Looking at Christ Through Cultural Lenses

By Allison Ash 4-07-2010

Looking at me, pale-skinned and blonde-haired, you would not know that I come from a diverse background with an African-American great-grandmother and an American-Indian great-grandfather. Though I grew up in a white neighborhood, I felt a call to racial reconciliation after learning about the issues of racism and racial injustice partly through the stories of my family members and the hardships they faced because of their race. Early on, I learned that this ministry needed to start with honest dialogue within a caring community where I would gain an awareness of my own lack of understanding and my limited cultural lens -- a lesson I learned when I was the Director of Chapel at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Fuller Seminary, with students from more than one hundred denominations and more than sixty countries, provides weekly chapels for the different groups of people. A weekly All-Seminary Chapel is also offered for the whole community. To be true to the whole community, the All-Seminary Chapel needed to be diverse in its music, liturgy, images, languages, and participants. This was something to which I was deeply committed.

At one particular chapel, at the request of the speaker, we projected images of Jesus throughout the sermon, images that the speaker gave our chapel planning team. Personally, I was moved by the images and the message and felt good about the entire chapel service. That week an African-American student and friend had coffee with me and brought up the chapel service. To my surprise, she told me that she was extremely disappointed in chapel. She said, "Allison, every image of Jesus was that of a white man; couldn't there have been some different images to reflect the diversity of those attending chapel?" In the moment, I was tempted to defend myself, to explain that someone else chose the images and that I had not reviewed them beforehand, but honestly I knew I wouldn't have changed anything. I knew this because her suggestion did not cross my mind when I was looking at the images during that chapel.

Upon reflection, I recognized that even though my family's diversity had given me a unique experience and awareness, and that I was committed to representing cultural diversity in worship, I saw those images of Jesus through a particular cultural lens. That lens did not represent the full picture of the diversity of the kingdom of God. Through the gracious "correction" of my friend, my cultural lens was expanded to understand how it would have felt for her sitting in that chapel service. Consequently, I could make better decisions in planning future worship services to represent a more accurate picture of the kingdom of God.

After this experience, I realized that my journey of racial reconciliation needed to include the often uncomfortable process of self-examination. For me this examination revealed truths that were not so pleasant to own, but they were vital to the process of racial reconciliation.

portrait-allison-ashAllison Ash originally posted this blog entry at the Salter McNeil & Associates blog. It appears here courtesy of a partnership with SMA.

Editor's Note from SMA: If you have website references to cultural images of Jesus please share them with us! Thanks!

Here are a couple to start with:
» Crucifixion
» He Qi Gallery

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