If only prayer could be more of a dialogue…
The popular comic strip Coffee With Jesus by David Wilkie is just that: recurring characters having conversations with Jesus over coffee, ostensibly in a normal café. Occasionally, the Devil shows up as well, and it can be noted that even though Jesus rebukes him, He allows him to sit at the table with Him.
All of the characters besides Jesus are made from stock 1950s advertising cartoons. Despite being relatively static, they are portrayed as multidimensional and never as caricatures. They depict different facets of Christianity and the more you read it, the more you identify with some aspects of all of them.
Despite the fact that American Protestant culture and theology permeate the strip, although the latter not to a strong degree, Coffee With Jesus is accessible to all Christians. From the perspective of Christian character, it really does not matter the denomination. We are all called to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and we are all called to love our neighbour as ourselves. We read the same Gospels and New Testament. Yes, theology has diverged, but this is not about theological debate. This is about what it means to follow Jesus Christ.
The characters sit down with Jesus, either together or one-on-one, to discuss matters of faith and issues in their lives and society. Most often, they are asking His advice about a problem. Like in the Gospels, He usually turns the question back on them. He repeats His message in a way that resonates with them, whether they like it or not.
Yet He is not their buddy, as He often has to remind at least one of the characters. He is a friend, yes, but He is also Creator Lord and Saviour. He is God.
What I appreciate about this comic strip is that it does not hesitate to cut its readers with important reminders about our faith. The human characters have backstories, but they stand in for all Christians. We are left with questions that do answer our initial questions, but only make us realise how we need to change our minds. Being a Christian is a constant work in progress.
There are some negatives about the strip too: it works with short quips and it relies on the heavily Protestant focus on personal religion. There is little about the Church as a community or a society, especially compared with how focused Jesus is on the individuals at the table. But the lessons/reminders can also be applied to these situations. This is about being a Christian, not being a specific denomination of Christian.
Christ of the Gospels is also funny, because we learn well when we are entertained. Just as many of his parables shocked their initial audiences, they also made them laugh. A lot of this is now lost in translation or cultural dissonance: a good example is the story of the Good Samaritan. The whole parable sounds a lot like the set-up to a joke. The Good Samaritan is a walking punchline, but after the joke was done, Jesus pointedly asked who the neighbour of the man beset by robbers proved to be. To be a Christian, one has to be humble enough to accept that one will get ridiculed sometimes.
It is a fantasy to think that sitting at a table with Jesus, on a seemingly equal footing, would be anything but humbling. Coffee With Jesus is about accepting one’s flaws with humility and trying to be more God-like. We cannot actually sit and talk with Jesus Christ over coffee (or tea, or a pint), but we can pray and we can try our best to listen.