.
Imaginary Jesus does a number of things very well. First, as you’ve probably figured out, it contains a fair amount of irreverent humor. And, it’s great. Theology can often be a discipline characterized by an almost stoic unwillingness to see the value in wit, humor, and joy. Matt has no such problem. Throughout the book he uses a whimsical narrative to address substantive theological issues. And, he does it well. He also mixes in an obvious appreciation for the wondrous side of life (art, food, friendship, children, etc.) that helps keep the story alive and fun.
The book also succeeds because of Matt’s extensive familiarity with evangelicalism, particularly in the northwest. Since the book provides a satirical look at a whole range of Jesus-like misconceptions, the book pokes into the evangelical psyche of almost every evangelical subculture. Matt spends most of his time with those subcultures that he knows best (white, middle-class, Portland), but his vision is much broader than that. And, although the satirical approach will rub people the wrong way at times (satire is supposed to do that), he is generally fair in the way he makes fun of himself and others.
Matt should also be commended for the way in which he handles the challenging issues of death, pain, and suffering as they relate to the nature and character of God. I don’t want to give away too much of the story here, but the burden of the narrative really rests on how the pain in Matt’s life affects his image of Jesus. And, throughout the story, Matt resists offering any easy answers to the questions that he asks. In the end, he offers only a hope that belies the brokenness of this present reality, a hope grounded in the goodness, faithfulness, and sheer otherness of God, as well as the fact that Jesus has entered into our pain and has promised to make all things right in the end.
Finally, I appreciate that Matt ultimately grounded his understanding of Jesus in the narrative of the Bible. I got a little nervous in a couple of places thinking that finding the real Jesus was going to be a semi-mystical “journey within”, an attempt to ground our understanding of Jesus in our own spiritual experiences. But, as important as personal experience is in the book, he clearly shows that the only reliable picture of Jesus is one that is grounded in the biblical text. And, unsurprisingly for this book, it’s an atheist who demonstrates this most clearly.
When it’s all said and done, Imaginary Jesus is a fun read, but one that will also press you to think about your own imaginary Jesus(es). It would be a great book to use with people who might find “theology” intimidating, but need some theology in their lives anyway.
Tomorrow I’ll offer some more critical comments on Matt’s book. But, they won’t change the fact that this one is worth reading.