Pastoral Ponderings: I like that phat Jesus

Jesus was most awesome, so says Robin King in this week’s religion column

Is that still a cool word to use, “phat?” It means excellent, cool, awesome. It’s african-american slang that comes out of the beginnings of hip hop music in the late 1970s and early ’80s. Like, “a phat beat” means a really cool tune.

Yeesh, trying to explain the meaning of cool slang terms starts to sound really ridiculous. But there it is. I’m not making it up. Google it or check the Oxford Dictionary. Yes, it made the Oxford Dictionary.

So, I think Jesus is most definitely phat. Really, because I believe that Jesus is excellent, cool and awesome. I also think he was pretty hip for his day and his ability to connect with people was, in part, due to his openness to communicating in a way they’d understand. He could be the light of the world to those who felt in the dark. He could be bread to the hungry and water for the thirsty. He told stories that used contemporary images and metaphors that people would understand in their own context. Farmers heard about sowers and vineyards, people who fished heard about, well, fish.

That’s also why you will probably not ever hear me say that Jesus is phat. It’s just not my language or my image. And that’s the point. We need to image Jesus, describe Jesus and tell Jesus’ stories with language, images, metaphors that we understand. That’s what Jesus did.

It’s important, of course – and I’m grateful – that we have so much scholarship and study that illuminates the meaning of the things Jesus did and said in the first century. In Roman occupied Judea. With a variety of very different kinds of people. But, rather than simply explaining things, couldn’t we use that scholarship to create images and metaphors for our own time? Jesus built relationships with people where they were, how they where. Wouldn’t we deepen our relationship with Jesus if we owned the images, metaphors and language of the stories?

Take this Sunday, the last Sunday of the church year before Advent begins. In many denominations, it’s referred to as Reign of Christ or Christ the King Sunday. The theme reflects the idea that it’s Jesus that should rule our lives, not the secular world. The world would be a very different place if it were Jesus’ kingdom.

Even as I write that, I think that needs way more explanation. To Jesus, that meant serving others, loving and caring and empowering people. It was never about power over others, never about how we might understand that image of a king. That’s presuming you have an image of a king in mind beyond fairy tales, knights and the historical royalty the world has experienced. There’s few places where there’s a king or queen that rules. You’re more likely to find countries with dictators, but then, that might be a similar image. My last name is King and I can’t really relate to this image of Jesus. It needs unpacking and explaining.

When you imagine Jesus, what do you see? There’s no physical description in the bible and yet, in the west, we’ve tended – until recently – to portray Jesus as a pale, white european male with brown or blond hair and blue eyes. Not at all what a first century Judean Jew would look like, but, yes, what we would look like. The dominant part of society, that is. And there’s the problem.

I think we do need to image Jesus in a way that’s meaningful to us. But we can’t insist that’s the only image and we can’t say that’s the only way to embody Jesus. I believe I’ve seen Jesus, and been inspired by Jesus, in a host of people in my life. Colour, gender, shape, style shouldn’t matter except in how it helps you relate to what’s in the heart. And hearing other people’s ways of imagining Jesus may even open a door and being us closer.

So you’ll probably never hear me talk about phat Jesus. Although, I might say it and mean something else. I do have an idea that Jesus shared a lot of his teaching and built a lot of relationships over food. I know he walked a lot, but I also wonder if he might have been a little more husky than slim. I like food and I don’t walk enough. Wonder if Jesus looked like me?

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