I remember reading a book in public school called “Black Like Me”. It had a big effect on me. It was the story of white man in the southern U.S. in the sixties who had his skin chemically tinted so that he looked like a black man. It was a radical and controversial transformation. He managed to experience racism firsthand. He broke through the wall that separates privileged people from what we can only know second hand.
While I can be against racism, sexism, and most other isms, - as a member of the dominant culture of one of the most privileged peoples the earth has ever seen - I can’t know what it’s like to live in the world where I’m hated, feared, and associated with all kinds of stereotypically negative behaviours.
Except that I’m a Christian.
And as a professional Christian, I take on the whole weight of that identity. In the world of privilege it can be a door opener. Everywhere else it can be a door closer.
I joke about liking to work “undercover”. I’m going into a social event tonight where I’ll tell people I work as a Community Organizer. If I get enough nerve, or a few cocktails into me, I may introduce myself as an Artist. What I create is community.
The thing is, I’m sure that if the Jesus we read about in the gospels were to trod Peterborough streets today, he wouldn’t call himself a Christian.
So, am I just trying to be like Jesus? Is this disguise of mine just part of my Christ complex?
Nope. It’s taken years but I’ve finally figured out why I can’t be like Jesus.
Part of the beauty and success of Christianity over the centuries has been that its story is fundamentally universal. Every culture has its people at the fringes. Everyone loves a good underdog victory story. Oppressed cultures find heart in the Jesus story.
But what’s so unbelievable is the artful way that dominant, and/or violent, cultures can also quickly flip and turn the story into their own.
The way we crucify Jesus over and over and over again is by making him into one of “us”.
We paint him black. We paint him white, yellow, red, blue and rainbowed. When in fact, the reason Jesus ended up alone on that cross was because he refused to take sides. He refused to be a Zealot, a Pharisee, a Sadducee, or even a good Jew. He refused to be anyone’s version of the Messiah. He refused Satan’s offers. He refused the help of the Roman gods. And he refused the help of the Jewish God.
And today he refuses the help of the Christian God. He just keeps doing what he’s always doing.
He occupied Jerusalem with a message of Resistance. He resisted the oh-so-human temptation to take sides - to take a stand. He critiqued the false social constructs of the culture of his day and all of the artificial social barriers that distinguished "us" from "them". When people got confused and questioned him – he offered unfathomable parables and more questions. But when people showed him their wounds – he offered healing – an invitation to rejoin life at its centre.
Like the occupy movement of today – no one is sure – or can be sure – of just what they stand for. So, their message - that gets lost in the claims of observers right and left – is that they stand in resistance to what divides us in favour of what unites us.
Jesus was/is an anarchist. Not a member of any Anarchist party but a small “a” guy who will always defy categorization.
Jesus will always only be found at the center and never on any side. At the center is where we find love. At the center is where we find hope. At the center is where I find who I am. At the center is where I begin again by choosing my steps carefully to walk in circles confused, disbelieving, disturbed, and so full of wonder that it overflows into all that I artfully make today (food, love, time, friends, enemies, mistakes, jokes, and dreams come true)
The reason I could never be like Jesus is that the more I try the more I end up being just like me.
thanks for the photos to Richard Choe