The Hipness of Jesus Christ: Why the God of Christianity is Cool in Modern Culture

Jesus is not my “homeboy”, but He is pretty cool.

It seems that while growing up in the late ‘80’s and early ‘90’s, the name of Jesus wasn’t really common (or acceptable) in mainstream entertainment.  Maybe it’s the fact that we as a nation are more aware now of the infiltration of different religions such as Islam in recent years, so we’re becoming more outspoken about Jesus than we used to be.  Because if we still are indeed a “Christian nation”, it’s Jesus we would need to be down with.

I do believe that the name of Jesus will always be offensive in the sense that He is the main factor that separates Christians (Protestants, Catholics, Messianic Jews, etc.) from other religions, including Judaism, as well as distinguishing those who simply “believe in God or a higher power” (theists).  However, I believe we are at a point in history and culture where “Jesus awareness” is at an all time high.

From Carrie Underwood’s 2005 number one hit, “Jesus, Take the Wheel”, to Kanye West’s 2004 hit “Jesus Walks”, which only peaked at #11, but saw great commercial and critical success, to Mel Gibson’s (yes, he has gone crazy since then) 2004 movie, The Passion of the Christ, which become the 8th highest grossing movie of all time (at the time), the highest grossing R-rated movie ever, and the highest grossing non-English movie ever, America continues to prove that even in our desired choices of entertainment, Jesus is in demand.

Whether or not the average American truly believes and trusts that Jesus is the Son of God, it’s safe to say that the average American has at least a basic understanding that Jesus was put to death on a cross to redeem the sins of mankind, past and present.  And that He came back to life three days later.  And that during his lifetime, He performed all kinds of miracles, like walking on water, healing blind men, speaking dead people into existence, and feeding thousands of people from just a couple fish and loaves of bread.  Whether or not the average American believes all this to literally be true, they at least are familiar with these basic concepts.

Even if to the average skeptic, Jesus is nothing more than a respectable movie character played by forgettable non-Jewish actors with blue eyes, this black sheep of the Jews ultimately puts us all in a position to whether we have to either recognize Him as the savior of mankind, or dismiss Him as either a good intention or completely irrelevant to life.  Either Jesus is who He said He is (God), or He’s not.  Either we associate Him with the meaning of life and the afterlife, or we don’t.  And especially in modern America, we have so been made aware of who He is at this point; it’s just a matter of what we do with that knowledge.

I’ve thought about it, and honestly, even apart from the fact I truly believe Christianity is the answer to all our “meaning of life questions”, and that out of all the religions, it’s Christianity that is the “right one” for me (because let’s face it, out of all the religions in the world, only one can be right in the end when we die, so it’s important to pick one and stick with it while we’re still alive), apart from all that, even if I wasn’t a Christian, I still would vote Jesus as the “coolest god”.

He was conceived by the Holy Spirit (not a man) and a virgin.  Right off, that’s so scientifically impossible.  So I like it.  He never sinned; which is spiritually impossible.  I like that too.  His first miracle was turning water into wine at a really nice wedding. Cool.  He instantly stopped a really bad storm out at sea by saying, “peace, be still”.  The fact that Jesus went against the rules of nature is a major selling point for me.

Jesus came in the form of a Jewish man, who pretty much was a hippie type, who rebelled against the established religious culture of His day, challenging them to show their love for God to be authentic by taking care of the poor, the widowed, the unloved, and the sinners.

And based on the unproportionally high number of popular American Jewish actors and writers who we make rich in the name of entertainment, and based on the fact that just as many Jews who actually live in Israel who live in America (both Israel and America each contain about 40% of the world’s Jewish population), I’d say we Americans are known for embracing the Jews, whereas so many nations throughout history have rejected (understatement) them instead.

According to Christian belief, Jesus Christ is coming back to Earth to set up His millennial kingdom, in which all of us who believed in Him get to be a part of.  The way I see it, Jesus is not only the real deal; He just happens to be pretty cool too. But at the end of the day (and our lives), we will have made it clear through our words and actions just how relevant Jesus is to us personally.  And no matter how hip or popular (or uncool or unpopular) He may seem, we still choose in this life how important He is to us, for eternity.

“1985 I missed a plane, which then disappeared, never seen again.  You came to me Jesus, stood right in my way. You flew down from Heaven to save me again. Hallelujah, hallelujah.” -excerpt from “Stay with Me, Jesus” by Guster


Unnecessary Bonus…

Classic Books that Americans Love which were Written by Jewish Authors:




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Easy Like Sunday Morning: Christianity in a Nut Shell

Ah, the good ole days of flannel boards and McGee & Me.

Flannel boards will always remain in the warmest parts of my heart and childhood memories.  Nothing brought those Biblical accounts to life more than a cloth cut-out of a generic bearded Jewish man who could play the part of Moses parting the Red Sea, then less than a minute later he could be Abraham ready to sacrifice his son Isaac, or even Noah gathering all the animals on the ark.

And when the teacher was lazy or absent, we got to watch one of thirteen McGee and Me tapes, featuring Nick Martin and his crazy cartoon sidekick.  Lesson learned- you CAN beat the bully in a skateboarding contest, if even he cheats.  Also, if you sneak out to see a scary 3-D movie with your best buddy Lewis, you’re parents are going to find out and ground you.  And of course, it’s never a good idea to try to impress your friends by telling them that your Native American Indian neighbor eats rabbits.  Because he just needs a friend.

But eventually, my faith had to be able to grow beyond the entertaining and miraculous stories I heard each Sunday morning.

I admit.  It’s not easy anymore for another human being to “challenge me” in my thinking, regarding my faith.  I can spit out a hundred cliché Sunday School answers whenever I’m asked anything Christian related.  Because for those of us who “grew up in church”, we do know all the answers.

At least all the answers for the questions we are tiredly asked again and again by Christian leaders in a church setting.  You just can’t go wrong with “God”, “Jesus”, “the Holy Spirit”, “Heaven”, “good”, “bad”, “Satan”, “hell”, “pray and read the Bible”, “invite them to church”, or “tell them about Jesus”.

Typically, I don’t spend money or time on Christian marketed items.  Books that generically tell me I need to stop being “downtrodden by the world” and “stand on God’s promises” to “expand my territory”.  T-shirts that illegally parody business logos and make them “cute” by throwing in the name of Jesus.  A sticker to put on the back window of my car that arrogantly boasts “straight pride”, picks fights with atheists and Pro-Choicers, or announces that God is Republican.

Besides, I think most Christians know by now that God has switched His allegiance from the Republican Party to Ron Paul.

Just kidding.  Sort of.

But thank God, in the past two years, I have been challenged in my thinking, regarding my faith, more so than any other time in my life.

How?  1) I got married.  2) My small group from church read a book called The Hole in the Gospel.  3) I was asked an allegorical question about a bicycle.

Getting married to a faithful Christian has helped me to mature not just because of her confidence when mine is sagging, but also because marriage shows me how selfish I can be with my time and space.  Two years later, I’m much more easy-going about stuff that only mattered in The World of Me.

The Hole in Our Gospel is the book that my Wednesday night small group (Bible Study) decided to read.  Seriously, it is the most life-changing book I’ve ever read.  The Bible is the most influential.  But the Hole in Our Gospel has actually helped me to personally identify what the Bible and my purpose in my life are all about.

For me, my faith had always come down Ephesians 2:8-9 in the Bible: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, not that of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one may boast.

That Bible passage has everything a Baptist likes to hear, regarding one’s spiritual wellbeing: “grace”, “faith”, and “gift of God”.

It doesn’t say anything about helping other people, doing good works, or giving away our time, money, and energy.  Because as long as we splice in “Jesus loves you, died for you, rose from the grave, and will give you eternal life in Heaven if you say this three sentence prayer…”, then we are fulfilling our duty as a good Christian.  Get people to say a prayer and go to church.  Get them to stop cussing, drinking, and smoking- because that improvement shows their “spiritual fruits”.

As a Baptist, I had always been leery of the phrase “works”.  Because it had been engrained in my brain fibers that God’s salvation couldn’t be “earned”.  I understood from the book of James (2:20) that “works” were necessary to prove that my faith to be sincere.

The problem is that I, along with many Protestants just like me, naturally had been led to believe that “good works” means “good behavior”; and “good behavior” is a list of things Christians don’t do- including watching R-rated movies (unless they’re war-based: What Movie Rating Does Real Life Get?) and drinking anything with alcohol (both vanilla extract and Nyquil are approved, fortunately- and though participants should keep it on the down low, drinking wine is permitted for special private events like wedding anniversaries: Water into Wine).

But what really opened up my mind was reading (and eventually memorizing) the verse that directly followed my convenient “faith is all you need” Bible passage.  The next verse, verse 10, says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared behforehand so that we would walk in them.”

Created for good works?  Not good behavior?  It’s a lot more serious if I truly take the words of Christ seriously when in the Gospel of John (13:34), Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”

And finally, it hit me: Oh, Jesus actually cares about people starving in poor countries, despite their “wrong religious beliefs” and “stupid civil wars” and “corrupt governments”.

As hard as it was for me to process, God cares just as much that I as a Christian do my part to physically help those people as He wants me to in some direct or indirect way (supporting missionaries) learn about Jesus.

That financially helping these random, dying, desperate people across the world actually equates in God’s eyes as me loving them as He loves me.

With that being said, I no longer believe that a person goes to Heaven just because they said “the sinner’s prayer” when they were at a Vacation Bible School when they were in the 5th grade.  I believe, like Jesus’ half-brother James wrote in his book (2:20) that faith without works is dead.

And works means that I help people who are less fortunate (even if they themselves in deed got themselves in that situation), because that shows them God’s love, and I don’t necessary have to preach to them as I’m doing it.  I just need to start by helping them.

True, no one can earn God’s love or salvation.  Nor does believing in Jesus mean a person doesn’t go to hell.  Jesus himself said in the Gospel of Matthew (7:21): “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven will enter.”

So what is the will of God for us?  What does He want us to do besides obey His law, read the Bible, pray, and tell others about Jesus?  (All of which are “Sunday School answers” I referred to earlier.)

For a start, my wife and I knew it meant sponsoring a child named Gueslin in South America.  So now we have this postcard hanging on our fridge with a picture of a sad-looking 5 year-old boy who I wish I could take care of myself.  We send him money every month and pray for him and his family as we think about him.

We know that raising our own child (due in November) in our faith is what God wants.  We know that helping anyone in need is what He wants.  And we know that we can’t always wait for those opportunities to come to us.  I’m working on making it a new obsession: Finding ways to help people.  Because God likes that.

So where does the bicycle come into the picture?  A few months ago someone showed me a Xeroxed copy of a bicycle and asked me: “Which tire is faith and which tire is works?

The back tire is associated with the power while the front is associated with balance and steering.  Both are very important and necessary.  But if a bicycle would only work if one tire was faith and the other was works, which tire should be the front and which should be the back?

I was actually asked this in a group of people.  Half of us believed one way.  The rest, the other way.

My answer: The back tire is works, the front tire is faith.

Because if faith is dead with out works, so is a bike immobile with no one to actually pedal the thing.  The front tire only moves because the back one does.

And basically, if I’m actually understanding what Jesus said, loving God means loving other people the way He loves me.

I can’t rely on reading the Bible and praying to move me anywhere in my faith.  That’s what steers me.  Instead, I actually have to move my feet.

dad from day one: Baby Bean’s Heartbeat

Twelve weeks.

We have a new doctor.  Actually, a group of them: Midwife nurses (http://www.vanderbiltnursemidwives.org/).  Things are the exact opposite as they were at the other place.  It’s so important to know that the people taking care of us actually care about us. Friendly, informative, patient people there to help us.  Last week for our visit, we got to hear the heartbeat for the fist time, thanks to a Doppler device.

Whoot-whoot.  Whoot-whoot. Like listening to the sound effects of an Atari game played in a submarine.  A bit eerie, a bit awesome.

Our baby’s heartbeat is 150.  Supposedly, that’s typically the speed of a female heartbeat.

In addition to trying to wrap my mind around the fact that I am responsible for causing another human’s heart to beat, creating physical life, I am also fathoming the thought that I am responsible for causing a soul to exist as well.

It’s just a theory, and not even an important theological one at that, but I believe that the soul is passed on through the man, not the woman.  Jesus’s father was the Holy Spirit, not Joseph.  While his mother Mary was completely human.  And Jesus didn’t have a sin nature like his half-brothers and sisters born after him.

I take a certain verse quite literally, Romans 5:12, that says, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned”.

Humankind wasn’t cursed when Eve ate the Forbidden Fruit.  It wasn’t until she offered it to Adam and he ate it that God kicked them out of Paradise, took away their eternal life, caused women to have labor pains, and forced men to have to work hard for their food.

From that point on, the human soul (complete with a natural tendency to do wrong) has been passed on through all generations through the man, with the exception of Jesus who was fathered by the Holy Spirit.

So if that theory is indeed correct (and no one in this lifetime can know for sure), then I accept the gravity of it, as best as I physically can: Another human being with an eternal, spiritual soul, will take its first breath this coming November because of me.  (Of course, Lord willing.)

The word “legacy” is an understatement here.

All pictures with the “JHP” logo were taken by Joe Hendricks Photography:

Blog- www.photojoeblog.com

Website- www.joehendricks.com