Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Imaginary Jesus

Title: Imaginary Jesus

Series: Stand-alone

Author: Matt Mikalatos

Genre: Adult satire

Excerpt from “At the Red and Black,” Chapter Zero of Imaginary Jesus:

Jesus and I sometimes grab lunch at the Red and Black Café on Twelfth and Oak. It’s decorated in revolutionary black and red, with posters and pictures of uprisings on the walls. The menu is vegan, which means that there are no animal products in the food. No meat, in other words. No honey, for that matter, because we don’t want to steal from the hardworking bees.

The employees run the restaurant like a commune. There’s no manager, and no one’s in charge. I like to pick up the books and zines they sell and pretend to be a hard-core Portlander. Jesus likes the funky Portland vibe, and he thinks the socialist ethic that runs it is cute. He also likes the painting of Bruce Springsteen next to the counter, which has the caption, “The Only Boss We Listen To.” He laughs at that every single time.

I was sitting by the round table with the chessboard painted on it, and Jesus was sitting across from me, his legs crossed and one sandaled foot bouncing to the music. I had my Bible open in front of me but sort of pushed behind a notebook so no one could see it. If someone figured out it wasn’t a copy of Marx, I was pretty sure I might get stoned, and not from the secondhand smoke. Jesus had just put his earbuds in when the waitress brought me my vegan chili. This is the price you pay to be cool in this town. I took a bite, wished it had some meat in it, and poured as much Tapatío into it as I could stand. As I stirred the taste into my food, I realized that the worst possible thing had happened. They had forgotten my chips.

An everyday Christian goes looking for the real Jesus he claims to follow.

Craft: The style of Imaginary Jesus is…unique. But when you combine a bizarre premise, the contemporary real world, and a morality tale trying to make a point, what do you expect? Yet in many ways it works.

Oh, at times the story feels episodic. Other times it loses pace and tension, bogged down by a didactic detour or a seemingly pointless pit stop. Yet this story so thoroughly bends the mind, that an indelible impression is made, for good or for bad.

Content: I’ve debated for several days what I would say in this section of the review. But I find that I really don’t know what to say or think; my ability to dissect and discern has proven insufficient for this novel.

On one hand, it affronts the reader, and yet that is exactly what is intended: to kick the reader out of his stupor of complacency and apathy.

The humor, at the same time, walks a delicate balance, the satire wanting to push us away from the bad and toward the good, like good humor tends to do. But sometimes I wonder if it pushes too hard, tempting us to throw out some of the good with the bad.

As for the swearing in the first few pages—well, it just seemed out of character. Not because Peter cursed (we know he could and did), but because he employed the words as just a release of frustration instead of a true cursing, which denies a curse’s true impact. Yet, this too is intended to jar the reader out of his complacency, so it isn’t all unjustified.

Yet for all the borderline elements, the message is true and clear:

Jesus is not comfortable. He is not customizable. We cannot make Him after our own image or fit Him in a box. If He was and we could, then He would not truly be God.

Summary: I have very mixed emotions about Imaginary Jesus. It has some very important things to say in a very unorthodox manner. Not that is wrong; it can be quite useful.

Nonetheless, discernment is required and caution recommended, for this is definitely not a “safe” book by any standard.

Rating: Craft—4, Content—3, Overall—3.4 out of 5 stars

Disclaimer: In conjunction with the CSFF tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.


Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

A balanced, even-handed review, Chawna.

It did cross my mind that Jesus, the real Son of God, was not completely distorted in some of the imaginary versions. In fact, I think Matt says as much--that his Jesus was close to the real one.

What I liked, though, was the reminder that we must take Jesus as He is, even when we don't like or understand all He says.

I had a big discussion on my site back in January with some people who were doing exactly what Matt's character was doing--taking the parts of Jesus they liked and agreed with, and declaring the rest to be fabrications of his followers.

It's mind-boggling to realize how much we can change of Jesus's character and purpose if we stray from the truth revealed in Scripture.


Matt Mikalatos said...

Chawna, thanks for your review!

I would mention that Pete meant the cursing as an actual curse... he was expressing that the imaginary Jesuses we follow deserve to be eternally destroyed... and yes, you're right, it was meant to jolt the reader, too. But Tyndale let it stay in because it was used in context the way the word is meant to be used, not as an outlet of frustration....


Chawna Schroeder said...

Becky~I couldn't agree more about the problem of distortion. It is a huge problem, inside and outside of the church, I know.

And yes, Mr. Mikalatos did acknowledge that some of the imaginary Jesuses did have elements of the real one in them. However, I just wanted to note that it could be easily to throw out the good with the bad, and hence, discernment is needed.

Chawna Schroeder said...

Mr. Mikalatos~ Maybe it is only semantics, but the reason I took the curse as an outlet of frustration instead of a true curse in this situation is because of the use of "it." If Peter was truely expressing that the imaginary Jesus be eternally condemned, wouldn't he have said, "Damn him," instead?

Matt Mikalatos said...


I don't think it's semantics, and the way you read it is certainly a fair reading. I debated back and forth between "it" vs. "him". I finally decided that while the "Matt" character would see the imaginary Jesus as a person, Pete would see imaginary Jesus for what he was... a projected misconception of Jesus and thus not a person at all. So I fall back on the old writer's cop out, "It was characterization." :)

Chawna Schroeder said...

Okay, I get it. I now see where you're coming from.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.