One of my indulgences is the reading of comics. There are a number of Internet-published stories I read almost every day, and I love a good graphic novel. Many people look at this medium as directed primarily at children--which is why I call it an indulgence--but some volumes can carry pretty meaningful messages. (I've even seen textbooks for physics and for economics written in a graphic style!)

This past week, I had an opportunity to read Sean Murphy's "Punk Rock Jesus." It's set just a few years in the future, the story of a television producer who creates a clone of Jesus, taking DNA material from the Shroud of Turin, for the purpose of developing a reality show chronicling his life. This Jesus clone, named Chris (for its similarity to the word "Christ"), is raised in an isolated environment and exposed primarily to fundamentalist values. Many television viewers believe him to be the second coming of Christ. But when, as a teenager, he watches his mother be killed, the boy finally decides to rebel against his environment, declares himself an atheist, escapes from the compound, and joins a punk rock band as its lead singer. He tours the world, carrying a message of the evils of religion and American capitalist values, while communities of faith label him as the anti-Christ.

A little far-fetched, perhaps, but not as much as one might think. And while some might call it outright blasphemy (perhaps rightly so), it won't surprise those who know me well that such a label doesn't deter me. After all, it's those things that push us outside our comfort zones that lead us to grow and develop as people, and particularly as people of faith.

For all the things that it left me with--and it did leave me with many--the one that stands out is the teenager's aversion to religion. To be fair, the novel portrays religion in a very narrow variety of ways: There is the Roman Catholic church, treated as an impotent institution in the few glimpses we get of it in the novel; the "New American Christians," a violent fundamentalist sect aligned with American values; and the ongoing battle between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland, the backdrop against which the novel is set. There are few places for progressive mainline Christianity in the book, and I suspect that is either due to the author's ignorance of our existence (which we can't blame him for, silent as we are before the world stage), or because he expects we would be totally uninterested, uninvolved, and perhaps even feeble during the events he describes (which might be quite correct).

But it does make me wonder: If (or rather, when) Jesus Christ really does come back, what will he think of our religion? Will he find a movement that does more to stir up anger and hatred than it does peace and justice? Will he see impotence in our rituals and institutions, or will he find beauty in our worship and discipleship? Will he rejoice in what we are doing, or will he echo the words of the prophet Amos, saying:

I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:21-23)

Where is our focus in Christianity these days? Are we busy doing God's work, turning from our sin and caring for the poor? Or are we busy holding up a decaying institution? It's worth some reflection.