Jesus: Safe, Tender, Extreme
Ever since I reviewed Adrian Plass's novel, GHOSTS, for FaithfulReader.com, I've been hoping for an opportunity to review another of his books. That's because his is an honest, vulnerable, and witty voice that speaks to the heart of so many everyday matters that alternately delight us and plague us as followers of Christ.
Drawing from his experiences as a well-known author, television personality, and all-around bumbling human being who lives in the English countryside, Plass exposes his quirks and annoyances and temptations to the light of Christ's teachings, and finds himself consistently wanting. Which, for him, begs the question: how on earth can he be of any use whatsoever in the kingdom of God? God answers that question quite pointedly: "Okay, you go off into a little corner and tell yourself how rotten and useless you are...Despise yourself if you want. Beat yourself up to within an inch of your life. But don't you ever, ever dare to despise what I do through you, because that is completely different." Excellent advice for all the self-deprecating ones among us, I'd say.
In the three major sections of the book, Plass offers a number of essays and reflections on each of the three aspects of Jesus's nature referred to in the title. He finds the safe Jesus, for instance, in the story of his dying mother-in-law, who lives out her last days in a hospital bed that occupies what used to be the Plasses' dining room. The tender Jesus is "The God Who Defaults to Compassion" in a priceless chapter dealing with social issues, dogmatism, and one "sulky prophet" named Jonah. The section on the extreme Jesus opens with a chapter describing Plass's shameful and extreme behavior in a frustrating, everyday situation that ended in a wee bit of jail time for the "vicar on the telly," as one bloke called him.
The book ends with several dozen prayers relating to these three aspects of who Jesus is. But instead of being the kind of sanitized prayers you expect to find in the typical Christian book, these are the kind of prayers you expect to find a guy like Plass praying in his intimate moments with God. Though he is atypically generous in revealing his inner and often doubting thoughts about faith and the Christian life, I tend to think those thoughts are far more typical than the majority of Christians admit to. His thoughts on healing, for instance, in a chapter titled "Freedom, Safety, and the Value of Truth" most likely resonate with many of us, though we'd be hesitant to give voice to those thoughts in any respectable Christian setting.
Plass has succeeded in his goal of not writing "one of those unremittingly positive treatises that fails to deal with life as it is actually lived. The result is perhaps less clearly defined than I had planned --- but hopefully much more authentic...I am not a theologian. I am not a preacher; I can't preach to save my life. I am simply a man with a broom, sweeping away the rubbish that prevents others from passing further in and further up, and I tend to do this by talking about what Jesus does and doesn't do in my life." In so doing, he helps clear away that which litters our own paths to an authentic life.
Reviewed by Marcia Ford on November 13, 2011