Jonathan Merritt – Jesus is Better Than You Imagined [Feature Review]

May 9, 2014

 

[easyazon_image add_to_cart=”default” align=”left” asin=”1455527874″ cloaking=”default” height=”160″ localization=”default” locale=”US” nofollow=”default” new_window=”default” src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51gyiRIxJCL._SL160_.jpg” tag=”douloschristo-20″ width=”110″]Kindle[/easyazon_image]Page 2: Jonathan Merritt – Jesus is Better

 
And so Merritt’s deepest secret was revealed: he had indeed found himself attracted to pretty girls but also to other boys; when, in 2009, he wrote an article for USA Today pleading for Christians to be loving toward people who are gay, he wrote it

 

“with my secret lockbox in view. I was not just asking that we do a better job loving our neighbors, I wanted to know I too was loved.”

 

Merritt’s grace in demonstrating how his particular Christian tradition facilitated the keeping of secrets and the wearing of masks is admirable; he does not blame his church or his parents; there is no hint of bitterness. Like Laura Truax in [easyazon_link asin=”083084306X” locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”douloschristo-20″ add_to_cart=”default” cloaking=”default” localization=”default” popups=”default”]Undone[/easyazon_link], Merritt describes how one day, terrible to him – the day he was “outed” – turned out to be an upside-down sort of blessing. He felt “sick” but also “liberated”; friends came to cry with, pray with, and affirm their love for him.

 

“That evening, I became more ‘me’ than I’d ever been. For once, I wasn’t trying to burnish my surface, to create an alternate version of myself that was more acceptable or likeable.”

 

It is precisely this vulnerability that makes Merritt likeable indeed. [Disclosure: Jonathan briefly visited my home in Malawi last year, and my entire family liked him very much.] However, the aforementioned admirable restraint and grace keeps the book from lapsing into tell-all. Some readers will no doubt hunger and thirst for more gore and detail, but Merritt’s stories – including a harrowing experience in Haiti, a silent retreat in a desert monastery, and an evening in a borderline blasphemous bar – draw attention not to Merritt himself but to Jesus, who is, Merritt says,

 

“better than I imagined because he shatters my strivings for sterility with a radical invitation to live free.”

 

In my favorite Harriet Beecher Stowe novel, The Minister’s Wooing, one character’s desperate anxiety over wishing to be assured of her son’s salvation is relieved by the warm embrace of her servant, Candace, who urges her grief-stricken mistress to meditate not on the theological treatises of their scholarly pastor but on the love of the suffering and risen Christ, whose love and sacrifice far surpasses both understanding and explanation. In telling stories of moving from a rigid religion to a flawed but vital faith, Jonathan Merritt issues an invitation to us – to those of us who may be wearing masks, who my be grieving terrible loss, who may be feeling God’s absence:

 

“[be] listening, looking, and expectant[.] The living God is waiting, and he is better than you imagined.”

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Rachel Marie Stone is the author of Eat With Joy: Redeeming God’s Gift of Food. She has recently been named as a columnist for the print edition of The Englewood Review, she blogs for Religion News Service and tweets at  @rachel_m_stone.