Bresean Jenkins, the BWC's new artist-in-residence, discusses the Advent devotional he and his D.C.
students created. Jenkins will be using art and creative expression to help enliven
faith and discipleship throughout the Conference.
Over the centuries, people have ascribed countless names to Jesus, but seldom has he been thought of as a graffiti artist. However, Bresean Jenkins, the new artist-in-residence for the Baltimore-Washington Conference, has no problem seeing Jesus as a dangerous artist, creating outside the mainsteam.
Jesus, he said, “takes our broken pieces and puts them together to create rare and beautiful things.”
This year for Advent, Jenkins invited his students at the West Education Campus in Washington, D.C., where he teaches, to assist in the making of an art piece for the Baltimore-Washington Conference to use in its observance of Advent.
“With art, I never care about what is. I always care about why,” he said “Why does this look like stained glass windows with art imposed onto it? Because that is how I see the church – beauty and ugly coming together to re-create something completely new. This is how I see the church: graffiti.
“I think Jesus was the graffiti guy, Jenkins continued. “He was a rogue. He found beauty wherever he went. Beauty comes from broken pieces, and that's the beautiful thing about stained glass. It’s pieces — all coming together to let the light shine through.”
Jenkins worked with 12 students, from fifth to eighth grade, for four weeks. After much discussion and thought, they developed the concept for the piece. The kids chose the color schemes based on their impressions of Advent’s weekly themes of hope, peace, faith and love.
“As it was being created and people were seeing it, there was a lot of pride,” Jenkins said.
They even decided to let the imperfections stay. “Imperfections make art,” he said. “In art, young people get to make their own rules. There are techniques in art, but there is no right or wrong way to do it and we have to respect that.”
Reflecting on the Advent words, Jenkins and his students saw faith as “an unequivocable belief that something is going to happen when you have no evidence;” hope as “almost a divine optimism;” love as “an unspeakable emotion of care and concern that propels you to action;” and peace as “calm.”
Jenkins painted the center panel of the installation himself. It features the infant Christ child being lifted by hands.
The images of baby Jesus are different for everyone, Jenkins said. “I’m thankful Jesus did not have an Instagram page and did not take selfies. I’m thankful for that because my connection and how I see him are shaped and framed by my sacred experiences.”
He said one of the things that did influence him was the African tradition of holding up a child, and presenting it as something precious and holy to God. “There’s something so sacred about Mary and Joseph just taking that baby and saying , ‘I don’t know all the parts and pieces, but we’re going to hold this baby up, because whatever God said is going to happen.’”
As a pastor at Ebenezer UMC in Washington, D.C., Jenkins works with other churches in the area, helping to redefine the community with the arts.
“The arts are the only thing that transcend race, color, ethnicity, gender, socio-economic backgrounds and sexual orientation. It transcends all of that. When you get people concerned about the making of art, people find out all the things that they have in common, instead of focusing on the ways that they are different.”
This Christmas, with the Advent devotional, people in the BWC may have the opportunity to reflect upon a different interpretation of Jesus as graffiti artist. “I wonder about the Bible story of the woman caught in the act,” said Jenkins. “I wonder if instead of writing in the sand, what would Jesus have done with a wall and can of spray paint? I wonder.”
See the artwork and read the devotional pieces, written by leaders of the Baltimore-Washington Conference, at www.bwcumc.org/god-words.