I finished Imaginary Jesus by Matt Mikalatos this morning. And it moved into the must read list.
We all have our ideas of what Jesus looked like, how he behaved, what he did. We bring him to life in our own biased imaginations in order to better understand and get to know Jesus. Over time, though, our imagination–and our Jesus–becomes overtaken by our beliefs, doubts, perceptions, misconceptions, what we’ve seen or heard–things that come from others who imagine Jesus in their own way–overtaken by their beliefs, doubts, perceptions, misconceptions, what they’ve seen and heard…and…well…you get the idea.
In Imaginary Jesus, Mikalatos contends that in order to see the real Jesus, you must first get rid of your imaginary Jesus. This not-quite-true-probably-spiritual-memoir gives us laugh out loud story-telling and a frolicking journey around Portland, Oregon and first century Judea as Matt himself chases after his imaginary Jesus in order to let him go. In the process, Matt encounters many other Jesuses that are in the world, conjured up by all kinds of different people. We meet Testosterone Jesus, Magic 8 Ball Jesus (my personal fave), King James Jesus (always quoting scripture), Bargain Jesus, Liberal Social Services Jesus (who has no mouth, constantly doing kingdom work but never talking about God), Conservative Truth Telling Jesus (who thinks the only way to tell people about God is through hard truth and never raises a hand to help with physical needs–so he has no arms), and many others. As Matt encounters these other Jesuses, the reader is bound to see Jesuses he or she recognizes–either because they’ve met people who imagine Jesus these ways or because they are meeting their own imaginary Jesus.
With the help of the Apostle Peter, a reformed prostitute and a talking donkey, Matt works to get rid of his imaginary Jesus in order to start over with the real Jesus. What he finds is better than what he expected.
I appreciated Mikalatos’ way of describing his experiences with Jesus–imagined and real–and his fantastic sense of humor along the way. Even in the midst of personal grief, Matt maintains his sense of humor–and renews his search for who Jesus really is.
Perhaps it’s because I can relate to Matt’s story in many ways personally. Perhaps it’s because I, too, have been searching for the real Jesus. Whatever it was, this book was a fantastic read that prompted me to consider my own imaginations and thinking about who Jesus is and what Jesus does–and what it means to be a follower–and I’m starting to really like the conclusions to which I’m coming. Even if “the real Jesus is inconvenient” (p. 79).
Mikalatos should have another book coming out next year–and I look forward to reading that one, too.