5/29/2009

To Paint the World with Love

We painted Jesus a lot when I was in Sunday School. In that little back room of the hall our teacher with the long flowing skirt gave her pupils brushes. We splashed and sloshed, dabbed and dotted, browns and blues and lovely reds.

Jesus always had long hair, like my older brother. He was invariably a blue-eyed blond, like most us. No one even thought he might look Semitic. He had long robes like the vicar, a kindly face, and was patting sheep.

Our pictures though were far from stereotypical. With broad brushstrokes Palestine was transformed into a green and pleasant land with lots of red boulders and purple trees. The sky, God’s domain, was indigo and silver, with pink cherubs dotted about.

We drew one another into the scene. We drew our teacher there too. We drew God and Jesus, who were sort of one and the same but different. We drew the pictures and the pictures captured us. The median was the message, and the median was fun.

As I’ve grown older I’ve continued to draw Jesus, though usually these days with words. Every church I’ve been a part of and every Christian I’ve met have also drawn Jesus. We continue trying to paint pictures that are true to our knowledge and experience as well as our hopes and dreams.

Sometimes in church he’s up there in the stained glass with a crown on his head and a far away look in his eyes. Sometimes he’s down here in the wine we share and in the children’s corner. Sometimes he’s in concepts profound but hard to apply. Sometimes he’s in talkative visitors who are hard to get away from. We find Jesus both where we look and where we least expect.

The church of my childhood painted a kind and benign Jesus. Apart from the gender he was like the Queen of England going round smiling, doing apolitical good deeds, and living in heavenly splendour but still mixing with commoners. We could come to church without shoes and leave with paint on our clothes. Jesus didn’t mind. Why anyone would kill him was mystifying. His death was just a random act of violence.

The church of my teenage years painted the cross in the centre. Rather than his death being a random act of violence it was a deliberate God-inspired scheme to save us from being bad. Like in Harry Potter the blood of the innocent willing victim [Jesus] would magically rescue us from the consequences of cosmic evil. We came to church with bibles under our arms and left with enough hope to survive a week in the jungle of adolescence. Jesus was our best friend, and sometimes our only friend.

The church of my twenties painted Jesus in revolutionary colours. Jesus had done a course in structural analysis and knew all about racism, sexism, and indigenous land rights. He was the protester par excellence, carrying in his body and soul the pain of the oppressed, living and dying for the cause. We marched with a cross, saw the inside of courtrooms, and heard policemen lie. Faced with injustice and punitive power we learnt to pray simply and silently. Some things are too deep for words.

These days I am part of a church that paints Jesus with a broad progressive brush. Jesus identified the human tendency to fix our God ideas and morality in the concrete of certainty. Jesus cracked and broke through that concrete in order that both new insights and innovations might be included and marginalized and oppressed people treated justly. This iconoclastic church is a blaze of vibrant and often contrasting colours, a wild and beautiful place… yet hardly restful.

The life of Jesus seems to me to be bigger than any single interpretation of that life. It is a painting bigger than any one canvas. His Spirit cannot fit in any one church or every church combined. The plurality of Christian experience points to the mystery that Jesus is among us while also beating in other hearts and in other places we haven’t heard of. Tolerance and intellectual modesty are therefore important when trying to know Jesus.

All these churches I’ve mentioned have this in common: they promote the ethics of empathy, compassion, and courage. These are the things that Christians really have in common, just as colours, brush, and canvas are the things that painters really have in common. The barriers of history, culture, theology, political, or national differences should not obscure for Christians our unity of purpose. Simply put that purpose is to splash and slosh, dab and dot, until the world is painted in love.

1 comment:

  1. Patricia Pattison2:10 PM

    I have been interested for a while in people's evolving understandings of who Jesus was/is and who/what God by whatever name, is and find your view fits in with most people's pattern of beginning with a fairly basic and fundamental concept. I suppose that follows the psychology of growth and development, but what it evolves into, and sometimes it doesn't get any further, is particularly important to how we group ourselves and how we live in the world. Keep painting Glynn.

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