The Day I Encountered Ethnic Jesus

An image of Jesus about as realistic as any other in American culture, IMO.

I was steeped in Christian culture from the womb, so I grew up surrounded by pictures of Jesus. One hung on a little plaque in my grandmother’s apartment, a Jesus looking mournfully skyward with blue eyes and flowing, light-brown locks. Then, at my church, there was the black velvet painting of Jesus praying in agony at the garden of Gethsemane. This one had red hair and green eyes.

Of course, I can’t forget all of the other Jesus pictorials I grew up with: those cut from Sunday school books for the flannel-graph or the ones illustrating the stories in my children’s Bible. All of them looked like me: white.

At first, I thought nothing of it. At the time, everyone I saw at church, or at school, or at the grocery store was white. Why wouldn’t Jesus and his disciples be white, too?

But as I studied these depictions of Jesus, something about them struck me as false. Contrived. Superficial. It wasn’t just the perfectly trimmed beards, Colgate smiles or the soft, womanly eyes. Something told me that the real Jesus probably looked very different than what these pictures showed.

Then I started encountering other people in my community. People who didn’t look like me. I began learning about people in other countries and what they looked like. And, soon, the white Jesus began to trouble me. Deeply. The depictions struck me as caricatures, poor imitations of the Jesus I read about in the gospels. It seemed that members of my white Christian community had created a Christ in their own image.

Then, one day, I unexpectedly encountered ethnic Jesus. And it changed my life.  Continue reading

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