Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Monkey Jesus, Colossians, and the Illusion of Appishness

Have you heard about the monkey Jesus?[1]

The story goes like this:

A fresco of Jesus[2] in a small Spanish town was in tough shape. 

So an 80 year old armature artist took it upon herself to repaint it…horribly.  Now, Jesus looks like a caricature of a gibbon.  Or, maybe, a bonobo is the most generous connection to human likeness we can muster.  “Ecce Mono.”[3]

It became a tourist attraction generating tens of thousands of visits to the town and the town council wanted to keep it like it is, while others wanted to engage an art professor (Prof. Maria Gomez) from Valencia[4] to have it restored. 
And the whole time I read this story, I kept thinking of Colossians.  It is a fantastic metaphor for Col 3:9-10 which describes part of the Christian project as ‘renewing the image of God’ by ‘putting off’ and ‘putting on.’

Col 3:9-10 “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.”
Let me explain[5]…no, let me sum up.[6]

Metaphor 1: We are the Painting
God created us in his image (in this metaphor, we are the painting of Jesus).

We started out as the likeness of God but our choices and the destructive powers of a broken world and pernicious spiritual forces have made it a faded, damaged, partial image.  We are a picture of Jesus barely recognizable in the wake of the abuse of others and our own neglect.

Through the work of Christ and the power of the Spirit, the personal[7] spiritual project he has handed us is to restore his damaged image by removing the years of soot and dirt and carefully restoring his image.  To ‘put off’ the things that will continue the degradation and carefully practicing the things that will revive the likeness and ‘put on’ new carful brush strokes that rehabilitate our appetite for truth and beauty and love and justice.

Metaphor 2: Our response is often like the armature artist.

But recovering an image is hard.  So instead, we paint a new picture, we cover over the image of Christ with a hackish picture of our own apishness.  Instead of a careful pursuit of restoring the faded image of God, we surrender to a self assessment of cartoonish primate.[8]

Metaphor 3: Prof. Maria Gomez as the Holy Spirit

In this story, the Spirit is Prof. Maria Gomez who lets us know that defacing the image of God with a hackish apish image is not final.  It can be fixed.  But the longer you wait the harder it will be. 

Metaphor 4: The Town Counsil as ‘the powers’

But the city council also has a spiritual analog in this metaphor.  They are ‘the powers’.  The forces: cultural and economic and spiritual that are invested in our apishness and our darkly comical self assessment and who are incentivized to encourage us to get comfortable with the new look. 
And so we have to ask?  Are we satisfied with apishness?  Or are we tired of the farce?  Are we ready to commission the Spirit to apply the solvents and get to the hard work of restoring the image of our Creator on the canvas of our lives?

This post was written while listening to The Crane Wife by the Decemerists

(Was there really another choice?)

[1] In college I did a lot of walking up to strangers and trying to talk to them about Jesus.  This was awkward.  No one liked it.  They hated it.  I hated it.  I’m pretty sure, in retrospect, that Jesus wasn’t a fan either.  But I was always trying to find an opening question that would make the whole thing less awkward.  This isn’t it.
[2] Called ‘Ecce Homo’ after the exchange between Pilate and Jesus (‘behold (the) man’) but also the name of Nietzsche’s craziest book.
[3] Behold the monkey.
[4] Oh, Valencia (I’d never seen the video…classic Decemberists.  Is it comic? Is it dark? Well, yes.  Not unlike 'Ecce Mono'.)
Still just about the most perfect album from start to finish.
[5] In the words of another famous Spaniard.  By the way, did you know that Inigo Montoya was Saul from Homeland?
[6] It is, after all, a blog.
[7] He has also called us to be agents of restoration the rest of his creation.
[8] Note: Anyone who has followed this blog for a while knows I buy the evolutionary narrative.  But our material origins are only part of the story.  We are God’s half way critters, which is part of what makes us so remarkable.  We have citizenship in the animal kingdom and in the spiritual realm, something that is not true of wombats or angels, ducks or demons.  Only us…and Jesus (the stunning turn of events in which God himself joined us redemptively in this cosmically unique status as half way critters).  We are primates, but we are God’s ensouled primates.  And part of the Christian project is to transcend our primateness and grow into our spiritual be more than hairless bonobos.   For more on how I think this all works out, say tuned.  I have two (highly experimental) posts on the interaction between theological and physical anthropology (Adam, Eve and bonobos) pretty much ready to go…including “Could Jesus have been a lizard?” 

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