Using Jesus

May 27, 2017 § 2 Comments

Jesus, the Christ, and I—Part 3

When I was little, my father told me that if I ever found myself wondering what to do in a situation involving right and wrong, I should try to imagine Jesus doing it. I never forgot that.

When the lottery for the draft was instituted during the Vietnam war, my number—my birthday—was number one, the first to be drawn and the first to be called. I had to cut short my hippy hajj to California in the summer of 1969 because I had to come back to beat the draft. Which I did, but that is another story.

By 1970, the war had really ramped up and one day, talking to my then girlfriend, who would become my wife a year later, I came to a personal crisis: I felt compelled to confront my dad about the war.

Maybe the biggest mistake of my life. A huge fight. He ended up disowning me, telling me to leave and not visit or call or write. That if I ended up going to prison instead of serving, as I told him I was prepared to do, he would tell his friends I was dead.

At one point in that terrible afternoon, I reminded him of what he had advised about using Jesus as a test and I told him that when I tried to imagine Jesus piloting an attack helicopter over Danang, I just couldn’t do it.

He looked at me with this utterly stricken face, turned away, and changed the subject. I had used Jesus as a dagger to morally wound my father. I was morally wounded myself by his denial. We never fully recovered from that moment and from the ongoing conflict between us, though we did eventually rediscover our love for each other and became quite close in our we’re-not-going-to-talk-about-anything-substantive-or-personal way.

But I had been such a hypocrite. I was right about Jesus and that helicopter. But in that moment, I did not think about the fact that I could no more imagine Jesus taking all the drugs I was doing, or having the sex I was having, or living the lifestyle I was living.

I don’t think my father saw this right away, either. I think he was at that moment too freaked out by the act of my moral jiu jitsu and his own inner conflicts. But I don’t think it took him long to realize how I had used him and how I had used Jesus. I don’t think he ever forgave me for my willingness to hurt him so, or for challenging his faith that way, or for subjecting him to the sure knowledge that I would not be joining him in heaven, that in fact, I was going to hell, and he, like Lazarus in the parable, would be sitting in the bosom of Abraham looking down on my eternal suffering.

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§ 2 Responses to Using Jesus

  • Sam Kennet says:

    Just a note to say how much I appreciate your blog, and especially this new series (timely for me), and for sharing such a difficult moment from your life. It made me think about a time I carelessly wounded my father by complaining about a past situation which he no longer had any power to alter and which he would certainly have been prepared to address if I had mentioned it back then. It made me realise the wisdom in Jesus’ words about not going to bed angry. Time often makes of our grievances weapons of destruction far out of proportion to the seeds from which they originally grew.

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