Bad-Ass Jesus

This ‘Ain’t Yo’ Momma’s Jesus.

(If you are more offended than intrigued by the title, you should skip this post… and probably avoid this blog.  See my views on the ethics of profanity.) 

 For centuries now we’ve lived with an image of Jesus that is, well, a little bit on the weak side.  He is gentle, soft, and very white.  Were it not for the obvious beard, we might question whether or not he has any, er, well, you know…. 

 white wimpy Jesus

Now there is an alternative vision of Jesus.  We don’t see it depicted visually much, other than in left-wing cartoons.  Why?  Because this right-wing all-American Jesus would look so zany.

all-american Jesus

(see original context)

No one really believes in this machine-gun-wielding Savior… but some of us talk as if we did.  Too often I hear preachers and believers saying that the Kingdom of God = the United States of America + the State of Israel.

Then there’s easy-going “Buddy Jesus” from Dogma.

Buddy Jesus

And the even more chill Homeboy Jesus (who is even friends with Ashton Kutcher???)

Homeboy Jesus 

But what is the Bible’s image of Jesus?  His inner character, if not his physical appearance?  There are aspects of “weak Jesus” (picture 1, above) that are in the Bible: he is Prince of Peace, the Good Shepherd, the Lamb of God.  He preaches love of God and love of each other.  There are aspects of the Buddy/Homeboy Jesus, too, which are true to the Bible: Friend of Sinners.  But Buddy looks more like Big Man on Campus than Lord and Savior.

Jesus is one complicated dude.  He is the Man of Sorrows, which we don’t often see, except in very old paintings.  He sweated blood and thought that he was going to die from the weight of sorrow that was on him.  Makes my depression look like Disneyland!

And he is the Lion of Judah.  He will come and conquer as a king.  That covers some of the aspects of him that we see in the Bible.  But I can only think of one word nuanced and strong enough to describes the missing piece in pop-culture’s picture of Jesus:

bad-ass (adj.): 1)touchy, difficult; 2) mean, belligerent; 3) tough, intimidating; 4) rugged, strong; 5) unequivocally awesome.

Jesus is not touchy or difficult.  He is never mean or belligerent (although G.I. Jesus, picture 2, above, might make us think otherwise).  But he can be tough and intimidating.  He had sharper come-backs than Madea and wasn’t afraid to over-turn tables in the name of God.  He was rugged and strong enough to work for thirty years in a carpenter’s shop, live with sailors (the truckers of the ancient Near East) for three years on the road as their leader, and then carry on a conversation or two while crucified.  He bore the sins of the world.  What could be more unequivocally awesome than that?  He brought love and mercy the fist time, but gave us a heads up: he will be back to enforce final justice.

Jesus was a rebel, a challenger of the status quo.  Either in his Whiteness, his Buddyness, or meekness, he has become the opposite in the eyes of many.  Churches have become part of the Establishment and, historically, have participated in much oppression.  But Jesus was the liberator of the oppressed, so much so that “Liberation theologians” have emphasized that aspect of Jesus to the point of painting him as a proto-Marxist.

Because our images of Jesus have been constructed by the cultural majority, we have seen a reaction against that, even independent of Rastafarianism.

Black Jesus

Whatever else you might say about Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” I hope we can agree that his Jesus (Jim Caviezel) finally looks Jewish.

Jesus with disciples

In some Greek icons I see a look that captures his baaaadness.  Very man, very God, very ready to do whatever it takes to save His own.

bass-ass Jesus

Across the centuries he calls, his vigor undiminished by the incompetence of his followers, myself included.  The Son of Man demands as much now as he did back then: either to be followed and worshipped, or else to be utterly rejected.  That I cannot so much as prove his existence highlights the intensity of this choice, the leap that is faith.  Ignoring him is not an option.  He leaves us no middle ground.  What could be more bad-ass than that?


Second-hand Tragedy

Sometimes I think I feel too much. A skyscraper crashes or a friend of a friend dies, and I take it personally. I didn’t know anyone in the Towers, and I don’t even know my friend’s friend’s name, but I know that I have lost something.

It’s a bright, cool summer’s day, all the more bitter for its beauty. Like the spring day when I visited Auschwitz. Why is the grass so green? To taunt me, to distract me, to give me hope? Or is it just there?

Life is beautiful, but this life is full of death, and that is something that I will always take personally.

What the hell is wrong with me? Am I the only one who’s sane? Or is this just a small taste of how the heart of God feels all the time?

Sudden Death

“All death is sudden.” – anonymous

Life is precious. We forget so easily. Many movies, most video games, and all advertisements help us to forget. They tell us that our value is in how we look, in how many points (excitement, pleasure, accomplishment) we score, and in what we own. And most of us believe them most of the time. We act and speak as if scoring points was all that mattered. Whatever it is that you enjoy, do as much of that as possible, because today is the only day that matters.

But tomorrow is already here. Death is knocking at the door. He may have been knocking for a while, but you hadn’t been listening. I know I haven’t. Maybe he’s not here for you yet; you’ve got friends and family in the house, along with some random acquaintances you might not miss. Surely he’ll take one of them. Won’t he?

Hedonism’s response to death: ignore it. 

Is that really an option? Then you have no chance to prepare for what’s next, because you have refused to venture to guess that might be. The “great religions” are great because they have at least made an attempt. 

 (***What follows is a brief survey of my understanding of these religions’ views.  If I have misrepresented your view or need to be more specific, please let me know!)

Maybe there is nothing after death. That is atheists’ response. I respect their insistence on only claiming knowledge of that for which we have evidence. But my soul is incredulous before that great emptiness. There is too much purpose in life for there to be no purpose in death.

Maybe there is more life after death: many lives, the next better or worse, depending on how you behaved in this life. And if you are good enough for enough lives, you will enter Nirvana. Or maybe you will escape into Nothingness. That is the Hindu response, with its Buddhist variation. But my soul is too weary of day after day. Life after life would be too much to bear, unless I were utterly transformed.  Plus, I know my own heart too well. I would never think, feel, love, act rightly enough to “graduate” to the next step… and I’m not sure whether anyone else would either.

Death is the will of God. I must accept it and obey Him. If it is God’s will, I will enter Paradise, so I had be get on His good side. I love the simplicity of Islam’s response. But I ache against the thought of God wanting death.

The Jewish answer is in the form of a story: death is the enemy of God’s work and it has infected His creation because of us (Genesis 3).  We have hope of being reunited with each other and with Him after death (Psalm 23), but such hope is vague and fleeting, so theories abound in Judaism as to just what happens next.  The Tanakh (a.k.a. Old Testament) does not tell us how the story ends.

The New Testament finishes the Jewish story: God used death to return any of us who are willing to life by letting His Son die in our place (John 3).  And not just any death: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27).  God will destroy death itself when all of His dead have been made alive again. “Look!  I will tell you a mystery.  We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed….  For when this dying body puts on the undying, the sayings will be fulfilled: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’ (Isaiah 25:8); ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ (Hosea 13:14).  The sting of death is in the weight of our crimes, and the power of our crimes is in God’s law.  But thanks be to God!  He gives to us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:51-57; FIV).

That death is neither the end nor my friend may be the only answer that I can live with… whether I deserve to or not.

Lean with Envy

Why Do You Work Out?

“The grass is always greener on the other side,” and nowhere is that clearer than at the gym.  Mirrors on every side, we look at each other.  Then we eye ourselves with self-lust and self-loathing. 

Self-lust: “Look at me!  Man, I’m a hottie, but if only I had just one more ripple,” his eyes speak into his own.

More sane, but no less sad, self-loathing: thin people trying to become bigger, big people trying to become thinner.  And saddest of all: thin people trying to become thinner, slowly killing themselves.

Not everyone works out.  My friends who don’t all wish 1) that they looked like they did and 2) that it wasn’t a “should.”  But now that most of us have desk jobs, a “should” it will remain. 

Few of us can honestly say:  “I enjoy my body the way it is.  I’m going to celebrate it by running, jumping, lifting heavy objects, throwing miscellaneous projectiles, etc., just because those are wonderful things to do.”

Our culture tells us that a perfect body is the product of exercise, and that body is the goal.  That is a trap.  There is no perfect body.  A healthy desire to exercise is the product of a healthy mind and spirit.  A healthier body is simply a side-effect of your enjoying what is already good in yourself and in the world around you.

Exercise is good, but our motivations for exercise are fraught with self-rejection and self-deception.  What we do might appear beneficial but, as always, our motives demand deep scrutiny.

The Terror of the Blank Page

Creative [Self-]Destruction

I sit paralyzed by the page I am about to write. It could be my best work… if I would just think harder, get more sleep, and drink more Ovaltine™. But its already too late, I know, distracted, sleepless, drinkless. Then I realize: I can either be a writer or a perfectionist, not both. To be the one is to destroy the other. The writer destroys gladly!

Published in: on June 28, 2007 at 3:41 am  Leave a Comment  

The Radiant Abyss

Hope of Heaven After the Holocaust?

In The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis follows a bus-load of “tourists” from hell as they visit heaven.  En route, they cross “the radiant abyss” between the netherworld and the shining world above.

In her poem “Choir of the Rescued,” Holocaust-survivor Nelly Sachs invites us to understand the aftermath of hell-on-earth: 

We the rescued, / from whose hollow limbs Death has already cut his flutes, / to whose longings Death has already set his sickle – / our bodies still bemoan the aftermath / with their maimed music.

We the rescued / ever yet the nooses hang turned for our throats / before us in the blue air – / ever yet the hour glass fills with our dripping blood.

We the rescued / ever yet the worms of fear eat at us. / Our star is buried in the dust.


We the rescued / beg you: / show us slowly your sun. / Lead us one step at a time from star to star. / Let us quietly learn to live again. / Otherwise the song of a bird, / the filling of a bucket at a well / could unleash our ill-sealed ache / and wash us away….

(translation mine (c) 2007)

We live in the abyss between heaven and hell, after the Holocaust but before the Day of Justice.  Some days I remember, gripped by the tension in my shoulders and the pressure in my skull.  I see the darkness all around me and despair.  I hear the dogs barking and I can feel myself ready to wash away.


But the Radiance shines through the darkness, wakes my soul, reminds me to sing.  The sun shines on my face, the flowers greet me in my path, and the trees bow to shelter me.  Maybe they have been there all along and I’ve been too busy to notice.  I loosen my stride, flex my feet, and prepare to meet my Lord in the air.

Published in: on June 26, 2007 at 2:32 am  Leave a Comment