Journal Week 4: The Bleeding, Stinking, Mad Shadow of Jesus

So how else has Flannery O'Connor made me strange?

Again, for years I used a Thomas Merton quote in my blog header. It read, in part, "be human in this most inhuman of ages, guard the image of man for it is the image of God."

I now have a quote in my blog header from Flannery talking about following the "bleeding stinking mad shadow of Jesus."

Contrasting those quotes is one way to dissect the spiritual changes going on with me.

There are so many ways I'd like to unpack this, and I think I'll explore some of these in the Fridays to come, but let me try to articulate what I think is close to the center of what's gnawing at me, spiritually speaking.

As we know, we're all in grave danger of making Jesus into our own image. I'm coming at this from the progressive side of Christianity, so the danger among us liberal, progressive types is turning Jesus into a compassionate, woke, social justice warrior. To be clear, I think Jesus is those things. But I also think Jesus is more, and that more is bleeding, stinking and mad.

Flannery O'Connor interrupted my cozy assumptions that Jesus can be reduced to being the spiritual warrant for progressive politics, ethics, and activism. There is something sacrificial ("bleeding"), offensive ("stinking"), and foolish ("mad") about Jesus.

So where is Jesus asking progressive Christians, like myself, to do something sacrificial, offensive, or foolish? Where is the bleeding, stinking, mad shadow of Jesus offending progressive Christian sensibilities?

Where, on the cruciform path, do progressive Christians look at Jesus and say, "No, I'm not following you there."?

Following Jesus into the darkness of that spiritual shadow is now my spiritual obsession.

To be sure, the bleeding, stinking, mad shadow of Jesus is also offending conservative and evangelical Christian sensibilities. But I'm talking here about me, about my own personal encounter with Jesus. That is the issue that occupies my attention. Where does Jesus offend me?

The trouble with "guard the image of man for it is the image of God" at the spiritual crossroads where I am now stating, is that that sentiment too easily and cozily affirms my self-perception as a progressive Christian hero.

Trudging off into the bleeding, stinking, mad shadow of Jesus is taking me down a different path, to a place where my heroic progressive self-perceptions are offended and, ultimately, die.

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