Sunday, April 13, 2014


The "Homeless Jesus" sculpture story has apparently
been around for over a year, but I didn't know
anything about it until I heard a radio story
 this morning on my NPR affiliate, KUNM.
Further down are a couple of interesting
 YouTube videos about the sculpture, the artist,
the controversy, and a papal audience.
Rev. David Buck sits next to the Jesus the Homeless statue that was installed in front of his church, St. Alban's Episcopal, in Davidscon, N.C.
Rev. David Buck sits next to the Jesus the Homeless statue that was installed in front of his church, St. Alban's Episcopal, in Davidscon, N.C.
Click here to HEAR the radio story.
The story text is below (there are minor
differences between the audio and the published
text - obviously a few "editing" decisions
were last minute).
There is a new religious statue in the town of
 Davidson, N.C. that's unlike anything you
 might see in a church.  It depicts Jesus as
a vagrant, sleeping on a park bench.  A few
residents have complained but most find the statue
spiritually moving.
NPR's John Burnett brings us the story.
In February, St Albans Episcopal Church in
Davidson installed the Homeless Jesus statue on
 its property in the middle of an upscale
 neighborhood filled with well-kept
Jesus is huddled under a blanket with his
 face and hands obscured; only the crucifixion
 wounds on his uncovered feet give him away.
The reaction was immediate. Some loved it;
 some didn't.
"One woman from the neighborhood
 actually called police the first time she drove
 by," says David Boraks, editor of "She thought it was an
 actual homeless person."
That's right. Somebody called the cops on Jesus.
"Another neighbor, who lives a couple of
doors down from the church, wrote us a
 letter to the editor saying it creeps him out,"
 Boraks added.
Some neighbors felt it was an insulting
 depiction of the Son of God, and what
 appears to be a hobo curled up on a bench
 demeans the neighborhood.
The bronze statue was purchased for $22,000
 as a memorial for a parishioner, Kate
 McIntyre, who had loved public art. The
 rector of this liberal, inclusive church is Rev. 
David Buck, a 65-year-old Baptist-turned-
Episcopalian who seems not at all averse to
 the controversy, the double-takes and the
 discussion the statue has provoked.
"It gives authenticity to our church," he
 says. "This is a relatively affluent church, to
 be honest, and we need to be reminded
 ourselves that our faith expresses itself in
 active concern for the marginalized of society."
The sculpture is intended as a visual
 translation of the passage in the Book of
 Matthew, in which Jesus tells his disciples,
 "as you did it to one of the least of my
 brothers, you did it to me." Moreover, Buck
 says, it's a good Bible lesson for those used
 to seeing Jesus depicted in traditional
 religious art as the Christ of glory,
 enthroned in finery.
"We believe that that's the kind of life Jesus
 had," Buck says. "He was, in essence, a
 homeless person."
This lakeside college town north of Charlotte
 has the first Jesus the Homeless statue on
 display in the United States.
 Catholic Charities of Chicago plans to install its statue
when the weather warms up. The
 Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., is said to
 be interested in one, too.
The creator is a Canadian sculptor and
 devout Catholic named Timothy Schmalz.
 From his studio in Ontario, Schmalz says he
 understands that his Jesus the Homeless is provocative.
"That's essentially what the sculpture is
 there to do," he says. "It's meant to
 challenge people."
He says he offered the first casts to St. Michael's Cathedral
 in Toronto and St. Patrick's Cathedral in
 New York. Both declined.
A spokesman at St. Michael's says
 appreciation of the statue "was not
 unanimous," and the church was being
 restored so a new work of art was out of the
question. That statue found a home in front of
 the Jesuit School of Theology
 at the University of Toronto.
A spokesperson at St. Patrick's in New York
 says they liked the homeless Jesus, but their
 cathedral is also being renovated and they
 had to turn it down.
The most high-profile installation of the
 bronze Jesus on a park bench will be on the
 Via della Conziliazione, the avenue leading to
 St. Peter's Basilica — if the City of Rome approves it.
 Schmalz traveled to the Vatican last November
 to present a miniature to the pope himself.
"He walked over to the sculpture, and it was
 just chilling because he touched the knee of
 the Jesus the Homeless sculpture, and closed
 his eyes and prayed," Schmalz says. "It was
like, that's what he's doing throughout the whole
 world: Pope Francis is reaching out to the
Back at St. Alban's in Davidson, the rector
 reports that the Jesus the Homeless statue has
 earned more followers than detractors.
 It is now common, he says, to see people come,
 sit on the bench, rest their hand on the 
bronze feet and pray. 
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