Matt’s savoring a cup of coffee at his favorite Communist bookstore…with Jesus. He’s been enjoying Jesus’ company for a while now, and although Jesus seems to be invisible to everybody else, Matt’s found him to be a pretty regular guy and handy for heading off things like parking tickets and other minor inconveniences.
On this particular day, however, a big, hairy man barges into the coffee shop, full of righteous indignation and smelling of fish. He picks a fight with Jesus, and Matt’s tidy little world comes crashing down. The smelly guy with the solid right hook claims to be the Apostle Peter, and worse than that, he insists that Matt’s Jesus is no Jesus at all.
He’s an Imaginary Jesus, and he’s up to no good. The bogus Jesus bolts, Peter and Matt in hot pursuit. Before they know it, they’re up to their armpits in Imaginary Jesuses, and Matt’s beginning to wonder if he ever knew the genuine article at all.
Matt Mikalatos’ Imaginary Jesus is a rollicking romp through time, space, imagination, and the human heart. No sacred cow is left un-roasted as the author fires up his satirical grill with a hefty squirt of comedic lighter fluid.
I loved the way Matt made himself the protagonist of this story, the knucklehead who thinks he’s the only guy in the world who’s gotten Jesus right–so right that he can actually see Him and interact with Him on a day-to-day basis. It’s a fun, lighthearted tale. We’re treated to the quirks and foibles of life in Portland, Oregon; a side trip to the Holy Land, circa 33 A.D.; a talking donkey with an above-average ration of common sense; and a whole slew of Imaginary Jesuses–from Magic Eight-Ball Jesus (who has only fourteen possible answers–nine positive, three negative, and two indeterminate) to Testosterone Jesus (built like a weightlifter, but sweet and vulnerable on the inside), to Perpetually Angry Jesus (the name says it all). You’ll probably recognize most of them.
Sadly, Matt is us. Matt is me. His illusions are shattered over the course of his journey across time, space, and Portland, and it left me pondering how many times I’ve done the same thing, presuming that Jesus and I are in agreement, that He sees things pretty much the same way I do, and that the world would be a better place if everybody would just get on the bus with Jesus and me.
However, Jesus doesn’t promise to see things our way. He tells us, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” Being a follower of Jesus means becoming conformed to His image, not the other way around, and that’s the central message of Imaginary Jesus.
There’s another question at the heart of this story, a poignant question arising from a personal tragedy that drives Matt’s search for the real Jesus. After all the Imaginary Jesuses fall like tenpins and dissolve like smoke, leaving only the real Jesus, Matt poses his question again. He doesn’t get a precise answer, nor the answer he expected, but he does get an answer that ultimately satisfies him.
Is there a happy ending? You betcha.
In the final analysis, Imaginary Jesus is a personal struggle of faith cloaked in fiction. It’s a powerful tale, and perhaps more effective because of its humor and irreverence. It also takes a lot of guts to place your doubts, fears, and shortcomings on display in such a public forum, even in caricature. Kudos and thanks to Mr. Mikalatos for doing that and for telling us a fun, creative story along the way.