The views of having made God too human and of saying that an atheist could be closer to the heart of God came around to bite me fairly quickly. I made friends with a girl then, Sophia Stevens. She was also in the honors program and was not only incredibly smart but also very eloquent and very strong willed. She had intenseness to her emotions; her cold glare could freeze you instantly while her infectious laughter could warm you up for days.
We had a couple of conversations and in no time at all she stated that I didn’t know “her Jesus” and that the one I had was far less attractive. That was a real chagrin to hear because I thought at that point I had a great picture of Jesus, both practical and full of grace. Her vision of Jesus was that he was completely human and completely practical; he was a man who had been deified not the other way around. He was perhaps the best human being that had ever lived and he had been idealized into what Christianity had made of him not unlike we had turned Nicholas of Myra into Santa Claus.
One thing that she introduced me to was that her vision of Jesus was very similar to the one presented in the musical Jesus Christ Superstar. I watched it with her and was very bothered by many of the ideas, the complete humanizing of Jesus. The story is supposedly told more from Judas perspective and the relationship Jesus has with Mary Magdalene is questionable at best. It haunted me though and made me think a lot. I watched it twice with her and eventually bought the 1973 version for myself. This new perspective and someone like Sophia vocalizing it really stuck with me and I began to process it constantly. To her credit, Sophia and I actually spent much time in conversation with me learning more from her than she did from me. This was probably caused by the fact that she’d heard almost everything I knew and presented but not vice versa. She was an active listener and a persuasive speaker.
As this was all troubling my mind, I tried to have this conversation with several people from the theology department, both professors and students. Most were not willing to discuss it for very long with one theology student poignantly saying that people who did that kind of damage to Jesus’ reputation were going to hell. What was most intriguing to me was that while a huge percentage of them had a very strong opinion about this movie/musical not one, not one of them had seen it nor would they consider watching it with me. This was a phenomenon I couldn’t wrap my mind around because of the obvious inconsistency of it but more specifically because the Adventist movement has all kinds of odd reputations of its own whether they are confused with another denomination or simply a misunderstand or complete myths. If your own religion is the subject of questionable unearned reputations, I thought one would be more likely to give things the benefit of the doubt to take it in for itself or at least to not judge it without exposure.
(While this was the rule, I can’t say there weren’t exceptions… There was Julia, the smartest of the theology freshmen that year, a premed student with a strong head on her shoulder who was never afraid of thinking for herself. There was also Orlando, a guy who was always willing to talk and air things out, he and I a clear headed conversation about it. The two of them eventually would get married and I would be the best man at their wedding and it was exactly this attribute that made me glad to be their friend. They are the only two people who would watch it with me. Julia would eventually take over Lighthouse for me as well and is now a doctor. Orlando is now a professional musician of sorts. It bothers me to no end that the more open minded theology majors are the ones who most consistently did not go on to be professional pastors.)
Sophia’s earnest sincerity and the departments’ efficient dismissal of such a simple subject put me in a bit of an ecumenical mood. I started attended services of other denominations and of other religions. Julia, Shannon, and Orlando accompanied me on a few of them and I learned a lot. Don’t get me wrong; I still believed Sophia and these other churches were completely inaccurate, they were misinterpreting or just having things be conveniently left out but I was open to learning from them. This was the time that I even started seeing the holes in our own theological system; we were simply wrong on the clean/unclean meats based on Acts 15’s letter to the Gentiles. We were wrong to say that the Bible condemned drinking and the whole jewelry thing was suspect unless we were also ready to throw out braided hair. The realization that my church had any positions wrong was both frightening and comforting at the same time. It helped create that grown up realization that God and his followers aren’t always in complete sync.
In the midst of all this thinking, Shannon and I were flying to my parent’s house on the morning of Christmas eve. Where truth lied between the reality of God and the perception of him was something I couldn’t seem to shake from my mind. We flew into DFW but in the time that our layover was supposed to occur, a storm shut down the airport. We kept waiting for it to reopen but it just kept closing and finally we were given numbers of hotels we could call.
The next day, December 25th, we were back at the airport; cheesily, I hoped that this meant I would be home for Christmas. The sun was out but many things were still frozen over. We actually got onto a plane and into the air but the control tower said the airport in Odessa was closed and we were being diverted back to DFW. There were more calls and suspense but in the end it was decided that the airport would be closed again today.
This random lady comes up to us as we’re trying to get a hold of my mom on a payphone and declares “God told me to take you to Odessa.” Now perhaps this lady had been around the same terminal we had been in or even on the same flight we had tried to catch but I honestly had no recollection of her. Being 19 years old and wanting to get to my mother’s love and her cooking on this holiday, I readily accepted the offer (our luggage was still somewhere in the mess of checked in stuff so we were going to do this sans bags). She had also picked up another lady who God had directed her to take to Odessa. While I did ask, I honestly can’t remember either of their names.
The lady who God was giving taxi directions to was headed to see some family who she had finally reconciled with after years of bickering and this was her first Christmas with them. The lady who she had picked up was visiting her father who was dying of cancer and had only a few days left if not a couple of weeks at most. When they asked for my story, I didn’t have a particularly good one since I was just going home for the holidays but our driver said there must be some mysterious reason that God knew for providing me with a ride home. She simply did seem to want nothing more than company and to follow God’s will because she refused to let us pitch in for gas.
The driver just kept staring that this was clearly God’s will and He was providing for all of us. It was a bad storm and we continued to see accidents along the way including the worst one I’ve ever seen: an 18 wheeler that looked like it had rolled over on itself over the side of a bridge. Intriguingly enough, we had the radio on to keep track of the roads and in eerily coincidental timing the roads kept closing 10 to 15 minutes after we had gotten off them. Somewhere along the road, she asked me to pray and somehow it came out at that point that I was studying to be a minister. She instantly declared this was God’s way of encouraging me along that path.
What usually is a six hour drive took almost twelve but in the end I was home for Christmas for about 10 minutes with an unexpected ride. I’ve tried for years to dismiss this as just a mental health issue or a series of strange coincidence convinced the God who runs the universe has more important things to deal with than me getting home on time. I sure hope so.