“Jesus is my homey”

Calling all atheists, Buddhists and others – this magazine, says its founder, is for you too.

“We’re unapologetically Christian,” says Will Braun, managing editor of the new Christian magazine, Geez. “And sometimes that’s a hard thing to be.”

He pauses. “But we’re also anti-Christian. Or what passes for Christianity these days, like George W. Bush introducing God as a major player in geopolitics and the sort of big-box religions that sell lattes in the back of their mega churches.”

Describing itself as a “cheeky new magazine of spirit and social action,” Winnipeg-based Geez is a surprisingly hip, bold take on Christianity. It hearkens back not to any recent tradition of right-wing fundamentalism, but to Christianity’s roots of social change and revolution, with Jesus as a rebel protesting against the Establishment and taking his message to the streets and the harlots, poor and dispossessed who dwell there.

The magazine is the brainchild of former Adbusters managing editor Aiden Enns, 44; he’s assisted by Will Braun, 32, a market gardener and bicycle evangelist. As the name implies, they aim to put the “geez” into Jesus, creating what they call “holy mischief in an age of fast faith.”

In the Bush era, Christianity may not have the mystical chic of Kabbalah or Tibetan Buddhism, with their celeb devotees Madonna and Richard Gere. But Geez is a stylish magazine in the tradition of Adbusters or Mother Jones. It bills itself as being an “image-intensive, ad-free, non-profit, 100-per-cent post-consumer recycled, 96-page quarterly.” The magazine is filled with pop cultural references, politically active content, inspirational stories, pictures of thongs with both “Jesus votes Republican” and “Jesus was a Liberal” emblazoned on the front, and musings such as “God isn’t on your side. What if there are no sides?” Contributors include bestselling author Bill McKibben, folksinger Michelle Shocked and artist Diana Thorneycroft.

Geez may be an indication that Christianity, or at least some form of it, is becoming cool again. Witness the Dec. 18 episode of Family Guy, entitled “The father, the Son and the Holy Fonz.” The story revolves around main character Peter creating his own religion, the Church of the Fonz. In an escalation of the joke, first Sherman Hemsley, then Gavin Macleod swing by Peter’s church with their own religions, each winning followers. The episode ends with an earnest Kirk Cameron from Growing Pains saying, “I’m here to convert people back to Christianity,” and Peter’s congregation following him out.

Then there are the big screen’s two Christian allegories, The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, the first in the Narnia franchise. Both are huge box office successes. The Lord of the Rings was the biggest December opener ever, making US $72.8 million, and the first Narnia film came in second, at US $65.6 million. In music, Kanye West’s Jesus Walks has spent more than 20 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, R. Kelly’s U Saved Me did a total of 34 weeks on various charts including the World RnB Top 30 Singles, and Los Lonely Boys topped the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart for 18 weeks with Heaven.

Church attendance among young people was up to 22 per cent in 2000 from 18 per cent in 1992, according to research done by Reginald Bibby, sociologist at the University of Lethbridge and author of Restless Gods: The Renaissance of Religion in Canada. While the increase is small, it goes hand in hand with Canada’s larger interest in spirituality: a full 81 per cent of Canadians say they believe in God or a higher being. And although Christianity is still the dominant religion, “spirituality has increasingly burst through the barriers of religious building and religious definitions and gone public,” says Bibby. “The name of the game is spirituality á la carte.”

Geez is certainly trying to break through barriers. “The magazine is a reflection of who we are,” says Braun. “We grew up in a Christian environment, and that’s the case for many. But for many it doesn’t work to divide the world up between Christian and non-Christians. There’s room in Geez for Buddhists, atheists and none of the above. We’re hoping for a diversity of voices.” Rather than brimstone and hellfire, it’s Christianity re-branded with a “Jesus is my homey” slogan. “Two years ago I was guessing the time is ripe for a magazine like this,” says Enns. “Now we’re shipping out to 500 paid subscribers in 35 states and eight provinces.” It isn’t a huge start. Then again, the religion from which Geez has sprung started small as well – with a handful of disciples two millennia ago.

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