Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Have Yourself a Krylon Little Christmas

From The Blade:

Thief returns icon of baby Jesus, says prank proves point

By DAVID YONKE

BLADE RELIGION EDITOR

A figure of baby Jesus stolen from a Maumee church is back in his manger, wearing a new coat – of paint, that is.

During his two-week absence, Jesus’ white skin was covered with dark brown paint, said the Rev. Roger Miller, pastor of St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church on East Wayne Street.

“Sorry I took your baby Jesus. It was a childish prank,” the perpetrator said in a handwritten note. “As far as his new color, I thought I would point out that Jesus was not an Aryan but actually a man of color. Although you probably knew this but would rather not be reminded.”

The thief added that the paint job was “not some sort of racial thing … actually I’m white. But I know what color Jesus was.”

Dr. Henry Bowden, executive secretary of the American Society of Church History, said the dark-skinned Jesus is probably more historically accurate than the light-skinned image commonly seen in the United States.

“He was of Jewish heritage, from the eastern coast of the Mediterranean. Most Jews were swarthy, with olive skin, brown eyes, and brown or black hair,” said Dr. Bowden, a Rutgers University professor from Red Bank, N.J.

The thief meticulously applied the new coat of paint to the Fiberglas statue, Mr. Miller said, with the figure’s fingernails and palms carefully painted a shade of gray.

A police report on the missing 21/2–foot statue had been filed Dec. 13 when John Stout, the owner of the creche set, discovered that Mary and Joseph were suddenly childless.

Mr. Stout, who bought the Nativity about 10 years ago, said yesterday he was “pleased we have it back.”

“Somebody went off the deep end,” he said “I have no idea what weird things went on in people’s minds. But I think God has a sense of humor. Somewhere, he’s touched somebody some way with all this rigmarole.”

Dr. Bowden, of the American Society of Church History, said the image of Jesus as a white-skinned, fair-haired man with blue eyes dates to ancient Europe, when artists painted Christ to look like one of their own population.

Americans have carried on the European image of Jesus for centuries.

“Christianity is ‘indigenized’ into various cultures,” Dr. Bowden said.

In Africa, for example, Jesus is usually portrayed as a dark-skinned man; in Latino cultures he has Hispanic traits, and in Japan the Virgin Mary and Jesus often are painted to look Japanese, he said.

Michael Youngblood, director of Black Catholic Ministries for the Toledo diocese, said he has been making an effort to show diversity in local depictions of Jesus.

Some of the artwork at Rosary Cathedral School shows Jesus as a man of color, he said, and Black Catholic Ministries often uses black images of Christ in their services.

“Nobody knows the real color of Jesus,” Mr. Youngblood said.

“In a black church, Jesus often is a black image. The majority of people look at Jesus as blond-haired and blue eyed.

“I don’t find it offensive,” Mr. Youngblood said. “It’s whatever people can relate to more. They’re all valid. There’s room for interpretation.”

Mr. Miller, pastor of the 1,500-member St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, said he is not sure if the paint can be removed from the Jesus statue without damaging it.

“I think we ought to leave it, personally,” he said. “There’s something poignant about this Jesus coming to us like this, representing another race. It’s a reminder to us all that Jesus came for all people.”

The decision on whether to alter Jesus’ skin color yet again is up to the statue’s owner, he added.

Mr. Stout, 70, said he is not sure what he will do.

“It was nice the way it was,” he said. “I don’t know, we’ll just pray about it and see.”

Well, since the statue of Mary is still white, they’d better repaint Baby Jesus or the other statues will start to gossip.