Wednesday, July 23, 2008

What a friend we have in Jesus



I have a Jesus Collection--shown here and on this blog’s front page. I keep it in my office as a conversation piece, but people rarely comment on it. I think they’re not sure what to say.

· Should they be offended by all these "toys," these possibly idolatress images of Jesus, not all of which are flattering and some of which are clearly meant to be satirical?
· Should they be concerned they’re in the presence of a "Jesus Freak" who takes all these figures seriously?
· Or should they laugh and smile at the vast array of Jesus products and "get" the joke as it is intended--a gentle poke at the sometimes Jesus-obsessed Christian culture?

I'm hoping most look at my collection and take the third option, even if they never laugh out loud or say a word to me.

I hadn't intended to collect Jesus figures. You know how these collections get started. You buy one, then you find another that's similar, but with a twist. Then you find things that are related, but not exactly the same. Sometimes, people know about your collection and give you something to add. “I saw this in a little store in Suchandsuch, Iowa, and I thought of you!” they say.

So far, no one has bought me anything to add. However, those who do notice and talk about the collection ask me where I found various pieces. To tell you the truth, I don’t remember where they all came from, or which came first.

I think it started with the "Buddy Christ" from the movie Dogma. If you saw the movie, you know exactly what I mean. It’s the figure of Jesus (complete with immaculate heart and nail holes in hands) winking and doing the thumbs up.

In the movie, a priest, played by the late, great George Carlin, introduces it to the crowds. The authorities in the Catholic Church want to create a more welcoming image. So they replace the traditional crucifix—where Jesus is hanging perpetually on the cross dying—with this happier, friendlier Jesus.

I couldn’t resist it when I found it in one of those generic record stores you see in every mall in the US. I’ve even given some away as gifts to my Christian friends with a sardonic sense of humor.

That Jesus statuette was quickly followed by

· Action Figure Jesus, with moving arms and rollers on its base.
· Bobble-headed Jesus, which seems self-explanatory to me.
· Dashboard Jesus, which has a spring base that you can attach to your car’s dashboard so he’s watching over you all the time.

I got them all from various sources, and they’re made by different companies, as far as I know. So I found it intriguing that all four Jesus figures, including Buddy Christ, are dressed in the same outfit, even the same colors. Each is wearing a white robe with a maroon sash and matching sandals.

Later, I found a package of Jesus Pencil Toppers. And guess what? Same colors! This time, he’s wearing a maroon outer garment over a white robe. No feet for sandals, though; the pencil has to go somewhere.

I was in a novelty store when I discovered the Deluxe Miracle Jesus Action Figure. I was salivating when I took it off the shelf. The box comes complete with:

· Jesus, this time dressed in off-white and maroon;
· Five loaves and two fish to feed the 5,000—or 3,000—after the sermon on the mount—or on the level place—depending on which Gospel you’re reading.
· A jug for turning water into wine. It’s designed so you can set it down one way as a water jug and turn it over to be a jug of wine.

His hands glow in the dark, although I’m not sure why. And the back of the box gives a pretty balanced description of who Jesus is in the wider context of believers and non-believers. I haven’t taken him out of the box, because I’m afraid of losing the tiny miracle pieces.

Then there are some Jesus-related items I found online from the same company:

· Jesus Adhesive Bandages
· Jesus Packing Tape
· Jesus “Funky Fresh,” hanging air-fresheners for your car
· Last Supper After Dinner Mints

The bandages, tape, and air freshener are replete with icons of Jesus—glowing halos and all. I think the air-freshener is supposed to smell like frankincense. Of course, the mints have a rendering of DaVinci’s Last Supper on the tin.

I wonder if Leonardo had any idea his mural would be copied, in so many media centuries after his death? I’ve seen it as a latch-hook wall hanging, on throw blankets, purses and now after dinner mints.

Friends of mine received a Christmas gift one year that was a large chocolate bar with the image of the Last Supper on the face of it. Apparently, someone they knew owned a Last Supper chocolate mold. As the family and their guests nibbled away at the chocolate that holiday season, everyone ate around Jesus.

I thought that was humorous because, as Christians, we “eat” the body of Jesus Christ—either literally or symbolically—every time we take communion. So why were we all so squeamish about eating Jesus in chocolate?

I’m not sure if anyone finally ate the rest of it. It may still be preserved somewhere in the house. Hmmm. Maybe I should ask them. I haven’t added anything to my collection for a while, now.

Probably the most recent Jesus item added to my collection is Huggy Jesus, a doll I found online. It was being sold at a cut rate because it had failed as a product for children. It was intended to be used by kids as a comfort, kind of like a divine teddy bear. But when the product came out of the manufacturing plant, it had a wild head of hair, a scraggly beard and scary eyebrows.

Dressed in a red robe with gold trim and a blue sash, this time, he looks angry and frightening, no comfort to children of any age. I actually place it behind the deluxe action figure box on my shelf so he’s hidden a little bit from full view. I don’t want to scare people away, after all.

I have seen a different Jesus plush doll that has been more successful—more attractive and huggable. And, of course, there are plenty of other Jesus items out there. When I add to my collection, though, I look for the unusual item, not the everyday.

As a whole, the collection reminds me that Jesus—and by extension, God—has a sense of humor. It’s in the scriptures, although often subtle. But it’s also in my relationship with Jesus, usually in the form of serendipity. How often have I found myself doing that very thing that I most resisted and experiencing it as an opportunity rather than a challenge?

But, finally, the collection recalls for me what it means to follow Jesus’ path in the first place: To be more Christian in my behavior, but less pious in my attitude toward others.

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