Radical feminist theologian Mary Daly famously said that “If man is God then God is man.” What Daly said in her terse statement Matt Mikalatos illustrates in his first book, Imaginary Jesus*, except Mikalatos isn’t limiting his statement to the male sex. His point is that all of us make Jesus in our image. We see the Jesus we want to see: the one that challenges us some, but not too much. The Jesus who doesn’t ask too much of us, and is always there being whatever we need at that time. He writes about the Jesuses we imagine up to replace the radical figure in the New Testament, that makes all of us more than a bit uncomfortable.
The book begins with Matt hanging out with his Jesus in a vegan place in Portland when the Apostle Peter walks in and gets into a fight with Jesus, and Jesus runs away. Peter informs Matt that he’s been hanging out with an imaginary Jesus and not the real one. This begins Matt’s wild journey through modern day Portland and first century Palestine for find the real Jesus. In the course of hunting down the real Jesus, Matt finds out there is a whole slew of Imaginary Jesuses including Testosterone Jesus, King James Jesus, Portland Jesus, Magic 8 Ball Jesus and Political Power Jesus. They are all members of The Secret Society of Imaginary Jesuses. From the SSIJ to an atheist Bible study at Portland State to Powells, the largest bookstore in the world, Matt searches for the real Jesus but keeps finding more and more Imaginary Jesuses. Along the way Matt finds the strangest friends: Daisy the talking donkey, Sandy–a reformed prostitute, two Mormon elders: Elder Laurel and Elder Hardy, and Shane the leader of the atheist Bible study. Matt also has to face his own grief and personal issues that he keeps inventing the Imaginary Jesuses to fill, only to find out they can’t take the place of the real thing. It is only in hunting down the Imaginary Jesuses and seeing through their lies can he finally find the real Jesus.
Mikalatos does a great job of making readers take a look at the Jesuses they believe in and how those imaginary Jesuses stack up to the real Jesus. This is a book that could have been campy or just schlock, but Mikalatos’ storytelling ability along with his wit and sarcasm keep this lively “not-quite true story” moving along. To be honest, I never thought I’d live to see a good, well written, Christian urban fantasy published. I agree with Aldenswan, my fellow reviewer’s assessment of Mikalatos: “what Terry Pratchett would be like if Pratchett were a Christian.” (I did have a few flashes of Good Omens* while reading this book.) I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to be honest about how most American Christians make Jesus in their own image, but don’t want to be preached at. Mikalatos uses the story and characters to make his points, but this book is not a thinly veiled sermon. He leaves us to examine our own lives and see how our imaginary Jesuses match up to the real thing. I wouldn’t recommend this book to readers who are easily offended. Mikalatos has a healthy dose of irreverent sarcasm running through the book that some more conservative readers might consider over the line.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from The Ooze Viral Bloggers agreeing to post a review on my site.
* Affiliate links