Jesus and the Junkie

My ex sits on my parents’ sofa, his head slowly drooping down to his knees, his face twisted in a strung-out grimace. Invisible Friend Jesus sits next to him, gazing at him distantly.

“I remember being like that,” I say. “I’d wake up every morning curled in a tight ball around my pain. The world was cold and cruel and dirty, and the only thing that made it better was dope. But with every dose the world got crueler, the hustle a little more dangerous, the judgment of respectable people a little sharper. The only answer was to get higher, and to stop even trying to associate with respectable people.”

Invisible Friend Jesus doesn’t say anything. He just leans forward and pokes my ex in the shoulder with a long, graceful finger. My ex’ chin jerks up slightly, his lids cracking open over hazy eyes. Then he quickly sinks back into his nod, and Invisible Friend Jesus leans back on the couch once more, stroking his stubbly chin.

“There was no way out,” I continue. “No matter what I did, I just made myself hurt worse.”

“But you did find your way out,” Invisible Friend Jesus says.

“That’s the paradox,” I say. “There’s no way out of that place, but you can still get out. Escaping that hole is like an electron jumping from one atomic orbital to another. It’s difficult to say for sure which path it takes, only that it gets there.”

“Which is frustrating for you, because you can’t tell him how to do it,” Invisible Friend Jesus says.

I sigh. “There’s no right way. You just do it.” I squint at Invisible Friend Jesus and smile. “It helps to believe that there’s goodness and beauty in the universe though. Something to cling onto when it seems like there’s nothing else. A happiness that’s always there, no matter what, and that no one can take away from you.”

He grins back and picks up the remote. “Let’s watch Adventure Time.”

“Hells yes,” I say, and give him a fist bump.

Invisible Friend Jesus turns on the TV. I gaze sadly at my ex, sitting there sucking unconsciously on his lips, his grey forehead resting on his knees.

“You should find him a friend,” I say. “Someone who looks like Obi Wan or a Yaqui Indian shaman.”

Invisible Friend Jesus sprawls with his arms across the back of the sofa, examining him with compassionate eyes. “I’ll see what I can do,” he says.

IFJ On the Road

Invisible Friend Jesus stands next to me at the hotel window, gazing at dawn spreading over the red ridges around Albuquerque. I’m a long way from home, and I’m having one of those mornings when you wake up bleary and beat and lost-feeling.

“Traveling is a lonely and intense thing,” I say.

He doesn’t respond, but just shoots me his little smile.

“I’m a restless person,” I continue. “Being in motion helps me to think. Being out somewhere where I don’t know anyone and don’t know what’s going to happen next helps me to sort of float on top of life and get a look around me.”

He strokes his short beard thoughtfully. “You were born a ramblin’ man.”

I don’t dignify this with a response. I watch the morning commuters crowding up the I-40 bridge, the Rio Grande flowing lazily beneath them. They’re running around in circles, caught in their routine, but I’m detached from all that. Traveling makes me realize how our rituals are a comfortable, fuzzy blanket that we wrap ourselves up in so that we don’t have to think or feel. We always know where we have to be next and what we need to do, and reap a sense of fulfilment from that, even if we’re not actually accomplishing anything of substance. Traveling rips away that blanket and leaves us naked. It can help us see who we really are, and what’s really going on around us. It can also make us cold, cause the emptiness inside us to bloom.

“There are times when I wake up in another hotel room somewhere and I wonder what the hell I’m doing here,” I mutter. “I ask myself what the point is of all this running. After a while, all those miles and towns start to blur together, all the conversations with people in bars and at bus stops. I’m always searching for the next thing to grab my attention, because I can feel the endless void of death opening up underneath my feet and I want to fill up my head with constant novelty to drown out its smothering silence. I’m replacing my rituals with a lack of ritual. I’m trying to cram meaning down life’s gaping maw, is what I’m doing, but I’m old enough to know how hollow that is.”

He raises an eyebrow. “Where’s your mustard seed of faith, Tinkerbell? You’re sliding into nihilism.”

I wrinkle my nose. “When I got baptized during my raging fit of whatever, I was challenging myself to not be a nihilist; to believe that, no matter how fucking pointless life seems sometimes, there’s still beauty and meaning in it. I knew I’d get pushback from myself, and from others. I knew all my friends and family would think I’d gone goobers, because I don’t act like a Christian. I never have and never will. I feel stupid calling myself one. I’m too jaded and foul-mouthed. I’m too immersed in this life, too hedonistic. I love going to church and feeling that space open up around me, that peace, that feeling that I don’t have to run anywhere because I’m already here. But as soon as I walk out that door, my thoughts flow back into their natural channels, and by the time I’m home again, I’m confused and ashamed of myself, left with the unsettling feeling that I’m leading a double life.”

“You’re not,” he says. “You’re just confusing your self-image with how others see you.”

“But there’s truth in how other people see me,” I say. “I don’t seem like someone who has found religion, because I’m rarely at peace. I’m still floundering around in the dark for answers, and failing, again and again. Worse yet, I’m having a wicked sort of fun doing it. No matter how many times a day I pray for you to not lead me into temptation, you still do.”

He laughs. “Don’t look at me, Tinkerbell, I’m not the one leading you into temptation.”

I roll my eyes. “Yeah, I know. But I think therein lies my point. It seems to me that, in the case of other Christians, you have them by the balls. They don’t feel the need to dance on the edge of the cliff. They walk straight down the narrow path you’ve laid out for them, and feel righteous. But I don’t live righteously. I’m not a goody-two-shoes. In fact, I’m usually barefoot.”

“So am I,” he says. I smirk and glance down at his long narrow feet, bare beneath the hems of his cream-colored slacks. He wiggles his toes, then sighs and reaches out to squeeze my shoulder. “Everyone fucks up, Tinkerbell. Everyone suffers doubt and temptation, and gives into it now and again, no matter how mind-numbingly Christian they are. Not all of them brag about it as much as you do, though.”

I poke at his armpit and he flinches away, giggling, because Invisible Friend Jesus is very ticklish. “Oh, shut up,” I say. “The difference between me and those people isn’t that I brag about my missteps and failures, it’s that I don’t feel like you’re judging me for it. I only feel like other people are judging me for it. I see you so much differently than other Christians do. They seem to hear you hollering a bunch of Thou Shalt Nots in their ear, whereas, for me, you’re just the guy that gently takes my hand every time I corner myself in some den of iniquity, helps me brush myself off, and then tells me some stupid joke about a horse and a weasel to make me laugh. I never feel your judgment, just your forgiveness. Although I do feel you kicking my shins and telling me to get the fuck out of this situation now sometimes.”

He grins. “I usually have to kick pretty hard before you listen.”

I clutch my elbows, frowning out the window. “Yeah, sometimes.”

“But you’re getting better, Tink. Keep working at it, you won’t have to fill that void with ridiculous antics or numbing routine any longer, and you can fill it with peace, instead.”

“Maybe,” I say. “Sometimes I wish I could be like other people, and find some sort of peace in just following the rules. They use the Bible as an instruction manual, when I see it as a weird collection of old oral histories and allegories and antiquated laws, haunting song lyrics, and the rantings of ancient schizophrenics. I don’t see the Bible as the word of God, but as a work of human beings inspired by religious fervor. I can’t see very many clear-cut rules in it, so I’m left to find my own path to God.”

“That’s what everyone does. Every Christian sees something different in the Bible and has their own set of beliefs. Ditto with the other religions.”

“Yeah, but I’m no sort of Christian at all. I don’t even know if I believe in heaven or hell. I just want peace in this life, and to live abundantly. The only reason I’m supposedly a Christian instead of some new-agey space-brained spiritualist is because I love your very human example of how to live and search for inner peace. Plus, you were a punk-rock revolutionary and did kickass magic.”

He laughs, then reaches into the sleeve of his jacket and pulls out a bouquet of daylilies, hands them to me with a flourish. I bring them to my nose, breathing their delicate scent. “Thanks,” I say.

He ruffles my hair. “Listen, Tink. Like I’ve told you before, no one has a monopoly on God. God is for everyone, even twisted weirdoes like you. I mean, I’m here, aren’t I?”

“Yeah,” I say. Then I purse my lips at him. “Hey, could you pull a wad of cash out of your sleeve, too? I’d like a really nice hotel tonight. That will help with my inner peace.”

He raises an eyebrow at me, then pulls a penny from his pocket and flicks it at my kneecaps. I jump away, giggling.

“Quit it!” I say.

IFJ- Amsterdam Coffee House, One and Two

Amster-Goddam Coffee House
“I really want to take off somewhere this weekend,” I said.

He sat looking at me out of the corner of his eye. I avoided his gaze, tapping my foot against the floor. “You’re so agitated lately,” he said.

“I know.” I ran my fingers through my hair. “I’m trying to calm down a bit.”

He arched an eyebrow. “For someone trying to calm down, you sure spend a lot of time at this coffee shop.”

I grimaced and slurped my quad-shot, watching one of the amazing baristas bend over to grab a crumpled napkin from the floor. My eyes flicked over to Invisible Friend Jesus; amazingly he wasn’t watching her, he was still looking at me, a corner of his mouth tucked back. I slumped lower in my chair.

“Do I need to tell you not to come here?” he asked.

“Finally with the guilt,” I muttered.

He grinned faintly. “Guilt doesn’t usually work with you. Besides, you know how to control yourself, Tinkerbell. I’m just worried that you don’t comport yourself with much dignity sometimes.”

I scowled at him from behind my cup. “You expect dignity out of me?”

He broke into a smile, squeezing his eyes shut. “You’re right. What was I thinking?”

And the Very Next Day…
“I can’t help but notice that we’re back in this coffee shop,” he said, looking around with raised eyebrows.

I avoided his gaze. “I had to come into town, and I was tired, I needed some coffee.”

He stared at me, his chin resting on his hand. “Didn’t they give you a Starbucks card for reading that short story at the writers’ meeting?”

I hid behind my cup and didn’t say anything.

“Didn’t we pass a Starbucks on our way here?” he asked.

I mumbled something about rampant capitalism and buying local, but he just continued to watch me thoughtfully, slowly rubbing his upper lip with his pointer finger.

I took a gulp of my quad shot, my foot twitching spasmodically. “That girl working the till, do you think she’s a ballet dancer?” I asked. “She looks like a ballet dancer.”

He pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed.

I stared at my lap, rubbing my nose with my fist. “Thanks for hanging out with me, Invisible Friend Jesus,” I muttered sheepishly, and he smiled.

“It’s always an experience,” he said. “Can we go home now?”

I flipped my laptop closed, stuffing it into my backpack. “Okay, but only if you tell me how to get Pers Cavanaugh out of her moral predicament on the drive.”

He laughed. “I don’t negotiate with terrorists,” he said.

IFJ- Insomnia

“Pssst! Tinkerbell! Wake up!”

He poked me in the arm, and I stirred sleepily. Then I looked at the clock. “It’s one thirty in the morning,” I protested.

“Yeah, but get up!”

I flopped over. “That’s a bad idea. Four hours of sleep isn’t enough. I’ll feel glorious bunked later, and won’t be able to write or do anything.”

“We can take a nap,” he said, poking me in the arm again.

“I can never take naps.”

“This time you will, I’ll help you.” When I didn’t respond, he shook me. “Hey, remember that Kids in the Hall sketch? That was freakin’ funny.” He made a silly voice. “God in heaven! This is progress?!”

The scene rolled through my head, and I was convulsed in helpless giggles. “The union!”

He laughed. “And hey, we have to write those book jacket blurbs for Genesis. You can do the Noah story next.”

I lay there for a moment, sighing, then flopped over in frustration. “I don’t have to do that now. I need more sleep.” I put a pillow over my head.

He stood there tapping his foot, and after a minute or so he shook me again, but he didn’t have to; I had potential lines for the blurb running through my mind, and I had the giggles again. “Fine, fine, I’m up.” I hauled myself out of bed and padded out into the kitchen. I turned on the light. Then I squinted at him. “Hey, you’re not Invisible Friend Jesus,” I said.

He shuffled his feet, his eyes darting around. Then there were footsteps in the hall, and Invisible Friend Jesus came out, rubbing his eyes. He was wearing striped white flannel pajamas. “What’s all the commotion?” he asked. Then his gaze fell on the other guy, and he grinned humorlessly. “Satan, go back to sleep and leave her alone,” he said.

View Kids in the Hall sketch:
Arms in a Trough of Dead Fish

IFJ- Wherin Jesus Tells Me Not to Read the Bible

“I’ve been reading the Bible, Invisible Friend Jesus.”

I leaned back against his knees. For once, he wasn’t doing anything, just sitting to stare out the window with me. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

“Sometimes,” I said, “reading the Bible is worse than talking to God Girl and the neighbors.”

He chuckled softly. “How so?”

“There’s a whole lot of smiting in there, for one, and stuff that seems contrary to a message of peace, love and acceptance. Even you say some pretty nasty shit in there. What’s all this about not healing the Gentiles? I was reading that last night in Matthew 10:5.”

He flicked me on the back of the head. “You’ve got a problem with that, shikse?”

I smacked him on the knee in retaliation and looked over my shoulder with raised eyebrows.

He leaned back in his chair, squinting at me with his little smile. “The thing about the Bible, is it was written by people. People, as you might know, have their own issues and agendas.”

“But it’s the Bible, Invisible Friend Jesus!”

“Yes, and it’s a great help to many. But, if you don’t understand something in the textbook, you go ask the teacher, right?”

I scowled at him. “But…you’re saying, the Bible is wrong? Are you really Jesus? Because you look a little more like James Franco.”

He snorted, wrinkling his nose. “I wouldn’t say that the Bible is wrong. It’s a thick and obtuse tome, and it says a lot of things. There are definitely many lessons to be learned from it, but you have to look at it from the right perspective.”

“You’re talking around the issue,” I said.

“And you’re turning religion into an intellectual exercise.” We glared at each other a few moments. He kept raising his eyebrows higher and higher until I finally laughed.

“Listen,” he said, “I’ve always thought that biblical literalists lack imagination. They want instructions on how to be a good person and get into Heaven laid out in front of them so that they don’t have to think about it. They don’t stop to consider the realities.”

“You’d need a lot of imagination in order to be a biblical literalist if you ask me,” I said. “All that stuff in there that contradicts the other stuff, and all the crazy-ass things….”

“I believe you’re over-thinking it, which is something most of those people don’t do.”

I leaned back against his legs again, clutching my head and sighing. “Maybe I should be a Buddhist,” I said.

He shifted slightly in his seat. “Are you saying we should see other people?”

I laughed, but didn’t look up. “No, not really.”

“You’d probably have just as much intellectual trouble with certain aspects of Buddhism.”

“You’re probably right.”

“You’ve told me yourself that you get a lot out of these conversations we have, but here you are again, trying to justify it. You’re never going to go wrong seeking out that place of peace within yourself. It helps you in your daily life, in all your interactions with people. It makes your life better. If you don’t find that peace and joy from reading the Bible, well then, don’t read it. Come talk to me, instead.”

I sat up again, and settled back against his knees. “Okay,” I said.

IFJ Collection Three

Wherein Jesus Says it’s Okay to Not Believe
“What’s up, Tink?”

I wrapped my arms around my knees and stared out the window, frowning. When I finally looked at him out of the corner of my eye, he was sitting there with his stupid, knowing smile. “I don’t have to tell you, you already frigging know,” I said.

He tented his fingers over his chest and tapped them together. “You’re worried because you’re almost done with your Tales from Purgatory series. You think that you only let yourself believe these conversations between us have meaning because you needed to believe it in order to write the story – because you had to find a way to make your main character believe it.”

“That’s crazy, right?”

He stuck his bottom lip out and shrugged. “I’ve heard crazier. I think.”

I hugged my legs tighter. “I’m a fraud, Invisible Friend Jesus. Real people of faith don’t have these dark moments where the world wraps them up in a nihilist shroud and the void opens beneath them.”

“That’s not true,” he said. His smile was gone.

“Really? I mean, does God Girl lie in bed at night and doubt the existence….” I trailed off, my eyes glazing over, and he snorted, rubbing his upper lip.

“Stop thinking about God Girl lying in bed at night, Tink.”

“Sorry.” I sighed and pressed my forehead into my knees.

He came over and put his arm around my shoulders. “These are fun talks we have,” he said.

“Yeah,” I said into my knees. “Yeah, they are. They have immeasurable value for me.”

“You don’t have to justify it to yourself or anyone.”

I looked up at him and smiled. “That’s true,” I said.

The Parable of the Dreamland Origami Monkey
“Invisible Friend Jesus, I’m having another bad day.” He sat by my head as I lay curled on the couch. He was making origami figurines, waving his hand over a pile of crepe paper, causing the little squares gather into beautiful shapes as if folded by unseen hands. I watched blearily as a rainbow army of butterflies, horses, airplanes and lotus blossoms grew on my coffee table.

“Why don’t you tell me about it?” he said.

“I’m never content,” I said. “I’m selfish. I always want something that I don’t have.”

He glanced at me, with his little teasing smile. “You think that makes you special?” he asked.

I sighed heavily, curling up tighter. “Some people seem perfectly happy with what they have. Other people’s discontent stems from a less selfish place. They want to make the world better, they want to help those less fortunate. Me, I get all twisted up because I really want my books to get published.”

He twiddled his fingers, and a rustling row of paper sea creatures bloomed up under them. “Dr. King you are not, Tinkerbell, but your art is your way of reaching out to others. You shouldn’t feel bad for wanting to share your stories.”

“But it’s so silly,” I complained, and he smiled.

“‘All is vanity and a striving after wind.’ You are who you are. Open your heart, let yourself be ‘God’s instrument’, as they say. To quote the dreamland code monkey from your books, ‘Listen, and endure.’ There are ways that each of us can make the world a better place, and if we keep our eyes open, we will see what those ways are.” He made a graceful motion with his hands, and the origami figures rose crinkling from the table to dance around my head. “It’s not always the ways you would think,” he said.

IFJ Collection Two

Just Chew Gum
“I really want a cigarette, Invisible Friend Jesus.”

He snorted. He had a sketch pad on his knees and was drawing something with a charcoal pencil, using manic strokes. “You don’t smoke,” he said. “Whenever you smoke a cigarette, you feel nasty and smell bad.”

“I know, but I just want one.”

He blew the chaff off his drawing and smudged at it with his finger. “You have one of those compulsive personalities. You just need to calm down.”

“Yeah, whatever.”

“Why don’t you make yourself a nice cup of tea instead?”

I laughed. “A nice cup of tea? Seriously? Jesus, you are such a doofus.”

He rolled his eyes, starting in on the drawing with his pencil again. “Fine. Why don’t you just suck on, like, a pacifier with Justin Beiber’s mug shot on it or something. Would that be hipster badass enough for you?”

I thought about it. “No. That’s just weird.” I sighed and scooted over to look at his sketchbook. “Is that a giraffe?”

He pulled the drawing against his chest, glaring at me. “Don’t look at it. It’s not done yet.”

Personal or Work?
“Invisible Friend Jesus, can I use you as a reference on job applications now?”

He briefly glanced up from his drawing and cocked an eyebrow at me. “It might work at the Hobby Lobby,” he said, “but why in hell would you want to work there?”

Love Thy Neighbor
“I made some molasses cookies, Invisible Friend Jesus.”

He looked at me, how I was sitting there hunched over, clutching my elbows, avoiding his eyes. He heaved a tortured sigh. “You’re going to take some over to the neighbors, aren’t you?”

I nodded twitchily and risked a glance at him. “Do you think that’s a bad idea?”

He squinted at me, tapping a finger against his lips. “No, it’s not a bad idea, really. They’re your neighbors, and you want to be friends with them.”

“But they’re such oober-doober right-wing Christian thumpers,” I muttered.

He shrugged. “Just don’t engage in anymore political discussions, you’ll be fine.” Then he smiled toothily. “I’ll go with you. You can introduce me to them.”

He and I exchanged a look and both burst out laughing.

“Oh, that’s hilarious,” I said.

But Don’t Covet Them
“Sit up, Tinkerbell.”

“No,” I said. My voice was muffled because my face was mashed into my knees, my hands clutching my hair.

He laughed. “You’re so drama.”

“I need to not hang out with God Girl,” I said.

He patted my back gently, and I could almost hear him smirking.

“Why do I do this to myself?” I asked, but he didn’t answer, because it was a rhetorical question.

Careful of Those Palms
“I just thought of something, Invisible Friend Jesus. They haven’t fired me yet, so I must have passed my background check.”

“Of course you did,” he said, grinning. He held up his hand for me to high-five him, but I was a little too exuberant with it and he winced and massaged his palm.

“Oooh, sorry, I forgot,” I said, grimacing in sympathy.

“It’s all right. Anyway, congratulations. And you have one up on me, you know.”

My eyebrows shot up. “That’s riiiight, you have a criminal history.” I laughed. “That’s fucked up. If Jesus Christ walked into a McDonald’s and asked for a job, they wouldn’t give him one.”

“No big loss,” he said.

IFJ – Jesus the Shrink

“I’ve been having a hard couple of days, Invisible Friend Jesus.”

He leaned back in his chair and crossed his legs, the hem of his white slacks draping gracefully over his ankle. “I know,” he said, with his little smile.

“I don’t know why I find it so hard to be happy sometimes. I mean, my life is glorious awesome, but sometimes I get all squidged up over practically nothing. It’s stupid. I look at what some people have to deal with – hell, I look at how my own life used to be– and it just seems ridiculous to be, you know, like I am.”

“There are some people living in some really horrific situations in this world, it’s true, some by choice and some not. I know you’re thinking about your time in Nicaragua….”

“Those starving kids, it was horrible. And all those war stories….”

“You met folks who had lost their friends and family in the war or to horrible diseases, kids that had to work in the streets instead of going to school, people maimed by polio or explosives or accidents.” He raised his eyebrows at me and tapped his steepled fingers against his mouth.

I saw where he was going with this. “And yet, when we weren’t working, we played cards, or we drank rum and went dancing. We sat around gossiping and watching Betty La Fea on the TV. All the boys tried to get in my pants.”

“People are pretty much the same everywhere,” he agreed. “We all go through shit in our lives, some more than others.” He paused for a moment, rubbing the palms of his hands distractedly. Then he sat up a bit straighter, uncrossing and recrossing his legs, taking a deep breath. “People deal with stuff in different ways,” he said. “Some are angry and bitter, some seem like they’d be cheerful even while taking heavy mortar fire. But that joy in the universe is there for all of us. We just have to tap into it.”

I grimaced a bit. “It’s hard sometimes, even for people like me, living in my peaceful suburban house, spending most of my day doing what I love best.”

“No one’s happy all the time,” he said.

“And people living in war zones, or situations of extreme poverty or abuse… how do you expect them to deal?”

He looked down at his lap, a shadow passing over his face. Then he looked back at me again, his eyes sharp. “Life doesn’t give some of us very many chances for happiness, it’s true, but it does give everyone some chance, and it’s up to each person to do the best they can. Life is a complicated and beautiful thing, but it is not fair. Justice is a human concept, and humans trample all over it more than God does. The best we can do is offer others our love and understanding and compassion.”

“I don’t do enough of that sometimes.”

He grinned lopsidedly. “Well, you’re no saint, Tinkerbell, but I love you anyway. Besides, you’re feeding hungry kids this summer, even though you’d rather be in Vegas and up in the Sierras.” His grin faded and he looked at me earnestly. “Just spread joy and love as much as you can, and you’ll make the world a better place. You may not cure all the world’s problems, but you’ll be doing more than you know.”

I nodded, looking at my feet. “I just can’t find that happy place sometimes.” I glanced back up at him, narrowing my eyes. “And yesterday, when I was lying face-down on my bed, feeling like the world was stomping all over my guts, where the hell were you? I couldn’t find you anywhere.”

He gave me his little smile again. “When you got up again out of your bed, what happened?”

“I got a bunch of texts and phone calls and emails from my friends and stuff.” When he just kept on with his stupid smile, I snorted. “You didn’t go out telling people to be nice to me. It was just a coincidence.”

He shrugged. “You’re the one that likes to indulge in the magical thinking. I see you trying to make fireballs with your Jedi mind powers. Don’t deny it, part of you believes that there is magic in the universe. Look at your books, for fuck’s sake. You know you more than half believe that Purgatory is real.”

I wrinkled my nose and shook my head at him. “Yeah, but most of my friends don’t listen to you, Invisible Friend Jesus. Even if you went around screaming at them ‘CALL LIZ. SHE’S ALL GOOBERS WITH DEPRESSION,’ they wouldn’t even look up from their iPads.”

He flicked a piece of lint off his suit jacket, smirking. “Okay, you got me. Actually, I went out for a steak and a haircut.”

I looked at him and pursed my lips approvingly. “Oh yeah,” I said. “Your hair looks nice.”

“Thanks,” he said, smiling.

The Invisible Friend Jesus Stories

I have to disclose here that, although the Invisible Friend Jesus stories are based on my true theological ponderings, IFJ is just a character. My true Invisible Friend Jesus thinks his caricature is hilarious, and generally approves, but I could never accurately capture the depth and joy of this relationship in the context of these flippant anecdotes. That said, enjoy.

To Hell with Church
“I didn’t go to church today, invisible friend Jesus.”
He glanced at me, raising his eyebrows. He was playing something like cat’s cradle with a length of yarn, except it was a lot more complicated. “You’re telling me?” he said. “I already know.”
“I have the flu, and Pastor Fred isn’t there anymore anyway.”
He brought his fingers together in this strange way and pulled them apart again, and suddenly the yarn had knitted into this amazing tea cozy shaped like a camel. “Have some tea and finish writing Book Six,” he said. “I’ve gone to enough church for the both of us.”

Dig Those Duggars
“Invisible friend Jesus, I’m sorry that I have long conversations with my friends about which of the Duggar girls I should corrupt.”
He glanced up from the book he was reading and gave me an arch look. “If I were actually worried about that idea bearing fruit, we would maybe have a chat.”
He went back to his novel, scowling slightly and flipping through the pages. I glanced at it, stifling a snort. “Uh, Jesus? Is that ‘The Sound and the Fury’?”
His lips twisted sideways. “Yeah, sometimes I just read things because I feel like I should, you know? But, holy fuck, this sucks.”

If It Offend Thee…
“Invisible friend Jesus, I was thinking….”
“I know,” he said, not looking up from his book.
I wrinkled my nose. “I was thinking about that part in the Sermon on the Mount, the part about mind-adultery, and cutting off parts of your body instead of being led into sin.” I shifted uneasily in my seat. “I’m worried about that part.”
“I know you are,” he said, still not looking up from Faulkner.
He licked his finger and slowly turned a page, a little smirk growing on his face. “And what’s up with people always quoting that sermon?” he said. “It’s like people going on and on about ‘Dark Side of the Moon’, but they’ve never even heard of ‘Piper at the Gates of Dawn’.”
I rubbed my nose and sighed. My invisible friend Jesus is frustrating sometimes.

Background Check, One Two, One Two….
“Invisible friend Jesus, I’m sitting in the POLICE DEPARTMENT. ”
He sat there fiddling with the loose wires of some gadget he was working on. Then he put the end of one in his mouth, stripping it with his teeth. “Mmm hmm,” he replied.
“But I’m going to let them take my FINGERPRINTS. I’m letting them scan me into the Registry.”
He spit out the wire sheathing and snorted. “You are such a nerd.”
“Calm down Tinkerbell, it’s going to be alright.”
“But what if….”
He put down the contraption and looked at me. “Listen. If there’s some snafu and you lose your job, then we can go on a road trip to San Francisco. Okay?”
He shook his head slightly as he went back to twisting wires together, his lips twitching with amusement. “You are so spoiled,” he said.

Parable of the Robot Puppy
“Invisible friend Jesus, why can’t I shoot fireballs out of my hands?”
He squinted at me in disbelief. He was screwing in a panel on the contraption he’d built, which looked like a robot puppy. “You really want to shoot fireballs from your hands?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said.
He rubbed his nose on the back of the hand holding the screwdriver. “Listen. Having superpowers isn’t all its cracked up to be. I healed a couple of people back in the day. I told them not to tell anyone, but they of course ran off and told every-goddamn-body, and pretty soon I’m mobbed by poor saps saying, ‘Jesus, my knee hurts,’ and ‘Jesus, my mother-in-law has the flu.’ It’s hard work.”
“Sure. But I’d just throw fireballs for fun, and to defeat the bad guys. Whoever they are.”
He turned the robot puppy over and started in on some more screws. “The trick is knowing who the bad guys are,” he muttered. “I mean, really? Say God came down right now to fill you up with the Divine Power. What you’d do with it, is throw fireballs? Just for fun?”
I thought about it some more. “Yes,” I said.
“You live in the dry-ass California desert. You’d set the whole place on fire.”
“Are you saying that setting fire to Shandon isn’t part of God’s plan?”
Jesus shook his head. “For fuck’s sake, Tinkerbell,” he said.
He set his robot puppy on its little metal feet, and laid his hand briefly on its head. The little eyes lit up blue, and it said, “Bark. Bark.” He smiled at me.
“Cute,” I said.

Stupid Agents Just Don’t Understand My Awesome
“Invisible friend Jesus, I just got another rejection for Book One.”
He gave me his little smile and put a hand on my shoulder.
“Don’t let it get to you, Tink. Your stories are awesome.”
“My writing isn’t that great though.”
“Your writing is just fine, and getting better every day.”
I looked at him for a second, cocking my head, and he raised his eyebrows expectantly. “Invisible friend Jesus, will you help me get my books published?”
He snorted and squeezed my shoulder. “It’s hilarious that you’d ask Jesus to help you get your foul-mouthed and theologically controversial stories published, but I’ll help you, one way or another.”

Take This Job and Shove It
“Invisible friend Jesus, are you sure you don’t want to make me lose my job somehow? Then we could go on a road trip to Vegas. We could sit in the casinos and write my memoirs in manic, rambling prose. We could take shots of whiskey and talk to the bartenders.”
He smirked at me, rubbing his chin. “We can have fun in Shandon, too,” he said, then he grinned. “You’re a piece of work, but you’re more fun than most of the religious people I hang out with.”
“Hey, thanks,” I said. Then I pursed my lips. “Would it change your opinion of me if I joined the Shandon Lyons club like they’re pushing for?”
He laughed. “Oh, man, that would be hilarious. Tinkerbell in the Lyons club.”

Like Chickens
“Invisible friend Jesus, I just had to chase my chickens all around in order to put them into the coop for the night.”
“Mmm hmm,” he said, blowing on his tea to cool it off. Apparently Jesus CAN make tea so hot that even he can’t drink it. Anyway….
“Well, they were all scared of me, and ran away all freaked out, but with each one of them, when I finally caught them and petted their heads and stuff, they all looked at me like, ‘Whoa, this is trippy. You’re really great. Pet me some more.'”
Jesus pinched the bridge of his nose, wincing. “You’re trying to make one of those crazy correlations like people always do, right?”
I stared at him thoughtfully, my foot jittering. “Am I as stupid as a chicken to you?” I asked.
“Only when you’re drunk,” he replied, sipping his tea.

Confession Before Man – Part the Second – The Nazz is My Getaway Driver

When I was around twenty years old, I successfully extracted myself from my first marriage and immediately landed in another. This new guy didn’t get drunk and come at me with a PVC pipe, or try to trade me to his dealer for a couple grams, but this marriage ended up crumbling as well. A few years in, the second husband started falling down into the same goopy, druggy pit that had swallowed my first one. I knew I’d have to leave him when, as I was in labor with my kid, right before we went to the hospital for the all-natural, no drug, hippie birth I’d planned, the morphine lady showed up with a delivery for him.

It took me a few more years to work up the courage to actually leave, though. Well, let’s not call it courage: it took me a few years to line up another man. I had no idea how to live alone.

I eventually did set my sights on someone, and he was seriously awesome. I don’t think he’d ever heard of drugs except from pharmaceutical literature, plus he was handsome and funny, and knew the two different pronunciations and uses of the word “epitome”.

We originally met on the internet, when he found my old blog and emailed me saying he liked my writing. He was living in Ohio, finishing his Ph.D. thesis, and I was like, “Why does this guy like my writing? He’s, like, smart and junk.”

I knew I had to have him somehow, but I wasn’t flirty with him at first – I didn’t figure a guy like him would want a pile of refuse like me. I was honest with him about my past, but it didn’t seem to bother him at all. It was weird. I think that, to him, I was some sort of curiosity, something so far outside his experience that he didn’t know how dangerous I was. He was like the first British guy ever to encounter a tiger. “What’s all this then? It’s a big kitty, innit?”

Miraculously, after he got his doctorate he up getting a job near where I lived. I showed up on his doorstep when he arrived, wearing a skirt, toting a homemade cheesecake and a six-pack of microbrew. I married him a year and a half later.

Anyway, what were we talking about? Oh yeah, God.

My imaginary friend Jesus was just as hilarious as ever as I continued to struggle with my guilty belief in the Divine, but these sorts of things aren’t easily confessed to atheist friends, including my new husband. Believing in things which can’t be proven is the definition of insanity. But the desire to find more meaning in life than that which is readily apparent is a compelling idea, and wouldn’t leave me alone. It is, above all, a human desire. After all, if we didn’t place an overlay of contrived meaning over our everyday experience, we wouldn’t be human at all. Every time we have an emotional reaction to something we’re doing this. Emotion is illogical at its base, and although it can be easily explained through evolutionary theory, the cold science doesn’t adequately capture the beauty of it. The true glory of life is that we can find glory in it at all.

It’s circular reasoning, I know, but the brain can’t function without making connections between unrelated things and inserting meaning where, logically, none exists. However, I’m a believer in the fact that, if a thing is created by the human imagination, it has a reality all its own. I don’t mean in a tangible sense, but think about it: is love a real thing? It certainly is something that can affect our actions enough to end up creating its own reality. For instance, Boy and Girl love each other, so they get married, have a bunch of kids. Then Boy ditches Girl and she goes on a shooting rampage and kills a bus full of investment bankers on their way to a conference, thus causing the stock market to crash. The love may not be tangible, but it has left children and a path of destruction in its wake. You can see its effects just as clearly as you can see the effects of gravity. It is real.

Religion is the same way, for better or worse. It has roared and stomped through human history, creating carnage and beauty all around it since the dawn of time.

As an example in my life…oh sweet, invisible Jesus, she’s going to talk about her fucking novels again.

At a complicated and stressful point in my life, I got the idea for a story (here she goes).

It was a silly little story about wizards and such, but I felt absolutely compelled to write it. It took over my whole brain. It kept my mind off things that might otherwise have driven me a lot crazier.

I’d never even come close to finishing a novel before, but I absolutely couldn’t stop writing this story. I finished book after book after book. It was surreal.

I didn’t know if this was how novels were generally written. I didn’t hang out with other writers at the time, but I’d been looking up their processes online. There seemed to be two schools of thought, basically, on how to write a novel. There were “architects” and “gardeners”. Architects wrote outlines for their stories and then filled them in with characters and plot. Gardeners created characters, and then just let them interact, let the plot unfold. I was definitely one of the latter, except I was even more schizophrenic about it. I didn’t feel like I was even creating the characters. I’d actually tried to create them – I’d have a person in mind I thought would be fun to write about, but when I started putting them on the page, they’d say and do things that threw me for a loop, and I’d have to throw my idea of who they were out the window and just let them tell me.

All my friends and family back home thought I was completely goobers, so I tried to quit talking about it. Except I really couldn’t, because it was all I ever thought about.

I felt like an outside force was giving me these novels to write. This isn’t a new idea in the art world, nor was it a new idea to me. The notion that God might actually be attempting to communicate with artists this way is compelling to a lot of people, though crazy and perhaps conceited. (If it really is God doing it in my case, I wish he’d transmit some art that’s a little more profound, or at least marketable. But I guess He only has so much talent to work with here).

However, after I finished my third book, I looked at what was going on in the plot and had to admit that this story seemed to be my conversation with God. He was apparently speaking with me in the only way He was absolutely sure would make me listen: in epic fantasy form, with lots of gun battles and people who could shoot lightning bolts from their hands. It was a conversation that only I could understand – other people who read it might think it was entertaining, and the people who knew me were certainly surprised by the quasi- theological content, but no one saw them as religious books. I couldn’t have written a religious book. If God had told me to write one of those, I’d have been confused and a little bored by the idea.

At some point, though, I realized it didn’t matter to me if it was an actual God somewhere, a guy that I could go visit in a spaceship or something, that was making me write. The feeling that I got from writing was that I was in touch, somehow, with the Divine. It was a feeling of peace, and of knowing myself, and of being connected to the universe around me. This is what my soul had to offer to the Eternal, to the collective unconscious, to the human conversation about the mysteries of the world: a story about wizards and aliens. It may be petty and contain too much toilet humor, but that’s who I am.

Then, one day, I was sitting around writing my books when there was a knock on the door.

It was the neighbor’s daughter, a tiny girl, even shorter than me, in her early twenties. She had an earnest face, big blue eyes, freckles on her nose, and an awesome haircut. I invited her in.

We talked about this and that, and then she finally got to the point. She had come to invite me to church. “We just wanted to let you know that, even if you don’t love God, God loves you. He loves you even if you aren’t a Christian.”

I sat fidgeting on the couch. I knew this sort of girl. I could tell by the way she talked she wasn’t some sort of hippie-voodoo God-loves-us-all Unitarian: she was a serious hellfire, righteous-God person, cut from the same cloth as Born Again. But she was beguilingly beautiful and her bra strap was showing. “I’m a Christian,” I said. “I’ll come to church with you.”

She looked surprised as she left, and promised to meet me the next Sunday. When she was gone, I went and threw myself face-down on my bed, sweating and breathing hard. “Did I just say that I was a Christian?” In my head, Jesus was laughing his ass off. (By the way, my husband already has this full confession, so don’t worry about telling him. My neighbor doesn’t, though, so if you ever meet her keep your mouth fucking shut).

That Sunday, God Girl met me in front of my house with her husband and baby, and gave me a hug of welcome. My kid was with me; we’d talked about God in a sort of rambling and inconclusive way beforehand, and she was open to the experience of going to church.

People there were really nice and made us feel welcome, and I started to remember why I’d always liked religious folks. Also, there were cookies and coffee, and other kids for Kid to talk to.

Before the preacher started in on us with scripture, he asked us to bow our heads and pray, thanking God for His sacred words. “Every last comma, every hyphen, every space between the words is sacred, and we thank you, Jesus. We thank you for the Bible and the literal truth you’ve written within.” The organ music was horrible. Next to me on the pew, Kid was blowing spit bubbles, and my imaginary friend Jesus was glancing around nervously, clutching his elbows. “These people don’t believe in evolution, do they?” I asked, and He gave me a dark and knowing look.

Then the preacher started telling a story from the Old Testament. I remembered loving a lot of those stories, and sat up straighter to listen. It was about a guy trying to organize the bureaucracy of ancient Jerusalem in order to get a city wall built, and I was digging the history. But then he lost me somewhere, and before I knew it he was talking about the Rapture or something, about the resurrection of the faithful dead. He actually said that bodies would be sucked out of their graves up into Heaven, and I had to clamp my lips shut. Next to me, Jesus had a sort of frozen look. I think I wasn’t good at the poker face, because the preacher’s eyes picked me out from amongst the congregation and said, “If you’re wondering what the proof is for the resurrection of the dead, it’s because Jesus was resurrected, because Jesus rose from the dead and promised us eternal life.”

Jesus cocked an eyebrow, then he raised up his hands and a wicked fireball bloomed from his palms, engulfing the preacher in a halo of blue flame. Luckily, the preacher didn’t notice, it didn’t hurt him. “I can do that, too, but can you?” Jesus said.

“Jesus, you are so glorious awesome,” I said.

After the sermon, we had more coffee, and people gathered around talking. I loved having people to talk to, especially people that exuded the warm fuzzies of their faith. And what did I care if they thought God was going to vacuum us all up after we died? Maybe they were right. I didn’t know.

So I went back the next Sunday, and a few Sundays after that. I always looked forward to church, but I never felt very great afterwards. For one thing, the preacher had a habit of slipping disparaging comments about the “Mooslims” into his sermons, and for another, he dumped bucketloads of damnation upon the homosexuals and on people whose faith wasn’t pure. One Sunday, they brought around little glasses of grape juice and pieces of saltine crackers. “If you know you have accepted Jesus into your heart, you make partake of communion,” the preacher said. “If you know that you are saved, and that you are going to Heaven, then you may join with us in this holy ritual.”

The usher held the tray out to me, and I hesitated, but I wasn’t about to out myself in front of these people. I wasn’t about to stand up and tell them that I had no fucking idea whether I was going to Heaven or not. If I’d had to hazard a guess at that moment, I’d have said no. But I took the crackers and juice anyway.

I spent that whole night lying sleepless in bed. I felt horrible. I felt like someone was playing tug-of-war with my brain. I wanted so badly to believe in God. I ached with the need to know that, at least in some way, the guy who had been there with me, all those long, dark years, telling his stupid jokes to make me feel better, was real. That it was okay for me to feel better; that I deserved to have a connection with the Divine, achieve inner peace, and redeem myself for the bad things I’d done. That God was for people like me, too. But going to church had just ended up making my idea of God seem sick and wrong. If I told those people about Jesus’ solid gold coffee table or the fireball, I don’t even want to know what they would have done to me. And these are people who know God. They talk to him all the time, about everything. Jesus helps them stick to their diets and find their lost earrings. He’s there with them, unfailingly, and he sounds nothing like the Jesus I know. If I ever went on a diet, my Jesus would sit there eating a giant slice of chocolate mousse cake and taunting me. “Mmmmm, this is heavenly. Want some?”

I decided I wouldn’t go back to church. I mean, considering the way the preacher went on about the gays, it was unlikely I’d ever get past accidental second base with God Girl anyway, and I didn’t think it was a good idea to go to church specifically for the purpose of breaking commandments, even in my mind. But it did occur to me that making me suddenly, rabidly gay would be exactly the sort of thing my God would do in order to draw me into his fold. He knows that it’s an irony that would resonate with me, and that would make for a great anecdote to tell at parties. “Hey, Moses, get this. There was this agnostic girl….”

I kept writing my books, though. There was this character named Bridgett who was half-nuts and given to spouting prophecy. In the middle of Book Five SPOILER ALERT: a religious cult springs up that follows the philosophies outlined in her writings.

God gave us his only son, the Divine made flesh, so that we could understand God’s human side and feel closer to Him, Bridgett wrote. Through Jesus, God is not only seeking to be more accessible to us, he is also telling us that He knows what it is to be human, that He understands us, and forgives us.

I read this, over and over. “Oh, I get it,” I said. “The freakin’ Trinity. That’s an awesome idea.”

I broke my promise not to go back to church. God Girl told me that there was an Easter sunrise service up on a hill close by my house, and I agreed to go.

It was a beautiful place, built like a Spanish mission and nestled amongst vineyards. I sat on the hard pews, Kid half-asleep next to me. I stared around at the stained-glass windows and Moorish ceilings, hoping the rest of the congregation didn’t know I was going to hell.

There was more than one preacher this time, three others besides the one from God Girl’s church. The first couple of guys spoke about how Jesus was coming back, how time was running out. We’d better shape up, they said, because Jesus would see straight through our bullshit when he got here, and there would be hell to pay. He pointed out that some of us lived with sinners in our own houses, our own husbands and children, and told us what a horrible thing it was for us to allow this. I thought of my dear, sweet husband. He didn’t have any divine mysteries in his life. He didn’t think about that sort of thing at all. It was like he didn’t need to, it didn’t even occur to him, but he was by far the nicest person I’d ever met on the face of the planet. Thinking about him going to hell…well, it was like thinking about kicking puppies. God wouldn’t kick puppies, right?

Then the next guy got up. He said he was from the other church in my town, a place I always stared at longingly as I walked by. It looked like it had been built by the first settlers, with stained glass windows and a real belfry. He shuffled his papers on the podium, preparing to launch into his portion of the sermon, and I got ready to hear things that would make me feel even worse about myself. This guy would probably say that God does indeed kick puppies, and that He was going to come to town and beat me personally over the head with a couple fuzzy baby ducks.

But he didn’t. “My colleagues here have been speaking about Jesus coming back,” he began, “but I want to point out that he never left. He’s here with us, every day. We don’t need to wait for him.

“My sons have a hard time believing in the Resurrection,” he continued, and there were gasps and moans and scattered nods amongst my neighbors. “After all, in this age of science, when they’ve sent rocket ships up into space, we can say definitively that heaven isn’t up there beyond the clouds. If that story isn’t true, how can they believe any of it? They also point out that the separate stories of the Resurrection in the Bible don’t exactly match one another. They differ on a few particulars. So how can they give any credence to the story?

“Well, if you asked three different witnesses to a car crash what had occurred, you’d get three slightly different answers, so the fact that the accounts in the Bible don’t completely match doesn’t bother me. The real proof to me of the Resurrection is that his disciples were convinced that Jesus was alive.”

He went on to explain how, though the disciples had been scared at first that they’d end up crucified like Jesus, they’d eventually come out of hiding to preach the Christian gospel, and every single one of them had ended up dead for their trouble. But they had been willing to die, because it was something they’d truly believed in. It was their faith made solid, made tangible through their actions, just like the girl in my example making her love real through her killing spree. Except maybe better.

It was like a warmth was filling me all up. This guy made sense. Did he just say there are contradictions in the Bible? And maybe that’s okay, because it was written by people, and people have flaws?

I wondered if maybe he was saying it’s okay to be an actual person and still believe in God. An actual person, with logic, and a brain. With imperfections, doubts, fears and uncertainties. That maybe a person like me wasn’t crazy if she felt the presence of God in her life. I’d spent so long believing that people capable of real faith were somehow different than me, that they’d been given something that I hadn’t, and so this was a comforting concept. It was a lot to infer from the preacher’s words, but I was hopeful, at least.

A couple of weeks later, I put on a skirt and marched down to the little church with the belfry.

I thought I’d feel shy going in, but I didn’t, really. The preacher saw me sitting there and came up and introduced himself. The church smelled good, and the piano player knew what he was doing. Also, they had hymn books with the music written out, not just the lyrics – so that someone like me who didn’t know the songs could actually read the melodies and sing along. The hymns were silly, and made my invisible Jesus snort into his fist, but that’s cool.

I was worried, though, that this guy was going to say something to destroy my idea of God again. I was getting pretty damn tired of that.

But he didn’t. Not at all. He talked about how we can’t necessarily rely upon God to shower us with riches, but we can rely on him to be there with us, and to make our lives better, to make them more worth living. He quoted John 10:10, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

I looked over at Jesus, surprised. “Hey, this guy’s talking about you,” I said.

The next Sunday, the pastor brought up that passage, I think it’s John 14:6, that says no one gets to God except through Jesus, like Jesus is the fleabitten, hardscrabble sheriff in a Western movie, protecting his prisoner, God, from an angry mob. “Send him out, Sheriff, he don’t deserve no trial!” And Jesus cocks his Peacemaker and gives them a long squint. “You want him, you’ll have to come through me.” This is the passage Born Again and her kind have been tossing at me my whole life to prove that just about everyone is going straight to hell, me included. But the pastor at this church said that it was against Jesus’ teachings to believe that those who haven’t been born again, or people who had never even heard about Jesus, would go to hell just because they hadn’t accepted Him as their personal savior. “It just means that Jesus is the pathway to God,” he said, and explained that that pathway was open to everyone, however they interpreted it – even if they’re Buddhists or Unitarians or just stoners like me. “God loves everyone, and Jesus loves everyone, even if they’ve never heard of Him. It’s not that Jesus is saying people will go to hell if they don’t believe in Him, it’s just that they’re missing out on the good things that happen when they allow God into their life. It’s like they’ve been invited to a party, but have decided not to go. Just because they aren’t there doesn’t mean God hates them, it just means they don’t get to have fun at the party.” I forgot exactly how he put it, except that it was freakin’ glorious, and I turned to Jesus, all a-dither.

“Are you listening to this?!? This is exactly what I’ve been thinking about for weeks. That’s freaky.”

Jesus had taken a pencil from the pew in front of us and was balancing it perfectly on the tip of his index finger. He shrugged. “Guy gives a good sermon,” he said.

“You told him I’ve been writing about this stuff, didn’t you?” I accused. “You snuck over to his house and told him to talk about it just to mess with me.”

“No way,” Jesus said, smirking. “You know I haven’t. I’ve been here with you the whole time. It’s a cosmic coincidence. It’s a sign from God.”

“Don’t lie. He just said he was at that party you threw the other day.”

Jesus grinned sentimentally. “That was a great party,” he said.

After the sermon, the pastor came up and asked me if I wanted to join the church, and I said I would. I was a bit nervous about it afterwards, though. “I can still cuss and stuff, right?” I asked Jesus, and He scratched His chin.

“Well, I wouldn’t recommend cussing when you’re actually in church,” He said.

“Can I tell them about you?” I asked.

He looked around at the other people there and raised his eyebrows. “They’d probably think you’re weird, but I don’t think they’d kick you out.”

So that’s why I’m getting baptized. If God is something that I can feel in my life, a force that makes my life better and that does me good in a practical way, then it doesn’t matter if He is “real” in a tangible sense that can be proven by science. The effects of God are real in my life, and that is enough for me. That is the essence of my faith. I believe because I choose to believe, because it helps me and makes my life better.