Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Imaginary Jesus - Day 2

 Welcome to Day 2 of the June CSFF Blog Tour, featuring the humorous and challenging Imaginary Jesus by Matt Mikalatos. [Click here to read Day 1.] Yesterday, for reasons unknown, I said the story was set in Seattle. Don't know where that came from. Blame it on a low blood-caffeine level. The error has been corrected: story is actually set in Portland, Oregon, a city I knew well in the 1970s and 80s, when I visited my great-grandmother who lived in a neat old house on or near Killingsworth.

But enough about my family history. Back to the book.

In the middle of Matt the protagonist's search for the real Jesus, he once again crosses paths with the eponymous Imaginary Jesus of the book's title.

Imaginary Jesus -- hereafter known as "IJ" -- has invited a couple of other "imaginaries" to help provide Matt a possible answer to a recent tragedy in his life: one imaginary will portray Meticulous Providence Jesus, IJ will be Free Will Jesus, and the third will play the part of Can't-See-the-Future-Because-It's-Unknowable Jesus. They and Matt are all going to get on inner tubes and sled down a snow-covered slope. Whichever imaginary reaches the bottom with Matt will be declared the answer to his questions about God's providence.

I shall not reveal the results of this very serious debate. Ahem. Race. It's laugh-out-loud funny, and I appreciated the Calvin and Hobbes reference. (One of the best comic strips ever.) The scene is vivid, and I can see it being played out on a movie screen, which is pretty much how my imagination works most of the time. However, inside the humor lies a somber, legitimate, and perennial question: Why, when He is all-powerful, does God let tragedy happen?

I wondered why none of their answers satisfied me.

"Those are the choices you've come up with," Pete answered. "Some of them are more theologically sound than others, but the only person who can answer this definitively is God himself. Why are you wasting your time like this? Why don't you ask the real Jesus?"

But Matt turns once more to IJ:

"I don't know how to stop calling you up," I said. "I don't want to stop calling you."

"The problem is that you honestly like me. You can compare me to the Jesus in the Bible and see that I'm not real. You can compare me to your own experience of the real Jesus and see that I'm a fake. Your own friends point out my inconsistencies. Logic pokes holes in my reality. But time after time, you keep returning to me because deep down you prefer me to the real thing."

I nodded. It actually made sense. The real Jesus was frightening sometimes, and he said things I didn't like. He required sacrifice. He scared me by doing things I didn't believe he could. He was a better person than me. I preferred my fake Jesus.
Note: Isn't that why there are so many versions of Christianity? So many various sects, cults, and religions? Why it's "tolerant" and ecumenical to say that all roads lead to God? It's a difficult thing to accept that there is only one mediator between God and man -- Jesus Christ -- because doing so requires humility. After all, only the very unsophisticated and illiterate still believe there's a sovereign God, right? It's so much more comfortable and convenient to come up with a "God" that we can lower to our own level, that we can mold and control.

Upon reading through the end of the chapter, I fell asleep -- not, thankfully, with the book splayed across my face, as often happens -- and experienced a bizarre and very real dream: several imaginaries not even listed in the novel (Frontiersman Jesus, for instance, complete with fringed buckskins and coonskin cap) gathered in the bailey of a medieval English castle to compete in a "Jesus-Off" to see who among them was the best.

The first test of skill was an axe-throwing contest, but each time a "Jesus" stepped up to the line, his time was up. This went on until the contestants were almost all eliminated from the first round without ever having actually thrown an axe. As a spectator, I was becoming really annoyed with the judges and their impatience.

And then my fuzzy consciousness realized that the time buzzer was really my alarm clock, beeping just as each imaginary's foot touched the line.

If a story can so absorb me that it invades my dreams, well, now, I call that a good book!


Totally off-topic: as I was about to post this entry, at 1:42 a.m., my brother called to inform me that I have a new niece. He sounded wiped, but three-year-old Niece #2 was going like crazy in the background, talking and laughing. Heaven help Bubba!


Matt Mikalatos said...

First and most importantly, congratulations on the new little niece! That's awesome.

Second and also important, "Frontierseman Jesus" is rad. I hope you send him in to the contest at http://myimaginaryjesus.com

Third, in your defense, part of the story takes place in Seattle... it's the part where I (accidentally) pick up a prostitute. So you were right all along, and I'm sure that's why you said yesterday that it took place there!

Tori said...

Thanks for sharing your dream!! Frontiersman Jesus...hehe. Is he the Jesus that helps those who help themselves?

Momofkings said...

I quoted that same section! It really hits you between the eyes, doesn't it?

Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

Yep, congratulations on the new niece.

What a fun deal to actually dream a new chapter of the book!

Really enjoyed your posts, Brandon.

A couple I'd recommend—Dawn's three and Steve Trower's. He so rarely gets to review books, so it's fun to see what he has to say about this one. Plus his sense of humor is on a par with Matt's. ;-)


Keanan Brand said...

Matt - I have no idea where FJ or any of the others came from. Probably rejects from the Secret Society!

Tori - He just might be! I don't know why he showed up, but neither do I know why the others did. What does one do with Peasant Jesus, for instance? What's he signify? "Blessed are the poor...," but without the rest of the verse?

Momofkings - Indeed, it does. I could dive off into a discussion about it, but then I'd probably just come back around to that passage. It says it all.

Becky - As soon as I realized the buzzer was actually my alarm beeping, I laughed out loud. (I've woken myself from a deep sleep before, wondering who was laughing in my room, only to realize it was me.) The book and the dream and the imposition of reality -- it was like one long punchline!

The niece and her mother, by the way, are back home now and doing well.