About a decade ago, I was just settling into life in Goshen, Indiana where I was serving as one of the campus pastors at Goshen College.
One of my responsibilities was helping to plan and lead the college’s weekly chapel service. I remember very distinctly the day that one of the students asked to speak with me and explained that he was quite unsettled about chapel.
“We never talk about Jesus” he said.
I was a little stumped. But it didn’t take me too long to understand what was behind his statement. We talked about Jesus in chapel, but not in the way he was used to.
He came from a more Evangelical background and was not hearing the familiar phrases. We talked about Jesus as a model for life, as a prophet, healer, liberator, source of unconditional love and new life. We talked about Jesus as God with us.
But we (the pastors at least) didn’t talk about Jesus as our personal Lord and Saviour.
In fact, this phrase: “personal Lord and Saviour” gives me a healthy dose of the heebie jeebies. This phrase triggers feelings of inadequacy and rejection in me.
As a teenager, I didn’t understand or identify with the more heart based, evangelical forms of faith. And when I felt uncomfortable in spaces of this kind of worship, I interpreted my experience as one of rejection and judgment.
I felt that if I couldn’t affirm and passionately connect with Jesus as my personal Lord and Saviour, then I wasn’t really a Christian.
I had failed at faith.
It’s taken years for me to be able to identify the ways that I feel like a failure in God’s eyes. One of my dominant (unhealthy) images of God is that God is the examiner, Jesus is the perfect student, and I had better ace my exams, or else.
So when I hear the question: “Is Jesus Christ your personal Lord and Saviour?” I sense that the final exams have begun and I’d better come up with the right answer.
This is one reason why, for me, talking about Jesus – especially in public spaces where I am not sure of the experiences of another person – can feel quite uncomfortable.
Jesus can come with a lot of baggage.
My own Jesus baggage has gotten a LOT lighter since I began going on retreat at Loyola House in Guelph and became familiar with Ignatian spirituality (or the tradition connected with the Jesuits, an order of Catholic priests and brothers).
Ignatian spirituality seeks to find God in all things and to help the seeker experience the love of God in deep, intimate ways.
One of the core ways of praying is through the imagination – so entering into the Gospel stories and trusting the Spirit to help you encounter Jesus directly, and….personally.
There is a beautiful emphasis on the love of Christ, the presence of God, being profoundly personal.
It took me a while to get comfortable with this idea of Jesus as being a personal presence in my life. I still tend to talk about relationship with God way more than I talk about having a relationship with Jesus.
But I soon discovered how life giving this way of praying is for me. I now cherish Jesus as an intimate companion and have found my encounters with the Spirit of Christ to be quite healing and transformative.
And so, I am reclaiming the personal Jesus!
(Does anyone else hear the refrain of Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” here? Or am I just aging myself? 🙂 )
I have noticed, however, how hard it is to talk about this with people. I haven’t been able to peel back all of the layers yet, but I think I am afraid of poking people’s spiritual wounds and trauma if I bring up Jesus.
I’m also afraid of being judged by my own community for my experience of God.
And yet, I refuse to let either the “Evangelical” or the “Progressive” world control who Jesus can or cannot be for me. For us.
No one spiritual community should ever decide conclusively who Jesus was, or is, and seek conformity around the idea.
So this fall, PiE is taking up the challenge: We’re going to talk about Jesus. Personally.
Young adults are invited to join us, Nov.2-4, 2018 at Crieff Hills Retreat Centre for what we are dubbing: “Jesus Camp”.
But here’s the really important part:
There are no right answers. No agenda.
We want to spend a weekend together in conversation, prayer, and contemplation around these questions: “What are our images of Jesus? Who is Jesus for us? Who is Jesus for me?”
And wherever you are – whatever wounds, anger, doubts, cynicism; whatever love, hope, excitement, you experience when you think about Jesus – that is where the conversation will start.
This is a personal journey – which of course means there will be as many different experiences of Jesus as there are people at the retreat.
You are welcome – no matter where you find yourself these days.
Our desire is that we might journey deeper into love together as we explore these questions and that in doing so, we might find life.
If you would like to join us at ‘Jesus Camp’, you can find more information and register here.
Tamara Shantz serves as a pastor with PiE. Tamara’s understanding of who Jesus is has really expanded in recent years. She is excited to have the opportunity to reflect on some of these themes further with the PiE community.
You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.