Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Black Jesus Church

On my quest to find some semblance of a spiritual home (or at least resting place), today I took the advice of my lovely bff Phyllis Tickle, who is convinced that I'm Anglican, to check out the Anglican Communion.

At first I resisted the notion. "I am NOT (insert nebulous idea of what it is to be Anglican here) Anglican, " I said to myself. But she insisted that I had all the hungers, and all the sensibilities. She's been Anglican a long time. I'm sure she knows what she's talking about. And I totally trust her.
Still, I was a little annoyed because wasn't it hard enough to have to figure out if I were Orthodox or Catholic? And now this!

I took a hard look at my life and realized I have several deliciously marvelous Anglican friends, who I want to be just like when I grow up. I have more of DMAFs that Roman Catholic friends. And frankly, I have no Byzantine Catholic friends at all. Maybe she was right! And what a tragedy it would be to be Anglican and not even know it.

So I began to seek my inner (and outer) Anglican.

I've been thinking of providing practical ministry to the housing project where I lived for some of my childhood. You wouldn't BELIEVE what it looks like now. I'm beginning to think social justice begins at home, literally, and there's much to be said about a church home right where you live. So, I looked for an Anglican Church in Inkster, and believe it or not, for a town six miles square, I found one.

Every city has it's mythology. Inkster is no exception. Said Anglican church is called St. Clements Episcopal Church (see piccha above). I've never been to a service there, but I'm going to venture to say that it's probably predominately African American (Inkster is very segregated. We just don't mix it up like all that). Now, I could be wrong about St. Clements members, and if I am I'll gladly report back. So think of this African American Episcopal church in the heart of Inkster. And the mythology attached to it? Weeeeeeell, all my life people who don't go to St. Clements Episcopal church has called it, Black Jesus Church.

While yes, they're (most likely) an African American congregation, I don't think they worship a decidedly "colored" Jesus. Like him:

He looks great, doesn't he? Look how good those dreadlocks look, even with the crown of thorns. His face is sober, yet approachable. I could totally understand a few 8x10's of Him dotting the walls.

They didn't promote an image of Christ like this one either. You gotta admit, he looks awfully nice. He's got a toddler, and some daisies or something. It's easy to believe a God who digs small children and gives people flowers loves you and has a wonderful plan for you life.

I'm definitely not seeing the St. Clements faithful getting into this black Jesus. Though the cornrows look like a whole lot of fun. He's smiling, too. I dig the more upbeat images here. For people who have been historically subjugated in America, and who battle disparaging stereotypical images in the media, I think we're pretty positive about how we view Jesus. And to me, that testifies of the hope and resilience we found on these shores in Jesus Christ, who we didn't, from the start, get the most fair picture of.

So, why is St. Clements called Black Jesus Church?

Well, I'll tell you.

You can't see if from the piccha, but on the side of St. Clements Episcopal church there is a





He's been there as long as I can remember. Hanging with his arms over his head like he was literally crucified on a tree. He's immense! Powerful! Stylized and sharp angled, wearing a modest robe with hood. For the 'hood? I dunno, but you can't help but be impressed by him. He's legend in Inkster.

When I moved back here in August, St. Clements was having their Vacation Bible school. They invited all the kids in Inkster in that age group to attend for free. I'd loat my flier in the craziness of living out of boxes. So, when I asked my neighbor Mickey if he still had his flier for the program at St. Clements he said:

"You mean the kid's thing at Black Jesus church?"

"Um hmm."

Black Jesus Church.

What was I thinking calling it St. Clements, especially when talking to somebody who was old!?

When I was a teenager, we had a terrible storm here. One of those numbers where the sky turns green. Lemme tell you, beloved reader, a green sky always means trouble. But not for Black Jesus. He got a little bit jacked up, but in the end, when a lot of property was damaged all over town, Black Jesus still stood! My brother took a piccha of him after the storm! Wish I had it to show you.

If he hadn't already been hanging there crucified already, I could imagine him raising a single, black fist in the air. He'd triumphed over the elements! Black power, for real!

I don't know why, but in the materials I collected today, and from a peek at the online history they give of the church on their website, nobody mentions that big, honkin' black Jesus.


Not how long he's hung there. Was he there from the very beginnings of the budding parish? A gift that came later? I dunno. And why can't you see Him on the church's piccha!? No photo of Him in the parish photos on the website, either.

Maybe it's taken for granted that everybody in Inkster knows he's there. Maybe they're a little salty that people call their parish Black Jesus church, totally dissin' it's patron saint. While there is a drawing of him on a flier, I could get no satisfaction finding any history of him.

Still. You gotta love something that homey and delightful. I plan to attend Holy Eucharist on Sunday morning. Maybe someone will tell me about him then.

Or not.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Pax et Bonum!


paula clare said...

Dear Sistuh,
I am oh so thrilled you are going to check out the Black Jesus Church...perhaps you'll discover, if nothing else, that you are NOT Anglican? Or maybe you'll discover you ARE...either way, it sounds like a totally cool place to hang on a Sunday mornin...

DO keep us posted! Blessings!(OH and take YOUR camera so you can get a shot of the "black Jesus" to share with the blogging world!)


paula clare said...

(This is the post I WANTED to leave, but feared inciting a riot...Ms. Thang assures me that it's perfectly fine to post my remarks...if any of you take issue...take it up with HER. teehee)

First of all, it cracked me up SO MUCH to read about Jesus being "all jacked up" during a storm. HA! I wonder if that'd be an accurate paraphrase of the scriptural account of Jesus walkin on the water?

Annnnnnnnnnnnnnyhoo, while I TOTALLY understand (BELIEVE ME, I DO) the need to have an approachable Jesus (lest the pale, milquetoast version thrown before us for centuries be considered the REAL Jesus) Having been raised to believe Jesus was a guy with a hammer, waiting to clobber me when I did something wrong...ANY version of him sans a policeman's "cloak" is preferable!

I've always thought tho, unless a painting depicts Jesus as a Hebrew looking dude, it's not only inaccurate, but it's (in my mind) reversing the process of "imago dei" (the image of God). Is it an attempt to make make HIM in OUR image, instead of US taking on HIS?

It's no big deal when I see a painting of a black Jesus (or the puny white guy for that matter) I mean, I don't get all pissy about it or nothing, but I always think, "He DIDN'T look like that...a HEBREW does NOT look like that) (although I grant you a Hebrew looks MUCH closer to a bruttha than that frail, milky, blue eyed white guy!)

Anyway, these are just one sistuh's rambling thoughts on the issue. I am NOT saying (lest you hear a critical tone in this that is NOT there) that you can't/shouldn't/mustn't have your paintings and images of a black Jesus. If they bring you comfort and hope, then by all means...

I guess (in my old age) I have grown weary of BOTH extremists views of Christ: head-thumper and home boy. I just want ACCURATE (and I DO realize how very UN artistic that sounds). I can appreciate art for what it is, and I do not condemn nor believe that art should "succumb" to ANYONE's preferences...

I'm just given you my "heart" on the matter, dig?

So do you hate my guts now? teehee

Love you, sister!

ragamuffin diva said...

And this is what I shared with sistuh Paula Clare:

I see the true Christ physically, as the ancient near East Hebrew that He was. Images of Christ, like icons, are merely windows into heaven. They are meant to give you a glimpse of the divine. In fact, Byzantine Iconograpy is made according to traditional specifications. Small noses. Very thin figures. These are meant to teach us about what is important in the kingdom of God, such as denying self, and point us toward our best life in Christ.

All cultures have represented Christ in their likeness, which I think, psychologically, is a good thing. For African Americans who had the blonde, blue-eyed European Jesus forced upon them, a black Jesus is liberating, if not literal.

Black Jesus church's sculpture is not so much representative of a Jesus of African descent, but rather, the work of art is LITERALLY black.

Lola said...

Personally, I would stay with Holy Orthodoxy, with the backing of its tradition supported by the Church Fathers. And the fact that no matter which Orthodox church I go in the United States or Uganda or Russia, I can rest assured that that the bishops will be in union theologically. It matters not what skin color Jesus had, it matters that he is the Word of God come to reside amongst us.

You need to take a more close look at just how united the Anglicans/Episcopalians are, and whether they agree with each other theologically. I'll just say that I'm glad I don't have to deal with bishops who teach and commit actions contrary to what Jesus Christ said, and what is laid out in the Ten Commandments. No, I'm not going to point out such actions, I leave it to you to do the research (hint - there are several bloggers that have covered the past Episcopalian conferences and said issues).

ragamuffin diva said...

Thanks for commenting, Lola.

Almost every Orthodox Christian I know has said that to me. Believe me.

But I think there are some fine orthodox Anglicans. I haven't made any decisions about what I'll do yet, but I can say that I believe orthodoxy exists within and without the Eastern Orthodox church.

There is only one organic Body of Christ. Holy, and Catholic. Bigger than East and West.

That's my humble opinion.

upwords said...

You are killing me...and not softly either. In a minute I'm going to need my inhaler. I can't breathe I'm laughing so hard.

Elysa said...

And just a comment from the peanut gallery...I think its totally alright to admire and want to "grow up to be like someone" in another stream of the faith yet not be compelled to change to that "flavor" of Christianity.

My favorite heroes of the faith and well-knowns that I really love and admire are Catholic, Presbyterian, Orthodox (you;) ), and even a Baptist or two. But that doesn't mean I can't love being in my rock and roll, non-denominational, evangelical church.

Love you, sweetie!

Sala Kahle,

Marie4thtimemom said...

"Big, honkin' black Jesus" was the line that made me spray my monitor. ROFL!!!!

'K, for what its' worth, I agreed with both Paula clare's 2nd comment and your response Mair. Or maybe I just read them both too fast to get any dichotomy, nobody's really disagreeing with anybody else, but just talking about cultural images of Jesus. Right?

And this probably isn't worth much either, but I much prefer Frances Hook's portrait of Christ to the famous Sallman one. JMHO, of course; and I know J.I. Packer has a point when he wrote we shouldn't make images of Christ because we tend to see them as representational rather than symbolic, and that demeans His deity. I get him. I do. But I still like Hook's artwork, not to mention Blackshear's "Forgiven".

Yup, Jesus has been portrayed in some ridiculously non-Hebraic ways. The children's picture Bible I got (circa 1980) took the biscuit in that regard - He was painted as having brilliantly blue eyes and bright blond, chin-length hair. He was so white He made ME look swarthy (and if I don't wear foundation, people ask me if I'm feeling well - I'm that pale). The whole effect was to transform the Lord into a Norwegian-viking dude minus the horned hat. Most of the Apostles were at least brunettes, but even they all looked like a troupe of Irish step-dancers - not Semitic at all.

Ah, but I am a good one for splitting hairs on weighty biblical matters; aren't I.

Hey, that's a great idea to visit a new church! Maybe worship there will "click" for you; maybe it won't, but no harm done. I'm sure you'll find a church home that's a great fit, but wherever you go, keep your Jesus Freak flag flying and you'll be fine. You rock, Claudia Mair!

ragamuffin diva said...

One reason I love you so much, Marie, is because I think we entered each other's life in just the right time, and give each other balance.


Cranmer49 said...

"He was painted as having brilliantly blue eyes and bright blond, chin-length hair."

You're describing the famous "Jesus of the Y", so named because this particularly unfortunate painting hangs over the fireplace of many of the YMCAs in the country.

Great blog, btw.

Marie4thtimemom said...

Actually, it was this Bible:

I didn't know that about the YMCA. Of course, I'd never heard of this "Buddy Jesus" thing until 2 days ago, either....but knowing George Carlin is involved, it somehow doesn't surprise me.

I think we all secretly wonder what Jesus looks like. It's only on Mair's blog we can freely admit it. LOL