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Jesus can be like Gumby. You can stretch him around anything you have a mind to. (Although, as you see in the pictures, the little Gumby I bought turned out to be not very stretchy. I had to make adjustments to get him to stretch.)

You can stretch Jesus across a gun (here, just my BB gun). You can stretch him across bars of gold (here, it’s just a spray-painted brick, though I suspect to Jesus there would be no difference). You can stretch him across your ethnicity and your nation. You can carry a painting of him around as you wreak violence. You can stretch his arms across Your Latest Thing, and say, “Thank you, Jesus!” You can stretch him and say, “Jesus, died to give me all this.” Sitting on a lifetime’s accumulated pile of stuff, armed to the teeth, you can say to God, “Thou hast made me thus.”

I have been thinking about how Jesus gets stretched since I read Russell Moore’s book, Losing Our Religion, and since I read his follow-up interview in Newsweek.

In the book, Moore tells of a pastor describing “the game” of successful preaching: “You give them 90 percent of the red meat they expect,” he said, “and then you can do the 10 percent of the side stuff you want to do, on immigrants or whatever” (p. 7).

In the Newsweek interview, Moore says, “Multiple pastors tell me, essentially, the same story about quoting the Sermon on the Mount . . .  [and having] someone come up after to say, ‘Where did you get those liberal talking points?’” Christians, Moore says, think Jesus is weak.

After all, as Lauren Boebert noted, Jesus didn’t have enough AR-15s to keep his government from killing him.

If Jesus, identified by his followers as the Son of God, had only capitalized on that title, he would not have ended up hanging limp, like a week-old cut flower, on a cross. If he had done useful things, like smiting Rome with the breath of his mouth, no one would have minded if he wanted to heal lepers and then let them call him God. That could have been the 10% stuff he wanted to do if he’d only given them the 90% red meat stuff.

Another of Jesus’ critical errors: He applied all his fame and notoriety to weak humans. He did not raise himself to kingship and then, just once in a while show mercy to some poor slob, some outcast. Everybody loves stories like that. Instead, Jesus tossed his whole stack of divine chips into the streets. Mercy and compassion were his main game. What a waste.

What finally sunk his ship was going public with his “Compassion for the Wasted People Project.” He could have escaped crucifixion if he had only stayed in the gutter with the spent people, the morally deficient, and the unproductive. If only he’d just stayed on the down-low with the low down. But no, he decided to go viral by feeding five thousand of them. He decided to flip the power-and-oppression tables in the temple. He decided to tell stories in which God appears foolish by draping his love over some stupid kid who had blown all his inheritance. Jesus made himself a royal pain.

It is good then, to just openly admit that Jesus, in his actual life, teaching, and example, is so often worthless by modern “Christian” standards.

I have become a disbeliever in the Jesus I used to worship, the Jesus commonly promoted these days by his preachers, promoters, and politicians. Jesus’ name has become meaningless to me through overuse and misapplication. The more his self-proclaimed chosen ones and Gumby-fiers claim to have absolute truth, the farther away they are from the real Jesus.

I too am far away. I have lost faith. With precious few exceptions, I trust none of his paid spokespeople to speak or sing to me about Jesus.

Yet, I cannot shake him.

Precisely because he, as he defined himself and as he lived, refused earthly power, possessions, national identity, and violence, I yearn for him. His sheer and total otherness beckons. I am Nicodemus in the night.

I am starting from scratch. It’s like what restorers do with chemicals to liberate old paintings from layers of grime. It’s like Phillip Yancey’s book and its cover art, which whispers like flame to moth: The Jesus I Never Knew. I wonder if once I leave behind the thronging hullaballoo-ers and red meat carnivores and saber-rattlers and flag-wavers and gong-clangors, I can get a look at Jesus from out here on my spiritual limb. 

I catch glimpses of Jesus, at least I think I do, in places of human weakness and woke-ness. There is no game here. Just the grist of human suffering. Just his message and his vision, stretched but never breaking, over an otherwise “useless” person.

If I ever find him, I suspect it will be here. I hope so.

Keith Mannes

Keith Mannes is the author of UnMediated: Simple Faith. Pure Love. Spiritual Growth without the Interference of Christianity, due out in early September, 2024 (please go to or email for more information). Keith is an ordained pastor in the United Church of Christ, expressing that ordination as a hospice chaplain.  


  • Kris Swieringa says:

    Another well written and beautiful article Keith. I love your openness and honesty as so many of us are stumbling, searching, annd questioning after the recent MAGA movement, and for us CRCer’s, the recent Synod decisions. As you know, I can relate to so much of what you say here. Appreciate you!!!!

  • RZ says:

    Well done! I struggle to understand the increasing deafness to the teachings of Jesus. Entitlement breeds more entitlement, I suppose. And the end justifies the means when you are “right.” It stands to reason that insistently violent sheep will diminish the entire shepherd profession.

  • Pettinga Jayne says:

    There are so many who would voice agreement with you.
    How about this one:

    “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

    ― Mahatma Gandhi

  • Mark S. Hiskes says:

    I too am a disbeliever in that Gumby Jesus and really appreciate the clear and memorable contrast with the true Jesus you give us here. Thank you!

  • Jan Zuidema says:

    I used to think that a well-functioning denomination was the strength of the CRC, even when we got lost in the weeds of minutia. Now that I see it can be used to stretch the Jesus that I find in scripture into extremism, legalism, and outright insurrection, I wonder where the message went of Jesus as the only door. Belief in his mercy, his love, his compassion. I see very little of this Jesus in the present moment.

  • Henry Baron says:

    Keep preaching it, Keith – in the name of the Jesus you are re-discovering, for all of us!

  • Mark Stephenson says:

    As always, thanks Keith. Your contrasting portrayals of Jesus remind me of the story that Ivan tells Alyosha in the Brothers Karamazov. Here’s a summary: Main idea: Jesus appears in Spain during the Inquisition, and the Grand Inquisitor reprimands Jesus for saying no to the Devil for all three temptations: turning stones to bread, jumping from the temple, and bending the knee to the Devil in exchange for worldwide domination. Jesus chose self-sacrifice over economic, miraculous, and political power, and the Grand Inquisitor upbraided him for it, because Jesus could have used all that power to force people to follow him. I would guess that many people calling themselves Christians would join the Grand Inquisitor in condemning Jesus for the same reasons.

  • Lena says:

    “I am starting from scratch”. W9nderful. Start with the Bible and only the Bible. Read it and meditate on it, without all the other distracting voices trying to explain its meaning and analyze the people who call themselves Christians. You’ve worked yourself up almost to the point of obsession fretting about all these Trump following Christians. Not worth it. You will find Jesus in the words of His Holy Book.

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