Cindy Brandt is an old friend who’s guest posted for me in the past. She’s back today to talk one of my favorite subjects – the American Jesus – and the danger of a single story, an epidemic in the American Church that she works to combat in her new book Outside In: 10 Christian Voices We Can’t Ignore which you can pick up for free!! So check out Cindy’s post and them make sure you head over to her book page and pick up your free copy today.
I love the American Jesus. I could sing of my love for the American Jesus forever. In a repetitive chord sequence. I mean, here are a sampling of the things the American Jesus is concerned about: Fox News, Hating Rob Bell, and YOGA PANTS. The American Christian Internet collectively voted for yoga pants to be the champion of a bracket that is appropriately titled: Madness.
As a non American, let me just tell you, “it’s weird, y’all.”
But I love it. Why? Because it’s quirky and fun and over-the-top and sarcastic and earnest all at once. Just as I love my American friends, the American Jesus is terribly endearing. The American Jesus sponsors products that don’t make too much sense to me, but I know they are meaningful to Americans. In a culture that prizes individuality and choice, it is understandable there are Bibles catered to every sub category of society. Your people love home decor, why wouldn’t there be Jesus themed cushion covers and mugs? Americans love entertainment, perhaps that is why your services are structured like it.
Even while it seems ridiculous that American Christianity is caught up in a controversy over yoga pants, when you are immersed in that culture and are able to pick up on the nuances of the conversations, it somehow still makes sense. Like having a quirky relative in the family, we know uncle Bob’s a bit odd, but he’s part of the family anyway. As long as we are able to normalize even the stranger aspects of our culture, everything within the culture comes together to form one, cohesive worldview, and we begin to view this world with this one, singular perspective.
When it comes to the American Jesus, one begins to falsely believe that all there is to Jesus is the American Jesus.
Some people ask me why I engage with American faith and culture when I am neither American or living in America. The answer to that is that I don’t really have much of a choice. I was converted into American evangelicalism, for better or worse. When I walk into a local church or the local Christian bookstore here in Taiwan, from the sermons preached in the pulpit to the Chinese translations of Joel Osteen books, the voice of the American Jesus booms in my ear.
American Jesus, much like America, has a cultural impact and reach in all corners of our global world. This is what is possible when you hold the dominant political, military, and economic power.
The grand irony here is, of course, that while America may represent power, Jesus stands for decidedly the opposite. Jesus is the very incarnation of a God who emptied himself of power. The revolution Jesus began centers on a cross, submitting to power instead of subsuming with power. The first followers of Jesus were mobilized from the margins of society, not the ones wielding control.
So while I celebrate and enjoy the hilarity that is the American Jesus Madness, I also recognize an inherent problem; what author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls, the Danger of a Single Story. When there exists only one, dominant, single story, other stories are erased and silenced. When the American Jesus is the only representation of Jesus, injustice is being committed to the incredible diversity of people who also follow Jesus; from my neighbors here in Taiwan, to the people of Africa, to the communities of South America, and to those who lay outside of mainstream American society.
When the American Jesus leaves no room for the people who don’t hold the dominant, single worldview, Jesus has been subsumed by his American qualifier. Because the Jesus we see in the Gospels came to make room, particularly for those in the margins: the poor, the oppressed, the blind, the imprisoned, for all those who don’t belong.
The immunization against this Danger of a Single Story is an intentional, conscious effort to look beyond the boundaries of the single worldview. To burst the insular bubble that traps us inside of what we have always known.
Those of us who live cross culturally are familiar with the term “culture shock”. The uncomfortable sensation that comes with having our presuppositions about life challenged, of questioning the status quo we’ve taken for granted, and the hard necessity of living differently as a result of the new things we are learning.
Dear American Jesus followers, perhaps it’s time you undergo some shock therapy. Posture yourself to hear the voices of those beyond your worldview and give up the control over the powers you take for granted. Listen up to the different ways other people follow Jesus and just maybe you’ll find there are more than one way to be faithful. Just maybe you will discover how to be even more faithful. Because the other side of culture shock is a new kind of paradise where a profound respect for each other’s differences allow all of us to dig deeper into the wonder and beauty of our common humanity, and marvel at the God who created it all.
I had a chance to fall in love with the American Jesus. Won’t you get to know my view of Jesus?
Author Bio: Cindy Brandt writes about faith in the irreverent, miracles in the ordinary, and beauty in the margins. She is more interested in being evangelized than evangelizing, a social justice Christian, and a feminist. She blogs at cindywords.com, tapping words out from the 33rd floor of a high rise in Taiwan, where she lives with her husband, two children, and a miniature Yorkie.