After inspecting the skin on his forearm, my son looks up and announces, “My skin isn’t white, but it’s not as dark as my friend Sam’s.” I nod in affirmation. He cocks his head to one side and asks, “So what color am I?”
As a mixed race, transracial, part Asian American family, it’s impossible to avoid the subject of skin color, race, and ethnicity. Noticing difference has always been normal for me and my kids.
Whenever we can, we affirm our kids’ noticing skin color and tone. Whether it’s their own, a friend’s, a stranger’s, a toy’s, or a book character’s, we talk about what we see and note how beautiful the variations are. Every moment of noticing is an opportunity to tell the truth.
We can’t celebrate, know, or grow alongside what we pretend not to see.
In college, I did a Bible study with a group of friends about the life and ministry of Jesus. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, sandwiched between two afternoon classes — “Literature of the Holocaust” and “Blacks and Jews in the National Imagination” — I walked to a local coffee shop and spent time poring over Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. For hours on those days, my mind was filled with stories of systemically oppressed people groups from the books in my literature classes and the stories of Jesus’ life and ministry told through the gospels.
One particular afternoon, in-between sips of my coffee, I read a paragraph in the study that emphasized how Jesus might’ve looked. It said that based on where He was from, He likely had very dark skin, and course, black hair, like me. Before this, I had never heard anyone describe Jesus as anything other than white. As I considered His face and skin, I cried right into my coffee cup.
I thought about Jesus coming to the house I grew up in. I’m now sure that if He had, He wouldn’t sigh or roll His eyes when my mom would tell Him to take His shoes off. I’m sure He wouldn’t have minded the scent of kimchi that never left our fridge.
I thought about what it would’ve been like to stand right next to Jesus, close enough to see the sweat on His dark, earthly skin and smell the way His clothes, breath, and hair might have carried the scent of cumin, coriander, garlic, and dill.
It was during that semester years ago I became convinced that more than anyone else yesterday, today, or tomorrow, Jesus goes out of His way to notice, lift up, and love those who are treated as if they are unseen. It’s Jesus who sees our skin color, our culture, our humanity.
Imagining Jesus with His Middle Eastern skin moved my faith beyond the barriers that stood between infancy and intimacy.
God didn’t give us gifts of color and culture so we would pretend they didn’t matter. Jesus with His brown skin, poor skin, lonely skin, targeted skin, villainized skin, arrested skin, wounded skin, and resurrected-but-still-scarred skin made every color and culture of humanity matter. He gave each of us our colors so we can learn how to recognize and discover the breadth and width of His perfect love in our diversity.
In the face of our nation’s years of systemic racism and oppression, may we consider the details of Jesus’ humanity, and let them move us one step closer to a posture of humility, repentance, and healing.
So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.
John 1:14 (NLT)
God knows what it feels like to be human. He sees your tired skin, tender skin, dark-as-night skin, ripe-as-a-peach skin, hairy skin, freckled skin, wrinkled skin, creamy-hot-cocoa skin, almond skin, smooth skin, changing-color-with-the-seasons skin, calloused skin, and loves every inch of your fearfully-made, intentionally-given skin.
Incarnate isn’t just a spiritual word; it’s the Word made flesh with divine details of culture and ethnicity.
I tell my son, “Your skin is the color of caramel and brown sugar, and I see God’s face and understand His love a little bit more when I see you.”
Incarnate isn’t just a spiritual word; it’s the Word made flesh with divine details of culture and ethnicity. -@tashajunb: Click To Tweet Leave a Comment
Bev @ Walking Well With God says
I thought it was interesting that a box of crayons, which I opened for my preschool class, had a peachy toned crayon and its color name was “flesh.” At the time, I thought that was very limiting. Why couldn’t the caramel, or the tawny brown, or the black crayon be called “flesh?” God has given me the incredible experience of joining my brother in Christ in the Middle East in starting a Christian school for orphans in his country (seven years ago). Every time I see Anosh ministering to the children in such a caring and servant-like way, I see Jesus. I see Jesus, I believe, in skin that more closely resembles what he may have looked like in the flesh…brown skin, dark coarse hair, and dark brown eyes. Jesus doesn’t call us to look beyond skin color, but instead to look deeply into it and see Jesus in many hues and tones. We are all image bearers of the Son of Man.
Yes, indeed, Bev! I’ve felt the same thing about crayons, and I’m so excited that there are more options now. I used to mix colors to get the right tones when I was little. Thank you for faithfully being here, and for sharing about your own considerations of skin and Jesus’ skin.
Mary Carver says
Fun news about that, Bev: Crayola has come out with a box of many different colors to use as skin tones! I ordered several boxes and am excited for their arrival.
Bev @ Walking Well With God says
That’s great news! Thanks so much for sharing!
I can’t wait to get some for our home!!
Kathleen Burkinshaw says
Tasha,this is beautiful. Again, your words spark hope in my heart and comfort my soul. I haven’t found that too often these past months I seemed to let anxiety pull me in so many directions at once or paralyzing me in panic. I have always spoken about our connection to each other as human beings. It was so disheartening to see the opposite of that actually happening. So thank you for your comforting and inspiring words. God bless you and your family. ❤
Kathleen, thank you. I’m so glad you are here and I’m grateful these words resonated and offered comfort. I’m sorry these last few months have caused anxiety and that you’ve felt pulled in so many directions. I feel it too. It’s been a weary, difficult time. I am with you in believing that we are connected – all of us. Don’t let go of hope. You are not alone, Kathleen.
Kathleen Burkinshaw says
Thank you so much ❤
Beth Williams says
We live in a world full of misconceptions & unbelief. So many are quick to judge based on your appearance. God clearly asks us to look at the heart of a person. It would serve us well to get to know people deeply. Find out about their heritage & cultures. We may be surprised to learn they aren’t much different than us. God made us all fearfully & wonderfully in His image. Jesus never looked at skin color or race. He loved everyone & went different routes to show it. He took the easy route through Samaria to minister to a woman. He wants everyone regardless of skin color, race, etc to come to Him. Each of us should embrace our skin color, & heritage. We would do well to learn about others. Jesus came incarnate with divine intentions to bring everyone ALL nations, colors, races, etc to Himself.
Beth, thank you for taking the time to read my post, and for your thoughts. While I agree that Jesus didn’t look at skin color and race in the way I’m assuming you mean above, I believe he did SEE skin color and race as a beautiful expressions of God’s creativity, purpose and love.
Love this! Thank you, Tasha.❤
Thanks for reading, Irene!
Dawn Ferguson-Little says
We are all special to Jesus. It is him who choose what skin color we be. Sure he knows all about us. When we be born what skin color we be when born. I could go on. I love this song. “He got the whole world in his hands” you get that song on YouTube. It says on part of words in that song He’s got me and you in his hands. So God doesn’t care what skin color we are. He just loves us. We shouldn’t care what skin color anyone is either. We should do what that song says. Keep all people we know in our hands like Jesus would in our prayers. Keep them close. Then when we do that we are praying for them. It is then we feel Jesus close to us. We then feel his loving arms around us. We then get into the spirit and then it tell us what to pray for the people that Jesus lays on hearts. We don’t think about their skin color. We don’t care if they are white brown or in-between. We just pray for them in the spirit in the Love of Jesus. Because we love them. Because Jesus has through the spirit brought them to our minds for us to pray for them. I know when I do this Jesus is happy with me and I have felt his presence beside me. Like the title of today reading. Just like feeling the impact of Jesus skin. Thank you for todays reading love it. Xx
Thank you, Dawn, and thanks for taking the time to read the post. We are so, so special to Jesus. And it’s moved my faith so much deeper to know that he sees us and intentionally gave us every detail we have – skin color included. I care about what color others are, because Jesus does and because I see more of him when I care about the details he gave each of us.
I get what you’re trying to say here. God made each person unique and special, skin color and all. I think the variation in skin color, culture and ethnicity points more towards the creativity of the Creator, than anything else. But when it comes down to it, Jesus doesn’t regard our outward appearance…what color our skin is or what culture we come from, He cares about our hearts. He cares whether we have chosen to follow Him and are obeying Him. He does care about every detail of our lives but He wants us surrendering all we are…skin, culture, ethnicity, joys and sorrows, desires…to Him. To love Him more than our skin color, or the recognition of it. To love Him more than our culture or ethnicity…more than anything, even ourselves. When our focus is on Jesus, on eternity with Him, the rest of our lives will pour out in love to those around us, regardless of their outward appearance. When we are abiding fully in Jesus, we will love like Jesus.
Thanks for reading, Tara. While I do believe that each person is unique and special like you said, the message I was actually trying to emphasize is that our skin color does matter to God – that noticing it is important to God because he gave us those details with love and intention. God is so creative, indeed. Like any artist, he chose each detail for a good purpose: to reflect a part of his image and love. What an important gift that is! God didn’t give us those details to disregard them. And it’s true, focusing on Jesus, even down to the details like his skin color, changes the way we are able to love others more completely and wholly as God created them to be. Best to you, Tara.
I hear ya! 🙂 Love and the best to you too! Thank you for your bravery in sharing a bit of your journey with us. I truly did enjoy reading this! God bless!
Thank you, Tara!
Thank you for your beautiful words and insights. I had heard through a pastor numerous years ago, that scholars thought that Jesus would be black or possibly olive skinned, but not white. Your remark that God made us many colours so we would recognize His love in our diversity, made me think of a box of crayons. When you open it up, all the colours are so beautiful, just waiting to be chosen for the artists’ project.
The analogy between Jesus’ types of skin and our types of skin, shows us that feelings and blemishes belong to all of humanity, not just certain cultures.
Sandy, thank you! Agreed, all the colors are so beautiful and chosen with intention. I like how you put that. Thanks for taking the time to read the post.
Beautiful words—healing words to those who need to take the time to let them into their heart. Thank you for sharing this basic insight that God has for us and cared so much to make us uniquely different but oh so much alike as we are all His children, His beloved. What a beautiful gift!
Yes, Mar! Thank you so much for reading and for these affirming words. I’m glad you are here!
Thank-you so much for sharing your beautifully expressed words with us Tasha.
Blessings to all,
Penny, thank you for saying that and for being here!
Lynn D Morrissey says
Tasha, beautiful Tasha: What a deep, insightful post, and what an amazing, affirming mother you are!! Wow! Your child is so fortunate to call you “Mom”! So many (not here, just generally amongst Christians–and usually White ones–say that they don’t “see” skin colors, b/c it doesn’t matter; God loves all people). It is so true that man looks at the outward appearance, and God looks at the heart. It is also true that He must care about our skin color, our facial features, our hair, our height, our skeleton–about every, single thing He made about us, because He is so infinitely creative, and we are fearfully and wonderfully made. In His infinite omniscience and sovereignty, He made us the way He did for a reason, that brings Him pleasure and is for our good. So when we don’t take note of those things and thank Him for them in us and in others, we denigrate His creation. And He cares so much about our bodies that house our eternal souls, that He will resurrect them in glorious perfection. We will not live in eternity with Him as untethered souls. I think your essay points out the beauty of our bodies in their many-colored splendor. Perhaps, actually, I have never read this before as beautifully and biblically expressed, as you have done so here. And why this matters, is that despite that God very importantly looks at the heart, which He must make right through the new birth and our faith in our Lord Jesus Christ as our only hope of salvation, we, as humans, can initially *only* see our physical bodies. We don’t ultimately know what is in people’s hearts. And in our fallen human nature, unfortunately, we will often hold prejudice (unwittingly or not) at that which we physically see is different from us. That is the whole point about why this matters so much. We may “say” we don’t see a person’s color, features, etc., but that would be false; how can we help but *not* see these things? The point is to see, and then, as you say, “God didn’t give us gifts of color and culture so we would pretend they didn’t matter. . . . He gave each of us our colors so we can learn how to recognize and discover the breadth and width of His perfect love in our diversity.” Amen! So as Christians, it should be our joy and pleasure to love each other, in whatever way we are packaged, and also to get to know each other heart-to-heart–hearts beating in sync w/ the Savior and each other!! This is SUCH an important post! May we all take it humbly to heart!
PS I’m going to share another post about representational art and Jesus. This one is already too long. Ugh. But your words so moved me.
Lynn, thank you so much for your response! What an encouragement it was to read how the post resonated with you, and to read your thoughts and processing as well. Thank you! Yes, it’s deepened my faith so much to realize that God cares for me down to details of my skin, culture and ethnicity. As we notice each other, we are taking time to notice and become acquainted with others as well as God. I’ll look forward to reading your next post – thanks again for sharing your heart and thoughts!
Lynn D Morrissey says
This is Part 2 of my post. Poor Tasha!! I split it for better readability, but also because I didn’t want to get bumped out. 🙂
In your post, you talked about Jesus’ ethnicity, as expressed in a book you were reading: “It said that based on where He was from, He likely had very dark skin, and course, black hair, like me. Before this, I had never heard anyone describe Jesus as anything other than white. As I considered His face and skin, I cried right into my coffee cup. . . . Imagining Jesus with His Middle Eastern skin moved my faith beyond the barriers that stood between infancy and intimacy.”
Just. wow! Those are powerful statements, and ones many Europeans and European-Americans rarely, if ever, have considered, b/c representational art with which we’re familiar, both in America (think Sallman’s famous series of “Jesus” paintings decorating Sunday-School walls and mass-produced on little cards) and in Europe (think glorious oil paintings and stained glass adorning vaulted cathedrals) have always depicted Jesus with fair skin. But *you* related to a different portrayal of Jesus, because you imagined Him with an ethnicity similar to your own.
In the U.S. and in Europe, there has been talk of dismantling any Jesus statues, paintings, stained glass that depicts Him as “White.” This got me to wondering whether any physical representation of Jesus would be wrong, since we clearly do not know what He actually looked like (we’re ultimately conjecturing), and, after all, because He is both fully man and fully God! GOD! And we are not to make “graven images” of God. The commandment reads like this in the KVJ (what I learned as a child): “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness [of any thing] that [is] in heaven above, or that [is] in the earth beneath, or that [is] in the water under the earth.” So, I wondered, if it were best not to depict Jesus at all.
I approached a highly biblically knowledgeable and wonderful Evangelical pastor friend about that, and this is what he wrote to me:
“Pictures of Jesus are not violations of the 2nd Commandment. The 2nd Commandment doesn’t forbid the mere making of images; rather, it forbids making images in order to bow down to them or do physical acts of veneration with them [“Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate (Ex. 20:5)].
Visual representations of Jesus are fine because they actually affirm the reality of the incarnation. Jesus is a real human being, so we can portray an image because God has already produced a living image of himself in Christ.
But pictures of Jesus have to be understood rightly with respect to what they do and don’t intend to communicate. No painting or drawing of Jesus is a photographic likeness that tells us what the historical Jesus truly looked like. We don’t know. So artistic renderings need to be understood as being inexact and created to affirm the concept that Jesus is a real human being.
We might think that the best thing to do is to produce a Jesus who looks sort of brown like modern people who live in the Middle East. But I think that other renderings of Jesus that portray Jesus having physical qualities of other ethnicities is OK, as long as this is understood as a kind of visual theological symbol portraying his role as the representative of all people. Jesus came to live and die for all ethnicities, and one can use a visual symbol of Jesus as e.g., Korean, Mexican, Black, or Caucasian to communicate that.
The problem in the U.S. is a historical context in which theologies of white supremacy actually DID teach that Jesus was white, or, more specifically, of the line of Shem, which was taken by some teaching white supremacy to be the ancestor of white European peoples. So there is a historical context in the U.S. that insisted on only portraying Jesus as white in order to make a point that Black people are inferior. If that is the impact of the popular use of Warner Sallman’s famous picture, then I think it should be at least supplemented with other portrayals to break that connection with a history of theologies of white supremacy.”
Isn’t that a neat, insightful explanation? I thought he spoke eloquently to why your picturing Jesus in a physical way like you, deepened your faith. Jesus was God and Man, and He came to die for you. And I, with my who-knows-what-shade of White skin (and btw, White people aren’t really White :)), can know He came as God and Man to die for me. So let us celebrate that Jesus took on flesh at all, and let us imagine His skin shining forth in the brilliant, full-orbed spectrum of the glorious skin tones He created in us, as human beings. He longs for us to relate to Him in a very personal, intimate way, just as you did with your new-found insights about His flesh, flesh that would one day be deeply, irrevocably scarred for you, and for me. He will grasp us to His heart with those nail-scarred hands of His when, one day, we will finally see Him face to face! Glory!
Yes to all of that. Thank you for sharing your journey and for those tidbits of information and history – so important! I appreciate the way you have taken time to think about these things, and seek out wisdom and understanding. Your curiosity and willingness to engage in this and not only that, but your awe of Jesus in the midst of it, give me hope and courage, Lynn! Take care, deep thinker – you are a gift!
Lynn D Morrissey says
Thank you so much, for your kind and thoughtful responses, Tasha, and for not indicating I had overstepped my bounds. I always risk misunderstanding or even censure with long-winded pontifications. Surely not my intent to pontificate, but to dialogue. It is *you* who are a gift!
This was a beautifully written post thanks so much for sharing it. It was a pleasure to read. Thank you for using your gifts to build up others.
Tona, thank you for reading it, and for those kind words. Glad you are here!
Lucretia Berry says
As always, your words light up my soul! You have ‘preached me happy’ this morning. Thank you!
Thank you, dear Lucretia! That means a lot to hear.
Jessica C says
Thank you so much for writing this. I’ve been kind of emotional today for several reasons but your post brought tears to my eyes….in a good way. I was adopted from Korea when I was 3 years old and I think this, among other factors has made me feel “other” at times, when I’m around my family. I grew up in Hawaii so being Korean amongst a sea of other Asians and multicultural heritages made me feel like I belonged. Moving to the mainland in some ways changed that. I am thankful for incourage bringing diverse voices into the mix here. It gives me hope and encouragement that we Asians are represented and having role models for writing and encouragement for myself is such a treasure. Thank you for your wonderful posts.
Jessica, first of all, I’m so glad you are here and connected with us in this online space. Thank you for letting me know that this post resonated with you. I know the isolating feeling of otherness, and it can be so, so lonely. I’m so sorry for all the times you’ve felt that way. You aren’t alone and your whole story is welcome with me and the rest of us at (in)courage. Keep writing-your story and all of your details matter.
Becky Keife says
“We can’t celebrate, know, or grow alongside what we pretend not to see.” Yes, friend.
Lord, give us eyes to see more fully the beauty of who are you and the fullness of how your character and creativity are expressed in every face and skin tone.
Lucy Grist says
I picked up a copy of the DaySpring community magazine “Everyday Faith” and was so disappointed that it was all white. While searching for answers about why a Christian publication in 2020 would purposefully omit people of color, I came across this wonderful Incourge.me site and just had to say God bless you and thank you! Christianity that does not include people of color cannot reach full potential, ever. Being mindful and intentional in including at the very least, photos depicting people of color is what we have to do! Always.
Lucy, we are so glad you are here and that you found this community. I know how hurtful and damaging it is to not be represented, and especially when it happens within the Church and other Christian communities. I acknowledge that pain for you and for so many people of color. I still feel it as a grown woman of color myself, and while the needed changes have been so slow in most places, I see them and have hope! I agree, it is what we have to do and it’s not just for people of color that we need better representation – it’s good and needed for everyone. I’m grateful you took the time to share your thoughts and lend your voice with us here.