English Professor Emeritus and poet Tony Abbott introduced me to the world of poetry and art during my freshman year at Davidson, in 1967. His poem, the first few phrases of which I’ve copied here, accompanies the bronze sculpture “Jesus the Homeless,” by artist Timothy P. Schmaltz, which was installed in February on our church campus as a permanent and provocative reminder of the plight of society’s marginalized.
Not everyone liked our art.
The life-sized sculpture looks quite real upon first glimpse, especially in the dark. Apart from a descriptive plaque on a nearby brick post, the only way one might determine the identity of the hooded homeless man is by seeing the nail holes through his feet. Soon after we installed it, more than one passerby called the local police. One person feared for the community. One person wished to bring the guy some soup.
Both its location at the entrance to this new affluent neighborhood in Davidson and the controversial depiction of Jesus as a hooded, homeless man on a park bench provoked pushback from some neighbors. Local NBC affiliate WCNC in Charlotte dramatized the controversy in a news story. Then “Homeless Jesus” went viral, including coverage from National Public Radio and the Huffington Post!
Martin McCoy ’81, a member of this parish, donated the sculpture in memory of Kate McIntyre, also a member of St. Alban’s, and the Davidson town public art director before her untimely death from lung cancer a few years ago. Our church’s commitment to both spirituality in the arts and to social justice initiatives made Martin’s offer of this sculpture a “no-brainer” for us.
It’s my hope that the sculpture will contribute to this community a heightened awareness, starting with me and this parish, of the plight of the marginalized. I hope we will learn better to express our faith commitment through creative and proactive engagement with the problem of homelessness. I wish fellow alumnus Martin McCoy all the best as he explores with artist Schmalz the possibility of placing copies of Homeless Jesus globally.
Amid the flurry of reactions to the sculpture were emails of support from all over the world. Strangely enough, support for the sculpture seems to transcend the polarization between conservative and liberal streams of faith, at least the emails I have received. Not only that, more than one self-labeled “atheist” has written to us, in effect saying, “I don’t believe any of your religious stuff, of course. Yet for once you folks got something right.”
Not sure why that pleases me so much.