Musings on the Scandal of the Body, Part 2: Looking for the Caganer in the Scene

If the body is an offense by being a death/mortality reminder then it is not surprising that many Christians show a strong sanitizing impulse when it comes to imagining their faith stories.

We often see the sanitizing impulse in the depiction of Jesus' body. He's often handsome, well groomed, and clean, a veritable angel on earth. Thus, when artists, authors, or movie makers do try to take the Incarnation seriously and portray the body of Jesus (e.g., sexuality) the scrub brushes and soap of the Christian community rush out in alarm. Although our creeds claim that Jesus was fully human we don't want that truth depicted. The juxtaposition of the human and divine is just too offensive.

I've actually been on the receiving end of this sanitizing impulse. Two years ago at the ACU Lectureship I had the gall to suggest that Jesus, being fully human, would have experienced certain unpleasant intestinal issues, just like the rest of us. I made the observation that many would find this image offensive, blasphemous, and demeaning to Jesus.

Well guess what? ACU received a complaint about my talk. The reason? The person was offended that I suggested that Jesus might have experienced certain intestinal complaints. The given theological rationale was that Jesus would never have experienced such demeaning bodily functions/ailments because Jesus would have "healed himself." I find the irony here delicious. But irony and theological literacy aside, this is a good example of the sanitizing impulse. Apparently, you and I, humans with irksome bodies, have to reach for the Pepto-Bismol once in awhile. Jesus? Well, he's not like us. He heals himself. Jesus is superman.

Now during Advent preachers often reflect on the effects of the sanitizing impulse upon Nativity depictions. Most Nativity depictions hide the body. The barn scene is idyllic and clean. But we all know that the body was there in the Nativity. There was blood, amniotic fluid, and an umbilical cord. There was no running water or clean towels. Bloodied rags are heaped nearby. The barn smells of urine and manure.

You don't see much of that in Nativity scenes. To depict the body remains offensive. So, the Nativity is depicted as the superbirth of the superman. The Christian cleaning crews have thoroughly sanitized and scrubbed the scene for us.

So now--Hold on to your hats!--for a very quick shift toward the humorous, quirky, and cross-cultural, how might we combat the sanitizing impulse at Advent? Well, my friend Bill, knowing I'm always going off on the "scandal of the body", sent me this delightful little link about the Spanish tradition of the Caganer.

What better way of pushing against the sanitizing impulse this Advent season than dropping a Caganer into your home Nativity scene? (For a little more on the Caganer read here.)

Thanks to Bill for this delightful bit of Christmas cheer! I've been relishing in the theological whimsy of the Caganer, how the body, at its most offensive, is inserted into the hyper-spiritualized Nativity scene.

Oh, I'm sure the Caganer will be offensive to some. But for this Advent season the Caganer has reminded me, in a hilarious way, just what happened in the Incarnation. Just how far Jesus had to descend to experience the human condition.

And just how fully he participated.

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6 thoughts on “Musings on the Scandal of the Body, Part 2: Looking for the Caganer in the Scene”

  1. Think of Superman the comic book hero. He has a pure isolated structure to maintain his race's history and where he connects with its past. And we have no clue where he came from or how he was born. Even the baby that Lois Lane has just appears.

    This idea of purity is a Greek one. The farther away from embodiment you go, the more perfect it becomes hence the focus on the mind as that which is closest to the the intangible nature of what is pure and good. Kristeva has quite a bit to say on the nature of embodiment as well. It's a very gnostic image of Jesus that we typically have indeed and surely not very close to the Jewish Jesus that Paul imagined in his day.

  2. And while Jesus and the twelve were on the road to Jerusalem, Jesus said, "Anyone who is not willing to pull my finger cannot enter the kingdom of heaven." (George 3:16)


    George C.

  3. Funny this came up. This whole week my family has been ill with some sort of stomach bug. My daughter, in particular, started crying and shouting how much she hated being sick, how disgusting is was and the pain she had to endure. She didn't understand why God would allow her to go through such turmoil. So I told her that Jesus, who being God, probably got sick too when he was her age. (although we are not told, but it is a good assumption I think) And that he had to go through this too. Although I couldn't explain accurately why, I simply told her that being sick is just one more reminder of how weak we are (I mean microscopic living materials can get us very sick and sometimes kill us) and that sometimes when we get sick it helps to understand others who are sick, and that is why Jesus sympathizes with us. Somehow it made her feel a LITTLE bit better, emotionally anyway.

    So it surprises me that some people find this topic a wee bit offensive. Perhaps our understanding of Jesus being fully man is just too hard to comprehend, or perhaps it's just hard to imagine a perfect God, Holy and Pure to literally come into "that" kind of environment. To think of the baby Jesus full of body fluids and blood when he was born as offensive; it is no wonder why the cross is even more offensive! Or at least it should be, I mean why is it okay to think of him on the cross full of blood and sweat, and with other people's spit on him and not to imagine him having a sick day?

    Great post!!

  4. Does Willow Tree make a Canager?
    - Jon Camp

  5. I have heard Superman was a Jew Dr. Beck... So maybe. And man, after I saw Superman Returns, I couldn't help but think "Da Vinci Code?" Superman secretly has a kid with a woman everyone suspected him to have one with? Didn't they accuse Jesus of the same thing?


    All in all, I think it's funny you talked about someone complaining about you. You know what I mean.

    mr. w

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