Category Archives: justice

Making Jesus in our image.


Oftentimes when I meet new people, I hear one of two things:

Either:  “You look like Shaggy from Scooby Doo!” 

(To which I, of course, reply with my best impression:

“I’m scared, Scoob!”

(Imagine me doing my best prepubescent squeal as I say it. ) )

Or, more commonly these days (especially after people learn of my profession):  “You look like Jesus!” 

I’ve never known exactly how to respond to that statement, but it’s typical for these encounters that I find myself overwhelmed with the same, somewhat-snarky thought: 

       “But Jesus wasn’t a white Scandinavian.”

And sometimes, despite myself, I say this out loud.  Which, predictably, usually yields an awkward grimace and a change of subject, which I gladly welcome–thankful to be out of that awkward exchange.

For starters, I could do about 25 blog posts just talking about all the ways in which my life has not looked like Jesus’ at ALL in the past week!  But that’s not the subject of this post (Thank God).

But I think it’s a real problem that we naturally make assumptions about how Jesus looks based most depictions of him in the Western European tradition… when most of us are at least aware that Jesus was a Palestinian Middle-Eastern. 

[It’s amazing to me that I have often been called “Jesus” just for being a white guy with a beard and long hair.  I mean, I have red hair, people!  I’ve never seen a depiction of a red-headed Jesus. (After all, we prefer our Jesus white, not sunburned.)  Meanwhile, I wonder what the same people would say if they met a Middle-Eastern man with a beard…would they make the same association? ]

Naturally, I mostly blame the depictions themselves–which leads my thinking about the question of images of Christ in the first place, which I woke up Monday morning thinking about.  

In addition to being pasty white, American Jesus also typically has a great stylist and makeup artist. 

In general, I’m not an iconoclast in general (an iconoclast is someone who destroys or condemns the use of art or “icons” for worship because they see them as idolatrous).   I am actually an advocate for the use of art and images in worship, despite their obviously-imperfect depictions of the ineffable God or of a historically-inaccessible Jesus.   Art can guide our minds towards worship of God, just like interpreted, translated words on the pages of our Scriptures can guide us towards God.  We in the Protestant church have underutilized the engagement-possibilities of our other senses and learning styles, and reclaiming them in part, as some churches have done, is a helpful corrective[although there is admittedly great beauty in the Anabaptist/Mennonite/Quaker tradition as well of near-sensory-deprivation in worship]. 

But when I see all these depictions of a white Jesus with a white robe, often (though not always) painted as such out of a white European tradition regarding what Christ looked like, I typically process it with one of the following two inner-monologues:

1)  “Josh, chill out with the righteous indignation. After all, every culture has always depicted Jesus “in their own image,” with the skin color of their own people [not always true, in the post-colonial world, but point conceded…]… People are merely saying that Jesus is ‘for them.’ They’re reminded of the truth of the incarnation— that Jesus came to be among us, to be like us.  Sure, it may be inaccurate, but it’s ultimately no worse than all the other ways that we see our faith through our own personal lenses.  It’s natural, merely people following historical patterns, and not inherently sinful. At any rate, as the Western church has always used them, people have come to naturally connect these images with Jesus and thus find them meaningful for worship…so it’s really not much about the images themselves in the first place, anyway.”

2)  “Josh, I know you’re not an iconoclast and that you really think using art and icons in worship is a good thing, but maybe, if the only image of Christ in the West that we’ll accept or “naturally connect” with Jesus in worship, then maybe we’re better off without them.  There’s something to be said, after all, about making God into our own image!!! We have made Jesus in the image of the race that is typically identified as the wealthiest and most powerful in the world on average; yet Jesus on earth identified with the poor and despised, those without power.  For whites, that means we’re psychologically-conditioned to believe that Jesus, as a fellow white, condones our affluent lifestyle.  For people of color who inherit this Jesus from former colonizers or oppressors, they are left with an image of God, made in the image of their oppressors.  In a multi-cultural world, we would do well to depict Jesus as he was—or to just not depict him at all. 

I go back and forth with these two lines of rationale… but as I write today, I’m very much in favor of the latter… although I still think we should use art in worship.  I just think we should depict Jesus closer to as he was:  a Palestinian. 

The elephant in this virtual-room, of course…. is that in white America, we don’t want our Lord to look like (what we perceive to be) a terrorist.  Because we assume everyone who’s from the Middle East is Muslim [not true], and all Muslims are radical Muslims [also not true], and the cognitive dissonance that would be created if we commonly saw images of our Lord Jesus looking more like “those people” we see on the news throwing rocks at tanks would be too much for us to handle.

Maybe, we really don’t believe in the radical nature of the incarnation. 

Such a change in depiction, I think, would drastically change us, if we let it.  Images, after all, have a way of lodging in our brains and influencing our subconscious assumptions and judgments, more so than we even realize, I think.  I think a Middle-Eastern Christ would force many to confront their own discomfort and disregard for Jesus’ command to “love your enemies.”  It would force the racism in our hearts out into the light of day, exposing it to the fires of worship.  And, we (as white Americans) perhaps, would stop implicitly assuming that Jesus is our Jesus (which, perhaps unwittingly, carries with it the implication that he is not your Jesus). 

What do you think? 

An Aramaic depiction of Jesus… what is your gut-response when you see this?

Does our depiction of Jesus as white in art and dramas affect how we view ourselves, and others? 

Would changing our art change our perceptions, or would we simply be better off without icons/art of Jesus altogether? (Keep in mind that even the most iconoclastic among us still have manger scenes in our home during Christmas.)

If we DO depict him, should we have a variety of “Jesuses” depicted with various ethnicities, or should we be “historically accurate”?

At least we can all agree that Jesus looked NOTHING like this growing up. 


Posted by on April 12, 2011 in church, jesus, justice, race


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Thoughts on Rob Bell (final part).

This is a sampling of what you find when you do a Google Image Search for “Love Wins.” 

Seriously, I didn’t expect to be so inspired by the sheer variety of representations of such a simple phrase. 

I just thought I was going to add some pretty pictures to my last (for now) Rob Bell-related post…. but the sheer number of ways “Love Wins” is re-cast, having inspired people to do so?  What can I say?  I’m moved by a Google search. 

It’s not just lip service that Rob Bell pays:  The simple message of “Love Wins” (as contradictory as Peter Rollins might find it) is clearly a compelling one, especially to post-Christians, the “de-churched,” or those jaded to institutional Christianity.  It strikes a nerve. 

rollins tweet love others win


It’s too bad that we have spent so much time… (for me, I have spent four blog posts, now)…. talking about hell and the implications for various Christian ideological/cultural parties… when we could have been discussing the simple appeal of the message—that I believe comes from something deeper than what some are accusing as the modern world’s need to “water down” the Gospel.

It’s the desire to affirm that love is the supreme attribute of God and the primary life-characteristic of the faithful (1 John 4:8, 16; 1 Corinthians 13:13).

It’s a desire to see the power of love in action, even in a world full of violence—a power to which Martin Luther King, Oscar Romero, Mother Teresa, Martin Niemoller, Desmond Tutu, Gandhi and now our brothers and sisters in Egypt, have testified. [At the cross, God Himself testified to that power, in defiance of the Roman juggernaut… and demonstrated how pitifully powerless the worst of human violence was, when it came into contact with His outstanding, out-lasting, out-of-this-world love.]

It’s saying that God wins, to say that love wins. 

For God is Love. 

And God’s desire?  That the world might be reconciled to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:19).   Our desires line up with God’s, when we long for the earth to be renewed, for heaven to come to earth.

“But wait!”  you might say. 

“Don’t God’s love and God’s justice have to balance each other?”


         It’s called mercy for a reason, after all.  Undeserved.

         And if that were the case, why doesn’t the Bible have balancing passages that say “God is justice?”  Seems like it would, were it an equal component of God’s character to His love.

No, we understand God’s justice through the context of God’s love.   God will hold us accountable for how we have wronged each other; He will make things right again, as the Righteous Judge, and settle accounts between every oppressor and every oppressed. [How He does this, however, is not for us to speculate.]

Earthly parents give consequences for broken rules, but if they lock children in their room forever, that would be considered unadulterated child abuse.  (Never mind if they set that room on fire!) Loving parents enact consequences, but they also forgive relentlessly, time and time again, without limit.  Is the love of parents greater than God’s love? 

This message?  That God’s love will dry up eventually, so get on board while you can?  Doesn’t strike me as good news.

Am I a universalist?  No.  (Course, I don’t think Rob is, either.)

Do I probably agree with Rob?  Don’t know until I read the book; based on interviews and reviews, I’m guessing that I’ll agree with 90% of him, at least. 

I say what I do above about God’s love for the purpose of highlighting the inherently scandalous nature of love, not to take a theological position.  I don’t have the answers. But within the huge range of possibilities of the nuances we highlight regarding our beliefs about heaven and hell, can we at least maybe, at least try, perhaps just once, pretty-please-with-sugar-on-top, let that AMAZING RADICALITY OF GOD’S GRACE AND LOVE, AND THE CONQUERING OF SIN AND DEATH BY A DRAMATIC LOVE-ACT OF GOD HIMSELF, SETTLE INTO OUR HEARTS…. and chew on it for a while? 

Speaking of Egypt— While Evangelical Christianity is wetting its pants over Rob Bell, there’s a WHOLE lot going on in the world.

Stuff that Christians, who claim to serve a GOD OF LOVE, should be VERY concerned about. 

Read this, if you haven’t already, regarding this sad fact.

Rather than spew vitriol, which is a testimony to some other God other than the Crucified One which we follow…

Perhaps we should instead testify to the God of Love.  You can start right now by giving to the Adventure Project.  Then give to the Red Cross for Japan and Libya.  Then learn more, speak out more, get in the ears of your leaders for the sake of the voiceless more, sit with the poor and hurting and get to know their names more, pray more, listen more, and celebrate more. 

That’s what “Love Winning” looks like. 

Christ on Earth.  In You. 

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Posted by on March 22, 2011 in justice, love, theology


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Today is Adventure Project Day: Give Clean Water




Today, bloggers around the country are asking their readers to help out with one of the least sexy, yet most important ways that we can change the world:  Provide safe, clean drinking water for the entire world. 

We have more than enough money to do it—we lack only the compassion and drive. 

It’s easy to get burned out on the cries for social causes; the cries for support can become so ubiquitous that we turn off our awareness altogether.  I’m guilty of this, too.  But let’s not let the fact that we’re easily bored, stop us from accomplishing what should be relatively easy.

click here for your opportunity to help.


From their website;  this is what your money will do:

water project

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Posted by on March 22, 2011 in justice, mission


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A Public Service for the Uninformed: Catching up on Egypt.

As the protests in Egypt continue but as the US coverage has (in my observation) somewhat waned in the past few days, you may be ashamed to say that, alas, you did not keep up very well with the events in Egypt last week. [perhaps as you were busy trying to keep warm] No judgment here for your apathy up to now; don’t worry!  In fact, in an effort to help you catch up, all the while avoiding the usual suspects of talking heads that skew deliver our news, may I present to you [as a fellow apathy-prone person] a collection of articles that have been helpful to me as I am attempting to make sense of what is happening:

(Note:  It should not be assumed that all the views in these articles represent my own opinion. I did, however, find them all refreshing, informative, and well-articulated on the whole. )

Christians and Muslims: We are all Egyptians: a blog article by the acclaimed Iranian-American scholar of religion Reza Aslan

Washington’s Secret History with the Muslim Brotherhood: From the New York Review of Books blog delineating the history of the clandestine organization with the United States government

How Democracy can Work in the Middle East: from Time (Fareed Zakaria)

What’s Happening in Egypt? A Summary: Joy Malek-Evans updates the news regarding the protests from Facebook.

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Posted by on February 7, 2011 in justice


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Video and thoughts on Haiti, from those who truly know.


Within hours of hearing about the Haiti quake last week, I was amazed and mortified to learn that the president of the RCA (my church family)’s General Synod (our big annual gathering), James Seawood, was in Haiti at the time of the quake, scheduled to be in Port-au-Prince at the time, alongside an entire delegation of RCA lay and ordained leaders. (I had the privilege of meeting and conversing with Rev. Seawood just before the Synod meeting last year, after he had met with the Seminarian Seminar of which I was a part. I believe I also met there Rev. Andres Serrano, a Dominican pastor who was also part of the Haitian delegation.) Soon word got out that the delegation had survived and had made its way to the Dominican Republic, and was en route to return to the U.S.

The RCA has posted video and thoughts from Rev. Seawood accessible from their main web page… he had taken video footage just moments after the quake… it is remarkable footage of the confusion, fear, and anguish that survivors felt in those initial moments… and it also places you into the shoes of the delegation as they struggle to try to find a route amidst the chaos.

Moments after Haiti Earthquake from Phil Tanis on Vimeo.

Read his reflections on the entire ordeal here, also found on the RCA website. Amazing stuff.


Wyclef Jean, one of the world’s most famous Haitians, has an organization called Yele Haiti through which he has long been trying to provide hope and healing to a nation devastated by poverty. Now devastated by the erratic and inexplicable forces of nature (no, NOT by a curse, Mr. Robertson…), Yele Haiti and Wyclef are leading a public charge to take necessary action to bring hope and healing yet again.

Earlier today Wyclef hosted a live press conference… it’s being recast right now, and they might play it a few more times, so see if you can catch at least pieces of it….

“This is the only time people are going to see my country”

“We (Yele Haiti) has always been on the ground…”….

“There’s a problem that we have to solve…in the next few days… the security issue amongst the people… where the communities are hostile because of the (lack of) food… so on Saturday…we’ll be leaving again for Haiti….the reality is that you have at least 400,000 people underground ….. for every success story that you see, there are another 40,000 that are buried…”

He calls for a massive exodus outside of Port-au-Prince, to facilitate the cleaning process of the city and to take care of the people… and calls for another countries to help lead this, and to provide tents that will eventually develop into new, 21st-century communities… fascinating stuff.


Sojourners’ blog today features a post from Kent Annan, co-director of Haiti Partners–another organization committed to helping Haiti for years, and has lived for many years himself in Haiti. He addresses the feeling that many of us have… “Why Haiti? Why a country already devastatingly poor?, suffering for years already….” He even references the psalmist who famously addresses this sentiment with the words, “How long, oh Lord?”

His response to this is both difficult and wise– we (as those who do NOT know what it is like to be there, to be from there, or to have lived there) would do well to hear it:

“Finally, I’ve been asked often, when working in Haiti and then during these past few days, how do you keep any hope? My answer, which is burrowed deep in my bones through the privilege of living with, being friends with, watching the courage of, and working alongside many Haitians, is that if they haven’t given up hope, we have no right to. Today I saw on CNN Haitians walking the streets of Port-au-Prince singing hymns and praying.

We’re people committed to be on the side of God’s hope, even on seemingly hopeless days. We’re people committed to be on the side of people in Haiti–not just right now, but for the longterm. “

Ways to spread the hope:

1) Text donations: Text YELE to 501501 to donate $5 to Yele Haiti
Text HAITI to 90999 to donate $10 to the Red Cross
(no, neither of these are scams.)
2) Donate:
-to Red Cross
World Vision
To Reformed Church World Service

3) Make medical and hygiene kits and submit them to the RCWS. Find a guide on how to make them here. Right now relief and life-saving are still the focus, and water and medical supplies are among the biggest needs… but as Annan reminds us, we also need to think about how we can CONTINUE to help Haiti head towards recovery in the months and years ahead… so let’s not forget about them. Just as people in Louisiana are still recovering from Katrina in many instances, so it will be in Haiti, only on a much larger scale.

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Posted by on January 18, 2010 in haiti, justice, mission, RCA


The (not quite) new Advent Conspiracy Promo.

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Posted by on November 24, 2009 in Christmas, justice, youth


Um, two more. … this time re: slavery and fair trade.

1. Article on Cadbury’s recent move to increase its fair trade cocoa commitment, now extending into its Australia, Canada, and New Zealand markets.

Get a load of this paragraph:

“Cadbury’s move’s expected to quadruple Ghana’s fair trade cocoa sales. Of course, if you live in the U.S., you may be wondering why Cadbury bars here aren’t going to be getting the fair trade certification mark. The reason: Hersheys. Explains the Labor Rights Forum blog: ‘In the US, Hershey owns the license to produce most Cadbury chocolate here and unlike many companies, Hershey has not committed to any certification programs to improve working conditions for cocoa farmers.’

Read the article in context here.

2. Check out this trailer for a new documentary coming out Sept 15 in NYC… Hopefully it makes it onto the big screen out on the West Coast, too.

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Posted by on August 26, 2009 in justice