The Bleeding Stinking Mad Shadow of Jesus: Part 1, A Transgressive Jesus

In my blog header I feature a quote from Flannery O'Connor, from her novel The Violent Bear it Away. It's a quote about how Jesus haunts the protagonist of the novel, Francis Tarwater:
...trudging into the distance in the bleeding stinking mad shadow of Jesus...the Lord out of dust had created him, had made him blood and nerve and mind, had made him to bleed and weep and think, and set him in a world of loss and fire...
The quote echos O'Connor's first novel, Wise Blood, how Jesus haunts Hazel Motes, the protagonist of that novel:
Later he saw Jesus move from tree to tree in the back of his mind, a wild ragged figure motioning him to turn around and come off into the dark where he might be walking on the water and not know it and then suddenly know it and drown.
Only Flannery O'Connor would describe Jesus as a "wild ragged figure" and as "bleeding stinking [and] mad." But that's why I love her.

I'd like to take a few posts to explain why I'm so captivated by "the bleeding stinking mad shadow of Jesus."

First, the obvious. Describing Jesus as bleeding, stinking and mad is offensive. And that's what I love about the quote, its offensiveness. Everywhere you turn in Christianity, Jesus is portrayed as attractive, charismatic, and appealing. Jesus is never portrayed as a shock, scandal or stumbling stone.

And yet, that's precisely what Jesus was. There was something transgressive about Jesus. As I explain in Trains, Jesus and Murder, transgressive is a term that comes from the art world. Transgressive art is art that shocks and offends our aesthetic sensibilities.

Jesus was transgressive, he shocked and offended the sensibilities of his time and place. So much so, they killed him.

That is the Jesus I want to follow, the transgressive Jesus. The offensive Jesus. The scandalous, shocking Jesus. The bleeding, stinking, and mad Jesus.

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