Good writing, with a strong point and with life oozing out.

Looking for Jesus

May 5, 2006

I enjoyed Nickel and Dimed, a popular book that’s now a few years old. In it, a writer takes on some relatively low-paying jobs ($6 to $7 bucks an hour) to experience first-hand the issues around a ‘living wage’. It was a good read, if a bit anticlimactic: the fact that she only worked the three jobs (waitstaff, housecleaner, Wal-Mart worker) for 30 days each meant that the relational, physical, financial, and psychic stresses never really came to fruition. But it shines some helpful light on the issue.

The author calls herself an atheist, but on one Saturday night when she is broke and bored, she drops in on an old-fashioned tent revival at a local church full of people who are living in the reality of her self-imposed experiment.

The preaching goes on, interrupted with dutiful “amens.” It would be nice if someone would read this sad-eyed crowd the Sermon on the Mount, accompanied by a rousing commentary on income inequality and the need for a hike in the minimum wage. But Jesus makes his appearance here only as a corpse; the living man, the wine-guzzling vagrant and precocious socialist, is never once mentioned, nor anything he ever had to say. Christ crucified rules, and it may be that the true business of modern Christianity is to crucify him again and again so that he can never get a word out of his mouth. I would like to stay around for the speaking in tongues, should it occur, but the mosquitoes, worked into a frenzy by all this talk of His blood, are launching a full-scaled attack. I get up to leave, timing my exit for when the preacher’s metronomic head movements have him looking the other way, and walk out to search for my car, half expecting to find Jesus out there in the dark, gagged and tethered to a tent pole.

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7 Responses to “Looking for Jesus”

  1. sonja says:

    I read this book a few years ago because all the rich people at the lake community were reading for their book club. So I read it and went to the discussion. Even my mother was surprised by what came out of my mouth at that discussion. There are still women who come up to me and tell me that what I had to say challenged them.

    The book itself fueled alot of my thinking and action on shopping and how I behave. Especially our family’s so-called “tip ministry” … we almost never tip less than 20%, sometimes even as much as 25%, especially in diners.

  2. [REDACTED] says:

    I realize I’m probably missing your point, Mike, but it’s intersting to see the difference in attitude between the people who are in that “working poor” situation and those who are playing at it. The tent revival was obviously a meaningful thing to the people actually in their situation. There is something true and right about how they see Jesus. The crucifiction IS what matters to them, it seems, because that is where their hope is, in a future life. They are happy.

    It’s all too easy, I think, for a person playing at being poor to come in and think that “oh these poor people, they totally got Jesus’ message wrong!” When you have money, you don’t need salvation, you can be your own and ignore the work that Jesus did on the cross. That kind of thinking leads to a desire shown here by the author’s comments to be salvation for others through our resources and because we see so much more clearly than these poor deluded poor.

    And now you know why I so rarely leave comments. They tend to be long, off-topic and slightly superior, but there you go. If I’m gonna take a dump on somebody’s blog, it might as well be yours, right?

  3. Chris Kirk says:

    What a sad story! I guess it goes to our perspective. I wonder how often we present a dead Jesus to those who are hungry for the bread of life. Thanks for sharing that, Mike. I’ll have to pick up that book.


  4. Liz says:

    How sad! The author totally missed the point. It seems to me that it is through his crucifixion and resurrection that he makes his lively and wondrous appearance.

  5. kate says:

    Sonja: A tip ministry! Neat! we kinda do the same thing, but I like that spin on it. The way Matt puts it is, if one dollar makes the difference between a mediocre tip and a great tip, we can’t think of a better use for that dollar. Or two.
    Hey, have any Mars Hill — gah, Common Table — people ever done (or talked about doing) a book club? Preferably a non-theological one, if you ask me, but anything would be cool.
    Schuyler: I was totally digging your post until the talk of taking a dump. Ewww. Suddenly, my grapes aren’t tasting so good.

  6. randy buist says:

    Sad but interesting how an atheist knows the Sermon on the Mount, and yet our protestant theology often forgets the kingdom of God in favor of simply a Jesus hanging on the cross… at least we’re making an attempt at recovery…

    Unrelated: I believe babies are arriving this coming week. The four of you will all be in our prayers!!!

  7. Dawn in Chicago says:

    I read this book last year — I thought it was very enlightening. Certainly made me think about how our world is made up – that often works against those who are trying to just get by and maybe even better themselves but find the road a heavy steep climb. Sisyphus.

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