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“I’ve joked before that if I was any more faithful, the show would suck,” he says. “And, if I were any worldlier, the show would suck. I’m an odd balance of attitude and faithfulness. I am rebellious. That’s one thing Jesus and I do share. I think Jesus was rebellious, in the healthiest of ways.”
Saavedra says he struggles like the rest of us. He has a divorce behind him, he gets mad in rush-hour traffic, and he has normal communication problems with friends. He talks, or prays, to Christ throughout the day, specifically before and during his broadcasts. He also uses his love for pizza to illustrate how we all suffer from addictions.
“I could not think of a world without the combination of bread and cheese,” he says. “I thought it would be fun to do a cookbook of just pizza, called The Passion of Crust. I don’t know if it would go over very big . . . always marketing.”
If you are getting the feeling that Saavedra is some sort of MTV-friendly rock & roll Jesus, you’re apparently not the only one. He says he has been approached about developing TV and books, but there is nothing in the works at the moment.
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: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 andthe 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.