Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Homeless Jesus

I just ordered a miniature of this bronze sculpture because I was so surprised and pleased by the story I read about it. The full size sculpture is about 9 feet wide and about 3 feet high. It was done by Timothy Schmalz, a Canadian sculptor and a devout Christian.
by Charlie Leck
One of these sculptures was placed on the grounds of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Davidson, North Carolina. It draws lots of attention and quite a few police calls about the homeless person asleep on the park bench near the church. Oh, my!
Some people have been curious enough to approach the work of art. Only the feet, with puncture wounds, gives away the sculptor’s intent and the reason he calls it Homeless Jesus.
David Buck, the priest at the church, explained that the work was placed there as a memorial for Kate McIntyre, one of his parishioners with a special love for public art. He said, “It gives authenticity to our church… and we need to be reminded ourselves that our faith expresses itself in active concern for the marginalized in society.”
Most people seem to appreciate the statue, but some are unnerved by it.
It captures exactly my feelings about Jesus and I’ve written here a number of times about this attitude – as I did in a blog I called Meeting a Really Big Celebrity. Here’s a portion of that 10 November  2007 blog…
“I was in Toronto, staying at the lovely, old York Hotel (now part of the Fairmont chain of international hotels). The blimeys wanted $14 per day for a hookup to the Internet. Well, blast them. That’s un-American! My trusty laptop and I took ourselves just around the corner to one of the Tim Horton express coffee shops. They provide free wireless connections. I found myself a nice comfortable spot, right up in the front of the shop, where I could look out at York Street and I turned on my computer and got connected to the miraculous wireless service. What a world!
“Just then, I saw him. There he was, directly across from me – not twenty feet away. He sat on a little plastic box that he had wedged in between a couple of newspaper vending machines, giving himself some protection from the wind. He was pretty haggard looking and his clothes were extremely untidy. The soles of his heavy shoes were worn very thin. He had several days of stubble on his face.
“It was Jesus all right. Those were his eyes. They were dark and set deep in his face. They sparkled with a remarkable radiance and they were filled with love and compassion. It was Jesus. There was no question about that.
“Jesus sat there with his feet crossed. On his lap he held a large, old paper coffee cup. As each person walked by on the street he greeted them kindly, with a proper hello or a wish for a good day. Occasionally some person, who had also clearly recognized who this remarkable man was, would slip a coin into his paper cup. Jesus would thank them kindly.
“It seemed to me that Jesus was settled in for the long haul. I went about reading my email and sending back replies. I then took a quick peek at the New York Times and ran my eyes along the headlines. Suddenly I saw that Jesus was moving away. I panicked. I hadn’t had a chance to greet him, to touch him, nor to ask him for his autograph. I pushed back from my workspace so quickly and loudly that I startled some of the folks taking coffee behind me. I rushed to the door and out to the street. Jesus was down the block, looking into the small hole in the center of a manhole cover. Steam was rising from it.
“‘Hey, you,’ I called to him. I ‘got closer to him and had to repeat myself loudly. He was in the street and in danger of being struck by the Friday morning traffic. He looked away from the manhole cover and locked on to my eyes. He looked so filled with joy and peace. He made me feel so quieted and untroubled. I had a two dollar Canadian coin in my hand and I held it out, luring him out of the street. When he stepped on to the curb, I reached out and slipped it into his cup.
“‘Thank you,” he said so very softly. “I thought there was a fire. The smoke was rising from beneath the street and I smelled something burning. I was sure it was a fire and it frightened me. I thought perhaps the earth was on fire.’
“Jesus tilted his head to one side and looked at me, wondering why I was so generous and had chased him down the street. Didn’t I realize that he could not have been harmed? I wanted to ask for his autograph, but the bit about the earth being on fire unnerved me.
“‘I’m going back to my station,’ he said. ‘Excuse me.’
“Back inside the warm, cozy sandwich shop, I slid back in front of my computer and looked outside at the fellow. He was again between the newspaper boxes. His collar was turned up and he was observing the Friday rush, streaming by him with little or no concern about who he was or his particular needs.
“A Sunday School teacher had once warned me, long, long ago, that this day would come. I had encountered Jesus in the flesh.
“‘You will meet him,’ Mrs. Beiser had said, ‘and he will be in the least and most unexpected of people. He will be cold and hungry and in need. Give generously to him.’”
I’ve never thought of owning any kind of art work around the house that depicted Jesus, but I was intrigued with owning a miniature of this one by Schmalz, so I could put it here in my library. So, I tracked down his web site and looked into it. He offered a version that was only 10 inches wide (the original is 7 feet wide). It seemed perfect for me, so I had him ship me one. I really look forward to its arrival.
If Evelyn Beiser was still alive, I would have had one shipped to her as well.
You can listen to a National Public Radio (14 April 2014) account about the statue on Weekend Edition Sunday. It’s pretty interesting.
The Pope himself owns a miniature of the statue (Schmalz flew to Rome to give him one) and the Holy Father is seeking to have a full sized one installed on the Via della Conciliazione. It only awaits City Council approval.

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