Not so very long ago, when my children were small and in Elementary School, they each participated in a very fun and interactive learning experience called the Flat Stanley Project. They are two years apart, so the fun was spread out over a couple of years! First D, then J.
I scanned a good picture of them, and then they drew a cartoon-like body, and placed their cut-out head on top. We laminated them, and the fun began! They started by mailing them to my parents, who took them respectively on a cruise, and a local getaway weekend to see family. Mom and Dad sent them to my ex-in-laws, who took their “Flat Grandkids” along on their adventures. And on it went. Each of their “Flat Guardians” in turn gave “Flat Child” to another interested family member, who did the same. Each recipient sent back a photo chronicle of the shared adventures to my son and daughter. And in the end they each produced a journal of “their” adventures, and shared it with their classmates. We had a blast reading through all of the places they went, and the things they did. In some cases, we laughed until we nearly cried!
Shortly afterwards, a couple of my friends who knew me in a previous life as a wilderness lover, and minor adventurer, decided to take an epic journey through the Alaskan Wilderness. And they thought about me, wanted me there with them. They knew that I was very ill at the time, unable to even trek to the mailbox regularly, let alone back pack through the bear and salmon-infested wilderness. But they desperately hoped that there was some way that I could. But alas, it wasn’t going to happen. I’m not sure it would have had I been healthy, anyway. To be honest.
Then one of them had a bright idea. Yes, make a “Flat Me”, and carry “him” along through all of their journeys. I thought about it briefly, and eventually got into it. Yes, I could “go” this way. So I scanned a picture of myself, and drew a cartoon body, complete with boots, hiking stick, and backpack, and sent it to them. And so the journey began! They trekked through some of the most majestic places in Alaska. And boy, did I travel.. I rode a Ferry through iceberg infested waters, took a bath in the Bering Sea (brrr!), played with Star Fish on some unnamed coast, drank beer by the fire, flirted with a female Captain, and was even caught relieving myself in the ocean… lol! These guys wanted me there so badly, that they found a way to take me, and have fun together, even if it wasn’t real. I was touched. In a way I was there for all of the fun and craziness. But in reality, it wasn’t me. It was a two dimensional caricature of me that made them feel better, not really me at all. But I have the journal of “my travels” to this day. And it makes me smile. It was a real gift from them. All of this aside, in some way, I did make it to Alaska after all. 🙂
I thought about this after going through Beautiful Outlaw the last time with my BHOP friends. How what we’ve done to Jesus, with our “religion”, is to make him flat. We’ve made a Flat Jesus that we can mail ahead to one another on virtual journeys, and then easily chronicle about when we have the time. Flat things are usually not good. Flat soda (we call it “pop” up North, FYI…) is bad. Tires? Flat is very bad. Wallet? Very bad… you get the idea. Flat Jesus is not good either. He is very compliant, “nice”. He doesn’t challenge us, or curse Fig Trees, or Pharisees. He stays in His envelope, and goes just wherever we send Him. And by the looks of the paintings of Him in many churches, He’s also very Blond (no, back away, do not go there…) And since He’s laminated, He doesn’t get wet when we cry, we can’t touch Him. He can’t touch us. He’s just a two dimensional image of the real person. And when the journeys are over, we can put a stick pin through Him up on our bulletin boards, in order to remember the experience. I don’t intend to sound cynical, but keeping Flat Jesus around suddenly sounds far too much like crucifying Him afresh. To me…
I don’t want Flat Jesus, do you? I want the Jesus who can still look into and through my heart, who can reach into that one place… and put His finger on it. And touch me. Poke me, wake me up. Because I still need that. I still need Him.
A Ransomed Heart Daily Reading from “Beautiful Outlaw” that says this a bit better;
The loss of personality confounds our imitation of Christ. What happens is, our particular brand of church seizes upon one or two of his virtues as the essence of Christ for us to follow. Justice. Mercy. Righteousness. Whatever. You cannot live a life on one quality any more than you can speak intelligently using one word. Meanwhile, we continue to sound on about the love and compassion of Jesus, like the village idiot banging one note on a piano. After a while the world turns away. Can you blame them? Alas—if only Jesus’ followers shared his personality. That one shift alone would correct so many of the ridiculous and horrifying things that pass for popular Christianity.
What is missing in our Gospel reading—and in our attempts to “read” what Jesus is saying and doing in our own lives right now, this week—is his personality, undraped by religion.
- Books: ‘Beautiful Outlaw’: Portrayals of Jesus lack depth (seattletimes.nwsource.com)