"Dear Lord Baby Jesus . . .”
Gathered with his family at the dinner table, NASCAR legend Ricky Bobby is leading his family in prayer, giving thanks for the KFC set before them, when his wife gently interjects, “Hey, um . . . you know, Sweetie, Jesus did grow up. You don’t always have to call him ‘baby.’ It’s a bit odd and off-puttin’ to pray to a baby.”
“Well, look,” Ricky Bobby retorts, “I like the Christmas Jesus best, and I’m sayin’ grace. When you say grace, you can say it to Grown-Up Jesus, or Teenage Jesus, or Bearded Jesus, or whoever you want.”
I know I shouldn’t love this moment as much as I do. But Will Ferrell’s unsophisticated Christology in the 2006 Talladega Nights reveals what is true of many American Christians: we’ve fashioned an entire pantheon of Jesuses to our liking. And the nature of our Jesuses is revealed in the “Christians” they produce. Like Ricky Bobby’s Jesus—“just a little infant, so cuddly, but still omnipotent”—who is being thanked for $21.5 million in annual endorsements.
For Ricky Bobby, for any of us who identify as “Christian,” that’s a pretty safe Jesus to pray to.
So, clearly, there’s been a terrible misunderstanding. No one who ever encountered the real Jesus ever thought of him as a “cherub with a trust fund.”
The real Jesus was offensive. Disturbing. He consistently embraced those who were socially, religiously, and legally marginalized. He challenged those who earned the ancient equivalent of $21.5 million annual endorsements. He commanded his followers to die. He called out the religious for their paucity of grace.1