I grew up in a church that had a tiny chapel just off the entrance: south-facing stained-glass windows, folding chairs and a stage. On the wall was an image of Jesus, the Sallman Head, a 1940 portrait painting in which a brown-eyed Jesus looks up and to the right (stage left). He has no hands.
We children gathered in the chapel for “junior church,” and the sun in the windows shone upon our Savior as we sang our love for him. It tinted his face red – a blushing Jesus. I suspected it was because of our singing.
We were loud.
One of our teachers reminded us, “There’s a difference between shouting and singing.”
She never raised her voice. She always seemed angry.
Every theology is both sexual and political.
A Jesus-head with no hands is intellectual and safely compartmentalized. In a frame. On a wall. Beautiful in the mid-morning light. This Jesus who only receives. This Jesus who never speaks. This Jesus, chin tilted up, eyes open, always looking above. He is transcendent. He is not present.
We sang to him.
We stomped our feet and clapped our hands.
But Jesus never joined us. Never even seemed to care. He had other, more interesting things to occupy his mind. That big, beautiful brain behind a high forehead. We could not wake him.
It made me suspicious. What good is God in a frame?
After all, there is no such thing as a neutral theology.
But I’d been given an immutable God: insensitive to the presence of children – calm in the face of our shouting, indifferent to our praise. And I began to doubt.
My church had set aside children, shunted us off from the sanctuary to sing our songs in a tiny chapel far removed from the meeting for worship. They were unable to see in children the theological partners they needed. There in junior church, we were invisible – entrusted to the care of a two-dimensional Jesus.
But we were the image of Jesus. Joyful. Exuberant. Chaotic. Creative. Loud. We kept forgetting, “There’s a difference between shouting and singing.”
Meanwhile, our parents sat silently in meeting, chins tilted up, eyes closed, waiting. Moved by the rhythm of our distant shouting, they struggled to still their hands.