I Am Not in Love with Jesus

Jesus-442x600Jesus isn’t my hero. Jesus isn’t my co-pilot. And I most definitely am not in love with Jesus.

I call myself a Christian, a term that literally means “little Christ”. That designation was originally used as a derogatory term directed at the early followers of Jesus. I suppose it was kind of like calling someone a “wannabe”. The term that the first disciples of Jesus used for themselves was “followers of the Way”. They were mostly Jews who believed that the Messiah had come at last and certainly weren’t looking to start a new religion. It is more likely they were interested in transforming their lives and the world around them in the way Jesus did. In the gospel of John it’s said that Jesus came defined by the twin characteristics of Truth and Grace. Maybe the followers of the Way simply wanted to have those two things define them as well. There are many, many times I wish those two characteristics more closely defined the world-wide Christian church. There are many more times I wish those two characteristics more closely defined me.

I love Jesus. Let me make that clear from the early going. But my love of Jesus is not hero worship.  I have heroes, like most of us do. But I am well aware of the flaws and shortcomings of my heroes. In fact, that is something I really enjoy about my heroes: They were exceptional in many areas yet horribly unexceptional in others. They are my heroes because they inspire me in two directions, as it were; an inspiration to achieve something great and an inspiration to realize that I’ll fail miserably at times in the striving to do so. I don’t look at Jesus in this way. Instead, I see him as existing beyond my aspirations. I cannot totally be like Jesus, not in a thousand lifetimes. But I can keep my eye fixed on him. I can continually hold him at the center of all that I am. I can align my priorities, shape my abilities, craft my person around him. I can’t do this with any one of my heroes, no matter how outstanding their accomplishments. I can only do this with the one who is totally human but also totally God. He gives me my greatest example to aspire to at the same time that he exists somewhere beyond my reach; not in a far-off way, however, but in a way that gives me peace; in a way that reminds me I am ultimately not in charge of my life.

The above is why Jesus can never be my co-pilot. Really, I’m not flying this thing called “my life”. If I were, I would live in perpetual fear of crashing the bloody thing into the ground, nose first. Let’s face it: No matter how much we try to improve or become better at this or more educated at that, we have the incredible ability to foul up our lives in short order. To me, faith in Jesus means giving him the controls. It isn’t even a case of the bumper sticker that says, “If Jesus  is your co-pilot, switch seats”; no, in fact that whole analogy doesn’t do the trick anyway. I don’t see myself in some metaphysical cockpit with Jesus, navigating the crosswinds of life. Instead, I see myself turning over control of my life completely to him and thereby releasing fear, anxiety, and the thought that I can keep myself from breaking up into tiny pieces. If he’s truly human, he gets me totally. If he’s truly God, he totally can handle anything.

I love Jesus, as I’ve already made clear, but I am not “in love” with him. There is a disturbing trend in contemporary Christian worship music to write and sing songs with a definite romantic air about them. It is as if the songwriter originally wrote a song with the word “Baby” in it a few times but wanted to spiritualize-it-up a bit so he changed the word to “Jesus”. The Christian Romantic Power Ballad may be a genre in and of itself, to tell you the truth. Sorry, my fellow followers, but that is not the way I feel or the way I see my connection with Jesus. I am in love with my wife. She is my romantic partner, my life partner, my advocate and friend. I have no one else in my life to which that kind of love is directed. We share an intimacy with each other that we reserve for only each other. I cannot and will not put my love for Jesus in the same category. The idea of romantic love just doesn’t fit my relationship with Jesus. On one level the idea is just plain ridiculous but on another level it doesn’t work because my love for him fits in its own special category. There is no one else in my life that I have that kind of love for and there never will be. It is not the love of friendship or family or parents or sports team or chocolate or country or anything else.  I realize that the songwriters of those ballads are trying to convey a deep, deep love of Jesus but it is just plain inappropriate and inaccurate. How ridiculous would it be to state that you are “in love” with your son or daughter (no matter how deep that love is) or “in love” with chocolate (no matter how close to truth that may be for you)?

I love Jesus like I love no one else. This is totally appropriate and accurate because he is like no one else. He is not my hero, he is not my co-pilot. He is, however, my Lord. That is,  he is the one and only one I owe my all and all to who is over all and in all and above all. Get it, y’all?

I love Jesus. I’ll put that down in triplicate so as to make it all biblical-sounding. I follow him with my whole heart and my whole life because there is no one else in the world completely worthy of all of that from me. He became human for me and you. He gave his life for me and you so that we can be closer to God than is humanly possible. He came back to life again to assure us that life defines God’s creation, not death. He is the one and only. He is Jesus.

Happy Easter time to you from me. Peace.


Unconscious Coupling and Other Parenting Hazards

Parents-and-child-child-p-006If I had known what I was getting into would I do it all over again?

I am speaking of parenthood, of course. After my first child was born, I was hoping I’d turn her over and see an instruction manual printed on her bum. The print would’ve been small, of course, but I could’ve found a magnifying glass, no problem.  Any help would’ve been appreciated back then; now, almost twenty years later, it would be invaluable. When my second child came along a couple of years after our first, he also arrived without instructions. And without much of a bum, come to think of it.

Perhaps “Warning” labels attached to your newborn would be better anyway. “Warning: Projectile Vomiting Ahead”; “Warning: Will Consume Your Income with Impunity”; “Warning: Human Brain Will Be Replaced With Malicious Alien Brain in 13 to15 Years”.

There are a lot of potential hazards to this parenting biz. When you are young and in full child-creating mode, you are vaguely aware of these things. Certainly, you see friends who have had children and their utter exhaustion and frazzled expressions should be an appropriate source of birth control. Yet countless millions of us continue to produce offspring. With quixotic  optimism we each believe that our experience of parenting will be the Exception and our progeny will be the Exceptional.

Miraculously, after very little effort from the dad (sorry, guys) and a very She-Herculean effort from the mom (way to go, ladies), another being appears that magically transforms a couple into a family.

And then the chaos ensues.

I’m grateful that Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin recently gave us a pithy new phrase to add to our pop-cultural lexicon. When I heard their description of what the rest of us would call “divorce”, I thought to myself that my wife and I have never once considered a “Conscious Uncoupling” but I know for a fact that we’ve experienced more than one “Unconscious Coupling” in our lives together. Those were the times when two deliriously exhausted parents-of-small-children still desired some time of intimacy with each other but both awoke the next morning with the same thought: “Did I dream that or did we actually…?”

It is ironic that the same act that created the child should be fraught with so much difficulty once that child arrives.

This is not the only hazard on the parenting path, of course. In fact the path is so full of hazards it’s more like one of those insane obstacle courses in which the participants slowly lose all vestiges of civilization and end up looking like mud-slathered extras from a film version of “Lord of the Flies”. Speaking of which, I am willing to bet that William Golding came up with the idea for his book after a particularly realistic nightmare about his own children taking charge of the family home. This is not hard to imagine as our children not only occupy all waking moments but show up frequently when we’re sleeping, too. My wife once scared the holy-Moses out of me by jumping up in bed and searching frantically for our infant daughter in our bed sheets. My daughter was safely in her crib and my wife, as it turns out, was “sleep panicking” – that’s like “sleep walking” but with a lot more anxiety. I’m happy to report my wife doesn’t remember this incident at all. I, however, was wide awake and on full parental alert. Sigh…

Sleep deprivation is a common hazard of parenting that most of us are fully aware of even before we create little versions of ourselves. But we aren’t always aware of a complete loss of rationality that comes with the job.  As parents we’ll say things to our kids like, “If you touch that one more time you’ll never get ice cream after supper again for the rest of your life!”  Good luck keeping good on that threat when your child is middle-aged.

When it comes to parenthood, there are hazards you expect and anticipate and hazards you cannot see coming. I am currently the parent of two teenagers (and I know that if you could, you’d be giving me a reassuring hug right about now). Frankly, my two kids are very atypical in many ways. Their teenage-hood has not been a horrific experience. Yet I’ve discovered that raising a teenager comes with much more emotional and mental anguish then I could have ever imagined. I have been through the middle-of-the-night wake up call that is the sound of your child beginning to hurl in their beds, but I did not expect to wake up in the middle of the night, when all is quiet in my home, with my heart racing and mind spinning out of concern for my teenage children and their well-being.

My children are now at the age between childhood and adulthood; that time when you feel them separating from you on one level and yet unable to fully separate at the same time. It is a time full of parental angst – you want them to spread their wings and fly but they are so, so vulnerable still.

Last summer my wife and I had a very visible, tangible example of this play out in the yard around our house. Crows had decided the pine tree just outside our bedroom window was a great spot for a nest. Not a problem; we like to accommodate wildlife when it is realistic to do so. What we didn’t expect was the scenario when the baby crows left the nest. It turns out that they don’t fly so much as drop out. It also turns out that, even though they are almost as big as adult crows, their wings are not in any way ready to support them for flight. So these adolescent birds quite literally stumble and fumble their way around on the ground, looking for all the world like injured birds. And the adult crows? They can spend up to two or three weeks – yes, weeks – hovering around these young ones, cawing and concerned, making a hellacious racket when anything comes near them, in full parental protective mode. Those adult crows seem so stressed out, so frantic, so overwhelmed. We wondered if they ever slept properly.

And as we watched these immature crows totter around on the ground, so completely vulnerable, we wondered, “How does any crow survive to adulthood?”

But survive they do. And thrive. And become part of the crow community, fully adjusted and ready to do crow-like things for all their days.

This avian drama that played out for us was something of a gift for us in our own struggle with parenting teenagers. The parallels were so stunningly exact that there can be no coincidence to the fact that those crows set up shop so close to our house. My wife and I want so desperately for our children to be able to make it on their own one day. But until that time, our current parental hazard is one of great anxiety and watchfulness, letting them stumble and fumble their way to maturity. Like those adult crows, we have to let them go through this time between nest and full flight. But it ain’t easy.

The greatest hazard I have found in my years of parenting was the most unexpected of them all: Loving another person so deeply and completely that you are forever changed. When I saw both of my children for the first time, this love was instantly there and has not left me for a moment, even when I am frustrated with them, stressed, upset and irrational. Up until the point when I became a Dad, I had experienced love in many forms – in friendship, in romance – but the love that took me over when my kids appeared was beyond anything I was prepared for. It grabbed a hold of every bit of me and hangs on to me still with an iron grip.

So, if I had known what I was getting into would I do it all over again?

Yes. Yes. A thousand times, Yes. There is no greater challenge to the heart than the hazard of parenting. And I willingly put myself to the hazard.