Thursday, June 16, 2005

A Non-Religious Experience in the Bathroom

When I worked as a bookseller, my co-workers and I heard some pretty bizarre requests from customers. No, there is no original edition of Homer's Iliad dating back to when he first wrote it. No, there are no photographs of dinosaurs from millions of years ago. And there are no books with actual photographs of Jesus Christ.

Furthermore, there are no authentic depictions of Jesus from his lifetime. He did not have a personal portrait artist follow him around to draw his picture. By the time the familiar image of Christ became more or less standardized, anyone who could have attested to his actual appearance had been dead for centuries. In the popular imagination, Jesus Christ was a long-haired man with a beard, usually light brown but sometimes even looking a little blond. In other words, "That's funny, you don't look Jewish".

So what makes people in the year 2005 think that they know what Jesus looked like? For centuries we have been bombarded with images and iconography depicting Christ as...well, as a long-haired, bearded man of the same nationality as the artist. Renaissance portraits of Christ tend to look either German or Italian. At my church, there is a picture if the last supper that was a gift from a congregation in Tanzania. In this work, Jesus and the 12 apostles look like black African men sitting around a table. They don't look Jewish, either, so the African portrait is no less inaccurate than the European ones.

So we have reached a point where, even though no one really knows what Jesus looked like, almost everyone is convinced that they know exactly what he looked like. This is very important in denominations that revere images of the Messiah, be they two-dimensional portraits or statues. (In other words, graven images. Isn't that against the Ten Commandments?) It started out as a form of reverence, and has in many cases turned into a mania, especially when an image of Christ (or his mother) turns up under circumstances that were not intentionally of man's doing.

Lo and behold, the "face of Christ" has turned up in someone's bathroom! And it happened right here in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania:

The 30-year-old Lawrenceville man stepped out of his shower Saturday evening and saw what he says looks like an image of the son of God staring back at him.

"'I got out of the shower and yelled, 'Jesus Christ!'" he said Wednesday.

"My girlfriend asked me, 'Oh, my God, what is it?' "

"I pointed and responded, 'No, Jesus Christ!'"

One time at that book shop where I worked, I noticed an ghostly image of a bearded man with long hair in the grain of a wooden door in the stockroom. When I pointed it out to a co-worker, he told me that it was Joel. Not Joel the Old Testament prophet, but Joel the Assistant Manager at our shop. We had to clarify that before people started coming in and lighting candles in front of it. "Nothing to see here, go back to church".

The man who discovered Jesus in his shower has made sure that no one is going to turn his bathroom into a shrine:
He cut out the section of plaster with a rotary tool, revealing the source of a water leak inside the wall. He then fabricated a box, filled it with plaster and placed the wall segment inside the box to dry.
And he is selling it on eBay as "Shower Jesus". He could call it just about anything else -- Bathtub Charles Manson, Cousin Bill on the Wall, or whatever -- and people would insist that it looks like Jesus Christ. I don't blame him for trying to make a buck on it. You gotta pay the bills somehow. I would love to be able to rip off part of my house and exchange it for a few thousand bucks. Or even part of my lunch:

Diana Duyser, of Florida, netted a cool $28,000 in November for a 10-year-old grilled cheese sandwich -- missing a bite -- that she says bears the image of the Virgin Mary. The owners of an online casino placed the winning bid.
Cool! I could pay off my mortgage with that kind of money. Given the kind of mania that usually surrounds mystery appearances of religious figures, what do you suppose would be the reaction if, instead of identifying the image as Jesus, the shower guy had cut it out of the wall, tossed it in his toilet, photographed it and called it "Gitmo Guano Mohammed"?

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