A woman once asked me if I could describe, in as few words as possible, who Jesus is to me. The words popped out of my mouth without considering her reason for asking, “My best buddy.”
“Your best buddy?” she laughed.
“Yes. If he came to me at this moment in physical form, we’d probably do something really fun – like squaw wrestle! And we’d likely end up laughing ourselves breathless over some of the images that have been created to depict him. Then we’d probably become serious and discuss the myriad of misinterpretations of his words and parables that humankind has adopted over the centuries.”
“When you pray, do you pray to him?” she asked
“I pray to God or Jesus…it’s interchangeable to me. As a child of God, I’m able to draw on the love, truth and wisdom from the divine by calling on either.”
Being an artist, this woman asked, “Do you have a concept of what Jesus would look like?”
“Not really. But it’s funny you should ask. You are a glass artist and my favourite image comes from a stained glass window that another woman designed in Toronto years ago. Her name was Yvonne Williams. She was born in Trinidad in September of 1901 and underwent glass art studies in Europe and North America. She designed incredibly intricate and dazzling windows for churches in Toronto, and other places. However, I was fortunate enough to have one shown to me in 1998.”
“My significant other, at that time, was a glass artist who had lived and studied glass art in Toronto. His uncle also was a respected glass artist and had actually been one of Yvonne’s students years ago. Therefore, my partner, Robert, had heard, first hand, about the uproar that took place when Yvonne designed a window depicting Jesus.”
“Apparently her reputation had been well established before she was commissioned to design and create her version of Jesus for this church. The council members at the Deer Park United Church on St. Clair Avenue in Toronto must have been very confident that Yvonne’s reputation would allow for a bit of poetic license. They approved her design and Yvonne went to work.”
“When Yvonne had the window installed and it was unveiled, all hell broke loose. There stood Jesus, short auburn hair, bare-chested and wearing blue jeans. He may even be barefoot…his feet are obscured in my photo.”
I continued, “Robert treated me to a trip to Deer Park United in 1998 just so I could see the window. It was exquisite. It immediately became my favourite depiction of Jesus. Still is.”
“What happened about it?” my artist friend asked.
“It’s still there. I have a photo of it. The official record of what happened would likely be in the archives of the United Church in Toronto. I can find photos of Yvonne’s other work on the Internet, along with some details of Yvonne’s life. However, I can find no photo and no mention of this window on the Internet. Robert said that the story lives on in the glass art community in Toronto. It claims that the uproar over the window was nasty enough that Yvonne was devastated and stopped doing work for quite some time. Some people claim it was her last piece, but I cannot find data to back that statement.”
“So, my friend, you asked me what I think Jesus would look like. I think my buddy Jesus would look just like Yvonne’s Jesus…one that created a furor in a Christian church and one that may have broken a gifted artist’s heart.”
Besides this window giving me a visual of the kind of Jesus with whom I can identify, it also symbolizes the kind of treatment churches can mete out. While all major churches in Canada cry out for membership of younger people, the clergy, their councils and their elitist “should-ers” huddle in circles of justification while their two-legged promises of rejuvenation file by in every style of clothing, every colour of hair, and every type of belief system. One hand is held out with a gesture of wanting our presence while the other holds up a hand with a gesture of barring any suggestion of change or difference.
I have made attempts to cut through the huddle and found myself spiritually bruised. So I stick with my buddy, Jesus, who probably has a tattoo somewhere under those blue jeans. Only Yvonne knows.