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August 30, 2004


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There was a reason that Jesus was a Semite. I think we need to honor that fact just as it is. Nothing about the fact that Jesus was not a Caucasian (while I am) bothers me in the least. I don't know why it bothers so many others who are not Semitic.

I llike (finally!) seeing semitic portrayals (The Passion, etc) -- but I also like seeing non-standard representations.

Sure, historically, He was Jewish. But metaphorically He is all things to all people. A friend of mine has a really happy memory of skating when she was seven. She likes to picture Jesus as a little seven-year old, skating with her!

I don't think that's blasphemous, I just think it is incarnational.

~ Keith

(with me, Jesus plays Xbox!)

How interesting to click the "comments" link and find two comments saying basically what I intended to say...

I've found the recent plethora of Semetic portrayals of Jesus to be refreshing and encouraging. But is Jesus really "all things to all people," metaphorically speaking?

While I would stop *far* short of endorsing all (or even most) of the images they have available, one source for creative non-western portrayals of Jesus is Bridge Building Images. For example,

Christ of the Desert
Captive Daugher of Zion
Jesus Christ Liberator

Not for everybody, but they make you think.

Daniel, doesn't a theology of incarnation lead to Jesus being "all things to all people"? On the other hand, I think we have overpersonalized Christ in our culture today, so we are too comfortable with referring to him as our friend, or calling him our homeboy.

Beth, do you not agree with some of the pictures of Christ, or of other saints?

Finally, Chris, I want to agree with you but don't think its really happening yet. I think the Christ of the Passion was close enough to be Caucasian. And in rapper Kayne West's Jesus walks video, Jesus is also white. I think we are moving away from a white Jesus, but haven't yet moved to anything else. But maybe that was your point!

Benjy, I think Jesus wants us to call him friend and brother. He deserves our worship and at the same time wants our friendship. I imagine Jesus as having the best of social abilities. I don't think he would reject anyone because they weren't sure of the protocol, know what I mean?

I think the "European Jesus" came about because of assumptions people made. It's great to make him look Semitic, but let's go beyond that. What other assumptions are we continuing to make about his character, personality, etc.

At the same time, I think it's great for people to imagine Jesus in their own culture, with their own look, etc. I don't know a lot about iconology, but it would seem to make sense in that type of practice most.

I agree with Bill. If we want to create a proper image of Jesus, we need to also capture some of the humanity and personality traits of him. I think the Passion of the Christ did the best job of that so far, but maybe overly in some areas.

For instance, how many movies do we see a meek, joyous, caregiving Jesus? How many do we see a personality-deficient, never-smiling, Lord of Lords?

Benjy: Not that I disagree with your comments, but Jesus being "all things to all people" had nothing to do with image. It identifies his stewardship and purpose. He became a slave to become a king, a friend to become a father. Therefore he became all things in order to become the one thing that matters most.

For me, Benjy, it seems that some of the artists whose work can be purchased at Bridge Building Images are basically seeking to portray the Jesus of the Gospels cross-culturally. I'm delighted to see Christ depicted in a turban, as an African, or with arabic script arond his head. Or to see Mary with the Nazi "Juden" star in a concentration camp. Or to see any of the saints they have recast in ways that make their original message and vocation more striking. For me, those are powerful ways to image the reach of the Gospel beyond what is culturally familiar to us as Westerners.

But as I read them anyway, some of the images seem to me to go in a different direction, and offer something akin to religious syncretism. For example, I'm personally unable to pray with images that depend heavily on pre-existent, explicitly pagan symbols - that thereby would seem to identify Christ with the spiritual forces represented by those symbols, or to suggest that Christianity needs to adopt the worldview undergirding them. E.G., the one that visually identifies Jesus with the Toltec god Quetzalcoatl, or the one that pictures the Trinity as Maiden, Mother, and Crone surrounded by a snake swallowing its own tail.

I think we need to look past the physical Christ of yesterday and seek the spiritual Christ that's with us today.

Rick, when you talk of "look[ing] past the physical Christ of yesterday and seek[ing] the spiritual Christ that's with us today", what are you actually suggesting? You're not turning Gnostic on us, are you? ;)

Thanks for this thought-provoking post.

Beth, I found the links you offered really fascinating, and the "Jesus as liberator" image is both striking and compelling to me.

Granted, I'm coming at this from a Jewish point of view -- but working from our shared Scriptures, I think there's an argument to be made that since we were all created b'tselem Elohim, in the image of God, then maybe it makes sense that an incarnational deity could be envisioned in a variety of human forms.

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