The Englewood Review of Books
Best Books of 2021
Diana Butler Bass
In Freeing Jesus Bass bypasses the constraints of doctrine and correct belief by writing about the Jesus of her experience and beaconing readers to reflect on their own experience of him. She does that by sharing stories of six of the Jesuses who have been with her through the stages of her life: friend, teacher, savior, Lord, way, and presence. Through her story she tells “the story of the Jesus of experience, who shows up consistently and when we least expect him. Freeing Jesus means finding him along the way” (xxvi). I don’t want to give away the arresting story that begins this book because it is too funny, too poignant, and too profound to be paraphrased. But the title alone makes clear that Jesus wants a life outside of the church and indeed wants to be free from all the boxes we put him inside.
Having written this book during the pandemic, Bass, in her conclusion, comments on the irony of the project. Her mission was to set Jesus free, but in fact during this last year, church doors were locked and Jesus had left the building. Congregations were having to find creative ways to be church outside their buildings, and some have succeeded. She writes,
“But as millions have discovered in these many months, Jesus was not confined to a building. Jesus was around our tables at home, with us on walks and hikes, present in music, art, and books, and visible in faces via Zoom. Jesus was with us when we felt we could do no more, overwhelmed with work and online school. Jesus was with us as we prayed with those sick in the hospital over cell phones. Jesus did not leave us to suffer alone. COVID-19 forced Jesus out of the cathedral into the world, reminding Christians that church is not a building. Rather, church is wherever two or three are gathered, even if the ‘two’ is only you and your cat . . .” (266-267).
Some commentators are already speculating on the effect COVID-19 will have on church life when the doors are opened again. Will church attendance continue to decline? Or will congregations grow through the creativity learned this past year to reach beyond their walls and follow Jesus into the world? We don’t know. Bass says that many people will not return because “they are already discovering what it meant to follow Jesus beyond the church,” but many will. She continues, “Whatever happens, however, I hope none of us will forget the Jesus we have met in our own lives, who has been with us in fear and confusion and loss, in forced isolation and surprising moments of joy, and through the ministrations of our shared human priesthood. It all matters. All of it”(268).
- — from our review by Jeanne Torrence Finley
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*** WATCH a talk that Diana Butler Bass gave on this book…