JESUS RETURNED this past August. Or at least a new depiction of him appeared on late-night cable television, in the comedy Black Jesus, created by Aaron McGruder (of The Boondocks). There was no rapture, and no subsequent tribulation, beyond what passes for normal these days. Instead Jesus appeared, as he did in Palestine, in a manner both obscure and mysterious. And, again, his incarnation became a scandal among some of the powerful and pious.
In Black Jesus, on the Adult Swim network, the second person of the Trinity turns up one day on the streets of Compton, a very poor and heavily African-American community in southern Los Angeles County. Played by a tall and beefy Gerald “Slink” Johnson, Jesus walks the streets in his first century robe and sandals, but with his hair in a Tina Turner perm. Aside from the eccentric get-up, this Jesus fits right into his surroundings. He has no cash, and no place to lay his head. But that goes for plenty of Comptonites. He enjoys malt liquor and marijuana, just as much as he did good wine back in the day at Cana. He’s still preaching and practicing unconditional love, forgiveness, nonviolence, and service to all, but his street talk averages about 1.5 bleeps per sentence.
There’s plenty that’s problematic about Slink Johnson’s character. For one thing, I can’t imagine the Jesus I know using the disrespectful canine term for women so freely or being quite so nonjudgmental about the marijuana trade. But neither does this depiction approach “blasphemy,” which is what the American Family Association called it. The Catholic League, which often leads the charge against perceived offenses to the faith, got it about right when it said, “The Jesus character in this show is a mixed bag: He is irreverent and can be downright crude, but he also has many redeeming qualities.”
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Children are suffering from violence in the U.S. and around the world.
Michael Brown. The children of Gaza. The refugees of Central America. Only three of numerous heart-breaking stories to fill the airwaves in the last month. But, unlike the gruesome murders of innocent news reporters by ISIL, these news stories about violence toward unarmed children have faced loud voices justifying that violence.
These voices argue for the “rule of law.” They insist on the inherent goodness of hyper-militarized, monocultural police forces using tanks and tear gas against peaceful protestors. They claim the inherent righteousness of the state of Israel, even after the bombing of United Nations schools. They defend border guards and those who clamber into busses to scream violence and hate at asylum-seeking children.
So, the wounded or dead are put on trial and convicted for their own deaths, even though they were unarmed children. It’s their fault. To say otherwise is just foolishness.
Some Corinthian Gentiles and Jews must have reacted in exactly this way to the teaching of Paul. Jesus was crucified by the Romans — the imperial power that had brought peace to the city of Rome and quiet to the provinces, that legendary pax Romana about Augustus Caesar himself boasted. This was Paul’s testimony.
According to one of my favorite authors, Brennan Manning, "The single greatest cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable."It is just a much more eloquent way of saying that the world thinks we’re a bunch of hypocrites.
To be quite honest, most of the time, the claim is warranted. I have a friend who wants nothing to do with Jesus because his father, a very religious man, was active in the local church but was abusive behind closed doors. Another friend continues to distance herself from anyone associated with the church because of their judgmental glares about her lifestyle choices.
Whatever their reasoning, I understand. I, too, have personally encountered the hypocrisy they see in our communities of faith. And if I'm at all honest, the number of times I have been the hypocrite who has turned others away are too numerous to count.
ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Rhonda Rowe and her team gathered around a diagram of the nursing home’s floor plan and determined how to split up to avoid praying with anyone twice.
Rowe made her way to a room where a 93-year-old woman lay in her bed while her 87-year-old roommate sat in a wheelchair. Rowe knelt between them and went through her “Nursing Home Gospel Soul-Winning Script.”
“Fill me with your Holy Spirit and fire of God,” the 93-year-old repeated. “I’m on my way to heaven. I have Jesus in my heart.”
Rowe was soon off to the next room, but before she left, acknowledged that she might never see them again on earth. “I’ll see you girls in heaven!” she chirped.
Welcome to the world of nursing home evangelism, where teams of lay evangelists target senior citizens for one last chance in this life for glory in the next.
As Christian Piatt, a feature writer for Sojourners, points out, “Jesus is always throwing us curveballs.” He writes that our behavior reminds him of an old saying. “God created us in God’s image, and ever since then, we’ve gone to great lengths to return that favor.”
We’d all love to claim Jesus for our team, but in doing so, we can safely assume that Jesus actually would wriggle free from such limitations. While it would be comforting to validate ourselves by claiming Jesus as a Baptist, Disciple, Catholic, or something else, what we’re effectively trying to do is keep from changing ourselves. We want to rest in the certainty that we’re all right how we already are, with no real need to grow or do things differently.
This summer, many Americans are watching in helpless horror as more than 52,000 children fleeing violence stream over our southern border. Many of them are making a dangerous journey by themselves to escape murder rates and gang violence in Central America, particularly El Salvador and Honduras, that are unparalleled except in countries at war.
People of goodwill at the border have offered food, water, shelter, and compassionate care to these refugee children. But protesters have screamed epithets at them and blocked buses carrying them to processing centers, despite the fact that it is not illegal for people to cross the U.S. border and ask for protection under U.S. law.
As politicians focus on midterm elections rather than on children in crisis, it’s worth remembering: Christians worship a child who fled from violence in his home country.
The Gospel of Matthew recounts the story of King Herod of Judea, who slaughtered all the babies and toddlers around Bethlehem in a desperate attempt to prevent the reign of Jesus — the child he had been told would become a king.
Right-wing politicians are fond of saying we need more Christian influence in American political life.
I don’t disagree with that. But I wonder if they have any idea what they are asking. For a nation guided by Christian principles would bear scant resemblance to their political agenda.
Take immigration, for example. Jesus practiced radical welcome, not the restrictive legalistic barriers envisioned by conservatives, and certainly not the denigration of dark-skinned immigrants and the unleashing of armed posses along the Rio Grande.
God’s people, after all, began as immigrants and refugees. God saw them as a “beacon” to all nations.
It seems like violence will never end. Portland. Seattle. Las Vegas. Isla Vista. Almost every day in Chicago. Not to mention Iraq, Boko Haram, the conflict in Ukraine, and the continued war in Afghanistan.
The Huffington Post just reported that “If it’s a school week in America, odds are there will be a shooting.” Since the Sandy Hook tragedy in 2012, the United States has averaged 1.37 school shootings per week.
And our culture is divided on how best to respond. One side declares we need to increase gun regulations. The other side insists we need more guns. The two sides are locked in a bitter political rivalry, using terms like “rights” and “responsibilities” and neither side will budge. One side will win the political battle concerning gun rights, but I fear that no matter who wins the battle it will only perpetuate the war.
I’m feeling despair, and from my Facebook feed, I know many others are feeling the same way. After all, this is so much bigger than guns; it’s about a culture of violence. But please, don’t fall into despair. We have too much work to do.