The Many Faces of Christ

September 6, 2006

Continuing on the lines of my last few posts, I’ve been thinking about the diversity of Christianity.

The quote from the Daniel Groody book, Border of Death, Valley of Life, that I keep referring to is one that I think is going to be a staple of my ministry:

Preaching humility to the powerless is enslaving, while preaching humility to the empowered is liberating.

This quote has just been haunting me for weeks.  I just keep imagining some of my favorite visitors on this site who keep telling me that I need to be more humble, and that in humility I will find Christ and salvation.  What they are really telling me, of course, is that their experience has been to find Christ/salvation through humility.  Perhaps they are white, straight, relatively wealthy males– the empowered, so to speak.  I realize that their experience of Christ through humility must be very real to them.  The theology of sacrifical atonement, something horribly abusive and spiritually repugnant to me, is in their eyes the central crux of Christianity.  It has taken me some time to realize that sacrificial atonement is not “incorrect”- it is just one of many faces of Jesus that I cannot see because it is not a road I have travelled.  A face perhaps reserved for those who need to relate to him through humility because they have experienced little of it in their daily lives.

Then I imagine the experience of the undocumented immigrant described in Groody’s book.  I imagine the brokenness of coming to the realization that one lives in such poverty in one’s homeland that one must make a life-threatening journey across a wasteland, across a border where one might be hunted as human prey, into an unwelcoming country where one might be treated as an outcast, unwanted, and somehow less-than-human hired slave, who should somehow be grateful to have the privilege of even existing in this “wonderful” land.  Then I think of that same immigrant meeting the Christ of the gospel- the Christ who liberated the poor and gave them strength.  I realize that the Christ of liberation, empowerment and strength must be very real to them.  Liberation theology, while repugnant to some, is natural and flows directly from scripture to me.  It is a road I have walked; a face I have seen.  This face is a face of Christ which also exposes Christians to something they do not experience in their daily lives:  strength, nourishment, courage, pride, and self-esteem– and hope for liberation from oppression.  This face might be difficult to see for someone who is already empowered.

My mind jumps.  As a good church webmaster, I’m familiar with many church parish websites.  My mind skips to St. David’s Austin.  Their web site opens with the “Many Faces of Christ.”

We so often only see the face we want to see, or can only see from our relative point of view.  Just as I said yesterday, it seems to me that so much of what divides us within the body of Christ- indeed within the Episcopal Church and within the Communion, is that we are short-sighted in our view of Christ.  We find one view of Christ- one face.  We then, rather than observing the many other ways in which Christ may work to come and meet people on their own unique journeys and in their own special places, decide that they too should meet Christ in the same place- see the same face that we have seen.  What a mistake.  The result is more brokenness.  In our humanness- our genuine desire to help others, we end up hurting them by becoming too rigid about how we should help.  I think that’s what Jesus was trying to tell the Pharisees and the Saducees.

The result?  Exclusion of gays and lesbians.  Of the orthodox.  Of women in leadership.  Schism in the church.  Spiritual abuse.  Religious war, even.

Rather than embracing the pluralistic Christ, who tells us that he has sheep in many flocks, we try to box him in nice and tidy.  It just doesn’t work.

Treating the symptom won’t work (the GLBT “issue”, the “new” prayer book, etc.).  To solve this problem we must treat the root cause and understand that diversity in experience and understanding of Christ is a core component of Christianity.



5 Responses to “The Many Faces of Christ”

  1. […] Catherine Thiemann, a member of St. Paul’s Cathedral in San Diego, has written a piece entitled By Their Fruits You Shall Know Them:  An Analysis of AAC and Network Activities.  It makes an excellent companion to my last post on The Many Faces of Christ. […]

  2. Catherine Thiemann Says:

    Wonderful essay. One of the things about Christianity that used to wear me down was the sense that there was only one right way to believe, think, and live. I am endlessly grateful to the Episcopal Church, and particularly to St Paul’s Cathedral San Diego, for welcoming all of us, wherever we are on our spiritual journeys.

    Blessings to you on your journey, Jeff.

  3. […] Just as I believe so fervently, and articulated here, I don’t believe God ever works in just one way.  If the text only has one meaning, what makes Holy Scripture different from any other text?  What makes it sacred? […]

  4. Jeff Says:

    Thanks, Catherine. I loved your paper too- its obvious you put a lot of work into it and it is so appreciated!


  5. […] This is pluralism.  To me this means that the doctrine of Sacrificial Atonement can both be true and not true.  Jesus comes to meet us where we are, not the other way around.  See my post on this topic. […]

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