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Jesus Died for This?: A Satirist's Search for the Risen Christ

Jesus Died for This?: A Satirist's Search for the Risen Christ

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by Becky Garrison

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Who is Jesus, really, and what’s he up to these days?
Becky Garrison invites you to laugh and ponder in her self-proclaimed “travelogue of a religious satirist’s search for the risen Christ.” These days, it seems, Jesus doesn’t always show up where we expect to find him.
In a series of provocatively titled essay-like chapters,


Who is Jesus, really, and what’s he up to these days?
Becky Garrison invites you to laugh and ponder in her self-proclaimed “travelogue of a religious satirist’s search for the risen Christ.” These days, it seems, Jesus doesn’t always show up where we expect to find him.
In a series of provocatively titled essay-like chapters, Garrison offers snapshots that take you from her evangelical press trip to the Promised Land in January, 2007, to the Presidential Promised Land, a.k.a. the 2008 elections. You will be treated to thoughtful, well-placed jabs at the shallow, self-reflective, self-righteous finger-pointing of those modern Christians who bend Heaven and theology to make Jesus into someone just like them. Along the way, Garrison captures glimpses of God as she spots both ordinary radicals operating below the spiritual radar and those extraordinary individuals who actually walk the walk.
At the crux of this sojourn is thoughtful and articulate consideration of how we “lost” Jesus in the first place, and why we might want to stand face to face with him if we’re going to truly model ourselves after him. Garrison suggests that real spiritual discernment involves looking Jesus up rather than serving him up.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A common stereotype of a religious person is someone with a dour face, hands clasped in prayer while sternly warning others about the dangers of the flesh. Author Garrison (Red and Blue God, Black and Blue Church), contributing editor for Sojourners, blows that image away and helps all Christians laugh at themselves and the crazy ways they misunderstand Jesus. The author's irreverent style is charming, but she does not use humor as a crutch; she clearly comprehends the Christian tradition and calls both progressive and conservative believers to task for misrepresenting the faith. The gospel, she contends, should not be twisted to fit personal agendas. Garrison reports on her travels to the Holy Land and across the U.S., all the while astutely observing and commenting on a variety of religious lifestyles and traditions. Never missing an opportunity to get a laugh, the author's stories are peppered with jokes and tongue-in-cheek commentary about how Christians have "lost" Jesus. As with any comic, some of the humor misses the mark, but the gist is clear: Christians must examine the core of their faith, understand that religion is not "all about me," and, most important, share a good laugh.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Jesus Died for This?

A Satirist's Search for the Risen Christ
By Becky Garrison


Copyright © 2010 Becky Garrison
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-310-29289-0

Chapter One


Although I possess this inborn hunger to connect with the Jesus whom I encounter in the Gospels, I often wonder if he's truly present when Christians gather together in his name. Are we really trying to put his teachings into practice or playing the Sunday morning God game? Watching the Christian cliques gather - the holy hipsters, the Promise Keeper / Suitable Helper couples who put Ken and Barbie to shame, the prayerful powerbrokers who keep the minister and the church coffers on a tight leash - reminds me that I'm not the "right" kind of Christian.

How could I ever be one of God's girls when my deceased dad was a renegade Episcopal priest and college professor? The Rev. Dr. Karl Claudius Garrison Jr. might have hailed from the Bible Belt, but he sought salvation from a bottle of Southern Comfort.

Then again, take a good look at Jesus' crew. They were the unclean, the unchosen, the unloved - the very people discarded by the religious establishment. What a bunch of missional misfits. No way would they be allowed to play on most Christian teams.

Here's what I don't get: Jesus' life, death, and resurrection turned his followers' lives upside down. So if those disciples were willing to give up everything they had, including their lives, to follow Jesus, then why are many Christians, myself included, such misguided messes? In the words of Mike Yaconelli, the founder of The Wittenburg Door and my first editor, "What happened to the category-smashing, life-threatening, anti-institutional gospel that spread through the first century like wildfire and was considered (by those in power) dangerous?" What the J is going on?

As we've seen all too often, some Christians seek out the glare of the media spotlight as though this manmade electricity represents the true light of the world. In their mission to become the ringmasters of the Religious Ringling Brothers & Biblical Barnum Bailey Circus, they compete with their fellow clowns to headline "The Greatest Show on Heaven and Earth."

Ever wonder what Jesus thinks when Christians pretend to glorify his name while placing themselves in the center ring? Does he ever turn to his dad and go, "I died for this?"

Christians may claim to love this humble carpenter from Nazareth, but we don't act Christlike a lot of the time. Wading through biblical bunk, evangelical excesses, and undemocratic dogma searching for signs of Jesus reminds me of the eager desperation one finds in small children trying to find Waldo (or Wally, if you're based in the UK). It's tough, but eventually they spot Waldo's striped shirt and goofy glasses.

Likewise, once I look beyond the ungodly glitz and Jesus junk, I can spot ordinary radicals operating below the spiritual radar. They're so busy trying to figure out how to put the Beatitudes into practice that they don't bother to pimp out their products (Matthew 5-7). You won't find them issuing manifestos, proclamations, and declarations as pious proof they've created this magic elixir that will somehow "save" the Christian church. They remind me a bit of holy hobbits - for years I seldom saw them in action, but once I started training my eye to look out for these everyday saints, I kept noticing them everywhere I looked.

In January 2007, I began a series of business and personal travels, starting with my first trip to Israel. During these trips, I started observing what religion scholar Phyllis Tickle terms "the Great Emergence," a period of massive societal upheaval impacting technology, science, politics, religion, and the global culture at large.

With each step forward in my faith, I find myself trying to connect with the soil and souls of those who walked this way before me. Through their stories, we can see these threads of church history and tradition woven into the fabric of the future. Whenever I find myself wandering in the wilderness, it's usually because I went off in my own direction instead of continuing along this ancient pilgrim path.

During this research, I stumbled upon Phil Cousineau's book The Art of Pilgrimage, a slim volume that proved to be a valuable tool to help ground me in my journeys. Cousineau defines pilgrimage as "the art of movement, the poetry of motion, the music of personal experience of the sacred in those places where it has been known to shine forth. If we are not astounded by these possibilities, we can never plumb the depths of our souls or the soul of the world."

Anyone who knows me will testify that the thought of me engaged in quiet contemplation gives them the giggles. I resemble a chatterbox, not a contemplative. From a very early age, I learned to use humor as a defense mechanism that enabled me to survive as my nuclear family detonated. So naturally, I turn on the snark and fast-talk my way out of a prickly situation.

But something kept tugging at my heart, telling me I needed to go deeper, much deeper. After all, I am related to John Howland, John Alden, and Priscilla Mullins, who were three passengers aboard the Mayflower. Perhaps there's some presence of this ancestral pilgrim spirit embedded into my DNA.

Despite this tenuous historical pilgrim connection, I confess that I'm a newbie in this whole pilgrimage process. Hence I began a flurry of emails with the Rev. Kurt Neilson, author of Urban Iona. How could the insights he gleaned from his pilgrimage to Ireland and Scotland assist me in my conversion from traveler to spiritual seeker? He reminded me that I need to be open to see, taste, hear, feel, or smell whatever I come across and then let that transform me. Accept whatever happens and don't try to fight it. Not exactly words a control freak like me likes to hear. But the nudging in my gut kept telling me he was onto something, and that I should stop talking and listen for once.

After I quieted down, I had to admit to the painful truth that, while I interviewed people about their spiritual journeys all the time, I had forgotten the last time I really spoke to Jesus. Every time I tried to pray, I felt like this rabid dog trying to catch its ever-elusive tail. Every so often, my circular motions would land me into a labyrinth, where I could stop for a bit and catch my breath. But then it was right back on the holy hamster wheel once again.

But Kurt's gentle voice kept pushing me forward. "The journey is the goal. And the road is made by walking. Been said by many, in so many words, more or less."

Chapter Two

Holy Land Happenings January 2007

In my faith fantasy, my first trek to Jesus' stomping ground would be mystical and melodious, a singular spiritual sensation - imagine a musical version of Franco Zeffirelli's Jesus of Nazareth starring a 1970s-era hippie savior. But the U.S. State Department's security alerts set a sterner tone.

When I got the news that I could join a small contingent of evangelical writers on a press trip to Israel, I did my homework and secured some article assignments - all the while doubting that the promised trip would ever actually happen. Even as I checked in with El Al Airlines and boarded the plane, I thought I might get punk'd. Then it hit me midair - Oh my God, I'm actually going to Israel!

En route, I skimmed my complimentary copy of Fodor's Israel and soaked in The Bible Experience, an audio version of the New Testament. I listened to Cuba Gooding voicing the role of Jesus, but the real people showing me the money were the Israeli businessmen talking rather loudly behind me. After my laptop batteries and my fellow passengers ran out of juice, all was quiet, and I was able to get a few hours of sleep during this nine-hour flight.

We arrived at Ben Gurion International Airport at the crack of dawn. Shalom signs everywhere welcomed us to the Holy Land. I expected to see merchants selling Christendom crud, kosher kitsch, and Islamic trinkets, but instead I bumped into a sea of Orthodox frequent flyers and a smattering of largely Western European travelers. That and the Guns N' Moses display: baby-faced Israeli soldiers armed with automatic weapons everywhere I looked.

After a quick breakfast, our guide showed us around Tel Aviv and the neighboring town of Jaffa (Joppa), the town where Jonah boarded a boat while fleeing from God. Seeing the whale sculpture gave me a case of the Christian chuckles, a malady that I sensed irritated a few of my fellow travelers, who seemed to be taking a more serious approach.

After we swallowed the whale story, the day took on a more somber tone when we passed by the site where Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated on November 4, 1995, by right-wing Israeli radical Yigal Amir. Given the amount of press coverage this event received in New York City, somehow I thought his memorial would be overflowing with candles and professional mourners. But the rock that marked the spot where Rabin breathed his last was adorned with a simple wreath of flowers. I guess if they lit candles for everyone killed over the centuries by some crazed fanatic, then all of Israel would be ablaze.

The Sea of Galilee Circus

Yesterday we had a taste of the Old Testament, and today we were off to explore New Testament territory. As we tooled around the seaside town of Caesarea, I shook my head in disbelief. I expected something high and holy, seeing that this was the place where Paul was imprisoned for two years before setting sail for Rome (Acts 23-27). But Pilate's playpen looked like one of those overpriced luxury resorts marketed to those who possess more cash than common sense.

My feeling of nothingness was a foretaste of the spiritual letdowns that awaited me.

"This is it?!"

We're standing at Megiddo, the spot where - according to the predestination police - Armageddon's going to get you. I always thought the launch pad where the LaHaye & Jenkins Armageddon Action Team[R] takes off on the Heaven Bound Express[TM] would be a site of biblical proportions. Even Mount Everest would be a pebble by comparison. The Rapture Ready crew never mentioned that the final judgment for all of humanity will take place on a plot of land the size of a suburban mini-mall.

Repairs to the underground tunnels prevented us from seeing much of the underbelly of this hill that is set on top of the ruins of twenty-six different cities. Each time Israel was conquered, the victor razed the land and built new structures that spoke to their particular sociopolitical and religious sensibilities.

But we did get to walk around a stone shack built for Christian worship ser vices and tour the ruins of the Megiddo stables. When our guide identified a rough-hewn stone slab as a manger, I stood there stunned. This isn't the cute wooden rock-a-bye baby crib portrayed in countless Christmas pageants and Hollywood depictions of the baby Jesus, but a grimy, ratty relic. In this desert climate, wood was such a precious commodity that building a feeding trough out of this resource would indeed be casting pearls before swine.

This manger brought to mind the mangled nativity set my family kept on our mantelpiece. Every so often, our overeager beagles thought a wise man would make for a tasty treat - we never bought into the whole "Do not give dogs what is sacred" thing (Matthew 7:6). (Fortunately, our clueless canines never ate the baby Jesus. Communion issues aside, chomping down on this diminutive doll would have sent them to the vet, or worse.)

Frankly, Megiddo reminded me of the straggly renditions of faith I find scattered throughout a Flannery O'Connor short story. Like one of her characters returning from the dead, would the winds of radical redemption breathe life into these ruins (Ezekiel 37:1-14)? 'Cause at that point, I was feeling more heretical than holy.

On to Nazareth - the badlands where the baby king became a carpenter kid. I wasn't keen to do a point-by-point comparison of Isaiah 53 to the New Testament birth narratives; but when I walked down those narrow stone streets, I understood why people scoffed when they heard that the Messiah hailed from Nazareth (John 1:46). There wasn't much beauty or majesty emanating from this isolated backwater town that is currently inhabited by a largely Arab population.

No trip to Christ's crib would be complete without a visit to Nazareth Village, a community theater - styled production depicting life as it "might have been" when Jesus walked on this earth. All throughout their "performance," I just couldn't bring myself to "interact" with the "actors." (And yes, I am using that term loosely.) I refrained from any Lamb of God lampoons, camel cracks, or sheep 'n' goat gaffes at the risk of offending our hosts, but this was getting way too Disneyfied for my tastes. I'm just not seeing anyone in Nazareth who even remotely resembles the Westernized depictions of Jesus as this wimpy WASP who can barely lift a hammer, let alone assist his father in the carpentry biz. (The Bible never says if Jesus actually worked as a carpenter, though I suspect he helped his father out when he wasn't doing moves like running off to the temple [Luke 2:39 - 52].) So what gives with selling blue-eyed baby Jesus dolls?

This town's angelic afterglow made me queasy. I just don't buy the spiritual shtick where the archangel Gabriel floats down to a harp sound track.

"Pardon me. Would you care to join me for a cup of tea?"

"Why, yes."

"I take it you like the birth of your son, our Lord and Savior, served sweet with milk and honey?"

No way. Instead, here's how the gospel of Luke recounts this interaction:

The angel went to [Mary] and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you." Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God." LUKE 1:28-30

Why would an angel need to offer words of comfort unless poor Mary was shaking in her sandals? Frankly, I don't blame her. If Gabriel came knocking on my door, I'm pretty sure I'd run for the hills (or worse). I get the strong sense Tony Kushner got it right in Angels in America when he depicted angels as major heinie kickers - and props to Frank Peretti for his imagination, if not his literary virtuosity. Survey the medieval masterpieces depicting that moment when God's mighty messengers descend upon us mere mortals, and it's pretty clear what's missing. Where's the puddle on the floor?

As our tour guide pointed out certain "historical" sites scattered throughout Nazareth, I found myself getting increasingly frustrated. Yes, I know archaeology matters. But I'm also aware that during the Crusades, a market developed to peddle a place as a "sacred" spot - a practice that obviously continues to this day. For example, multiple churches in Nazareth claim to be the place where Gabriel appeared to Mary. But do we really have to pinpoint the exact location of the annunciation? Can we? Doesn't it matter more that God became man and dwelt among us? That's the event I want to explore further.

While I don't seek to diminish the reams of biblical scholarship, I am concerned that if I scrutinize every theological tree, I'll miss the faith forest. After all, do we prove we are Christians by unearthing historical artifacts or by following the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:36-40; Mark 12:28-31)? If our faith is a living entity, why do we get fixated on the past? Too often, we get so busy looking for ancient stones that we're blind to the current realities in front of us.


Excerpted from Jesus Died for This? by Becky Garrison Copyright © 2010 by Becky Garrison. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
Becky Garrison punctures the top-heavy, celebrity-loaded monster that has become the universe of big-time American religion. This book is long overdue. -- Frank Schaeffer

Among Christian writers, Garrison stands out as one of the most willing to respectfully and thoughtfully engage alternative views, especially those of atheists, agnostics, and even humanists like me. Religious and nonreligious readers alike should make themselves aware of her voice. With her great sense of humor, they’ll be glad they did. -- Greg M. Epstein

Garrison is, without a doubt, Christianity’s premier religious satirist; and in this memoir-cum-travelogue, she takes on the foibles and failings of the faith with all the brio her readers have come to expect from her. Rarely, if ever, has irreverence been rendered more holy than it is here. -- Phyllis Tickle

I found Jesus Died for This? to be a winsome book that evokes snickers and embarrassing nods---as good satire should do---and yet also [reveals] an urgency beneath the laughs, lacking even in many “serious” Christian books, that attempts to constructively tackle the state of the church that we have allowed to take shape. For this reason, I highly recommend it as a book about our current church and some of our most important mid-course corrections, but also as a storytelling strategy that will allow the next generation to join the conversation. -- Andrew Jones

It has been said that the biggest obstacle to Christ has been Christians. Garrison’s book is a lovely reminder that Jesus has survived the embarrassing things we have done in his name, and it is an invitation not to reject Christ because of his followers---after all, we’ve been a mess from the beginning. And it is also a call, not just to complain about the church we see, but to become the church we dream of. -- Shane Claiborne

Meet the Author

Becky Garrison is a Contributing Editor for Sojourners. Her books include The New Atheist Crusaders and Their Unholy Grail, Rising from the Ashes: Rethinking Church, and Red and Blue God, Black and Blue Church. Her additional writing credits include work for The Wittenburg Door, Geez, Killing the Buddha, and Religion Dispatches, as well as various other odd and sundry publications.

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Jesus Died for This?: A Satirist's Search for the Risen Christ 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
mojo_turbo More than 1 year ago
Becky Garrison's latest book Jesus Died for This? Is a Satirist's look at that part of the world that claims to be Christ's followers. Chapter by chapter, Garrison takes her readers through several places in the world and some key events of her life, all the while narrating her journey through her witty and sometimes dark lens. Even though Garrison says she is the offspring of Karl and Nancy Garrison (a story Garrison tells you in chapter nine) her author's dialogue sounds more like what I would expect the daughter of Dennis Miller and Kathleen Madigan to sound like. And in case you don't know what a satirist is, Garrison will tell you on page 101, "We're the mavericks, the visionaries who buck hierarchy and prefer to work solo.we're also the ones who say what has to be said without giving a rip who we offend. Hence we often find ourselves standing alone in a field because no one wants to be near us for fear we might shoot their sacred cow." That said, this isn't reading for the average pew filler, or mascara wearing, bible belt, TBN supporter. Garrison is quick to fire her wit (and charm) at everything from the Holy Land to Christian conferences, to her own family, to comic con to Joel Olsteen and back again. My only criticism (and who am I to judge a published and respected writer, stop reading my review and buy her book) is that sometimes the chapters felt connected, as if she were taking me on a Bruce Feiler-esque journey and other times it felt as though I was reading entries out of her personal diary (and maybe those two are actually the same thing, I don't know). But each chapter entry does seem to ask that same question. Jesus died for this? He died for consumerism? For the emergent church? For the crystal cathedral's Christmas program? For Pastor conferences? For church smart alecks? For fundies? For the homeless and for the unordainable? Maybe to answer the question here is Garrison in her own words. "I realized along the way that I quit trying to find Jesus and simply let him do the talking, every so often I felt God's presence when walking on soil, or I saw God's face in other souls. Other times, I'd feel nothing. But that usually meant I either looked in the wrong place or didn't sit still long enough for God to enter the picture. Now, even when I feel all alone, I no longer think that God has abandoned me. (After all, who do I think I am? - Mother Theresa?)" I liked the book, it's certainly not something I have read before or a book I could compare with others in my pastoral library.