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Wednesday, February 02, 2011

What have they done with my Lord?

I think it's probably safe to say that generations - yea, verily, generation upon generation - of seminarians at The Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA, sat in the Refectory (now the Brattle Cafe, but not, thanks be to God, "the Cafeteria") and gazed upon a sculpture of Jesus which hung at that empty spot on the wall which you see in the picture above.

You couldn't miss it.

It was HUGE. Gigantic. Ginormous. Took over most of the wall and pretty much dominated the room. And, I might add, it's a pretty big room.

I'll show him to you in a moment, but for now, I just want you to look at that empty space there, above the salad bar.

Okay, a confession: I never really liked it.

It's not the sculpture itself I didn't like. It was very powerful. I liked that about it. What I didn't like was the way it dominated the room and imposed itself on the solitude and enjoyment of my meal.

I mean, there was simply no escaping Him. Jesus, I mean. He was everywhere - in the classroom. In our text books. In our prayer books. In the Chapel. In the cross (sans corpus) in the bathrooms. At our field placements. 'Round our necks in wood or pewter or brass or silver or gold.

It was perfectly fine for Him to be in the Refectory but Jeeze!, He took over the place. You know?

So, He was a bit controversial. Or, at least, that statue of Him caused quite a bit of controversy among seminarians. Then again, part of the purpose of being in seminary is to deconstruct and then reconstruct one's own theology and Christology - which is a process rife with opportunities for controversy.

And, just a wee bit of acting out in what could be considered - at least by some - as inappropriately humorous ways.

Especially when you've got a group of seminarians sitting around the table at the Refectory in between or after classes. Or, just before final exams. Or, during GOEs (General Ordination Exams).

For good or for ill, I had lots of memories attached to that sculpture, so when I first walked into the Refectory and found Him gone, I was shocked. Disturbed. It's still unsettling to walk in there and find Him missing.

So, I wanted to know: What have they done with my Lord?

Where is Jesus? Who took Him? And, why?

The first response I got was that He was probably taken down so as not to offend the Lesley students. I quickly learned that this was not the case. In fact, He had been taken down long before that partnership was even anywhere near the table.

I don't think I've ever known the name of the artist, and I've not learned why, exactly, He was taken down, but I did find out where He went.

Okay, I know you're dying of curiosity so, here He is:
I found Him hanging on the wall at the bottom of the basement stairwell in the Sherrill Hall Library.

Hand to Jesus - as it were.

He still fills up the wall and pretty much takes over the space, but, unless you're taking the stairs to go down to the stacks or up to the main floor, you wouldn't even know He was there.

I think it's a powerful statement about Jesus - human and divine. It speaks to me of a Jesus who - like the church - is "not of the world, but in the world."

He is in the midst of the thorns and thickets of life, but not encumbered or imprisoned by them.

Indeed, He seems to be, at once, bearing the burdens of the world and struggling to free the world from its burdens.

It's a great image of the "two natures" of Jesus - stripped down, ethereal and yet utterly human. Or, as the Christologists might say, Jesus as seen "From Above" (Divine) and "From Below" (Human).

It's a great image of the Body of Christ - the church - not of the world, but very much in the world. In the very thick of the pain and struggle and yet not captured or inhibited by it.

It's really powerful, I think. Which was why it was so hard to look at whilst eating one's meal in the Refectory.

There are lots of stories about 'The Refectory Jesus' that are now part of the lore and legend of the school.

Like the time "someone" came in, late one night, and put corks on the ends of all of the thorns in the statue.

Or, the time "someone" came in and discretely draped a white loin cloth over His, um, loins.

Which prompted some women to add a white bra to the white loin cloth.

Or the time "someone" decorated Him with colorful Christmas lights. Blinking ones. And, more than a few ornaments.

Which, of course, inspired "someone else" to hang colorful eggs from the thorns one Easter Day.

I am reminded that at Drew University, there's a great statue of Charles Wesley - the Circuit Rider - on his horse.

The horse used to be, shall we say, endowed with certain anatomically correct rights.

It became a rite of passage at graduation to color them with neon green or day-glo orange paint, or decorate them with certain male athletic undergarments.

That went on for a few years until someone was called in to surgically correct the situation and remove the. . . um . . . temptation.

Brings to mind that old saying, "Why be born again when you can just grow up?"

So, I understand the logic of removing the sculpture from the Refectory.

But, at the bottom of the stairwell in the Library? Really?

I'm thinking that, if He were "treated" to endure the outside elements, He might find a new home on the outside back wall of St. John's Chapel.

Any EDS alums out there want to start The Fund to Relocate The Refectory Jesus?
“Crucifix” by Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin 
We've been talking about images of Jesus in art in Patrick Cheng's Christology course. Turns out, there are images that are way more controversial than The Refectory Jesus.

You can view an incredible collection of contemporary feminist and LGBTQ art about Jesus here at Jesus in Love.

You may have to create an account with Flickr, but it is well worth the visit.

You can also find other wonderful images of Jesus here which includes images of the Birth of Jesus, the Wisdom of Jesus, and The Life of Jesus, as well as The Resurrection, The Ascension, and Pentecost - all from a variety of perspectives including (but by no means limited to) Aboriginal, African, Asian, Ancient, Native American, Celtic, Latin American, Feminist, Goth and Alternative.

Dr. Cheng wrote an essay which was published in Huffington Post entitled Art, Censorship, and the Scandal of the Cross.

"My Sweet Lord" by Cosimo Cavallaro
He discusses the recent censorship by the Smithsonian Institution of a controversial video clip by the late gay artist David Wojnarowicz - which contained images of ants crawling on a crucifix - as well as other controversial works of art involving images of the crucified Christ, including Andres Serrano's Piss Christ, Cosimo Cavallaro's My Sweet Lord, and Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin's Ecce Homo.

Cheng asks, "How should we react, as persons of faith, to these admittedly controversial - and in some cases, offensive - works of art?"

Great question.

He answers, in part,
"As Christians, we have been desensitized to the horrors of the cross. Instead of understanding the cross as a state-sponsored instrument of execution, the cross has been turned into sentimental jewelry and pious artwork. Instead of seeing the cross as a reminder of God-with-us in the flesh-and-blood sufferings of the world - a theologia crucis - the cross has been turned into a sanitized symbol of victory and ecclesial triumphalism - a theologia gloriae.

God is perfectly capable of redeeming the horrors of cross; that's what the Resurrection and Easter Sunday is all about. Unfortunately, the well-intentioned but misguided belief that we Christians are the exclusive "owners" of the cross - and thus are required to protect it from profanation at all costs - is what often results in incredibly cruel and horrific persecutions such as the Crusades and the Inquisition.

God doesn't need those of us who are Christians to act as intellectual property watchdogs. Rather, God calls us to remember - through the cross - all those in the world who continue to suffer in the flesh and blood, whether through hunger, poverty, disease, sexual violence, hate crimes, or state-sponsored torture and executions.
I think images of Jesus will always be controversial. What Emmanuel - God with us - God in human flesh - means for me, in all the particularities of my "social location" (age, gender, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, etc.) is going to be very different for you in your "social location".

Jesus is not "one size fits all" and yet He is universal. That's part of His appeal. And, part of why He is so controversial.

I don't know why Jesus was taken down from the Refectory wall, but I do know this much to be true: Jesus is alive and well and living at 99 Brattle Street, Cambridge, MA. His image doesn't have to be hanging anywhere for me to know that.

I just wish His image wasn't at the bottom of the stairwell in the Library.

And, I wish someone would do something with that offensive blank wall in the Refectory. . . um . . . Brattle Cafe.

I mean, do they expect me to have to use my imagination?

Why yes. Yes, in fact, I think they do.

I would, anyway. Use my imagination, that is. Which was part of why it made me so uncomfortable when it used to hang there.

That's really the power of Jesus - isn't it? - whether He's an image of art or simply in the images seen with the eye of the heart.

It is, ultimately, why the Empty Tomb is so powerful.

No one can take Him away when He lives in your heart.

10 comments:

Susan said...

Actually, I have often encountered God in libraries, Sherril in particular. But I know what you mean.

Ahab said...

What a simple yet powerful image!

Anonymous said...

Maybe the bare void wall in the cafe is meant to remind us of what the world would be like without Jesus? Dull, boring, scaricity of life...

maria

MadPriest said...

If they don't want it, I'll have it.

deodate said...

Perhaps you can think of it this way....if it weren't moved out of the refectory then you might not have posted about it. Your great post has shown the image to all of us. So, many eyes still see that very powerful image...thanks.
Andie

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I'll put a wee tag with your name on it, Jonathan, and attach it to one of the thorns: "Please send this Jesus to Jonathan who will give him a good home. Thank you."

MadPriest said...

Thanks. I'll stick him up above my dining table.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

You wicked, wicked man!

Jim Thompson said...

Confession time; I am not profoundly literate. In fact, I dread reading, while simultaneously loving it.

"Why?" you may ask. Even if you didn't ask, I'll tell you. My dyslexia makes my progress through literature perilously slow.

And I'm lazy.

But this isn't about me. It's about thanking you for including Thomas Merton's quote in your blog's margin. It expresses my walk with Christ succinctly.

As a Christ-follower of conservative, Evangelical stripe, I must profoundly disagree with many of your voiced and inferred social and political positions. Curiously enough, however, I also find myself disagreeing with many of the conservative Christians with whom I find myself lumped.

Tragically, said lumping seems to characterize both conservatives and liberals, with true, Christ-like love a truly rare treasure.

But, back to the blog-post in question. I love your analysis of the removed Christ sculpture, though its dominance of the space in which it hangs aptly relates to the dominance Christ must exert in the Christ-follower's life.

Then there's “Crucifix” by Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin. Initially, I was offended by its sensuality, as homosexual love has nothing to do with Christ's voluntary passion, death, and resurrection. But on further consideration I realized it is a graphic representation of my prayer for my brother and all other homosexuals. I would that they all embrace Christ in love, finding forgiveness and redemption for their sin. Certainly, homosexual sin is no more grievous than the self-righteousness many "Christians," both conservative and liberal, practice.

May our Christ richly bless you as you follow Him.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Jim,

Why, how very white, heterosexual male of you.

Thanks. I think.