Friday, April 18, 2014

Why Jesus is important in 2014

God, coffee and soul-satisfying conversation.
(Original illustrations by Sunha Yoon for love, -j.)

Why is Jesus important, one thousand nine hundred and eighty one years after he changed the course of human history? I recently ruminated this and other topics (including American Christian culture, sex, art and the benefits of dirty language) with my dear friend and fellow blogger, Erika Abdelatif (The Trees Will Clap).

“You know why Jesus is relevant today?” Erika offered. “Because he brought all kinds of people to one table to teach us that it isn’t about who is right and who is wrong (which is one way Christians miss it all the time).”


With Easter fast approaching, I’ve been thinking about why, as a Christ follower, Jesus’ death and resurrection is important to me. His victory over death (and not just physical death but death in the metaphorical sense: fear, hopelessness, pain, suffering, strife) becomes my victory. And my freedom from death (again, both physical and metaphorical) gives me the power to act on the things that really matter: love, generosity, righteousness, humility, forgiveness.

Frankly, these are things I wish I saw more in the Christian community. Rather than wasting energy on the divide and conquer method, we ought to spend our time engaging and uniting the world (after all, it's not about winning the argument, it’s about winning the person). And the more genuine conversations we share (like the one below, for example), the more we will grow in our understanding (and hopefully, compassion) for one another. 

“Let me tell you why you are here,” Jesus says in the Book of Matthew. “You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth.”

Easter 2014: A conversation between two Christians
By Erika Abdelatif and Jennifer Cho Salaff

Erika Abdelatif: The Church is a funny thing to me right now. I feel like Christians are generally afraid to have hard conversations or sit in tension, which is ironic. If Jesus is our truth, why are we so afraid?

Jennifer Cho Salaff: I totally know what you mean. I think it’s American Christian culture. It offers a very safe, very predictable, very sanitized version of Christianity.

 All too often the culture informs us: “Do this and you’ll live a prosperous life. Go to church on Sunday, check it off the to-do list and you’re set.” A lot of rules and A plus B equals C. But life doesn’t always work out that way. I mean, it does if you live in a bubble. But I think it's important for Christians to be in touch with the real world. To want to see things and experience things that are uncomfortable, messy-- how the real world is. And to not be afraid to engage it.

EA: No, that is exactly my frustration. I feel like my faith expands when I'm in the world, interacting with culture, wrestling with big questions. But the Church seems to look so negatively on that and when you try to suggest, "Let's talk about this!" it's not welcomed. That's a very big challenge for me.

For instance, I had this awesome work meeting recently about an idea for a book. My colleague told me he presented a manuscript about the LGBT community and one of the head people said, "This is an interesting proposal, but what is LGBT?"

 I was like, WHAT?! How can you live in this day and age and not know that?!

JCS: Oh my. See what I mean??!!

EA: Which is why Christians make terrible art when we should be making the BEST. We are afraid of EVERYTHING.

JCS: We talk about that ALL THE TIME!!

 OK, don't mean to be a hater, but I agree: Christians make the WORST art ever!!

 I remember going to a Christian conference in San Diego and walking through a convention hall filled with all these booths hawking merchandise. I just about died. It was like walking through a time machine to 1985. They were awful. The graphic design was terrible. Out of touch. And CHEESY!!  
EA: OMG. I know.

 I will never forget a particular booth that was selling a CD with one song (for children!) that said, "Stop, drop and roll... To quench the fires of hell."

JCS: Ah!!!! OMG. I'm dying.

EA: Speaking of being afraid of everything, I recently had a conversation with a friend where I got "in trouble" for saying, "That's f*cked up" when I found out friends of ours broke off their two-year engagement over something really sh*tty.

 To which I told my friend, LANGUAGE IS A TOOL. Right now, F*CKED UP is the only thing that adequately describes this situation.

JCS: For the record: I love that word. It's one of the best words ever invented. But it is powerful and should be used with responsibility.

EA: Seriously. If it's overused it loses its power. If it's underused it's given too much power. But in the right moments, it needs to be said.

 But that's just the thing. We shouldn't be afraid of language. Ugh. I've rolled my eyes so much during this talk that my eyes hurt.

JCS: Don't injure yourself.

EA: Ha!


JCS: Your experience about using the F word reminds me how so many Christians are spending their energy on all the wrong things. We are fighting against gays, we get all worked up over words like f*ck, we protest and picket and say awful things about people. And the worst part is, these horrible things are done in the name of Jesus.   
EA: When we should using our energy to make a difference in the world.

 And make good art, for Christ's sake!

JCS: Yes! The church used to commission the world's best art. Michelangelo, for instance.

EA: I was just thinking about that yesterday!! 

And don't get me started on how Christians treat the gay community.

 I always laugh about being in the closet about my support of marriage equality.

 It's pretty much open news now that I'm a supporter, though. Many hard conversations with people who didn't like that. I've got some gray opinions about homosexuality as a sin, to be honest. But I'm just a big heretic.

JCS: I’m totally out of the closet about marriage equality, too. I say, “Equal rights for all!” I still wrestle with whether or not homosexuality is a "sin." I mean, we all know what it says in Leviticus, but I really doubt Jesus would approve of his followers quoting Leviticus 18 as a reason to spew hate.

What I have a problem with, regarding sex, is promiscuity. And that goes both ways-- in the gay AND straight communities. Promiscuity is dangerous and destructive and harms the soul.


Girl, you're speaking my language right now.

JCS: OK, since we're on the topic of sex and sin, etc. Let’s talk about another topic that gets Christians hot and bothered (pun intended): pre-marital sex. Full disclosure: I don't think sex before marriage is a sin. I mean, where in the Bible does it say that? I've met so many Christians who quote that as Scripture and I'm like, "What?"

I’m not condoning premarital sex. I've just always been puzzled as to why the church is so preoccupied with this issue. Why are we not appalled by greed? Apathy? Jealousy? Wrath? Instead of talking about the “sinfulness” of sex before marriage, why are we not talking about the body as a temple of God? Why are we not having honest discussions about sex and relationships?

EA: Not to mention these are all things (language, sex, homosexuality) Jesus didn't explicitly talk about. 

And yet things that he did talk about--money, the poor, the marginalized—we tend to avoid.
JCS: It's much easier to judge others and tell them what they are doing wrong than to look in the mirror and say, "You know, I should help people more. I should go and talk to that person over there and LISTEN to him; I should share my money and my resources; I should fight for peace and not start a war.”
EA: Mmm, preach girl. Preach.

JCS: These things are HARD to do. Many times I ask God, "Really? You want me to love my enemy? You want me to put others before myself?" S

ometimes, I think I am not fit to be called a Christian. Because when I think about what it REALLY means to be a Christ follower, I feel totally overwhelmed and unequipped.

EA: It totally is hard. But you're not doing this all alone and you're not doing it over night. The whole point of walking with Christ is to constantly become more aware of yourself and others and to do something about it.

 And nine times out of ten, you might choose to be selfish. But on the tenth time, Jesus is like, “YEAH! You did it! Let's talk about THAT.” That's growth.

JCS: Totally. Jesus gives us the power to do that. The goal isn’t perfection. It never was. Why live an existence where you’re constantly setting yourself up for failure? I love that Jesus takes that burden from us, so we can live free. Free from fear, free from hate, free from hopelessness. Love is the goal, right?


JCS: Bada bing!

EA: Well, we just solved all of Christianity's problems. 

I think we should blog this transcript and title it, "Read this, and shut the f*ck up."

JCS: Haaaa!!! Ok, stop it. I'm dying!!!

 Seriously, we should post our conversation on our blogs.

EA: HAHA, really? I think people will lose their sh*t.

JCS: AWESOME!! People need to lose their sh*t. No, but seriously, bringing it back to Jesus. What are you meditating this Easter?

EA: Honestly, for me, it keeps going back to delving into relationships with people who are different than me--theologically, socially, etc. Realizing that Jesus unifies people, and that I always have something to learn from those who are most different than me -- even though it's tempting to push them away. I mean, that’s resurrection in a sense?

JCS: Oh I love that. It's totally resurrection. Bringing back to life the relationships you might have "put to death" because of differences (like the ones you mentioned: social, theological, etc.).

EA: I mean, you think about the followers of Jesus all huddled and hiding together in the house after his death. Imagine that gathering! Such diversity unified under one roof and one cause.

JCS: And then those followers leaving the "safety" of that roof to tell others -- people from all walks of life -- about Jesus' resurrection.

EA: Boom.

JCS: For me, this Easter is a meditation on faith. The kind of faith where you trust that even the impossible can be possible.

I just survived a cold, brutal, oppressive winter here in Cleveland. At times, it crushed my soul. I would wake up and look out my window and it would be another day of snow, another day of gray skies, another day of gloom. It was hard to trust that the sun would shine again. It was such a metaphor. Sometimes, life is a dark season. Sometimes things feel impossible.

But today the skies are blue and the birds are singing. The spring flowers are fighting for their spot in the sun. And I know, deep in my heart, things are going to be OK. Human beings live for a triumphant ending. We want to believe in purity and goodness and light. And Jesus' victory over death is proof that triumphant endings are indeed real.

EA: Aw, I love that. Hope. Take heart, because Jesus has overcome the world.

JCS: Yes, he is risen!


Thank you to my wonderful sister-in-law (and sister in Christ), Sunha Yoon Salaff, for her original illustrations for love, -j. XOXO, Sunha! 

I wanna sit down and have a cup of coffee with Stephen Colbert. (Relevant)