Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Just Like Me

for those of you who've asked for another post and have been wondering what I've been doing...

“Mom, I need to ask you a serious question.”

This is never the way I like to begin our day. This could mean anything from “Where do babies come from?” to “Why aren’t there more marshmallows in my Lucky Charms?” These “serious questions” can be equally benign or hazardous. What followed this morning was some of the best autism born theology to date.

Noah continued, “Why does my baby Jesus have yellow hair?” Noah was referring to the figurine of baby Jesus that accompanied our Fischer Price nativity set. After the debacle that was trying to get our Christmas tree up and decorated last night (My kingdom for a set of Christmas lights that illuminate the length of the entire strand!), holiday décor was the very last think I wanted to discuss this morning. I sighed and brought my coffee cup to my lips before responding. Before I could swallow Noah expounded on his dilemma.

“You see, I don’t think Jesus had yellow hair at all. I don’t think he looked like that. This Jesus looks like me. I don’t think Jesus was like me at all. What do you think Mom?”

I replied that Jesus probably didn’t look like us. We discussed that he probably resembled someone with darker skin and hair. I tried to compare him to friends Noah has of Middle Eastern descent. Growing impatient Noah interrupted me. He said, “But why did they need to make Jesus look like us? That doesn’t even make sense!”

Secretly, my heart swelled that Noah needs the Nativity to remain true to the Bible, but I was at a loss for a way to explain this phenomena to him. All I could say was, “Well, I think it makes some people feel more safe if Jesus looked just like them.” Noah’s conclusion to this statement was priceless. With all of the innocence that his autism riddled mind could deduce Noah said, “A Jesus that looks just like me does not make me feel safe at all. I think yellow haired Jesus creeps me out.”

I’ve been reading quite a bit of anthropology for one of my seminary classes. There is a constant tension in our reconciling the humanity and the divinity of Christ. I want him to be human. I want to know he can identify with my suffering in every way. I believe in that ἐκένωσεν – that emptying out of his divine nature in order to participate in humanity (Phil. 2:5-11). But when he is nothing more than human, I must agree with Noah “a Jesus that looks just like me does not make me feel safe.” The difference between Noah and I is that I often feel and act like it is just that kind of Jesus that I am looking for because for the most part, I try to save myself.

I desperately look for a Jesus who would handle situations the way I would handle them. I want a Christ who prioritizes my comfort instead of my character development. I’d like Jesus to be the Savior of my bills and checkbook instead of my soul. I cry out for a Messiah to come for relief in my daily struggles instead of one who is surely seeing a bigger picture of my human plight. In actuality, I am searching for a Jesus who looks just like me.

Noah comes from a different set of assumptions. As a child with acknowledged, documented and notarized learning deficits, Noah fully identifies with his need for someone other than himself to be his Savior. He does not do this through self-loathing. Noah, in realizing his limitations, is not compelled to identify so much with Jesus that he recreates him in his own image. In his own words, this does not make him feel safer about his situation. Instead, Noah finds more assurance in a God who is drastically different from him.

We might easily say, “Yes, well, if I were dealing with the disadvantages Noah does I would realize the need for a bigger and greater solution than myself as well.” My answer to that is: But aren’t we?

Aren’t we all completely disadvantaged? Is any one of us able to save ourselves? If we were the answer to our own predicament could any of us truly solve it? Oh, perhaps on the surface we could resolve some issues. The work ethic in which I was reared told me that if I just work harder and “pull myself up by my own boot straps” then I could clear any crisis. But sincerely, that just isn’t true. Hard work is virtuous, but it isn’t enough to combat the brokenness of my personal struggles or, more importantly, the brokenness of this world. Physically, I have struggles that no amount of money could cure. Spiritually, I often feel bankrupt as well. Emotionally, I am sometimes a dry well. Financially, try as I might, I just cannot get ahead. I am simply not enough. A Savior who would tell me to just work harder to make things right by my own efforts is the last thing I need. A Jesus who would solve problems like I would if I could, again in Noah’s words, “doesn’t even make sense.”

So how do I reconcile his humanity and divinity? I don’t. For me, the beauty is in the continual process of ceasing to reconcile Jesus to myself and instead reconciling myself to him. The question is not “How was Jesus like me?” but “In living, what ways did he show me a better way to be human?” The Jesus who said, “Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head”[1] is my kinsmen redeemer. Following him never guaranteed an easy, comfortable position in this life. The kind of work I have chosen for my life will, most assuredly, bring me to financial ruin. His redemption for me is not deliverance from my hardships, but peace within them because Jesus is not like me.

When looking at suffering humanity he was overcome by compassion because Jesus is not like me. Jesus took time to bring a little child, a marginalized piece of humanity who could not possibly contribute financially or substantially to his ministry, into the midst of a busy day because Jesus is not like me. The Savior who slept at the bottom of a boat during a storm is not like me. A Messiah who blamelessly died on a cross is a Jesus not like me. But it is that same Jesus who bids me to come, take up a cross, and follow. It seems he doesn’t want me to spend so much time finding ways he was like me as he does finding ways to be like him to a world so desperately in need of a different kind of Savior. And thank God for that different kind of Jesus because I agree with Noah.

A Jesus just like me creeps me out.

[1] The Holy Bible : Today's New International Version. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), Mt 8:20.