An Interview with Jesus

RL000458.jpg_thinkingIf you are religion-y and hang out on Twitter, you may have encountered @JesusofNaz316, a self-described “carpenter who hangs out with fishermen, alcoholics, and prostitutes.” There are quite a few pretend religious and historical entities on Twitter, but most seem to have a hard time staying in character and remaining engaged. @JesusofNaz316 has impressed me with his authentically modern yet Christlike voice, his warm support of fellow travelers and wry sense of humor. I wanted to know more and the Lord was good enough (of course) to answer my questions. Thanks be to God.

M: What made you want to start tweeting in character?

J: There are a lot of Twitter Jesuses, none of them really spoke to me. I thought I’d take up the mantle to give voice to what I was feeling.

M: You’ve been at it for 4 years, do you ever get tired of being Twitter Jesus?

J: Not really. I don’t think of it as something I have to do. When I get tired of it, I’ll just go out to the desert to pray for a while. As far as motivation, I feel like I have something to say. I hope that doesn’t sound arrogant. Whether or not others listen/follow is their choice. Regardless, this has let me connect with several people I wouldn’t have otherwise ever known. I no long call them Tweeps; I call them friends.

M: I am sometimes confused when I am interacting on you on Twitter because I almost feel like the Lord is reaching out to me. Do you think that other people have that feeling too?

J: People occasionally tell me that my interactions with them have helped them in various ways. If God can speak through Balaam’s donkey, I suppose people can hear his voice on a Twitter account. It’s safe to say that I have received more kindness and wisdom from people on Twitter than I have given.

M: It’s a metaphorical act, but do you sometimes feel like you are representing the Lord? I think you do a good job of being encouraging, which always makes people feel good. Which is Jesus-y.

J: Thanks. I tweet my perceptions of events, sports, religion, pop culture, etc, and I have been shaped by the Gospels; I probably tweet a better game than I live. No one has ever told me that they’ve sold all of their goods and gave the profits to the poor, and I sure haven’t. If I’ve contributed to people’s lives, that’s quite a compliment. I’d say the same about you. Your work related to cancer is inspiring.

M: Do you feel like it’s a kind of ministry?

J: I am suspicious of that word. Most people who have a “ministry” seem to want something from other folks. I really started doing this for me, so that’s probably selfish. I am grateful for the kind words I’ve received from people who have resonated with what I’ve tweeted. It’s humbling.

M: You have an in-depth knowledge of the Bible and Christianity. Did you grow up in a religious family and are you currently religious?

J: I did grow up in a religious family. We had devout Catholic influences from my grandparents, but we belonged to fundamentalist church. Church on Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. I did church work for the better part of two decades, spoke at conferences at Christian universities, and did a lot of study (formal and independent). I’ve taken the Bible, God, spirituality, scholarship, and all that jazz very seriously over the years.

M: Does tweeting as Jesus bring you closer to the source? Especially if you do not consider yourself “actively” religious, I wonder if you have more or other “spiritual” feelings since beginning this project? If so, could you describe that?

J: This project. I like the way you phrased that. This has made me more ecumenical. I’ve come to know people in various (and competing?) branches of Christianity. And atheism too. They’re all of good will and have the same basic interests: How can we serve God by serving others? It’s been enlightening to engage with people who can laugh at their own traditions too—as well as weep over how painful it all can be. It’s made the Son of Man more omniscient. 🙂

M: I enjoy your humorous attitude and especially the notion that Jesus needs his coffee every morning, but when you think about it, if he were a human and living today he probably would want it. Your tweets give me the feeling that Jesus came back and decided to stick around and get a job and spend time on Twitter like the rest of us, making connections, cracking jokes. Your tweets actually humanize Jesus and remind us that he was a person. Do you have any thoughts about that?

J: Thanks. This sums up the way I approach these tweets: What would Jesus tweet? He wouldn’t be tweeting about wheat. How many people can relate to wheat- farming? But coffee; We all drink coffee. So, I am the bread of life becomes, I am the coffee of life. These started on my own personal account as my “morning devotionals.” A lot of my friends liked them, so I migrated them to Jesus. Instead of Jesus “rephrasing” the Bible, he teaches as one having authority. I think this is part of what makes the Jesus interesting. He just says things and drops the mic. But I like to think there is a real person there.

M: Do any of your friends/family know about your Jesus tweeting and if so, what do they think?

J: I have disclosed myself to a select few. The whole messianic secret thing.

M: Lord, do you have any words of advice for me? Being a writer is like canoeing in the dark. But all of life is that way, I suppose.

J: You’re a great writer. And illustrator. I’d come to you to be baptized in the craft of writing.

M: I wasn’t fishing for compliments (if you will) but thanks so much. See? You are so supportive and kind, Lord. Anyway, is there a heaven?

J: My working metaphor is the feeding of the 5,000. All of the fragments were brought together.

M: Do indulgences work?

J: For the one receiving payment. It’s always a good thing to pray for others.

M: There’s a scene in the Heaven is for Real movie where Pastor Burpo is visiting a dying man and asks him right off the bat “Is there anything you feel sorry for?” I thought, that’s kind of a bummer, and if I were dying and a clergy person came and asked me that I would use my last ounce of strength to say “I did my best and everyone messes up and that’s a really negative attitude, so get away from my deathbed because I am reviewing all the great things I experienced on Earth and all the people I have loved and vice versa.” I dislike the idea that God would be so judgmental. Since God made us, don’t you think that God would already know what’s in our hearts?

J: Once I sat with a woman in her hospital room. She was dying of ovarian cancer. Spending most of her life in church, she was terrified of going to hell. I asked her if she would ever disown her daughters for anything they would ever do. She replied, “Of course not.” Immediately she realized that God would never kick her out either. After her death, her husband said that this gave her great peace. A lot of religious folks have huge egos (said the dude playing Jesus on Twitter). They think they’re doing/saying what God wants. Like St. Paul, they live in good conscience. Yet, they’re straining gnats while swallowing camels. It’s easy to forget compassion in the pursuit of  “saving souls.

M: This is a big one. I’ve never really understood why God would send his Son to die for us, so that our sins could be forgiven. What the heck? I’ve never really done anything that bad and that makes me feel implicated. Also, we are all still sinning all the time. Also, that doesn’t make me feel too great to be one of God’s children considering what he is capable of. I really don’t get it. What does it mean?

J: For me, a big part of the crucifixion helps me to see the commonality of suffering. There’s no escaping it. Not even for Jesus. Or for God. It’s the first Noble Truth. But more than that, the crucifixion helps me see that others suffer too. It’s a horrible act. When I contemplate it, my sense of separation from others is lessened. In that way, I see Christ dying for our sins. That’s probably too brief and underdeveloped. The whole penal-substitution thing is horrifying. I think we might benefit by revisiting our Carolingian theologies. I have been, anyway. When I recognize the suffering in myself and others, I’ve been able to be a bit more compassionate.

M: Any reason for the John 3:16 reference?

J: It’s like people treat 3:16 as a magic number, the whole Gospel in miniature. Few people read John 3:17 or Matthew 16:24. The fascination with the crucifixion as payment for some kind of debt seems grotesquely morbid, not to mention unjust. How does sacrificing one’s son show love for the world? I’m not sure we’ve really thought this through as well as we need too—Augustine notwithstanding. Anyway, my 316 ends up functioning like an area code. Jesus from the 316.

Mary Valle lives in Baltimore and is the author of Cancer Doesn't Give a Shit About Your Stupid Attitude: Reflections on Cancer and Catholicism. She blogs on KtB as The Communicant. For more Mary, check out her blog or follow her on Twitter.