Wanting Jesus

May 26, 2017 § 1 Comment

Jesus, the Christ, and I—Part 2

I was raised in a moderately pious evangelical Lutheran family in Minneapolis. I was always quite religious by temperament, enough so that I think it made my conservative father a little uneasy. To his mind I think my interest bordered on excessive, to be excessive was to be a kind of radical, and therefore not to be fully trusted.

But my mother was very supportive and, in fact, they both were, really. I became very involved in church life, singing in the choir, participating in the youth group, getting the Boy Scout’s Pro Deo et Patria Award, and so on. In my high school senior year, I gave the sermon on Youth Sunday.

In my first year of confirmation class, as a seventh grader, I immersed myself in study. With my mother’s help, I memorized  the Sermon on the Mount, a couple dozen psalms, I Corinthians 13, and the entire Luther’s Small Catechism (it is pretty small) with all the Bible passages that were the answers to its questions. I loved it.

But late in high school and then especially in my freshman year at college, I found myself yearning for more. I looked around me at the good people in my church and our pastor, who was a gifted singer and sermonizer, and made two discoveries:

First, no one was actually experiencing God. They were going to church and doing everything else that was asked of them, just as I was, and it seemed to be enough for them. But no one spoke of direct communion with the God they were worshiping. For communion, the wine and the bread were enough. Me—I wanted God to light up my nervous system with something more transcendental and earth-shaking. I wanted some kind of inward transformation, though I could not have articulated it that way at the time.

This yearning was just a blind desire with no real content or context. I barely knew what it was I yearned for and had no idea what to do about it.

The second discovery arose from the war in Vietnam. My father, my pastor, and as far as I could tell, my church, believed that this war was maybe not so righteous as their own World War II had been, but necessary. More importantly, they apparently believed it was consistent with their faith in the Prince of Peace.

This was a deal breaker for me. Both discoveries were. I was not going to settle for a religion that could not deliver genuine religious experience and I was not going to practice a religion that could sanction senseless violence in violation of its teacher’s teachings and example.

For me at this time, Jesus was divine; Jesus and the Christ were the same thing—he was Jesus Christ. But I saw no path to his presence in the practice I’d been raised in. And I yearned for a path that wasn’t so hypocritical, that practiced what it preached.

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