THE CHURCH: Sanitizing Christ

Sanitizing Christ by Julia Marks

I wonder sometimes – albeit when I’m not in church – about all the colored threads that are so carefully woven into the fabric of the church.  Or the lace that at times borders the altar cloths, the priests garb, the towel.

We really are quite fancy, aren’t we?

If one really wants to overdose on grandiosity all one has to do is visit the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC.  Marble columns bunched like grapes throughout the floors of places to worship, gold highlighting the mosaics in the chapels, papal thrones from various visits.

Jesus was born somewhere in a rejected space.  A place that no one else wanted.

We are big into trinkets.  Little flashes of gold.  Pieces of color that filter the sun’s light.

You’d think that we were a bunch of birds who found these things somewhere in our flight and brought them back to make our nest a fine one.

Or is the reason for such decoration in church a darker one?

Are we trying to send out the message to people that you – yes, you – should be in here with us and the rest of all this stuff because you deserve this.  You want to be here because you want the best for yourself and your family, don’t you?

Only the best.

We provide you with only the best.

Of course, Jesus, that man Jesus, was the one who told his disciples to go and take nothing with them.  Well, they could take a tunic.

He’s also the man who told the young rich man to sell all his possessions.

Churches don’t seem to want to follow this advice.

Instead, we want to proudfully boast of our possessions.  Even our charitable work can become a practice of one-upmanship.

Or, worse, an act of condescension and judgment.

When I get on a when-will-they-give-us-a-Real-Mary kick, which is quite often these days, I wonder why I have never seen a picture of her at the birth of Jesus with her hair tangled and dirty, as it would be after a long trip on a donkey and then having to find a spot to give birth.

And giving birth is not a clean process.  Far from it.

I want a picture of Mary that makes me sense even her body odor, mingled with that of Joseph.  The blood from the afterbirth.  The sweat from the effort of getting to the birthplace and then having to endure the birth itself that has saturated their clothes.

How many hours was Mary in labor?

In the pictures we are shown of her, she does have a glow.  It’s just not the glow that most women refer to when they say, women glow.

No.  Instead of a family camping out with all its potential disarray and stench, we have a scene where clearly someone has come in, cleaned up the mess (which takes buckets and buckets of water to accomplish), not only washed and dried Mary’s and Joseph’s clothes, but ironed them, too.  Fed them.  Obviously.  They’re always smiling.  Contented.

And they’ve slept soundly.  Only fully refreshed humans have such smooth and shining skin.

Or are we supposed to believe that they actually got their baby-genie Jesus out of a magic lamp who then immediately granted their first wish to become beatifically photogenic?

Today there is a great noise about the appropriateness of posting in Christian forums the pictures of Christians who have been killed for their faith.

Decapitated heads sway on lines overhead like darkly-colored balls warning aircraft not to fly this low.

We’re here.  Just handing out.  Literally.

Then there are the pictures of the crucified Christians.  Some laid out after their deaths, looking more like boys after a particularly hard night’s drinking.  Arms and legs askew.  Heads failing to get it straight.


And we are NOT, I repeat NOT, supposed to post these where actual people can see them.

Oh, yeah, it’s all about the children.  These pictures are too horrific.

They’re referring to the same human beings who watch The Texas Chain Saw Massacre on Saturday night, and play Grand Theft Auto.

Poor sweet, innocent things.

I’ll deal with it in prayer, these protective parents argue.  I’ll pray for these people.

I just won’t look at them.


Who would want to look at someone covered with blood, his body profoundly broken?

Someone like Jesus, say.  Before he was entombed.

Our culture has disinfected death right out of our consciousnesses.  Unless it is there for entertainment purposes, we want nothing to do with it.

We don’t even care that the number of unborn children slaughtered is almost that of people killed during World War II.

We forget that this –painful, bloody suffering – is the eye of the hurricane of our faith.

We forget, even, that our faith is a hurricane.

I know someone who refuses to attend a Maundy Thursday service because he won’t admit that Jesus washed the feet of people.

Jesus was the King.  Kings don’t wash the feet of other people.

So Popes sit on thrones, like King Jesus.  And the more pomp and circumstance we offer God and Jesus during a church service, the better.

Except Jesus’s pomp was when he spit on someone to heal him.

His circumstance was rubbing mud in someone’s eyes.

He spoke of kicking dirt off our sandals.

He allowed his men to steal fruit when they were hungry.

He, himself, sat in a desert for more days than we can count comfortably while simultaneously not eating.

Am I overstating my point here?

My response to the argument over these pictures is this:

Instead of turning our eyes away from such images, we should frame them and hang them in our homes and in our churches so that Jesus will get the message that he is truly, and once and for all, welcome.


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