Friday, December 29, 2006

Jesus is not macho American

I have caught wind of some strange teachings adrift among some of us American Christians. It goes something like this: Jesus shows us all what a real man is. He was an "in your face", strong armed, authoritative, no-nonsense kind of guy, who was not affected by emotions. He was (and one would assume from that, is) the epitome of masculinity.

This way of thinking is not coming from professing Christians who have a low view of Scripture, but those who, like myself, believe the Bible is the inscripturated Word of God. So that we base our lives, and find our story, within this Book, which itself is alive from God.

Worldliness, as in human thinking that is opposed to God's revelation to humankind in Christ and as found in Scripture, affects us all. We're all under the ongoing command not to be conformed to this world, but to be being transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12). I do think that worldliness in some ways is more dangerous among those who are quick to point their finger at other Christians, and who think that they themselves have escaped it, at least in their basic belief (and practice) system. When we think we're in the least danger, or danger is past, then we're in the most danger, is the ring of Scripture to us, again and again.

The Jesus I read of in the Bible is not macho American, or macho anything else. One of my favorite descriptions of Jesus along with an invitation is found in Matthew 11:28-30. Jesus is described there as gentle and humble in heart. The picture I pick up of Jesus, by American standards when judging manliness is probably mixed. Yes, he throws out the money changers in the temple. He probably is the man in his family for awhile, since Joseph seems to fade out of the picture and Jesus is left as "the carpenter" and oldest son.

But Jesus also weeps. He is a man of sorrows. He loves individuals. He is moved with compassion on people and multitudes. He forgives his enemies, including those who spit on him, beat him, and nail him to a cross. And, as we read in the above passage, Jesus is gentle and humble, or lowly in heart.

I am not impressed with the wave of teaching that makes Jesus into a kind of clone, or better put, the epitome of what amounts to an idealized worldly philosophy. While Jesus was and is certainly a human male, he is the pattern, and life, from the Father and by the Spirit, in whom we're all to grow, and take on our new humanity and character. Females and males alike in that. Yes, we're not neutered. But neither are we reduced to an ideal that is really in Adam, and not in our Lord.

I suppose I would like to work more on this. Though I really would do so out of a sense of necessity, and not because of any personal interest I have in it. We're learning, through Scripture, by the Spirit, in community, what Christ-likeness is really like. Let's learn to be content with that. And, in the words of our Master and Teacher, come to him, take his yoke so we can walk alongside of him, and find him lifting our weariness and burdens. He who is gentle and humble in heart. Finding that his yoke is easy; his burden he carries is light. And that we're all in this together with him.

Are you familiar with this teaching or image of Jesus? Does Jesus fit any particular stereotype in your mind? Or in whom do you see his image most clearly? Or, what thoughts would you add to this?

12 comments:

Dan Brennan said...

Ted,

I second your thoughts on this gendered stereotype of Jesus. I suspect the macho image reaction has much to do with the perception that our culture has "feminized" Jesus. His heart though, the depths of his heart as we read in Matt. 11 and see in the Gospels is the pathway out of these polarized stereotypes.

Allan R. Bevere said...

Ted:

Thanks for your comments. I think Jesus presents to boys a perfect role model of what it means to be a strong man that does not exclude tears and compassion and prayer.

We need more male role models like him in the church.

Makeesha said...

allan - so then does he also show girls how to be strong women? Because my understanding from people who push this whole "macho Jesus" crap is that Jesus is a great STRONG role model for STRONG men but apparently has nothing to say to women since women, in their world, aren't supposed to be strong. Apparently, women get the crying and loving side of Jesus and men get the yelling and throwing out the money handlers side.

Poppycock...all of it.

I agree with you Ted and would add that we are, all of us, to live the life of Jesus. A life of passion and sacrifice, giving and loving, weeping and praying, righteous anger and powerful miracles. I think focusing on one gender or another is doing the whole of humanity and Jesus himself a huge disservice.

Ted Gossard said...

Dan, Yes. We can't be in the gospels too much, for me. To try to pick up the spirit and heart there of Jesus.

And by the Spirit we're all being built together towards and unto that fullness of Christ, of who he is.

Ted Gossard said...

Allan, I think the true picture of Jesus as strong man is quite opposed in many ways to the picture of strong man we have in America. It is too inundated with the idealizations of masculinity from secular icons of the past, such as great military leaders, as well as input from some philosophers. And America ends up with our own version.

True manhood as found in Jesus is something radically different and turns this other stuff on its head, to be sure. We need to work more at understanding our identity in terms of Jesus, and his heart expressed in his words and works, surely.

Ted Gossard said...

Makeesha, Thanks for commenting.

I too have trouble with the language of strength. The strength manifested in our incarnational faith, through humanity is so different as to source and in character, compared to that which is idealized in our culture (such as in manly strength as found in a number of our American icons).

God's work in both women and men- in Jesus, can, and should help shake us out of these stereotypes that are really a form of syncretism invading the faith, I'm afraid. We begin to see strength in so many ways in Jesus that have much more to do with love, the love of God, and of humanity. And being servants to all.

Sometimes it can look the same outwardly, in both women and men, but in motive and reality, it is a whole other realm.

Ted Gossard said...

And for us today, this strength comes through taking up our cross, following Jesus in this world, and in that "weakness" seeing God's strength made manifest.

Makeesha said...

absolutely ted. And therein lies my frustration. All this talk about "strength" and "manhood" is totally missing the point. So often (if not all the time), those terms are referencing an American stereotype and caricature and aren't really at all referencing the actually attitudes and behaviors of Jesus. As was mentioned, where in the Bible do we see the "macho Jesus" anyway?

It's fine to tell men that they can still shoot small beasties and ride hogs and follow Jesus if that's their bent. And I have no problem relating to the culture but when it removes people so far from the real Jesus and subsequently removes them from Kingdom living that there is no longer any true identification with our Lord, I get a little annoyed.

Ted Gossard said...

Makeesha, I so much agree with you that we have to speak to this problem, which, of course, is the whole point of this post.

Also God takes us where we are, and moves us towards Christ-likeness. But this does involves critiquing ourselves by the revelation of the Word.

We certainly have to work at living this out, and out of that, being the prophetic voice God calls us to be (can't remember where I was reading about this, lately, but it was good).

Surely there will always be something like this going on in the world. James and John (at times) seem more zealot than Jesus-oriented when they walked with him, but that changed over time- probably decades for John (as was pointed out to me in Scot McKnight's "Embracing Grace: a Gospel for All of Us")

Allan R. Bevere said...

Makeesha:

Yes, I believe that Jesus presents to us a model as well for strong women. I was affirming what Ted said in his post. The idea that masculinity excludes compassion and tears is nonsense. Jesus provides an alternative to men who have been taken in by the "macho" male stereotype.

As a man who is also a husband and a father, I object to the idea that nurture and emotion are somehow feminine characteristics. Why do we portray, for example, motherhood only as being nurturing? Why can't fatherhood be portrayed in the same way as well?

My point simply was that young men in the church lack such male role models because we have bought into the macho image. I want my sons to know that real men do pray. Real men love Jesus. Real men can get emotional about their faith; and none of this suggests that such things imply lack of strength.

Are all these things also true of women and does Jesus present such a model for women? Of course, but I have yet to hear that women praying and loving God is somehow not womanly. I have heard that implied about what it means to be a man. That view needs to be undermined. That was my point.

Makeesha said...

Allan: agreed :)

Ted Gossard said...

Allan, Great explanation and addition to this post!

Thanks to all for the good input.