It’s gathering steam and not going away, the notion that we are significantly defined by our sex, race, and class. But while there is point to the claim that such matters influence us to a significant degree, to go further and claim that such matters are definitive is incompatible with Christianity. It is also a Bad Idea.
Yours truly is a skinny guy, eligible for senior citizen discounts, once married, pale-skinned and long-haired (at least that part of the hair that remains). I am male, white, and a member of what is called the knowledge class. Undeniably, those characteristics shape who I am.
But they do not shape me entirely. I can see myself, and have, in a woman, in a non-skinny person, in a young person, in a bald person, and in a person of color. It often happens after a conversation where we find we have some deep commonalities of belief. Sometimes it happens after worship or singing together (O for the days of singing together!). Yet it should happen in lots of other times.
Who looks like me? If I take Christianity seriously, I need to say that every human being looks like me.
Good fiction takes us inside people of many sorts and makes them come alive for us. I can have sympathy for the monster that Victor Frankenstein created (it’s important for yours truly to remember the scientist’s first name). I can share the moral anguish that Emma goes through as she comes to see the harm she has caused. I can feel with Jim his love for Huck Finn as well as his bewilderment over some of Huck’s actions.
But this “getting inside another person” is not limited to fiction. There was the ancient Roman who said, “I am human, and therefore nothing human is alien to me.” No human deed (good or bad) is beyond my imagining, no circumstance outside my mental circle—at least in principle.
Christianity proclaims that Jesus Christ offers salvation to and for every person. At Vatican II this was expounded as follows: “By virtue of his Incarnation, the Son of God has in some way united himself with every human being.”
Who looks like Jesus? Every human being looks like Jesus.
At an impressionable age I started going to the Church of the Holy Faith in Santa Fe. Above the altar is a bronze triptych, in the center of which is Jesus. The image struck me as oriental, and at that time I found it strange. I am not oriental; I’m Oklahoman. Jesus is not oriental, he was from the Middle East. Why did the artist take the liberty of making him strange this way?
Fortunately, I was not offended by this. When a decade later I went to seminary, the cathedral in New York City had an art exhibit of “Christa,” a female Christ on a cross. There was outrage everywhere, and everyone, even the New York Times, was talking about it. A friend of mine, however, shared with me how he had thought through this matter. Of course we do not depict Jesus in historically accurate detail. There have been white and black Jesuses. There have been crucified Jesuses covered with leprosy or the marks of the plague. People have realized through the centuries that Jesus stands for everyman. My friend, a conservative by temperament, said he could not find any theological objection to depicting Jesus as a woman.
Whom might an artist depict as Jesus on the cross? Any human being.
When we think about representation these days, let us remember that whatever our sex, race, or class, any human being really could “look like” any other human being.
Out & About (virtually and otherwise). My class on Leviticus has one more session: Sunday, March 7, at Incarnation in Dallas, both in-person and on Zoom, at 10:15 a.m. To get the Zoom link, register at https://incarnation.org/event/1936191-2021-03-07-up-with-leviticus/
Also this Sunday, March 7, I am to preach at the 4 p.m. patronal festival for St. David of Wales, Denton, Tex. This service is outdoors, having been rescheduled on account of last week’s weather. It’s fun to celebrate a parish’s patron, and there will be food; you’re welcome.
Sunday, March 14, at 6 p.m. at Incarnation in Dallas, I will give my spring theology lecture: “The Long Game of Friendship.” This will be both in-person and on-line; register at incarnation.org under “events.” (March 14 is also the day we bid sad farewell to Standard Time.)
On the Web. I have an article on “Fear” as part of the “InStead” initiative in ethics and values: https://www.steadcenter.com/instead/fear/