Tuesday, September 20, 2005


I have a tiny little crucifix (2.5" tall) on a shelf in my office. This morning I found that someone had turned it around so that it looked like there was no corpus on the cross. It's on! I think I shall now go buy a huge crucifix with realistic coloring and bolt it to my wall.

My crucifix sits right below this 'icon' of Jesus on the sea of Galilee. Why didn't mystery-room-redecorator take down this picture?

Why do American Evangelicals have a problem with the crucifix but absolutely no problem with other images of Christ? I would assume that the answer has to do with a general Theology of Glory. I would guess that they themselves would say that it would lead to an over-fixation on the actual suffering of Christ and it distracts from the reality of the Resurrection. I think there is an overarching dislike of anything that is not "positive and uplifting", which the Cross certainly is not. I think the Reformed answer (regulative priciple)of no images is at least consistant, especially when the concern is idolatry. From my days at a Reformed college, I still carry with me a bit of an iconoclast wariness of images (plus I've read chapter two in J.I. Packer's Knowing God once too many times).

I especially dislike the "official" jesus. You know, the one in which the dominant color is brown. I probably dislike it most because I so strongly identify it with some extremly legalistic folks from my past. Besides, it just doesn't strike me as good art. (Disclaimer: Art critic is not my vocation.)
I will grant that Mormon Jesus is worse however.

I almost prefer Buddy Christ.


In our chapel here, we have a kneeler and icons of Jesus from many different nationalities and cultures many of which were painted by one Br. Robert Lentz, ofm. These really prick up my iconoclast sense. His work includes Quetzalcoatl Christ, listen to the desciption:
In the sacred history of Meso-America, a Christ-like figure dominates the spiritual horizon. His name is Quetzalcoatl, which means the Plumed Serpent. Quetzalcoatl is one of the most ancient concepts of God in this region. He reconciles in himself heaven and earth. He is the creator of humankind and the giver of agriculture and the fine arts.

In the tenth century, a Toltec priest named Quetzalcoatl acquired a large following in the Valley of Mexico. He opposed both human sacrifice and warfare, promoting instead the arts and self-discipline as a means for coming closer to God. This made him many enemies among the ruling classes. They brought about his downfall, but he confounded them by rising from the dead, after being consumed in a sacred fire. His heart became the morning star, and he himself became young once again. He promised to return one day to his people.

The stories of Quetzalcoatl and Christ are so similar that it is easy to see one in the other. In this icon, both Quetzalcoatl and Christ are depicted in the same guise. It is a resurrection icon, with their heart ascending from the flames of death and rebirth. Around the edge, in gold leaf, is an ancient Aztec depiction of the Plumed Serpent. Red and black are the colors the Aztecs associated with the morning star.

Quetzalcoatl and Christ bring us the same timeless message: God is closer to us than we are to ourselves. In both their lives, our human condition has been joined inseparably to the divine. Each proclaims to us a simple gospel of compassion, and invites us to dance with God in the divine fire burning in each of our hearts.

Ummm, No. Christ brings us a timeless message that God is close? How about Jesus is God who has come in the flesh to make atonement for our sins?!?
Now, we don't have that one up in our chapel. We do have one called the Good Sheppard which portrays Jesus as far more semetic than most, which I think is actually cool. Lentz also has one called Apache Christ, which he was certainly not. I understand the desire to help people feel close to Jesus in terms of each person's own culture, but this seems hugely Docetic or Gnostic to me (correct my labels if you please) to pluck Jesus out of the historical frame of reference that he himself chose for his incarnation "in the fullness of time" and translate him into another culture in which there is no context to explain what he did (ie. no Old Testament).

Perhaps I am splitting hairs. What really got my dander up was the book that goes with his picutes and explains them. It is called Christ in the Margins and it includes icons of "Holy People" including: Einstein, Black Elk, Cesar Chavez, J.R.R. Tolkien (complete with Halo and Pipe), Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Mychal Judge, J. S. Bach and Harvey Milk.

Shouldn't some sort of belief in Christ be prerequisite for Holy person status? Should we have this book in our chapel despite the fact that God may have used each through their vocation to love and serve his people?

Go to"Trinity Stores" and click on the Our Artists link on the side to view Br. Lentz's collection for thyself.


Blogger sushi the shark said...

ah, mike... i miss those days of splitting theological hairs and such... it was good fun... but alas, nobody around here seems to care about the finer points of infra- vs. supra-lapsarianism... God ordained the fall from outside time, damnit, so cut it out!!!

anyway... i don't know about you, but i actually find the cross an uplifting symbol... i mean, geesh, that should have been me and it's not, so i'm happy about that...

what i see is this polarization of christianity, in a sense... if one group likes images, the other has to oppose them. if one group wants to emphasize the passion and suffering of Christ, the other wants to emphasize the resurrection and glory... for Heaven's sake (no pun intended), it's ALL important and THAT was the point!!!

i know that's a rather simplistic take, and my own personal views are much more nuanced than that...

but to borrow a phrase from another saint of our times (if that list in your blog was any reference point for sainthood), "can't we all just get along?"


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