My friend loves Friends. Loves it. That show was, is, and as far as I can see, always will be her jam. So in most any situation, at almost any time, she can relate a real life situation to some situation in that comedy, or one of her flesh and blood friends, to a character in the cast. “That is so Monica/Phoebe/Joey/Chandler/Ross/Rachel.” I could say that I’ve heard it all (and could I be any less enthused?) but I recently realized that I actually haven’t. There are two essential character I have NEVER heard her compare anyone to. Never has she ever said to me or anyone else, “You are being such a Marta Kauffman/David Crane right now.” Who and/or who? The creators of Friends. Who along with their production partner Kevin Bright were the joint force that spawned an entire pop culture. If Friends was a universe, (and let’s be honest: it is) it’s trinitarian god would be Bright-Kauffman-Crane. And S, knows that. She knows the bible of that show front to back, but she has never compared herself or anyone she knows to the gods of that gospel.
And I really wish Christians would keep that same energy.
There was a twitter flare up recently, re: slavery and the myth of the benevolent slaveholder. Because apparently present day United States is doing so well, some Christians on twitter (Christtwits?) are finding it hard to believe the horrific history of our nation was as horrific as some of us keep insisting. We’re at a 10 and they’d like us a negative two, but they’ll settle for a three. Protip: If the conversation is ever about slavery and you’re on the side saying it wasn’t that bad; kill yourself. (I’m sorry, is that mean? Okay, but it’s not that mean.) Anyway, white folks be whitefolkin’ and one of them said the reason some of us have a hard time believing in the myth of a benevolent slave owner is because we can’t conceive of a benevolent Father who calls us all slaves to his son… okay, Christtwit.
Benevolent Father, I’m tired. All the women in me are tired. And all the slaves in me are tired… of Your shit, Dad! Let me go!
Whoops! That escalated quickly. But you know what, let’s go with it. Imagine with me, a slave saying that to their benevolent slave owner. Whether it was whispered through tears, shouted in anger or stated calmly through gritted teeth — what would the response have been? WWBD? What would Benevolence do?
Obviously, Benevolence would turn in their bible to our very helpful text of the day: Romans 6:22. And having read such clear wisdom, Benevolence would immediately set their slave/child free. Immediately. They would have obviously have to, because they would read it and either: a) see themselves in the slave character and do unto others as they would want others to do to them or b) see themselves in the slave character, be honest about the fact that they don’t want to set their slave free, but accept that the mandate of a slave is to do things they don’t want to do. Either way, Christian benevolence begins and ends with the enslaved being freed. There’s no other option. Unless… No. No way. No one would do that. No one would read a bible verse involving God and slaves, and see themselves in the God position. That would be downright devilish.
And yet here we are. With Christians likening slave owners to God, instead of humbly recognizing themselves as slaves to supremacy.
Because a flaw in our theology has become a feature. We have made the goal of Christianity becoming Christlike. **record scratch** Wait… What’s so bad about that? Nothing when you say it like that because we’re used to hearing it like that, but let’s switch things up a little bit. Jesus Christ was God, right? So let’s go with that. Switch Christ with God — and now, when I say we have made the goal of Christianity becoming Godlike… yikes… it just hits different; right? Godlike. Like God. You will be like God… where have we heard that before?
So what’s a Christian to do? Aren’t we supposed to be like Jesus? Wasn’t that the point? Isn’t that the point? I don’t know. Was it? Is it? Did He die to take our place? Maybe. Did He die to change places with us? Absolutely not. How do I know? Because He still alive. Remember? That’s the whole deal, right? He lived and died and rose from the dead and now *checks notes* He’s alive. So why would I ever ask myself What Would Jesus Do as if He’s missing in action and needs me to fill in for him? He’s present and accounted for. He’s got it covered. And yet we’re steadily out here trying to assume a role that is not open. Trying to become like a man who was God. And doing a terrible job of it. Because we just don’t have the range. Jesus was man and is God. He can play both positions. We cannot. We never could. We were never meant to. We have only ever been meant to be man with God. We are best, when we are man with God. We are worst when are trying to be man and God. We need to stop trying to live like we’re Jesus, and start trying to live like we’re with him.
What’s the difference? Let’s take a quick look at another two-character scene we’ve probably all heard a few sermons on — the Temptation of Christ. What are some of the common takeaways from that story: being led into the wilderness to be prepared, having your identity questioned, being hungry, being tempted, overcoming by knowing the word… cool cool cool. Message received. Narrator voice over: The message has not been received. Because again, we’re looking at this story and we’re just automatically seeing ourselves in the God position. Jesus hasn’t even died yet and we’re stepping into this scene like “Oh, this is my part!” But is it? Two characters were led into the desert, one following the other… be honest, which one are you more likely to be? The one not using their power to take shortcuts or the one trying anything and everything to talk Jesus into taking one? But how many of us have ever looked at the story and seen ourselves as anything other than Jesus.
That’s a problem.
We have literally lost sight of ourselves. And our view was never reliable to begin with. You realize that not one of us has ever actually truly seen ourselves, right? We’ve only ever seen reflections. So if my bad theology centers Jesus in me and tells me to see myself as Jesus in the world, the view can only grow more and more reflective. Not of Jesus, but of me. Because I am bad at recognizing myself. And that’s how we end up being able to imagine such a thing as a benevolent slave owning God. Because we want to be like Him, almighty, all powerful Him. At any cost. Including our own humanity.
So we need to change the question, stop asking What Would Jesus Do and start asking Where Is Jesus Now and then be honest about where we are in relation to Him. Because while we can do bad all by ourselves and Jesus can do Jesus all by Jesus-self, we can only do Jesus badly. So let’s just stop. Please Christian, for God’s sake, stop trying to be like Jesus.
Tell your friends.
Janice Lagata was born in California, but born for New York. A writer, fighter, igniter and matron saint of cats; smirking is her favorite. She’s just a girl feeding herself to the world and asking it to love her – that’s a lyric from a song she wrote, you can probably find it and lots of other things she’s working on by asking the internets (insta/twitter/soundcloud/spotify/youtube/your mom) for @jani_the_cat.