Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Jesus Looks Like Us

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
- John 1

via Episcopal Intercultural Network on FB

I love the culturally specific pictures of Jesus. All of them. Tea Party Jesus. David Chappel's Jesus. Kanye's Jesus. Some of them I've featured here. I think it is Mark Sandlin of the God Article* who refers to the white, blonde versions that I sometimes use on my Facebook pages (like Hipster, Know-It-All Jesus) or that color the world that Cage Fighting Jesus inhabits as "Surfer Jesus." That Jesus is a white dominant, consumer-culture, happy-shock, confident-through-conquering Jesus.

I'm fascinated with the fact that many of us prefer to think of Jesus as a little baby with cute little fat cheeks in his holy swaddling diaper, as the lead singer of Van Halen, as (and I had dreams about this) Superman, as a businessman, as a mystic, as a shaman, as an executive with business advice (ok, this one confuses me, to be honest. You really have to read into the guy who gave the Beatitudes in order to read him as a Lee Iaccoca type), as a laughing man.

Of course they don't depict how Jesus actually looked. Of course, Jesus was a real man of real blood and flesh and color, with eyes of a certain hue and nose of a particular type. And we knew he was Jewish, of Middle Eastern descent and we know he wouldn't be White - well, not Northern European White - much less blonde. He probably wouldn't have a button nose, or straight hair. It may have been nappy. But then again, his hair may not have been long anyway. At least according to some Fundamentalists (one preacher is known for saying that Jesus wore pants because there's no way he wore a freaking dress).

I'm also well aware of the fact that Jesus has been, for millenia, over-represented in the West and then in the rest of the world through White Dominant Missionarism as being Northern European and male and straight and handsome (according to the cultural specifics). Other cultures were then encouraged to worship the Jesus behind the image - not the Jesus of the Gospels which revealed the God of the Scriptures, but the Jesus OF the image: White, European, Male, Privileged. As a result, I know that having a homogeneous, Euro-normative near-monopoly of misrepresentations of a Middle Eastern man bent on inclusion is not just troublesome but contrary to the very vision of the man we are supposedly depicting**. The answer, though, isn't to censor out the various readings of Jesus, but to contemplate what they say of the various cultures - to contemplate what they say of those doing the depictions, including us.

For the Jesus of the Conquering People is a Conquering Jesus. And that is not a good thing. But it's a necessary thing to recognize it for what it is, to see the trends of murder in the name of Jesus and recognize how that reflects back on ourselves as representatives of Jesus but also Jesus, to see the signposts of the Empire - where it is coming from, where it is going, what is its name, and what does it require?

The fact that a God would come to earth, in flesh, in poverty and dirt and muck and among sickness speaks resoundingly to me. The fact that most of our depictions feature a sparkly, triumphant, other-worldly Jesus also speaks resoundingly to me. The first is what I want - a healer God for the sick, a comforting God for the afflicted, a meek God for the abused, a peacemaking and bread-making God for the oppressed and hungry.

The second vision of God is indicative of what my culture wants - or wants to believe in. Victory without turmoil. Peace through war. Prosperity amongst starvation. Comfort at the cost of others' affliction. These are what these images of Jesus depict of us.

For Jesus has always been at the intersection of humanity and divinity - and it is in him where we see our best, and our worst.

Sometimes, I like to picture Jesus as an angry badger.

What is one of your favorite depictions of Jesus?
*Mark and the fine folks at The God Article have some fantastic ones of Things Jesus Never Said - which inspired my own Things Martin Luther King, Jr. Never Said.

**That vision can be seen clearly when we see what Jesus did and said in proper context - which includes poverty and exclusion and dirt and empires and death. Much of contemporary, and especially White, North Atlantic, Christianity has continued a legacy of removing him from the world in which he lived and placing him in strictly philosophical and other-worldly garb. To get a good idea of who Jesus is, I'd consider some New Testament scholars. Most helpful to me, however, have been NT Wright, Marcus Borg, and John Dominic Crossan. Or you can buy my book. *wink* *wink*

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