Wednesday, March 28, 2012

CSFF Blog Tour Bonus - Review - My Imaginary Jesus by Matt Mikalatos

 First, if you didn't see my edit yesterday, great news! Matt Mikalatos posted his funny monster guide from Night of the Living Dead Christian on his blog (link in the first paragraph of his post). I suggest you read it. If you like it, look into that book.
Moving on! This review is by Julie, so no hate mail for Maggie on this, please. Thanks for your consideration.

Book:  My Imaginary Jesus by Matt Mikalatos

Ridiculously simplified summary: The author realizes the Jesus he believes is real is really just a convenient Jesus he's imagined. On a quest to find the real Jesus, Matt meets countless other imagined Jesuses. Hijinks ensue, with characters like Simon Peter and a talking donkey.

Content: I read this AFTER reading Matt Mikalatos' Night of the Living Dead Christian. (And on that topic, I'm still not exactly certain how the rather serious Luther, who didn't seem to me to have a great sense of humor, made it through this book.)

So yeah, when my co-author and I started this review system early this year, we made a special point to say we wouldn't rate based on religious content per se, because something that touches one person might bore another, and so on.

I had no idea that was going to cause me trouble as early as March! Page 8 of this book has the apostle Peter and Jesus in a brawl:
Pete punched Jesus hard, in the face, causing his head to snap to the right and bounce off the window. I jumped to intervene. Pete dragged Jesus from the table, and Jesus kicked over the chair, feet flailing. Pete had him in a bear hug, and Jesus elbowed him in the stomach. Pete lost his grip, grabbed Jesus by the hair, and slammed him to the ground...

Of course, this Jesus is the Jesus that Matt (Matt as the character, as distinct from Matt Mikalatos as the author) made up in his mind. It's not the real Jesus. The whole idea that we all envision Jesus wrong is an important one and the point is made in a memorable way.

But how to rate it?  I counted the name "Jesus" (or "Jesuses") 17 times over 2 pages. Page for page, this book says "Jesus" (or some variation thereof) way more than the New Testament. (Well, unless maybe your Bible has really tiny print.) So I can't really rate the book without taking the Christian content into account.

And how can I not rate based on my reaction to the irreverent treatment and portrayal of characters referred to as "Jesus"? The whole book has scenes like the above fight. Jesus after Jesus appears, and they do wacky things like racing down a hill in an inner tube while having a religious argument. Among the many false Jesuses are Feminist Jesus, Portland Jesus, Political Power Jesus, King James Jesus, and the popular Magic 8 Ball Jesus (which I'll admit hits the closest to home for me).

Humor lets an author get into places he or she might otherwise never reach. At least one agnostic read and enjoyed "Imaginary Jesus" (though it didn't bring him back to Christianity). But a disadvantage of using humor is that if the reader isn't smiling, he or she is probably getting annoyed. Or offended.

Most the other reviews I saw were glowingly positive, though it appears the vast majority of those positive reviews were also from people who found the book hilarious. It sounds like I'm in the distinct minority, but I just don't see any humor in (fake) Jesus literally cackling, "I'll get you, my pretty! And your little donkey, too!" And I think it's sad to see a fake Jesus trying to win Matt back like the proverbial mop in the Swiffer commercial.

Anyway, I could probably end the review here. If you find the above ideas more humorous than blasphemous, you'll likely enjoy the book. If it's too edgy/irreverent for you, there are still some great lines and ideas in this book. For instance, Political Power Jesus does a good job selling some of Satan's lies:
"Let's be frank, Matt. The real Jesus is inconvenient. He doesn't always show up when you call. He asks for unreasonable things. He frightens people. He can be immensely frustrating. But you can still serve him while working with an imaginary Jesus. We provide a service to get closer to God."
But it was a challenge for me to get past the irreverence that permeated the book to focus on the message.

I rated the review categories as best I could for the rating below, but I won't break them down here because they all pretty much came down to "If you found it hilarious, (insert category here) was probably good." Humor is so subjective and my rating system doesn't cover religious content, so the objective rating system which seemed like such a great idea yesterday has utterly failed me here.

Reading the bonus material at the end, I was surprised to see how much of the story was REAL--including parts I didn't find believable when I thought they were fiction. And I found Mikalatos the author interesting and likable. (And I wrote that before I knew he'd be checking out the reviews.) I think I may have preferred to read Mikalatos' real journey, instead of this half-imaginary one. (Maybe I should get to reading Real Matt's blog.)

I thought the storyline was more cohesive in Mikalatos' follow-up book, Night of the Living Dead Christian, and unlike most reviewers, I found that one funnier, too. (I also liked "Matt" better there.) Looking forward to seeing his next project!

Recommended for: People who enjoy the first few pages on Amazon.

Maybe not so good for: Ultra-conservatives; active Mormons (being friends with several, I thought they were mocked pretty relentlessly); people expecting a fantasy or science-fiction world (I wouldn't call this speculative except in the VERY broadest sense of the word).

Total Rating: 2.6 out of 5 stars

Thanks for the tour, all! This is the first review tour I've done and I enjoyed it.

What about you? Do you have any misconceptions about Jesus in your life?

*I received a copy of this book free from Tyndale in exchange for this review.*


  1. It is a good review, Julie. Nothing about CSFF says every person has to or is going to like every book. I admit to some hesitancy when we toured this book a year ago because the title then was Imaginary Jesus. The thing is, I don't really consider it irreverence when Matt exposes the imagined Jesuses. They aren't "the fullness of Deity in bodily form" as Christ is.

    Yes, it may be uncomfortable to admit, I agree, but as you said, humor lets an author get into places he might not otherwise have reached, and some of us need to realize the Jesus we are calling Lord is not the person the Bible reveals Him to be.

    Anyway, I'm glad you're appreciating the real life Matt. He's a good guy!


  2. Moowhahahaha! You have fallen into my evil trap!

    My wife and I have the following conversation about every six months:

    Me: Why do people say I'm irreverent? Irreverence is when you don't give something or someone the respect they deserve.

    Krista: Because you make fun of things that people hold in high regard.

    Me: Yeah, but I only do it if I think the thing they respect doesn't deserve any respect.

    Krista (patiently, probably rolling her eyes): Which is pretty much the definition of irreverence.

    So, the way I see it, anyway, is that irreverence against Jesus is a big deal. I would say that our mis-representations of Jesus are irreverent toward Him... and that mocking those misrepresentations is an act of worship (saying that God is worth more than that representation).

    However, I think it's totally legit that some people aren't okay with that, or that the destinction isn't enough to keep them from feeling nervous/offended/upset at the jokes. I'm okay with that.

    Also, you point out one of the hardest things about the book... since it was largely based on my life, it headed toward episodic fiction with no strong narrative event chain holding it together. It also meant that various conversations might come across harsh or weird but I only felt comfortable changing them a certain amount.

    In the end, Julie, if I have to choose between someone liking me as a person or liking my book, I would totally choose me as a person. :D

  3. Thank you, everyone!

    The word "irreverent" is a tricky word. I just looked up "an irreverent look" in my search engine and the first page listed:

    An irreverent look at cooking
    An irreverent look at big business in pro sports
    An irreverent look at opera and other madness
    An irreverent look at the American male
    An irreverent look at the "Management Stuff" in business
    An irreverent look at life from the red tees

    I don't know; I think "irreverent" has kind of come to mean "satiric" or "silly" to most people.

    But as you hinted, Matt, I just get twitchy when the name "Jesus" is used casually. If every instance said "A feminist's misrepresentation of Jesus (did something wacky)" then I wouldn't be bothered. And NO ONE would find the book funny or moving. So I guess you know what you are doing. :D

    Thanks to everyone (and especially Matt) for your gracious posts this week!


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