Much of the wide diversity in church life comes from the ways we see Jesus. There are different lenses through which we view the central figure of our faith.

In his new novel, South of Broad, Pat Conroy has his fictionalized characters driving into the mountains of western North Carolina. The great phrase-turner tells of passing little white churches where “they worship a fiercer Christ than I do.”

Through years of study, ministry and simple observation, I’ve seen the portrait of Christ painted in many shades and textures.

Some look to the philosopher Jesus. He is compelling, rational, insightful and convincing. He may be strong in debate or a meek storyteller with a lamb in hand.

Some see Jesus the Judge, primarily. An emphasis on Jesus as judge often leads those who embrace such an image to enjoy the role themselves. He is taking names; kicking behinds. This is the sheriff who patrols our lives looking for each and every infraction.

The street Jesus moves among the neediest. He cleans up the messes of life. Compassion is his defining mark.

Pieces of these images and others are found throughout the Gospels.

My earliest mental images of Jesus were shaped by the physical renderings on my grandmother’s walls as well as the ones that moved across flannelgraph boards in the children’s department at church.

Over the years the portraits have changed for me — depending on what scripture I was reading or what experiences were happened in my own life. None of us has him pegged just right.

But we do know that Jesus was offensive enough to be targeted for elimination. And loving enough to endure it.

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