I enjoy fictional re-tellings of the gospel story – as long as they are not the insipid, sentimental versions meant to market the mainstream Jesus. Recently, I have read two new novels – Accidental Christ by Lon Milo DuQuette, and Jesus in Love, by Kittredge Cherry. Both authors present highly controversial images of Jesus, as they wrestle with his story. In her introduction to Jesus in Love, Kittredge Cherry makes the very traditional point that, in the incarnation, the Logos did not simply assume the isolated humanity of one individual, but Humanity proper. Thus, there is nothing about our human nature – our wonderings and desires, our sexuality and suffering, our affirmations and rejections – which is foreign to Christ. We can wrestle with Jesus and his story, from wherever we are, and we perhaps learn the most from those whose Christ-struggles are quite different from our own.
Lon DuQuette is not a Christian. Rather, he is a follower of the religion of Thelema, founded by Aleister Crowley, and an archbishop in its ecclesial manifestation, the Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica. I know the following statement will probably get me some (ahem) interesting email – but I think Thelema has been unable to disentangle itself from a dance with Jesus (although usually a dance of rejection) since its founding. Crowley’s biting rejection of Christianity can only be understood through considering his strict Plymouth Brethren childhood. He then created a non-Christian church with sacraments and structure that look very much like Catholicism. Given his trickster nature, what is parody and what is serious? Who can say? The strange dance continues in his successors. Many EGC bishops have a claim to traditional apostolic succession, although it is hard to know what that would mean outside of a Christian context. Crowley’s onetime secretary and popularizer, Israel Regardie, wrote a lovely manual on Christian spiritual practice (poorly titled Twelve Steps to Spiritual Enlightenment), only to disavow it and rewrite it from a Thelemic standpoint (as The One Year Manual). Lon DuQuette’s inner journey from childhood Methodism to Thelema is recounted in his very engaging, and extremely funny autobiography, My Life with the Spirits. If you want to understand Thelema, My Life with the Spirits is the most accessible place to begin.
Needless to say, DuQuette’s Jesus is quite interesting! He is a pawn in a political plot to restore the Davidic kingdom, caught up in a drama beyond himself and yet strangely finding some sort of freedom in the midst of it. If I say much more, I will spoil the story for you. The narrator (Clopas, Jesus’ uncle) probably speaks for DuQuette when he says, near the end:
My involvement in the Messiah movement has taught me that it is good to have a goal in life, but that it is not good to define your life by that goal. Doing so will only guarantee disappointment. All of us are accidental Christs, thrust awkwardly toward Godhood by factors infinite and unknown. If I would share my secret, I would tell you to welcome your accidental adventures. Enjoy the aimless winging of your soul. For, in truth, our aimless winging is at once the beginning, the middle, and the end of our journey. (Accidental Christ, p.241)
While DuQuette’s version of the gospel is much more fundamentally challenging to Christian faith, Cherry’s Jesus in Love is probably fated to shock many more people, as Cherry’s Jesus is transgendered and bisexual. Cherry is a lesbian Christian, ordained in the Metropolitan Community Churches, but her book is not a political statement or heavy-handed in any way. Rather, it the story of Jesus shot through with a compelling, powerful mix of mysticism and sexuality. If your mind is wandering to The DaVinci Code, this is nothing of that sort – Jesus in Love is of an altogether different order. Further adding to the challenge of the book, Cherry is very orthodox in her theology – to the point that it made me uncomfortable! She was forced to leave public ministry some years ago due to a debilitating illness, and she engages the meaning of suffering (Jesus’ and ours) in considerable depth. I imagine that the relationship of suffering and love will be further explored in the sequel, Jesus in Love: At the Cross, which is due soon.
Both of these books make for scandalizing reading, but the Jesus of the gospels is a rascal, prone to turn over our tables and rattle our complacent religious understandings. I think he would welcome these (fictional) renditions of his story, as they shake us awake, and confront us afresh with the question: Who do you say that I am?