The people at the churches where I have served as a pastor know how much I love LEGO. New sets were always my favorite birthday and Christmas presents growing up (still are), and I still have about 99% of my childhood LEGO bricks from the late 1980s and early 1990s. Back then, LEGO minifigures all had yellow heads and hands. They all had the same two black dots for eyes and small smile. The first minifigures debuted in 1978, and variable facial expressions appeared first in 1989, and….
Yikes. I had to stop myself from going on a long ramble about the history of LEGO minifigures. Here’s a great infographic from LEGO which tells it way better than I can.
Anyway, I was starting to talk about my churches and LEGO. I began a LEGO club at my church in Massachusetts back in 2012. We had a blast, and when I moved from that church to my current one at the beginning of 2014, the families with kids in the LEGO club gave me some parting gifts. One was a custom minifigure of Jesus.
Ever since, this little LEGO Jesus has stood on my desk in front of my computer. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this minifigure has been my most constant image of Jesus since then. I don’t have a big framed image of Jesus in my office, I don’t have a crucifix or a statue. I just have this little LEGO guy, who stands four bricks tall, smiling at me from his station below my monitor.
Readers of this website will know that since 2017, I have been doing a lot of reading, study, reflection, and prayer about my role in the complex web of systems (racism, white supremacy, anti-Black bias) that have resulted in entrenched racial injustice in this country and the world – and the Church, too. Earlier in 2020, I preached a sermon about my relationship with Jesus completely changing when I embraced theologian James Cone’s truth about “Black Jesus”; that is, Jesus as the Oppressed One, as opposed to the Jesus of Empire. The latter image of Jesus has dominated the history of European Christianity, turning the itinerant preacher from backwater Galilee into the white blesser of colonialism, imperialism, and enslavement (check out the sermon I linked above to get a fuller picture of what I’m talking about).
I could never identify with White Jesus (and so my relationship with God dwelt firmly in the realm of the Holy Spirit), but the moment I began reading Cone’s description of Black Jesus, I immediately recognized the person in the Gospel who was also moving my life away from complacency and towards working for equal justice for all people.
What does this have to do with LEGO?
I imagine the “neutral” yellow minifigures were created in part to sidestep the racial marker of skin color in LEGO products (and that’s debatable, since yellow is also a color freighted with racial baggage).
But all that changed in 2004 when licensed LEGO products like Star Wars and Harry Potter began issuing minifigures with skin colors that matched the actors who played them.
Since then hundreds upon hundreds of LEGO sets have included minifigures with non-yellow skin colors. And the vast majority have been white. I didn’t realize this until I started hunting for replacements for the head and hands of my custom Jesus minifigure. (White supremacy holds on mostly because it hides in plain sight from the perspective of white people.)
For a while now, I’ve wanted to make my White Jesus minifigure into a Black Jesus minifigure. I started the search and found Lando Calrissian, Mace Windu, and Finn from Star Wars. I found War Machine, Black Panther, and Nick Fury from Marvel. There’s Kingsley Shacklebolt from Harry Potter, too, and perhaps a handful of others. But that’s all I could find. I owned a single War Machine figure but he didn’t come with hair because of his helmet. Finn from my Millennium Falcon has a headset painted on him, so he wouldn’t work. (You really need to click that link if you find this post at all interesting).
And that’s all I had in my collection.
The trouble is that once a LEGO set goes out of circulation, the remaining copies become SUPER expensive. The only Lando in stores was in an expensive new Millenniun Falcon for The Rise of Skywalker. Black Panther’s LEGO sets were gone. Mace Windu was long gone. So I had to keep my eyes peeled. At long last, LEGO came out with the polybag set pictured in the banner, and I found it at Target while doing Christmas stocking shopping. Thankfully, Nick Fury in Captain Marvel has not yet started wearing his eyepatch! Plus, that determined look in his eyebrows and smile is great, not to mention those cheekbones.
I popped the tiny kit it in Leah’s stocking with the proviso that I got the Nick Fury figure when she opened it. (She was happy with just the Captain Marvel.) And now, I finally have the figure that illustrates my relationship with and understanding of Jesus in the minifigure who graces my desk every day.
The fact that he was once Nick Fury is pure upside.
Season 3, Episode 8:
Dungeons & Dragons: Exercising the Divine Imagination
In Season Three, we are looking at facets of identity, and in our eighth and penultimate episode, we are talking imagination and creativity in Dungeons & Dragons. We welcome our second special guest, Nik Combs, who also happens to be Carrie’s husband, to the show to show with us his questions and insights after a few years of playing D&D and being a pastor at the same time.