There is a line towards the end of Arcade Fire’s “Reflektor” that grabs me each time I listen to the song. It could be that guest David Bowie’s Bowieness (Bowancy?) gives added weight to the line, but it still hits me like a ton of bricks when I see it in text:
Thought you were praying to the resurrector, turns out it was just a reflector
It’s a convicting line because it points a spotlight on a common temptation for people of faith: we project ourselves onto God.
I’ve been mulling over this line a good deal lately because ads for the Son of God movie are unavoidable. And I always get distracted by how white the movie Jesus is, which was not how the actual Jesus would have appeared.
Of course, pointing out that Jesus was not white is beating a dead horse at this point (I googled “Jesus is not white” and it yielded 421 million results). Anyone that has done a modicum of research knows that Jesus was a Palestinian Jew and not a caucasian whose chiseled good looks inspired the Twitter hashtag #HotJesus. Yet a white Jesus is what we have in the movies and I’d bet $10 it’ll happen again.
I don’t think this is malicious on the part of the movie’s producers. Yet it still presents a problem. Like I said earlier, we sometimes turn God into a reflection of ourselves. This Reflector Jesus may have a better physique and be morally perfect, but he looks the way we do. And if looks like us, then he probably thinks like us too.
When people think that Jesus or God thinks the same way that they do is when things get exponentially dangerous. Again, I’m veering into well trod territory. We all know that Jesus is not a white, middle class Republican as Derek Webb once sang. Nor is he embodied by any political party. The vast majority of us would readily agree with this observation. At least that’s what we know we’re supposed to say.
Yet thinking that God thinks how we do and wants what we want happens all the time in ways big and small:
It happens when someone uses the term “true Christians” on secondary and tertiary matters as in “true Christians always believe x" or "true Christians always do y.” As if in 2,000 years of a church that has splintered into in a myriad of directions, this group is the one that has got it figured out and is totally on the same page as God.
It happens whenever cable talking heads take a political hot topic and trump up an us versus them narrative in which God is 100% for “us.”
It happens when we see Christians who disagree with us and wonder to ourselves how those poor folks lost the plot so badly.
It happens when I think that what God wants for my life is exactly what I want.
It turns out we’re all praying to just a reflector.
The Resurrected Jesus pulls us out of this crap. He revives us from these us versus them narratives. He breaks the chains of sin. He saves us from the grave of arrogance. He helps us see that God is far bigger than we could imagine. As a result, our compassion and our love expands past the boundaries of ourselves and our tribes. The Resurrector brings life in a way that makes our head explode.
The Reflector God is safe. The Resurrector is challenging; calling us to die and live anew. The Reflector makes God just a better version of us. The Resurrector calls us to be more like God.
I am lucky that a flawless conception of God is not what leads to salvation. I would be in serious trouble. Yet I am called and we are called to seek God with our entire being. And if we stop assuming that we’re squarely on God’s side about everything, I can only hope that some those little reflectors will shatter. Not all of them of course, because none of us will have it completely figured out. But perhaps then we’ll find ourselves more fully praying to and following the Resurrector.