Meeting Jesus on the Way

“The Good News of God’s grace is for all, regardless of age, abilities, physical and mental health, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, education, income or strength of faith. There is nothing we do, have done or will do that can separate us from God. God makes no exceptions, nor do we.”           

 Christ Lutheran Church

two art quilts featuring people of many ethnic backgrounds behind a marble statue of Jesus

It was in the spirit of that statement that Sharon Senghor, Debra Neumann, and Sheila Bell on the CLC Church Council at the time approached me with a concept for fiber artwork in the sanctuary. “What if we had artwork that was representative of that statement? How do we represent Jesus? In a contemporary crowd, what would Jesus look like?”

 Using that as a start, I proposed two panels comprising fifteen people, representing Jesus, 11 disciples, and the three women most closely associated with Jesus’ ministry. These people would need to reflect diversity of gender identity, ethnicity, hair color, eye color, age, and physical ability. In January 2023, I presented the congregation with a fabric sketch and a road map.

 Each person in this work has unique characteristics: there is only one blond, one person wearing glasses, one senior woman. I used many different shades of pink to brown fabrics in creating the skin tones. While some of the people are definitively one ethnicity or another, and others are open to the viewer’s interpretation, it is useful to recall the song we learned as children which goes: “Jesus loves the little children/All of the children in the world/Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight.” 

 In addition to markers of physical ability — seen in the man using a wheelchair and the man wearing glasses — the Council also requested representation of immigrant status.  This is shown through the backpack held on the lap of a woman in green. The gender identity of the person in black boots is left ambiguous deliberately; God loves them no matter how they identify. In this way, I hope that viewers might find a welcome and bits of themselves reflected back at them.

 I fondly remember my grandfather reciting James Weldon Johnson’s “The Creation.” A line from that poem inspired the colors used. “And God smiled again, and the rainbow appeared, and curled itself around his shoulder.” Reds are near the bottom, working their way up through the rainbow to violet at the top. 

 Each of the fifteen figures was assembled and quilted individually, before arranging them onto their respective panels and quilting all of the layers together. This allowed me to spend time with each one, responding to what the subject seemed to want rather than forcing them into my conception of them.

 I hope that this artwork invites viewers to consider how we conceptualize Jesus. If God made us in His image, then each of us is a reflection of God, just as the human Jesus was. And if that is the case, any of these people could be the child of God.