April 24, 2008

Thoughts on the Laughing Jesus Exhibit

A new exhibit featuring portraits of Jesus is making the rounds and getting press in a few blogs I read. The reason this particular exhibit is getting attention is because the portraits are of a laughing Jesus. In each portrait, Christ is smiling or laughing or just looking anything but disgruntled. The website for the exhibit explains that the idea came from two Australian Christians who traveled around the world and “they found many pictures of Jesus showed him as a miserable, negative individual whilst their own reading of the Gospel suggested he was no such thing.” And so the Laughing Jesus project was born.

Around 60 portraits were painted by artists all over the world who live in poverty-stricken countries. I like the idea, but as I was looking over the portraits (each one is available for download, by the way), many questions and thoughts came to mind. It’s interesting to see how different cultures portray Christ. I think a lot of postmodern Christians like to make snarky remarks about the fact that Jesus was not a white man, with the underlying belief that only arrogant and ignorant white people would ever presume to portray Jesus to look like them. Yet, I look at these portraits and find that many of the artists painted Jesus to look like someone from their own village or town or demographic. One artist actually did paint himself, which is taking it too far (in my opinion), but the point still stands. We like to picture Christ as we are. We take the qualities we like about Jesus and focus on those. The author of one of the blogs that linked to the exhibit pointed out that everyone loves Jesus. He’s a great guy and everyone can find something to identify them with Him. Of course, that obviously doesn’t mean they follow His teachings. And just because someone likes Jesus, doesn’t mean they understand Him. But I digress.

This also reminded me of something I was thinking about a couple weeks ago. For book club we read a ridiculously awful book, The Shack by William P. Young. Not only is it full of dangerous and shaky theology, but the writing was elementary. Although the book as a whole was not very good, one aspect struck me with its truth. In The Shack, the main character (Mack) “meets” God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit in a shack and spends the weekend with them. Mack quickly realizes that he is much more comfortable around Jesus than he is around God. And to Mack, the Holy Spirit is the oddball or just a mostly unknown entity—almost like the third wheel that no one fully understands. But this rings true for me. If I’m honest, I’ve always pictured Christ as my friend and God as the stricter father of my friend. These portraits reminded me of this incorrect notion I have. I can picture Jesus laughing and fishing with friends and lovingly caring for friends who are mourning. But it’s easy to see God as the disciplinarian. The bad cop in the good cop/bad cop scenario. Which is crap. They are the one and same. All three are separate but one. Our God is a God of love, even when we don’t understand Him. A hateful or unloving God would not have sent His son.

Although it is good to be reminded of Christ’s love and good humor, I think we should also remember that He is the same man who drove out the moneychangers and those who were buying and selling in the temple. Yes, He is a loving Savior and God, but He is also righteous. Just liking His personality and agreeing with His “love one another” teaching means nothing unless you put your faith in Him.

Now, after all this rambling, go check out the exhibit’s site and the actual portraits and tell me what you think. Some things to ponder:
-Many Americans would see some of the depictions as silly or too feminine. What does that say about our culture or the culture of the artist?
-Despite the flaws of some of the paintings or historical inaccuracies, do they glorify God? Let’s assume the best and say these are believers who are using their God-given talents and showing Christ to the best of their ability, so would these please God?
-What would your painting look like? How do you picture God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit? A white man with a trimmed beard? A lion named Aslan? A corporate executive sitting behind his desk, dictating the affairs of the world?

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