Monday, November 25, 2013

"I don't believe in Jesus."

While waiting at a bus stop with two of my friends this afternoon (I'll refer to them as "Esse" and "Jay")  this conversation arose:
Esse (to Jay): I want to stop celebrating Christmas, but if I told my parents I didn't celebrate Christmas anymore, they'd look at me crazy.
Me: Why don't you want to celebrate Christmas?
Esse: Because I don't believe in Jesus.
(This is news to me.) Me:...Oh. You don't?
Esse: I mean I'm down with the Lord and all that, but no I don't really believe in Jesus.
Me: Hm, okay. But which "Lord" are you referring to?
Esse: You know... (looks upward) the Lord. 
Then the bus came and things had already started to get awkward,  so I let it go.
Obviously I'm disappointed about my friend's choice. I tried not to show it, but I'm pretty sure she could tell.  (Besides, she brought it up in the first place, and you can't just spring "I don't believe in Jesus" on a follower of Christ and expect her to jump for joy.) 
Of course, young educated people questioning and/or rejecting religion, faith, or certain aspects of the two is nothing new. But a couple of things strike me as strange here. First: In referring to the "Lord", she was certain that she was referring to God and not to Jesus. This confused me, because growing up in the church (Esse grew up Christian too) I've always heard that term of reverance in connection to both Father and Son. After all, though Christians recognize them as two entities, they also believe them to be one in the same. So in my mind it doesn't make sense to use that term for one and not recognize the other, because they are inseparable.
The second: That she was using a Christian term to deny faith in Jesus.  Obviously the word "lord" is used in many ways in the English language and followers of Christ do not own it. But Esse used the word in a way that is particularly characteristic of Christians, "the Lord". I'm not sure what to make of this. Maybe because that term is also commonly used by black people (Esse is also African/black/however she chooses to identify herself) in everyday conversations to refer to a higher power (or the Higher Power), she feels that using it will allow her to still connect with that culture while remaining sufficiently ambiguous? Or maybe because she's in this ambivalent state of having her own beliefs yet not wanting to estrange herself from her parents, Christian thought and ways of speaking still influence her even though she rejects Jesus?
I really don't know. I am confused, as I think she is. To be honest, as I've gotten to know her I've had a feeling that she wasn't a typical believer, but I hadn't anticipated that she wouldn't be one at all. I want to be an understanding friend and I'll love her regardless, but I can't say that I'm not disappointed.
I'll be praying for you, Esse.

Although, now I am interested in learning about how many other black people/people of African descent are out there who don't believe in Jesus.  For most of my life I'd assumed (ignorantly, I'll admit) that nearly all blacks living in the US were Christian, but Esse has shocked me into acknowledging that that's not exactly the case. You learn something new everyday. 

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