I love this mosaic on the floor of the baptistry under the North Hall of the Memorial of Moses on Mount Nebo (Khirbet el-Mukhayyet) in Jordan. In fact, I love it so much that I have a coffee table with a reproduction of part of the mosaic on a table in our living room. I love the animal images. I love the handy work. I really love Jordan and hope to visit again. I love the human figures.
But as I was looking at it again, recently, it occurred to me that one of the figures is a slave. My white guilt sensibilities went into freak-out mode. There is a slave image in our living room.
Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.
The slave figure is half-clothed and has darker skin than the fully-dressed lighter skinned figure. Okay, maybe Elias, Soelus, and Kaiomus – the men credited with creating this mosaic between 530 BCE and 1 CE – did not intend for this figure to portray a slave, but it sure looks like it as I stare and re-stare at the mosaic I’ve loved for many years.
Ever since 12 Years a Slave won the Oscar, I’ve been reading more about slavery in this country. (Here’s a good read by the great John Hope Franklin.) Although slaves in the United States were clothed in sturdy-ish work clothes, they came to the States naked, according to research done for the movie. Slaves in ancient Mesopotamia and in other cultures and ages worked in servitude wearing few or no clothing.
Remember Dobby the House Elf in Harry Potter? Dobby became free only when he was given clothes by his master.
And this got me thinking about this:
So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God. (Galatians 4:7)
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. (Colossians 3:12)
And I realized that we who are not slaves get to pick our own clothes. Our clothing can be Louboutins or flip flops, Ann Taylor or Italian tailored. Salvation Army or Goodwill. None of that really matters. What matters are the human characteristics we choose to wear each day.
These are the things a pastor ponders while driving randomly in a car on Palm Sunday.
Now, what am I going to do with this mosaic? Is it okay to have the image of an ancient slave in my living room? Discuss.
The image is from The Moses Memorial, built over ancient archaeological ruins near Madaba, Jordan. Go.