Matt Mikalatos could have written Imaginary Jesus with a nice, quiet set of bullet points. He could have used some keywords with nice alliteration, and maybe thrown in a few anecdotes to keep things interesting. He would have gotten his point across, and it still would have been a a great concept. But he didn’t.
Instead, Imaginary Jesus is sort of a semi-autobiographical science fiction pop-philosophy adventure novel. It stars Matt Mikalatos as himself, the Apostle Peter as a metaphorical spiritual guide, Peter’s pal Daisy the Donkey, and all the imaginary Jesuses you can think of.
Matt and his Imaginary Jesus get along just fine. They hang out on weekends, and Jesus understands if Matt needs to fix a parking ticket or complain about a waiter. Jesus is cool like that, you know? They have a pretty good relationship.
Until the Apostle Peter shows up.
Peter, you see, spent three years walking side by side with Jesus. He knows what Jesus looks like, sounds like, what he likes to eat. He knows how He’d respond to practically any situation. So when Peter runs in to Matt at the local vegan Communist cafe, he knows another thing: that guy in the sandals sitting across the table from Matt? That’s not Jesus.
The imaginary jesus, on being found out, takes off running.
That begins Matt’s journey through time and space to find and abolish his Imaginary Jesus.
Each of their stops (at a comic book store, in ancient Jerusalem, and at several Portland, Oregon landmarks, etc.) helps to show Matt what he’s missing about the real Jesus. He meets several members of the Secret Society of Imaginary Jesuses, including Political Jesus, Testosterone Jesus, and my favorite, Magic 8 Ball Jesus.
There are some truly moving parts of this book. I’ve never had the “in remembrance of me” part of Communion explained quite this way. It’s changed the way I think about the sacrament. When Matt explains what it was that’s kept him from following the real Jesus, his pain is real and relateable.
But I think my favorite scene is when Matt has a tubing race with three different Jesuses to determine which view of God’s providence he should take. It’s an awful lot like the some of the discussions I overheard in the dining room at Bible college: all circular arguments and snide remarks, and in the end, someone gets eaten by a bear. (It includes what I think is the funniest line in the book. I’m not going to share it because I want you to enjoy it fully and in context.)
Which brings me to this: this is the funniest Christian book I’ve ever read. I don’t think I’ve ever switched from somber reflection to make-the-rest-of-the-train-car-stare-at-me giggling so quickly.
Wait, no. My favorite bit was Motorcycle Guy. More giggling. More staring. Couldn’t help it.
There were one or two things I could have lived without, like Houdini Dog, a neighborhood dog who steals Matt’s steaks off the grill and dirties his lawn. I’m sure there’s a great metaphorical reason behind the hound, but after multiple readings/listenings, I haven’t figured it out. Faith in the unseen? A cautionary tale to convince you to curb your dog?
Imaginary Jesus doesn’t answer a lot of questions, but I don’t think it’s supposed to. Mikalatos isn’t giving you a list of what Jesus is. He’s telling you to let go of some of your precocieved notions of who Jesus is, and go to the source Himself. He wants you to spend time getting to know the real Jesus.
- You ever wanted to attend Monty Python’s Flying Sunday School.
- You liked Blue Like Jazz, but all that pipe-smoking gave you a headache.
- You’ve met Imaginary Jesuses (or their followers) and want to know what to do about them.
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