I'll first start by explaining this title to you. My favorite band on earth is Green Day. This should not be a surprise to many—if any—of you. Their album "American Idiot" was very formative for me, but my brother had presciently exposed me to them shortly after "Dookie" had been released, so don't you dare label me a bandwagoner.
Okay, defensiveness aside, one of the most brilliant songs on "American Idiot" is a nine-plus minute, five-movement marathon of a song basically about a coming of age of Jimmy or "Jesus of Suburbia." I have two tattoos in Greek on the inside of both my biceps that vaguely reference a line in the song: "I am the son of rage and love," so I have rage and love (agape) tattooed on me.
On my last visit to see him, my dad started calling me Jesús of Brooklyn. Okay, I'm white, so I'm not going to appropriate that name. Still, based on my aesthetics, the fact that I'm half-Middle Eastern, and I wear sandals more often than not, I have lost track of the number of times I have been told that I look like that guy from Nazareth. Hell, I even have the nose for it.
So here we are, Jesus of Brooklyn. This is interesting given that I am really unconvinced of Jesus' divinity—perhaps this makes it feel safe to steer into this "heretical" pseudonym. When I say that there are no delusions of "sinlessness," grandeur, or self-importance, please hear me. I am no one; I see myself as every bit as human and working through my shit daily as you, and I'm probably harder on myself than a good portion of you.
Why am I talking about this? As I'm walking through the metaphorical desert of unbelief, on the cusp of cobbling together a spirituality—hell, a life at this point—that feels whole, expansive, I think this is a beautiful intention to set for myself. Really, as I think about the words that were recorded of Jesus, I see a person who was a rebel, looking to undermine the institutions and power structures. It seemed he was trying to create a place where all were loved, accepted, and welcome. I recognize portions of what was written at one point or another that are less than flattering and not inclusive. Still, I focus on the arc or the big picture, for now.
I am planting my flag in acceptance, inclusion, and radical vulnerability—all of which I'm doing my best to practice for myself and others. Believe it or not, I find it so much easier to practice for others. That's sad to admit. I can tend to be rather ruthless in my self-talk.
I have a tattoo, quite the theme of this post, on the back of my right arm in Hebrew. After spending a few days in California, I got it when I began my grad program nearly three years ago. I had publicly said that—alluding to Jacob's story wrestling with God—I had wrestled with God and felt like I had a new name. When asked what that name was, I didn't have an answer.
On the flight home, I looked up Jewish names throughout the Bible because that's what came to mind and landed on Abijah or Abiyyah. It means that God is my father and uses the holiest name for God in its last syllable or character. I cannot tell you the number of Jewish people this tattoo has confused.
For those of you familiar with the Enneagram, you may know that the spiritual quest of the Four is to find a deeper sense of identity and belonging. We Fours walk around feeling that we have been cast out of Eden early in life and are looking for the gate to return. Honestly, it's rebelling against this external search that has me so deeply questioning the very existence of God once more.
I will not go into depth with my questioning of God's existence here. However, I will let you in on the fact that my spiritual work, as a new and already dear friend put it earlier today, is working on myself. I recognize this may sound somewhat narcissistic to some of you, but I assure you that the Enneagram—for one example—shows us that self-work, shadow work, is spiritual work.
I remember a coach I respect tremendously telling me during a session that my pursuit of the divine was noble. That was nearly three years ago, and I've been searching doggedly ever since. I believe that any honest search must include the possibility that the thing or conclusion we are searching for doesn't exist. That is where I find myself today. However, what I find terribly exciting and enticing is the concept that I do not need God. In so many ways, this still feels impossible today. However, I find hopefulness in it.
What if I could live a life without God and not experience an eternity of torment? Wait, what?
The proposition of not needing God feels lofty—full of fear and anticipation. What would it be like to not have to rely on God, whether it's for salvation or wisdom or providence? At my core, I'm wondering what it might look and feel like to experience God as something other than a cross between an abusive parent and a loan shark to whom I owe money?
Indeed, taking God at face value of my experience would be just as conflicting as the one in the Bible. Still, I could merely experience God—how I feel in their presence, how we interact, and how I perceive them. No strings attached. I do not owe them anything. I do not need them for anything today; I don't have to rely on them at all.
What would it be like to simply delight in and appreciate God? If I believe in God for the long term, I think this is how it'll happen. Indeed, there will be work, but this sounds like how the Song of Solomon depicts love—beyond the clear Greek and even Roman influences written into the story.
I don't know that there's anywhere else to take this post today. I don't have a clear conclusion; this messiness precisely is where it should end. A God seemingly of rage and love with Jesus of Brooklyn caught in the middle.