Thursday, December 6, 2007

Jesus - With You Always

The creepiness of the "Jesus - With You Always" website is matched only by its sincerity. I remember a friend at college first introducing me to the page. Even as a Christian at the time, I felt vaguely unsettled. Showcasing 33 pencil renderings, the site has enjoyed immense popularity, boasting 2,447,073 hits at the time of this writing. The artist behind the drawings, Larry Van Pelt, was 50 when he was awoken one night with the distinct conviction that he must produce artwork depicting ordinary people doing ordinary work, and Jesus standing there beside them.

And so, without any artistic training, he set about to meet God's 10-year deadline. Van Pelt practiced sketching, took art lessons, and eventually created 20 drawings of people performing their everyday vocations and avocations. Then, he found a 33-year old (Jesus was allegedly 33 when he died - a numerological significance that may also explain the quantity of images currently on offer) model who looked the part, was willing to grow a beard, and - best of all - was a Christian! (Side note: this is indeed remarkable, as up until The Passion of the Christ, no major feature film Jesus was played by a Christian). So Van Pelt added Jesus to all of the images, and has continued on ever since, releasing new images and posting them to the website. He derived the title from Jesus' promise in Matthew 28:20, "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world." It reminds me of a shirt I used to wear that, in the style of the Visa logo, said "JESUS - he's everywhere you want to be."

Artistically, the drawings generally have nice line quality, and look to be tracings from photographs. However, Jesus is often at the wrong scale (executive, juggler) or just disappearing awkwardly and suddenly, like he got cut in half (golfer, bodybuilder, jogger). One can't fault Van Pelt much for this, as he admittedly only became an artist to complete these drawings and, as I said from the start, there is definitely an endearing sincerity to the work he's done here.

What none of the drawings can avoid, however, is an all-pervading creepiness. I don't know about you, but the thought of Jesus standing around all the time is unnerving. In some drawings he's lending a helping hand to a professional, but you can't help but imagine that, if he bumped the person's arm, someone could end up getting hurt (dental assistant, welder, surgeon, construction). And even if he's invisible to begin with, I'd still want Jesus to stay in my peripheral vision, and not lurk behind me (forest ranger, trucker, expectant, student). At other times, his expression is unclear or just plain giddy (bodybuilder, guitarist). And a clown? In color?!? Clowns are scary enough without Jesus getting involved.

And if Jesus is with us always, one's imagination is quick to suggest the other times when Jesus might be watching. Is he there when you're on the toilet or getting dressed? What about other times that you normally expect to be alone, like when you're enjoying time with a sexual partner, or all by yourself? I imagine this might provide motivation not do anything sinful, but no one can help going to the bathroom. And it's poor motivation, anyway, to be moral just out of fear of being seen.

The further theological implications of this are clear. Where is Jesus, what is he doing, and what expression is on his face when a child is raped by a priest, when a bus goes off the road and kills four youth group members, or when an African already suffering from AIDS contracts a guinea worm infection? This is the standard problem of theodicy, but an ever-present Jesus makes the contrast all the more revolting. Does anyone else see the plot of a horror film shaping up here?

So don't think about it too hard: just enjoy the unintentional comedy, have a chuckle, and feel a slight shiver up your spine.

Update: Thanks to reader evilpoet for pointing me to the hilarious parody website What Would Jesus Do For A Klondike Bar? The captions had me cracking up.


EvilPoet said...

What Would Jesus Do For A Klondike Bar?

Peter Dawson Buckland said...

That is breathtakingly bizarre. I'll link here from my blog too.

Evolved said...

Great post!

larry van pelt said...

The web-site displaying the "Jesus, With You Always" drawings by Larry Van Pelt had been relocated to:

Please update your link to the site.

God bless you,
Larry Van Pelt

It had previously been located at:

However, AOL is closing down their web hosting service as of 31 October 2008