“I have decided to follow Jesus.” These words begin a well-known hymn, but for me they will always be about Gordon and Mary Cosby, cofounders of the Church of the Saviour in Washington, D.C. Gordon’s death on March 20, 2013, was not unexpected. He was 95 and had become frail. Knowing that he was dying, Gordon used the time to comfort coworkers, friends and neighbors.
In an era when homeless people can be seen sleeping on city sidewalks and park benches, Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz wanted to convey the idea that Jesus too was homeless. It was said of him: “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Schmalz didn’t anticipate that his sculpture would be controversial. St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto and St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York expressed interest in displaying the work but were overruled by diocesan officials. Schmalz said he was told that the image was not “appropriate.” Schmalz is negotiating with another church in New York City for a permanent home.
It may or may not be a sin, but I cannot hear your name, St. James the Less, without crocheting apocrypha for you, without drafting sentences, all of which start Nonetheless, St. James the Less and then lapse, describing a world whose vividness—the molting sycamores and lepers, an urn lurching on the potter’s wheel, the fishermen darning their nets—always trumped your quiet rectitude.
Nonetheless, St. James the Less—after the Greater James, his fervor all joy and rage, and not unlike simple imprudence, anointed the contrite and doused those who had it coming—it must have been you (was it not?) blotting kerosene from all the penitents’ habits.