'Lorelia: I need to talk to you about the J word...
Rory: Oh no, not Jesus. I'm sick of him and Mel Gibson'
- Gilmore Girls
It is pretty much a fact universally acknowledged in our society today that the way to kill the atmosphere of an evening dead is to start talking about religion or politics. Let's be honest, even worse would be to mention the 'J Word' in any other context than swearing. I wonder if it is because we have been bashed around the head sideways with the name. I have certainly met people who feel that way.
Perhaps it is because when the J Bomb is dropped you can bet the conversation is set to stray into seriously awkward territory. It always seem to begin with a litany of all the failings you didn't even realise you had and end with 'but don't worry Jesus loves you anyway'. My pre-faith experience of conversations like this were one of total bemusement and, where possible, complete avoidance.
So I give you this caveat to this piece now. It's not going to get awkward and I'm not going to list all the things Jesus is waggling his finger at you about from his heavenly home. That's just not how I see it. But there is really little I can say about the life of faith without talking about Jesus and I'm not embarrassed to. He is the lynch pin in the whole endeavour for me and nothing in my faith makes much sense without reference to him. Whether it is questions of self esteem, purpose in life, ethics or why the world is as it is there is nothing that I believe that doesn't have some basis in Jesus.
I remember first reading the stories of Jesus in the New Testament convinced that I knew it all and that it was a pointless exercise and being what I can only describe as captivated by this character whose energy seemed to sing off the pages. That feeling hasn't really loosened in the ten years since then. I remember being sceptical about the Bible, who even wrote this stuff anyway? And yet quickly feeling that wherever this came from and whomever put the words to paper (or parchment in those days!) I wanted to know more. A lot more.
One of the greatest things for me about Jesus is that he is bit, well, unlikely. He isn't impressive. A big deal is made of the fact that his mother is young and unmarried and he is born, quite literally, in a barn. Most of the people in authority don't think much of him. He isn't formally educated, he is a tradesman. He liked hanging out with all the dodgy people and went to parties and got called a 'glutton and a drunkard' (perhaps a tad unfairly!).
But he was also bloomin' clever and believe it or not, really quite funny. He spoke in a way people understood. He told them stories rather that presented them with a dissertation. When people tried to catch him out he quipped at them and flipped their assumptions upside down. It is like he had a way of looking at people and seeing to the heart of them, what they were really about, and in a seriously brilliant one liner bringing all of that to light.
And when you think about the Christian view of who Jesus was, well, it all starts to get a little bit crazy and a big bit wonderful. Here's the thing, we actually do think that Jesus was God come to us in a human form. I know, I know, call the men in white coats. But the logic is this - imagine there is a flu stuck in a glass jar and you want to help it escape.
If you, as a human being, open the jar and yell at the fly it isn't going to get you far and that fly is well and truly stuck, buzzing around like a crazy thing bashing its head against the glass. If, however, you could make yourself a fly too, just for a little bit, then you could fly out of the jar to show the stuck fly how.
That, terribly explained, is what the whole Jesus/God thing is about. God showing us the way to find a life of freedom and faith and love by coming to us in a form we can understand. Our own form. You can make of that what you will but you can see how the character of Jesus and the circumstances of his life suddenly take on a radical importance if that is what you believe.
Suddenly being weak in the world, or of low status or looked down upon for whatever reason isn't something to be ashamed of, it is something to be transcended. And, frankly, it is pretty darn awesome if God is as funny and compelling and quippy as Jesus is. That idea gives me a happy glow right down to my toes.
And then when you add in what we all know happened to Jesus and why as Christians we think that happened, well, then you have this insanely loving God and the transformation of everything it means to be a human and in pain. That's the point where, for me, my world view really flipped on its axis.