By Lee Karl Palo
© 2013 Lee Karl Palo
I haven’t been writing as much as I would like lately. I lost my job as the manager of the Kirkland Cokesbury Bookstore in February 2013, because the United Methodist Publishing House (UMPH) chose to eliminate their entire Cokesbury bookstore chain (you can still shop with Cokesbury via phone or through Cokesbury.com). Fortunately I received a good severance package from the UMPH. My wife finished her Master’s in Nursing at the University of Washington in March 2013. She then got her dream job in a nurse leadership position starting in August 2013. We are also in the process of selling our house, in order to move much closer to her workplace. That is a lot of change in a short amount of time!
Given all the change, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it takes a long time to adjust to a new role in life. You define your identity in terms of many different things. I hadn’t realized how much my job as a Cokesbury bookstore manager meant to me until it was gone. I had a strong sense of purpose there helping people find resources for their ministries, their devotional time, their personal Bible study, and many other needs they had. The education I have also defines who I am. I used to get asked, given my Seminary education, why I haven’t become a pastor. The short answer is that I didn’t feel God calling me to be a pastor. However, my Seminary education came in very handy working at Cokesbury. I have felt a pull toward writing theology ever since I took my first class on the subject in college. I’ve been working on my book “Ancient Truths: Genesis 1-11” for some time now, and I started this blog as a means to get better at writing as well as to help with publishing the book.
In the midst of all this I have become a father!
Bethany Cecelia Palo was born on June 5, 2013. As a result, I am now a stay-at-home dad. My wife and I made the decision for me to be a stay-at-home dad, knowing that finances would be tight, because our daughter is worth it. Not only have I been in the process of redefining my identity in the wake of losing my job, but I am now learning how to define myself in terms of my new role as a father.
Our society is becoming more tolerant toward those who choose non-traditional roles, but there is still a ways to go, even for being a stay-at-home dad. A stay-at-home parent is still considered more of a feminine role. It wasn’t long after I was in public alone with Bethany that being the primary caregiver for her became a challenge. Bethany could get colicky. Sure I know plenty of ways to soothe her, but sometimes they just don’t work. The challenge? There are some people who have a really hard time with a crying baby in their presence when the baby doesn’t seem to be calming down. I was waiting for my wife in one of the lobbies at the University of Washington Medical Center with Bethany crying almost immediately after she left us to do her errand. One of the staff volunteered to take my baby from me to try to calm her down. That doesn’t make you feel very good to say the least. I had to demonstrate to the staff person that I knew various baby soothing techniques, but that Bethany was inconsolable (colicky) before this staff person would leave. Of course it wasn’t long after that when my wife got back and we could go home. With incidents like that I wonder, am I “allowed” to be something outside of normal male gender roles? Perhaps you can be accepted as a stay-at-home dad if you never “fail” at it in public.
Identity Issues of Jesus
Then I remember that I am not the only one with identity issues. People have had questions about who Jesus was from the beginning (see Mark 8:27-30). Jesus isn’t always easy to define. There are plenty of versions of Jesus out there, from traditional to scholarly reconstructions. It is also fascinating to examine artistic renderings of Jesus. Look up images of Jesus on Google. What are some things that you see? To start, Jesus almost universally has long hair. Additionally, despite being Jewish, Jesus doesn’t look very Jewish. Jesus often looks pretty effeminate. Is this accurate?
Bible scholars generally agree that Jesus would not have had long hair. They note it would be strange for Paul to argue against men having long hair (1 Corinthians 11:14) if Jesus, in point of fact, had long hair. That means, of course, the vast majority of images of Jesus aren’t accurate. However, art isn’t always done for the sake of some type of photographic precision, so there may be other reasons as to why Jesus tends to look effeminate in art.
You can find pictures of Jesus as European, African, Asian, Middle Eastern, and many other ethnicities, even Jewish. One reason for this particular phenomenon may have to do with proclaiming the message that God was one of us. That message can be communicated by representing Jesus as any given ethnicity in order to demonstrate to people of that ethnicity that God became like one of them. Recently Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly actually made the claim that Jesus was white. Could artistic portrayals of Jesus as white have led some people to the conclusion that Jesus was white and not Jewish?
At times Jesus can be portrayed in ways antithetical to who he was in order to point out how absurd some ideas about Jesus are. Take, for example, an image of Jesus holding an assault rifle. Can Jesus be a member of the National Rifle Association? I don’t think so. To support an association that, among other things, defends the right to own weapons designed to kill people would seem odd for someone dedicated to nonviolence like Jesus.
Being a stay-at-home dad now, I am rather fond of pictures of Jesus with children, illustrating Mark 10:13-16 and its parallels in Matthew 19:13-15 and Luke 18:15-17. Jesus valued children, and didn’t think spending time with them was a waste. How then do we portray Jesus in art knowing he was a non-violent healer who loved to spend time with children? Those qualities can sound motherly. Perhaps that is at least part of the answer to why Jesus looks effeminate in art.
Jesus certainly did things that could be considered “masculine.” Standing up to those in power, like the Jerusalem authorities, indicates Jesus had no shortage of bravery. Even so, Jesus confronted the authorities without the use of violence. All through the gospels, when Jesus himself was confronted for his interpretation of Torah, he was able to answer his critics with rhetorical skill reminiscent of the great philosopher Socrates.
So what can be made of these different concepts of Jesus?
Jesus didn’t conform to what we would think of as traditional gender roles. In point of fact he encouraged women to think outside of what would have normally been considered women’s roles (see Luke 10:38-42—also note that for Mary to sit at the feet of a Rabbi like Jesus was to announce her intention to become a Rabbi herself). We grow up learning which roles are masculine and which are feminine, and that saddens me occasionally. People should be free to be who they are, regardless of whether they conform to gender stereotypes. In any case, men and women individually each have their own personalities. I would think it a rare thing for anyone to be exclusively feminine or masculine, rather it seems to me most people have a mix of “male” and “female” gender characteristics.
I don’t need a macho Jesus. I am comforted by Jesus being unafraid to cross gender roles himself. If Jesus could be considered effeminate at times and encourage women to take on traditionally masculine roles, then I feel like Jesus supports me as a stay-at-home parent. I’ll be sure to keep my icon of Jesus that has long hair on display in my home as a reminder.
Thank you Jesus.
© 2013 Lee Karl Palo