I dab at my face with my shirt sleeve and try to quietly suck the snot back into my head because I wouldn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea about me. I’m not having one of those ridiculous “coming to Jesus” moments you hear about. I’m just moved, that’s all—and there’s a difference…a really big difference I will learn eventually.
The minister invites us to return later in the week to go through the “stations of the cross,” which he says he’ll be setting up throughout the sanctuary over the next couple of days. I’ve never heard of “stations of the cross” so I go home and look it up and learn that it’s a Catholic tradition in which a number (usually 14) of “shrines” are erected, each dedicated to one event in the last 24 hours of Jesus’ life. The idea is for the faithful to experience step-by-step that fateful day. It’s not usually celebrated by the Methodists, but the minister says it’s something, “he’s trying out.” I’ve read that a trend is afoot in which the mainline Protestant faiths are embracing elements of Catholic tradition they once distanced themselves from and I suppose this is an example of just that. I decide to return on Good Friday, the day Jesus’ crucifixion is traditionally recognized, to walk through the stations.
I spend several days obsessing about Jesus like I need to prep for a blind date with him at the end of the week. By all accounts, he was a real man, a carpenter and a Jew who was interested and knowledgeable enough in religion to be called a rabbi. Just from the Bible snippets I’ve been hearing over these last several weeks, I know he preached love and equality, even stopping to talk with individuals considered so lowly that his friends wondered what he was doing. All of which makes me like him very much. Yet, I’ve never quite come to terms with his claims of divinity. Why is he exalted as the son of God when others making similar claims are locked away in loony bins? When my best friend Julie and I were 12, she confided in me a painful secret. We were walking home from school and I could sense something was wrong. It wasn’t like her not to tell me everything. Finally she spat it out, she said, “My dad is in the mental hospital.” I knew she was referring to her biological father, a talented artist she didn’t see very often. She called her stepdad by name.
Her face scrunched up, it looked like she was in physical pain, like the time we stepped barefoot into those cactus needles. “He went crazy. He thinks…” She couldn’t say it, whatever it was, it was too horrific.
“What? What? He thinks what?”
Her face was a map of agony. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. “He thinks he’s Jesus!”
I didn’t know what to say, how to react. Judging by her face, it was about the worst thing imaginable—and I got the sense it wasn’t the crazy part that so disturbed her, it was the Jesus part. Her shame was apparent, and I wished for something to say to make it go away. She had me promise not to breathe a word to any of our school friends.