First Person

Softly and tenderly Jesus is cutting a tiny monkey’s hair

I love the Del Parson Jesus. But it's the Monkey Jesus I need now.

I first encountered the “Monkey Jesus” at two in the morning, lying in bed, dead-eyed, my small zombie thumb scrolling through memes. One of those memes features an image of a monkey getting a haircut superimposed on pictures of a variety of famous figures—including Jesus. When I saw the solemn, little monkey face patiently sitting through a seemingly routine haircut with Jesus as barber, the electric strangeness of it startled me out of the mindless inhale of Internet images. The oddity and tenderness of it all felt so familiar. The image visually reconciled the conflicting impulses I had felt within myself for so long: it embodied the tug between the sacred and perverse and puerile.

The image of Jesus was from The Lost Lamb, a painting by the Mormon artist Del Parson. I know this because I am Mormon and because the artist’s son Craig and I used to skip class as undergrads to sit on the grass and goad each other into arguments over campus fashion. I’ve seen The Lost Lamb all my life. My Sunday school teachers held it in front of me and used it to teach me about love. As a missionary, I stood in a Costco parking lot with shredded pride and passed out small cards of the painting to shoppers who sidestepped the salvation I offered. I’ve seen Parson’s painting framed in church hallways in London, Honduras, Sydney, and San Francisco. Wherever I go, there it is, winking at me like a heavily perfumed woman in the checkout line, and every time I’m unsure of the secret we share.

The Del Parson Jesus is the Savior of the American suburbs. He’s clean, has kind eyes, is masculine, yet still a good listener. He’s a Jesus I would trust to water my plants. The ravages of time, the communal ache of the living, the scourge of Calvary have left little effect on his face. And it was this Jesus I had in mind when, as a pious and nervous child living amidst my fractured family, I knelt beside my bed and pleaded for the powers of heaven to calm the blurry intensity of my eight-year-old fears. I trusted this soft-faced Savior completely. That he would heal my mother’s heavy heart, my parents’ knotted marriage, and the sardonic chill of my siblings I had no doubt. And in my hope, I did receive something like comfort. And for this, I love you, Del Parson.