“Restoration” of Jesus “Portrait” Goes Wrong

Anyone seen this article in the NY Times yet?

Botched Restoration of Ecce Homo Fresco

(Hope the link works. It was kinda iffy when I clicked over there)

Three versions of "ecce homo" fresco

Three versions of “ecce homo” fresco. Left to right, the original painting by Elías García Martínez, 19th Century; a deteriorated version; the restored version by Cecilia Giménez.

This article was actually brought up on my writing forum today, and I had to share. Reactions there, among Christians, atheists, agnostics, and people of many different religions, were anything from horror to hysterical laughter to eye rolling. I was one of the laughers, actually, and I mean slap-my-thigh-and-rock-back-and-forth laughter. I had to wonder, Did Jesus chuckle over it, too? Did he applaud the woman?

I could only see the humor in this after having read Beautiful Outlaw. Otherwise, I might have been just as scandalized as the people of Spain. I laughed as hard at the “restoration” as I did at the original. In fact, the original makes me cringe — far more than the restoration. Wait, I said, does he look happy, wistful, to have that crown of thorns pressed into his skin? Where’s the blood that poured out for us? Wait, there it is, one little drop on his forehead. This particular pose must have taken place before the floggings, or maybe the floggings just tickled a bit. And the mockery? Na-na-na-boo-boo, said the Romans. What kind of truth is the original supposed to be portraying anyway?

If you can’t tell, it’s the original painting that scandalizes me. And the world’s treatment of this poor lady who dared reach out a hand and attempt to recreate that silly, beloved portrait. What kind of hate mail is she receiving today? How are her neighbors treating her? Shatter the world’s perceptions of Jesus and we might as well move to Mars.

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Holy, Holy, Holy

I was driving around town on some errands the other day, which to me is the best time for worship. It’s just him and me and great music. Besides, singing Jesus songs keeps my mouth in check when I want to berate, ahem, certain drivers who aren’t driving very wisely. But that’s a tangent.  So there I was driving and singing, and yet another song comes over the airwaves about Jesus’s holiness. I remembered a passage from Beautiful Outlaw some chapters back in which John Eldredge explores Jesus’s cunning. How Jesus knew what to say and do to win hearts, win change in people’s lives, and avoid capture before the right time came. But like so much else about Jesus’s faceted personality,  “cunning” is overlooked.

A passage reads:

…do we love Jesus for his cunning? I don’t recall a worship song with the word cunning in it. “Thou Art Cunning,” or “Cunning, Cunning, Cunning.” Do we interpret his actions in our lives as perhaps part of some cunning plan? That delayed answer to prayer–is there something brilliant  about the timing? Would it help us rest if we thought so? When he answers our prayers with “No,” do we see him sparing us some unseen danger? And when it comes to our own “imitation of Christ,” do we approach our days wondering, How would Jesus have me be snakelike today?

p. 104

Now, the point of quoting this thought-provoking passage is my meditation on our worship of him. The list of songs goes on and on: “He is Holy” by David Crowder or “You Are Holy” by Hillsong, etc, etc, etc. I had to laugh, plugging in “cunning” and “playful” and “generous” and “scandalous” where the songwriter wrote “holy.” And it got me to wondering “Why do we focus on Christ’s holiness to the point that the rest of who he is, the rest of his personality, is whitewashed and forgotten?”

tiggerThe thought stayed with me till I was out of the chaos of mid-day traffic and safely back home, and the answer was so obvious that I felt rather silly. The answer came out of a Tigger song: “Because he’s the only one.” There are plenty of human beings who are cunning, in both good and bad ways. There are plenty of playful people and generous people and scandalous people. But there are no other holy people. Not truly “holy” in the terms of “never having sinned, not once, ever, so that God the Father deemed you worthy of saving all the rest of us kind of holy.” So I  guess it’s no surprise that it is this quality that we have clung to above all the rest.

While it makes Jesus more approachable to realize that he is, in fact, playful and generous and had suffered the same weariness after a long journey, the same grief when family members die, and had to learn to tie his sandals and shape wood with splintered hands, it is this singular holiness that makes him worthy of our regard at all. Otherwise, what would set him apart from the rest of us? He had a mission, he used his cunning to get it done, but it was the holiness, the sinlessness, that made the end result possible.

What if … what if, after forty days of eating nothing, he had given in to that extreme and very human hunger and heeded Satan’s suggestion: Turn these stones to bread. Just a little thing. Who will know?

I don’t like to contemplate where we would all be then. So next time I drive around town on my errands, I will happily praise Jesus’s holiness with the rest.

A Rock of Offense

Our small group has progressed only as far as Chapter 7 in Beautiful Outlaw, but it is finally new material for me. I had only gotten halfway through this chapter when we decided to read it as a group and I started over, so here we go…

The chapter is called “Disruptive Honesty,” and it deals with Jesus’s very pointed words where people need them most and when, and the internal turmoil it causes us as individuals. Near the end of the chapter, Eldredge dives into the matter of Christ being the one and only salvation of the soul. He discusses it at length, no glossing here, amen. Really now, how offensive is it to read, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father but through me” (emphasis mine)? What an enormous point of contention. That cuts out every other beloved, enlightening philosophy humankind has ever cleaved to. As Eldredge states, “Offensive as the claim may be, we still have to deal with it. Either it is arrogant, or it is true.” (p. 76)

This chapter brought to mind something I heard in a sermon many years ago. The preacher said, “Everywhere Jesus went, he caused people to choose. Jesus always presents us a choice. Either we believe, or we don’t. Either we do what he says, or we don’t.” There’s no middle ground there. Middle ground with Jesus is not possible. This is very out of fashion in our modern, Western way of thinking. Eldredge goes on to elaborate this point:

 “The spirit of our day is a soft acceptance of everything—except deep conviction in anything. …The cry used to be for ‘tolerance,’ by which we meant, ‘We have very strong differences, but we will not let those be the cause of hatred and violence between us.’ Now it is something else. … Conviction might be a matter of personal opinion, but truth is like a great mountain, solid and immovable whether we like it or even acknowledge it. Christianity is not a set of convictions—it is a truth. The most offensive thing imaginable.” (p. 79)

In his letter to the Romans, Paul quoted Isaiah 8:14: “I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense” (Rom. 9:33). We cannot encounter Jesus without choosing. Yes. No. Having to choose makes us uncomfortable, so we ignore the issue (or try to snuff it out) as much as humanly possible. Even those who already believe are being asked to act on something, somewhere, with someone. Yes. No. Ignoring him is the same as saying, “No.” Saying, “Maybe,” is the same as saying, “No.”

Old Picket Fence

“Old Picket Fence” by Sarah M Wolfe Photography, 2008

People tend to live quite comfortably on fences. I live there often myself. Concerning politics, to make certain investments with my time and energy, to speak tough love to someone, to listen to tough love that someone is speaking into me. But about the state of my soul? My eternity? That’s just too important. “Maybe” is easy, but it doesn’t go the distance. “Maybe” spares us discomfort, but it doesn’t resolve anything. “Maybe” Jesus is who he says he is. “Maybe” I have a soul. “Maybe” it will live on for eternity when my body dies. “Maybe” once I’m dead, I’m just dead and it won’t matter anymore. Maybe.

Sort it out. Yes. Or no. We cannot afford to waver on this one.

“God is Happy …”

One of my favorite lines comes from Out of Africa. One night, lions attack the Baroness Blixon’s cattle drive, and she and her drovers have to chase off the lions with whips while fighting their way through the fence of briars they had set up. Afterward, one of the cows is found dead, while thorns have to be plucked from the Baroness’s skin. It’s then that Farrah, her right-hand man, says, “God is happy, Msabu. He plays with us.”

This statement has been rolling around in my head the last couple of weeks, ever since I dived back into the opening chapters of Eldredge’s Beautiful Outlaw. It’s been revolutionary (and refreshing)  to read that God has a sense of humor. That he can be included in our laughter. That he gave us laughter in the first place, and that he created things so that we would laugh with him. Take a gander:

platypus-healesville-sanctuary

Platypus, photo by Healesville Sanctuary

panda-upsidedown-unknown

Panda by Unknown Photographer

Fennec Fox by In Cherl Kim

Fennec Fox by In Cherl Kim, 2009

I mean, is any of this really necessary? How freeing to look at the world with a little less sobriety.

Exploring Jesus…

I am so excited! Our small group decided to read John Eldredge’s Beautiful Outlaw for our next study. Reading it on my own, I managed to make it to Chapter 6. I can’t wait to read those first six chapters again. Eldredge’s pages and insights have already caused my Savior to become a real person to me and have allowed me to love Jesus like I never thought possible.

beautiful outlaw coverWe just finished our study on Francis Chan’s Forgotten God, which is all about the Holy Spirit, a perfect follow-up to the study on Acts that we did last autumn. How wonderful then to dive into exploring Jesus next.

Okay, so this gives a hint about how really real Jesus has become lately. While gearing up to write that tough second or third part of my testimony, I shot up a quick prayer, and these were my words: “Okay, I need a little help here, hun.” I paused and had one of those ‘ahem’ moments. Did I just called Jesus “hun”? Why, yes. Yes, I did. Was that irreverent? If so, it wasn’t intentional. Did he get a kick out of it? Probably so. So that got me to thinking about the terms of endearment Mary might’ve used during their intimate, domestic moments, at a dinner table, as they walked from one town to the next. What did Jewish mothers of the first century call their sons? That’s between them, I suppose.

Point is, exploring who Jesus really is during the coming weeks is going to provide one intimate moment after another. Nothing else will compare.