You're On With Jesus

Neil Saavedra brings God down to Earth

Caller: To begin with, what a privilege to be talking to the Jesus I have read about my whole life . . . Can you describe gravity for me?

Jesus: Sure, in what sense? To what conclusion?

Caller: In whatever sense; you obviously know what I am thinking about.

Jesus: I am just curious if you do.

Caller: Oh, Jesus, you're great.

Jesus: Yeah [sarcastically], I'm a hoot.

Caller: How old are you, Jesus?

Jesus: I am 33.

Caller: You are! You are only one year older than me!

JESUS: Wow!

Caller: Fantastic!

Jesus: Pedro, have you packed anything this morning or smoked anything this morning?

Stacks of reference books surround Saavedra at his desk: the Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Nelson's New Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Norman L. Geisler's When Skeptics Ask and the New American Standard Bible. Fox News and MSNBC are both on TVs that hang from the ceiling, the sound on mute.

Behind thick glass, the screener, who, with his long, dyed-black hair, looks an awful lot like a roadie for an '80s metal band, is fielding calls. He types brief messages into a computer for Saavedra to read.

Does he ever feel ill-prepared to be the voice of Christ?

"I'll tell you, I've been doing this a long time," Saavedra says. "[It's a] matter of knowing that as unique as we all are as individuals, there are a tremendous amount of similarities. We yearn for the same thing: to be loved. We question the same things: existence, transcendence. On the show, I am not preaching to anyone but myself. I am most likely going through the same things that [audience members] are. And they go, 'Oh my gosh, I thought you were talking to me.' "

There are times, though, when Saavedra gets calls that even the voice of Christ can't handle. Like the time he had a person call in threatening suicide.

"It jarred me," Saavedra says. "I am not a therapist. The police got involved. I don't remember all of the details at this point. I ended up talking to this guy for a long time and even writing a letter to the judge of a court case he was in. I took him off the air, 'cause I thought it was getting a little sensational and gross.

"On occasion, I will take a call off the air," he continues. "I never take the character off the air. So, when I pick up the phone, I say, 'Hey, this is Neil, I do the voice of Jesus, and I didn't get a chance to finish your call on the air.' Oftentimes they will call me Jesus again, and I will say, 'No. We are off the air. I am Neil.'"

He says he feels pretty sure no one believes he is really Jesus, though he has been asked to autograph Bibles.

Saavedra still remains personally skeptical about church, though it does not stop him from encouraging listeners to go.

"Do I adhere to all the advice I [give] on the air? No. I am giving the advice to myself the same as I am giving it to anyone else."

The spiritual lone wolf describes himself as a "man without a country," meaning he loves Christ, but he doesn't always love the church, though he does infrequently attend the Oasis Christian Center on Wilshire.

"I said something about the church on the show once, and a pastor called me and said, 'I was reading in Rick Warren's book where it said, 'You shouldn't say bad things about the church, because the church is the bride of Christ, and would you want someone saying bad things about your wife?' I said, 'If my wife was a slobbering alcoholic, I hope someone would come and tell me.' Oftentimes the church is in disarray, not all churches."

Beneath all the irreverence, though, Saavedra does have some very traditional beliefs. Christ is the savior, the devil is a real entity, there is no such thing as reincarnation and, of course, Jesus lives in heaven.

"Except," he jokes, "from 6 to 9 on Sundays."?

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