I stood in the hall of the Alcázar (royal palace) in Seville, Spain, where Christopher Columbus received the blessing of Queen Isabella to go out to search for a new route to India, with disastrous results for Indigenous peoples. As our guide explained the historical moment, I was reminded of why I have struggled in my relationship with Jesus.
My struggle is actually with how some Christians through the centuries have portrayed Jesus, and the assumptions that ensue the moment I mention that I am Christian. I am nothing without Jesus; my faith is nothing without my relationship to Jesus. Yet, I have found myself hesitant at times to mention that I follow Jesus or to use the name of Jesus in prayer. It is an odd and difficult tension to have in my life, especially as a Christian minister.
As my husband and I visited the cathedral of Seville and other cathedrals in the area, the strange thing was that it was hard to find Jesus portrayed. The Virgin Mary was front and centre. In fact, the whole idea that Mary, too, was immaculately conceived arose from and was championed by this area of Spain. Often, the only way we saw Jesus portrayed was as an infant on Mary’s lap. Sometimes there was a tiny crucifix on the altar, while the large statue of Mary oversaw the rites and rituals.
It seems to me that this was a way of containing and controlling Jesus, keeping him in infant form. I found myself reflecting on how much, through the centuries, the Christian church has sought to contain and control Jesus and his message, keeping it neat, tidy, and well within the rules that humans desired.
What drew me to commit my life to Jesus and to follow his Way was the radical way that Jesus lived, challenging boundaries and norms. It was the stories of how Jesus included women that opened my heart to the call to ordination. It was a vision of Jesus, standing with me at the table as I broke bread and poured the cup, children gathered around, that confirmed my sense of call.
I fully believe that Jesus would have whole-heartedly embraced and accepted so many who are judged and persecuted in our society! Yet, we hear Jesus’ name used to pronounce judgment on people, just as Jesus’ name was used to send Columbus on his voyage that led to the colonization of the Americas and the genocide of Indigenous peoples and the destruction of their cultures and languages.
How do I deal with this tension in my relationship with Jesus? How do I distance myself from the judgmental use of Jesus, so that I can live his Way of compassion? How do I detach myself from the power claimed by those who use Jesus’ name to justify injustice? How do I live fully as the follower of the One who rejected power?
The church and society have changed so much since I was ordained 30 years ago. In the United Church, we have been on a strange journey in which we have tried, I believe, to be all things to all people, and ended up, perhaps, losing our centre in Jesus. I think we have downplayed who we are as followers of Jesus in order to distance ourselves from those who use Jesus’ name for their own purposes. But, I’m tired of that restrained dance, tired of apologetics and feeling like the lesser child in the family of Christian faith.*
So, it is time that I reclaim my relationship with Jesus and unabashedly declare that I am a follower of his Way. It is time to proclaim, without apology, Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, fully human and fully divine. There is nothing more marvellous and more challenging than that! And if I don’t have Jesus, then what do I have as a Christian?
Susan Lukey, Editor
*Make sure to read Tired of Apologizing for a Church I Don’t Belong To by Lillian Daniel (FaithWords, 2017).