“Do you love Jesus?” he asked me.
I sighed, but I didn’t answer.
Ordinarily I’d simply let such a question go as graciously as I could and move on. But the person asking is the closest friend I’ve had for the last 35 years. I wanted him to understand the damage of such words. A healthy debate ensued. Nothing, as is almost often the case in such things, came as a result. It was simply a massive 30-minute clusterfuck of ideas that changed neither of us. It was, as Ecclesiastes states about much of our best intentions: vanity.
But this question, and many, many others just like it (“Have you accepted Jesus as your Lord and savior?” “Do you have God in your hear?”) drill deep into the depths of why the “brand” of Jesus so confounds and confuses those who might benefit the most from the personhood of Jesus.
Asking someone if they love Jesus is like offering a secret society handshake. If you say, yes, then you are in. If you hesitate even the slightest bit, not only are you not in, but you are in need: in need of “truth,” in need of Salvation, in need of Jesus. The person asking you will likely do his or her level best to give you all of the above so you can get in, while internally feeling sadden by your “lost” state. It’s a given: Those asking if I love Jesus are right and unless I give a gushy, enthusiastic, hearty “yes!” before time’s up, I’m wrong.
If only life and faith and God and love were so easy.
If you say, “why, yes… I do love Jesus,” it means you belong in their mind, and more importantly you believe as they do, which means you’d feel perfectly comfortable and fit in here:
Which I don’t. Not that I mind. I’ve been in those things and they can be very meaningful. I’ve had some wonderful experiences with the Divine amid all the sparkly, contrived, polished performances of ardent evangelicals. I’ve had a decent time connecting with God during what my best friend calls “the happy clappy worship” that has become so … what’s the word… canned, comes to mind… but I’ll go with commonplace.
ButthankyouNO, I’m not going to answer your question. I’m not doing the secret handshake and not going to assuage your concerns for my salvation and not for a minute going to allow this “brand” of Jesus–with all its arrogance and judgement and exclusion and wealth, and greed and yes, power, things the actually living, breathing person of Jesus spoke stridently against–to signify my faith or my devotion to the God of love who defines what my life means and how it is lived.
My best friend is not by a long shot the only person who asks me so brazenly this question. I’ve often wondered what I could ask them to similarly test whether their faith is sufficient for me to accept them, but see that’s the point. I’m not trying to figure out who’s in and who’s out; nor do I believe that’s my job; nor do I believe I have the gold-standard of “truth;” nor do I believe what I believe is the litmus test for knowing God; nor do I believe I’m in because I said four “spiritual laws.” (BTW, two points of digression, you know how I love digressions: I did say those “laws” back in the day, so if that gets me lifetime absolution then you all are stuck with me even though I won’t say I love Jesus. I also went into the National Shrine to St. Francis of Assisi, which gives me a lifetime absolution as well, sort of a double-whammy insurance for those who keep track of such things. Point two: Jesus didn’t write these “laws” nor ever ask anyone anything of the like. Billy Graham did, which makes them a tad bit less iron-clad than Evangelicals want to admit. Golly, what did all the billions of people who lived before Billy Graham do to prove they loved Jesus, for heaven’s sake?!)
Here’s the irony. My best friend is a gay pastor. The very people that he aligns theologically are the ones who mosts likely wouldn’t give a rats ass that he loves Jesus because he also loves men. This trumps saying you love Jesus to them, because you can’t do both. No way, no how. He’d rather vehemently argue the point that they got this wrong rather than question the whole house of American-made, trademarked, ready to sell-and-go-viral “brand” that excludes so many like him regardless of whether they actually love Jesus.
There is a second question afterall, no matter how much importance they put on the first. “I love Jesus” gets me in the door, but there are bouncers everywhere. Loving men if you are a man will get you bounced.
This is why I sighed before I dived into the debate with him. I love my friend and love his faith and love his sincerity and love his passion for helping troubled people find a better life by telling them about the power of Jesus to transform their lives.
I just wish he’d be more wary of the brand Jesus he aligns with because it’s too often like taking a charcoal pencil and smearing it all over the Monet-like art that God is doing in our lives.