At Techny Towers, a retreat center in Techny, Illinois, there resides a collection of paintings depicting various scenes from the New Testament and Jesus’ life. The interesting (great? bizarre?) thing about these paintings is that everyone is Chinese, including Jesus! All the characters are drawn wearing traditional Chinese clothing, sporting fu manchus, and just looking so so dope. Here is a website I found depicting “Chinesus.”
When I first saw these paintings, I laughed. A lot. I had never before seen an Asian Jesus. Black Jesus, white Jesus, lego Jesus, but for whatever reason, it never occurred to me that there could also be a Jesus who looked like me. The more I looked at those paintings, I started liking them more and more. Why not an Asian Jesus? We here too!
It is amazing the extent to which people have depicted the seemingly (allegedly) unchanging and immutable God and his son in such different, wild, and sometimes bizarre ways. And no doubt (some of) these representations are super meaningful for those who create them. From the powerfully front and center mural at Saint Sabina on Chicago’s south side, to the NRA Jesus with a gun, we find that the things which liberate us, remind us we are loved, and give us hope often look a lot like us. They are shaped by our experiences, filtered through all the good AND crap inside.
We’re not just talking about pictures here. Careful readings of the bible show us different agendas and motivations, conceptions of divinity, visions of the afterlife, etc., reflecting the unique perspectives of vastly different writers. Even a quick look at Christian history will make clear that time periods matter, political situations matter, socioeconomic contingencies matter, for what we think about when we think about God. So maybe its not that amazing that there have been so many different depictions. We are human.
Root and Branch has been talking for the past few weeks about our big pictures, the way we believe reality looks to us. This week we’ll continue that conversation and maybe look deeper inside the process. After all, the stuff in there is often what we end up painting (in my picture, everyone has a fu manchu).