Sunday, April 01, 2012

Re-envisioning my purple Jesus

"Jesus Enters the City" from Doug Blanchard's gay Passion of Christ series.

It may be a childhood impression of Jesus as purple, or mauve if you're into color orthodoxy, that bedevils me a little still as Holy Week launches --- Palm Sunday, alternately called the Sunday of the Passion.

We'll read the Passion story as recorded in Mark's gospel together this morning, then move into a week that symbolically follows the human condition personified in that guy --- some say he was God incarnate ---  through death to resurrection: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday's Easter Vigil, then Easter itself. The goal is to connect and grab a little of that resurrection ourselves right here and in the now.

A macho Jesus (not for sissies like me)

My big problem with the central character in all of this, Jesus, may have begun with that purple guy, framed and hanging on the wall when I was a kid;  Europeanized Christ praying in a purple Garden of Gethsemane, a wedding gift to my parents that remained in the living room so long as the gift-giver visited, retreated to an upstairs bedroom late in her life and was summarily dispatched shortly after her death by my mother.

My purple Jesus, as I remember him, was an elaborated version of Warner Sallman's kitschy sentimentalized Europanized 1940s Jesus.

But the damage was done. It's hard to identify with a purple Jesus, robed, remote, bathed in a beam of unconvincing heavenly light, behind glass.  Even through a few sporadic forays into Sunday school, Jesus seemed that way, robed, remote, unreachable and despite the best efforts of dedicated teachers, irrelevant, dead, not risen at all. Kind of like one of those mumified corpses Roman Catholics and communists like to keep around, enhanced by theological embroidery, reshaped with wax.

Black Jesus.

Modest study of Christianity as an adult reinforced all that --- a morass of conflicting orthodoxies punctuated by hellfire and damnation, all piled on the back of a guy whose reality Christians seemed distinctly uncomfortable with because of his pesky humanity and those radical teachings that shine through in the gospels. The fact I was gay didn't help.

Jesus as a Hindu avatar.

But I've always been fond of an old-fashioned 1930s gospel song, Alfred Ackley's "I Serve a Risen Savior," which insists, "He's in the world today." That's a thought to hang on to if you're going to hang onto this Christian business.

As you might guess, many self-described Christians don't like it because it implies Jesus can be experienced outside the glassed frame rather than just read about and viewed through imagry; that he actually has risen, has transcended the book and is outside the box.

Native American Jesus.

A maddening inclination to go to church, most often highly liturgical ones, kept pestering and I kept following the inclination.

Feminine Jesus

All this eventually led to re-envisioning Jesus, a process I think all those culturally attuned to Christianity but outside the box, too, are entitled to engage in if they wish to keep trying to make sense of it.

It's been going on for centuries; several of the examples are scattered around here. He/She lives, after all, and needn't be trapped, as poet Wallace Stevens put it, in the "holy hush of ancient sacrifice" or embalmed in theology, orthodoxy and inerrancy.

So during Holy Week, I think of Jesus in terms of Doug Blanchard's Passion series (Palm Sunday is represented at the top here).

And then later on, I think of Jesus tied to a fence with Matthew Shepard out there near Laramie back in 1998 and left to die, tears freezing to their faces, crucified for our sins.

It's not perfect and this is not an implication that Jesus was gay, only that if you're serious about this line of heresy --- and I am --- we're all welcome to find in him ourselves, grab a hand and resurrect.

How, after all, can he walk with me and talk with me --- unless he lives?

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