We used to have this set of biblical art prints – four of them – that were gifts from dear friends. The art was good, but now more than 15 years later we laughed at the fact that the characters – Jesus, Mary, a couple of others – all had “80s hair.” It was feathered, layered, shoulder length, and looked blow-dried fresh out of a salon.
Jesus seemed to have it all. He was hip, compelling, with a laser gaze right at you and his hand reaching out in such a way that you just couldn’t say no.
Mary was, well, I don’t know how else to say it… she was hot. In a holy sort of way, of course. If they had mani-pedis back then, no doubt this version of Mary was just back from one.
I don’t know who the artist was, but I’m sure he or she was probably tired of all those sissy-looking Renaissance-era paintings of Jesus who looked as though He just had his nails done, and wanted something different. More reflective of the styles and cultures of the artist’s day, by the time we got them, they were very dated. We wound up hanging them in our laundry room. Not quite sure why.
Dated art is one thing. Dated faith is another. Many of us carry around an image of Jesus that may have served us well in fourth grade Sunday school or that junior high youth group. Your faith can help soothe your wounded heart after the latest boyfriend breakup or remind you that you won’t always have to live by Mama’s rules. But when it comes time to live responsibly in an adult world, that’s another story.
Some of us have an image of Jesus that exudes coolness, but has no answers for your own teenagers or the hard questions that come from a hostile society. He’s glad to see ya’ on Sunday, but you’re on your own otherwise.
Some of us have a faith that Jesus used to be able to do something and will be able to do something, but is strangely unmotivated or impotent to do that very thing today, now. If whatever you call faith only works on yesterday and tomorrow, what you have isn’t faith.
More than a reflection of a time period, our four portraits were also a reflection of the culture from which they were painted. And that’s a little tricky because we all have layers of culture. Local culture. National culture. Church culture. Family culture. Work culture.
Culture has to do with the rites, practices, expectations, and rules we use to get by, get along, and flourish. They’ve been defined as “the way we do things around here.” And more often than not, our image of Jesus is seen through the lens of our own culture.
Getting someone to examine their own culture is sort of like asking a fish to explain water. It’s hard to recognize what makes our own culture any different from anyone else’s because to us it’s just “normal.”
What’s even harder is to confront the ways we completely misunderstand the Lord Jesus because we limit Him to what looks “normal” to us. Imagine my surprise when I truly discovered that He wasn’t a white Southern Baptist from Lower Alabama. American, of course.
It’s easy to laugh at Eighties-hair Jesus. Not quite as easy to peer at Soul Jesus, Coffee Shop Jesus, Liturgical Jesus, Gay-bashing (or Gay-loving) Jesus, Revolutionary Jesus, CoExist Jesus, Good Ole Boy Jesus, Deer Stand Jesus, Pentecostal Jesus, Cowboy Jesus, or Industrialized Yankee Jesus. Or how about Santa Jesus, Republican Jesus, (Gasp!) Middle Eastern Jesus, Open Mic Jesus, Liberal Jesus, or Environmental Prius Jesus?
Have you made the wonderful discovery of knowing that Jesus Christ is greater than your cultural box – or are you still in the process? The fact is, the only time Jesus limited Himself to the boundaries of a culture it didn’t turn out so well, at least in the natural. John says, “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him” (John 1:11).
Want to try a dangerous prayer? Try this: Lord, show me how I have limited myself by limiting my understanding of who You truly are.
I think He’d be pleased to answer that, but you’d better brace for impact. I seriously doubt if what you discover looks like it just left the salon.
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