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Saturday, September 19, 2009
  What's wrong with this picture?
I've been thinking about how to respond to Julia's biker Jesus, all rippling body builder muscles. Flexing his forearms to snap the bars of the cross. With the slogan: "You drew first blood. But. I'll be back." Apart from the obvious problem, that such a Jesus saves no one except himself, what's wrong with this picture?

It says no where in the Gospels that Jesus was weedy, granted neither does it say he went to the gym for hours every day, still carpentering probably meant that like my grandad he would have been muscly and even if wirey, strong. Not at all like the weedy androgynous Jesus of generations of popular Protestant iconography. You know the one with the wishy washy gentle smile and wavey blond or light chestnut hair down to his shoulders.

Actually, that's what's wrong with both pictures. They are pictures of Jesus. Not portraits of Jesus of Nazareth, but images of Jesus the son of God. Ikons in an iconoclast tradition. Orthodox Christianity, by and large, dismissed the Bible's iconoclastic streak, and happily developed a tradition of imaging God. Love them or hate them, Jesus images in the Orthodox tradition usally manage to avoid reducing Jesus to a kitch boy or girly boy next door. Protestant Christianity however reinvented iconoclasm. When this refusal to make plastic images of God breaks down, we have no tradition protecting us from this error. The result Jesus the girly-boy and Jesus the biker dude.

So... the deep question is, not so much: "What's wrong with this picture?" as in a culture that has become radically more visual, image-driven, can we retain the commandment: "You must not make for yourselves any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth..." or can we develop a stronger more theological iconographic aesthetic tradition that enables us to say firm NO to both Jesus the circus strong man and the gentle Jesus meek and mild (who features verbally in the Jesus is my boyfriend songs worship teams inflict on us, as well as visually in most Protestant religious graphics).

[I believe that Julia's image reproduces a painting by Boris Vallejo.]

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