“For a kid raised in a motley family of lukewarm Muslims and exuberant atheists, this was truly the greatest story ever told. Never before had I felt so intimately the pull of God. In Iran, the place of my birth, I was Muslim in much the way I was Persian. My religion and my ethnicity were mutual and linked. Like most people born into a religious tradition, my faith was as familiar to me as my skin, and just as disregardable. After the Iranian revolution forced my family to flee our home, religion in general, and Islam in particular, became taboo in our household. Islam was shorthand for everything we had lost to the mullahs who now ruled Iran. My mother still prayed when no one was looking, and you could still find a stray Quran or two hidden in a closet or a drawer somewhere. But, for the most part, our lives were scrubbed of all trace of God.
“That was just fine with me. After all, in the America of the 1980s, being Muslim was like being from Mars. My faith was a bruise, the most obvious symbol of my otherness; it needed to be concealed.
“Jesus, on the other hand, was America. He was the central figure in America’s national drama. Accepting him into my heart was as close as I could get to feeling truly American. I do not mean to say that mine was a conversion of convenience. On the contrary, I burned with absolute devotion to my newfound faith. I was presented with a Jesus who was less “Lord and Savior” than he was a best friend, someone with whom I could have a deep and personal relationship. As a teenager trying to make sense of an indeterminate world I had only just become aware of, this was an invitation I could not refuse.”
No, really just one thing.
How striking that his Muslim faith “was a bruise, the most obvious symbol of my otherness.” What was the solution? How does a young teen like that fit in? Totally buying into Jesus, because “Jesus was America.”
Outsider eyes seeing an insider Jesus preached by people convinced that they’re the ones who are “sojourners and strangers,” they’re the ones with the “bruise,” the ones burdened with “otherness,” whose “citizenship is not of this world.”
That statement, “Jesus was America” floored me.
Don’t get me wrong.
I love Jesus and I love America.
But if the Jesus that the New Testament bears witness to is “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Greeks,” should we be bothered that outsider eyes looking in would see an insider Jesus who not only fits right in, but who is America? Should we not be bothered? Should we not perhaps ask just who is this Jesus that we preach, and who was that Jesus from that dirty little Galilean village called Nazareth in the other hemisphere, with his dark skin and Aramaic tongue and culture?
And that’s why I kept reading the book…