Recently, a life-size bronze sculpture of Jesus, called Homeless Jesus, went viral after someone made a 911 call about a homeless man on a bench. The bronze sculpture by Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz depicts Jesus, identifiable by the wounds on his feet, sleeping on a street bench wrapped in a blanket.
With replicas located in prominent urban locations, such as Buenos Aires, Capernaum, New York, Madrid, Melbourne, Rome and Singapore, Homeless Jesus now dots the globe. There are six replicas in Canada alone.
I have spent the past two years looking at the news coverage of this religious public artwork to try and figure out why both faith-based organizations and secular media are fascinated by it. I examined interviews with faith leaders at organizations with a Homeless Jesus and online news articles that reference it.
Regardless of one’s religiosity, viewers are captivated by the image of a Jesus as a homeless figure. For faith-based organizations, Homeless Jesus is a symbol that communicates and teaches viewers about core Christian beliefs.
Schmalz produced this sculpture as part of a series that visually depicts a passage from the Bible found in the Gospel of Matthew 25:35-45. Here, Jesus tells his followers that they are caring for him when they tend to the needs of those who are sick, poor, naked, hungry, thirsty, imprisoned and strangers.
For those familiar with the story of Jesus, the sculpture’s message may appear ostensibly obvious. Yet the sculpture asks them to take this message literally and to pay attention to the dignity of those less privileged.
Likewise, those on the margins of society may feel comforted by the notion that Jesus (considered by some to be the Son of God, and by others, a wise prophet) identifies with their situations.
Faith-based organizations that install a Homeless Jesus replica say they choose to do so because they want to make a bold public statement about their social convictions.
Despite an unfamiliarity with or ambivalence toward the story of Jesus, Homeless Jesus may still resonate with secular and non-Christian viewers. The sculpture presents symbols with universal meanings: a street bench and a body trying to say warm, wrapped in blanket. These symbols say something about physical vulnerability in a public space. When combined, they become an icon of homelessness.
Bronze sculptures are often reserved for historic monuments and statues of community heroes. When this medium is combined with an image of homelessness, it generates a clear and powerful message. The unusual combination asks viewers to see those who are homeless as people with dignity, worthy of being sculpted. At the very least: they are worthy of safe and affordable housing.
This sculpture is a challenge to the dominant tendency to ignore the needs and stories of people who are homeless. The homeless population is often perceived as “natural losers” in a competitive market economy. Capitalism justifies the presence of extreme poverty in affluent societies. Homeless Jesus presents an alternative narrative.
Religious art can communicate insight
Homeless Jesus, and its spot in the limelight, demonstrates how religious public art can play a role in promoting the ideas of an equitable society.
Back in the ‘70s, critical theorist, Herbert Marcuse, said art can oppose oppressive ways of thinking, behaving and speaking. As a scholar who left Germany shortly before the onset of the Second World War, Marcuse understood the horrors that arise when a population uncritically serves the interests of the elite.
According to Marcuse, art that offers alternative perspectives and challenges social norms, can create spaces where people can identify and question oppressive social systems.
Jürgen Habermas, another key critical theorist who is still active writing and theorising today, proposed that although religion can be prescriptive, it can also provide an alternative perspective on social reality. He said religious and secular citizens should be willing to learn from one another.
Habermas suggested that at formal levels of political decision making, religious individuals should work to translate their ideas into a language that their secular counterparts find accessible.
Homeless Jesus exemplifies how religious public art can communicate a religious belief in a manner that is respectful of and intelligible to a diverse secular audience. Religious public art can be an avenue for faith-based organizations to meaningfully contribute to the bettering of social life.
What up, y’all… can you believe it? Thirty years of Christian men and women rockin’ mics and reppin’ the name of Christ.
I keep having to say that to myself and to others, not only to remind myself that this particular segment of what we call the Christian music industry has come a long way, but also to inform other people that it didn’t start with Lecrae. Seriously, few of the mainstream music journalistic outlets that cover Lecrae and/or the Reach Records / 116 Clique movement ever take the time to dig into the scene. It may be new to certain people, or certain places, or it may have made new gains that haven’t been made before, but Christian rap is not a new thing. I know this because I’ve been listening to Christian rap since I was ten, and I’m about to turn 40.
So this is a collection of 30 rap songs by Christian artists that I consider to be significant or meaningful. They’re all good, in their own way… some of them I still bump on a regular basis. Some of them may sound a little dated now, but back when they came out, they were bangin’ (or, def, the bomb, or the hotness, whatever slang was big at the time).
Note that I’m not claiming that these are the best Christian rap songs from the last 30 years, because that’s an argument that can’t be proved. I’m just going with the songs that I feel are or were notable, special, or interesting. To hedge my bets a little, I’m also including a bunch of “honorable mention” titles, which are songs that are just as good and worthy of exposure, but which I just couldn’t write about since I’m only doing one song per year.
Also, I’ve included YouTube links for ease of playing, but when possible, I’ve also included links to purchase the music. If you really want to support Christian hip-hop, support the artists who’ve helped lay the groundwork for the plethora of great hip-hop we have to listen to today.
So without any further ado, take a ride with me into the wayback machine as we celebrate 30 years of Christians in hip-hop…
QUIET STRENGTH: President Barack Obama, Ruby Bridges, and representatives of the Norman Rockwell Museum view Rockwell’s "The Problem We All Live With,” hanging in a West Wing hallway near the Oval Office. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
With President Barack Obama’s approval rating sinking to new lows, it appears that many of his supporters may soon go from singing “The Thrill is Gone” to “Hey, hey, hey goodbye” in 2012 given, among other woes, general dissatisfaction with economic recovery efforts.
Calls exist from all sides for the president to do something — something that will finally lead to more jobs at the very least and anything at all to put Republicans, Tea Partiers, and other vocal critics in their places.
He’s obviously working, but what he’s done hasn’t been enough to quell criticisms even from his supporters. And I get it. It’s not that I want to take away my own approval rating points from the president. As much as I can identify the reasons behind why progress in some areas is slow, I just wish he’d take on his loudest detractors toe to toe.
People, figuratively out for blood, want to see muscle, the presidential version of WWE-style flexing. They want to scream “Yeah!” behind their guy as he threatens his rivals. Because there’s one president against many entities of everybody else, it seems like it would be easy beef to toss around. After all, Obama is the president, the big cheese, the one with the power to say a few words to shut everyone up.
Alas, that is not Obama’s approach.
It shouldn’t be a surprise, though, considering that in his inaugural address, he reminded us then that “power grows through its prudent use,” and he has continued to demonstrate such usage every step of the way.
He could’ve taken the path of “shock and awe” to go after Osama bin Laden. A massive airstrike, for example, would’ve made an impressive statement, though others could’ve died as a result. Instead, the president sanctioned a more restrained Navy SEAL mission that happened to be successful.
In response to more recent grievances about the economy, the president launched a bus tour in which he listened — not exactly a nuclear-war move. And amid talk of creating new jobs to no evidence of such, Obama plans to address a joint session of Congress Thursday. It would’ve been Wednesday but plans changed presumably to avoid a conflict with a previously scheduled Republican presidential debate. This occurred as yet another example of Obama accommodating the very people leading the charge against him.
Seriously? With all due respect, Mr. President, what’s really going on?
More than trying to accomplish a country with a growing economy offering jobs to everyone who wants to work, Obama seems to be grasping at something even greater — a more perfect union between Democrats and Republicans. Yeah, I’m rolling my eyes too. But that’s why we elected him: That approach is one of those changes we yearned to believe in.
It’s less noisy, less flashy, and a lot more frustrating to watch. But, if a comparison had to be made, well, it’s probably pretty close to what Jesus would do. That’s not to elevate Obama to deity status; it’s just acknowledging how a follower of Christ would act in trying to be like Him.
Perhaps it’s appropriate, then, that Norman Rockwell’s classic painting “The Problem We All Live With” now hangs outside the Oval Office. The painting — which shows U.S. marshals escorting a 6-year-old black girl named Ruby Bridges into a New Orleans elementary school in 1960 as an angry white crowd registers its protest — represents one of our nation’s most powerful moments of racial desegregation. In little Ruby’s simple act of going to school, we see a striking example of quiet strength.
Can we also learn something from President Obama’s repeated gestures of civility and restraint in the face of nasty opposition?
Credit must be given to the president for maintaining a commitment to peace and reconciliation while dodging mud that if one decided to “raise up” would go away so easily. How often have we heard among casual conversations that all Obama needs to do is curse out the GOP one good time to get things done? Not that that would be the holiest approach. We’re called to live holy because Christ is holy. We’re also challenged to hold one another accountable for actions; that’s one of our responsibilities to one another.
Another, as laid out by the prophet Jeremiah, is to avoid boasting in whatever power we have. As president, Obama is a card-carrying member of the bully pulpit, and membership has its privileges. Only, with it comes a certain level of responsibility particularly with the practices of being a Christian.
Nothing represents a firm execution of Christian values more than not exercising the extreme power you might have in a situation in an effort to maintain civility. If it’s a preference on the table, do we want a Christian president who just talks the talk or one who inconveniently walks the walk through hell and high water?
Not only is that change we can believe in; it’s change we already trust as we follow Christ’s example and as we hope our leaders do the same.