A Picture of Jesus

Theology Thursday

Last week when I was at ICCC with the Youth Group and a bunch of other youth groups (all together making up one nice big youth group), we sure did keep busy. Half the day–each day–we were taking the kids to flash-mob a charity in the Grand Rapids area. For example, that Monday we went to a Gilda’s Club and in one hour and twenty minutes, our thirty-four kids got the inside of the building cleaned (including the windows) and the entire property landscaped. It would’ve taken the two women who worked there at least a week–and probably a lot longer–to get the same amount of work done themselves. They also went to work for Kids’ Food Basket and In the Image.

The rest of the time (except for that part where everybody spent an afternoon plummeting down a hill on a church’s giant slip ‘n’ slide), they were hard at work putting together a worship service in which to lead the adults on the final morning of the conference. (Not the youth leader “adults.” The real adults who were having their conference in the hotel.) The kids of Now Church are well-versed in the art of “skit-ery” and so, with the exception of one, who wanted to do something else in the service with some other kids, they all rose to the task of creating the obligatory teen-worship-service skit together. Somehow they managed to spoof  the Back to the Future movies and get a loose tie-in to shining the light of Jesus in there. If I ever find out that someone videotaped this moment, I might someday post it here–but probably not on Theology Thursday, because . . . well, just because. If nothing else, though, it was pretty hilarious.

Each teen had to contribute to this “service” in some way, but, as some of us know better than others, standing up in front of people to talk or sing or act is not everybody’s cup of tea, so a few of the kids ended up doing drawings which were hung in the meeting room when the service was being . . . served. They were all pretty remarkable, but this one got the most attention.

Drawn by Myles, of Gary, Indiana

Drawn by Myles, of Gary, Indiana

Everybody loved this picture. Here is what I like about it:

1. This kid has never had a drawing lesson in his life, and the elements of the drawing are simplistic (like the faith of a child), but at the same time, he sat down and mapped out every detail of this picture as if someone had taught him.

2. It kind of reminds me of a Greek Orthodox icon. If it were coloured, it really would.

3. You can’t tell what ethnicity Jesus is.

I’ll admit it. I get a little jumpy over images of Jesus where He looks like a specific ethnicity that isn’t first-century-Middle-Eastern-Jewish. Which means I don’t like any images of Jesus very much, usually. I guess I feel like it’s too easy to try to make Him into our own images, since we don’t really know what He literally looked like and since we plaster so much of our own cultural veneers over our impressions of Him. I have no patience with blond blue-eyed renditions of Jesus, but I also don’t like black-looking Jesuses or Native-American-looking Jesuses or any of that either. I’m sympathetic to these renderings up to a point. People of many other cultures have been abused by white people claiming the name of a very Western, white version of Jesus, and I acknowledge this and don’t defend this abusive behaviour–or this debasement of the name of Jesus. It’s probably good for white people to get a load of a non-white version of Jesus once in a while. But I don’t feel that portraying Jesus as yet another ethnicity that He wasn’t really clears up the cultural film and misunderstanding that so often veils Him–it just adds another complicating layer.

The ICCC youth group was probably not, strictly speaking, diversebut there was definitely more than one ethnic background represented in it. The kid who drew this picture is African American, and I think when I first saw what he was drawing, I was afraid he was either going to draw a “Black Jesus,” or someone who looked like “the oppressor.” It wouldn’t be overstating it to say that I was somewhat awestruck when I saw the final product–that somehow this boy managed to draw a Jesus who had maybe the shadow of features of a couple of different people groups, but wasn’t discernably any specific one at all. Or maybe was all of them.

And why I like that is because even though I believe Jesus was born a Jewish man, into a Jewish culture, in a Jewish province of the Roman Empire, I also believe He is the Son of God, who made all people in His image and wants to restore all of us to relationship with Himself. No matter what we look like.

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