Backlit Jesus

With my retirement date dead ahead, I find myself waxing nostalgic. Until that BIG day when I hang up my robe and stole, my weekly posts will highlight those who have made my race worth running and a few of my God-Moments as well. 

Canandaigua, New York

July 1985 – September 1988

Early in my stay in Canandaigua, while exiting the sanctuary my eyes fell upon a picture hanging prominently on the wall at the back of the church. You could not miss it. It was huge and, at least to me, ugly as sin. It pictured a sweet-looking Jesus that, because he was backlit, could be adjusted to make him dark and evil looking or light and angelic. It was your choice and easy to do. With a clockwise turn of a knob, you could make Jesus bright, brighter or brightest. Of course, it you turned the knob counter-clockwise, Jesus was transformed from dark to darker to darkest. I’m not sure if it was a case of seeing Jesus as a glass half full or half empty, but it really did not matter to me. Darkest or brightest, I judged the picture to be hideous.

After too many Sundays of gagging when I exited the sanctuary, I announced to the Pastor that I was going to take the picture down. Pastor Dave stopped abruptly, turned and faced me and said, “I wouldn’t if I were you.”

“Why?” I asked him. “Do you like it?”

“No,” he said. “It’s ugly.”

“Ok then,” said I, “it’s coming down.”

Monday morning I made my way to the church basement, found the tools I needed to remove that wretched painting. I took it down and found a new home for it in a dark corner of the basement.

By early Tuesday afternoon, the phone was ringing off the hook with angry callers and unannounced visitors stormed the office to protest to Pastor Dave the removal of the “Backlit Jesus.” Pastor Dave threw me under the church van: “Pastor John took it down. You should talk to him.”

By late afternoon, one might have thought that I had shot and killed the family dog, but the real reason for the outpouring of anger was that the “Backlit Jesus” was hung on that wall in memory of Aunt Margaret. She was beloved and, even though she had been dead for many years, her memory lingered in the heart and soul of Canandaigua Church. I had not removed a painting. I had trampled on the memory of a beloved Church-Mom.

The “Backlit Jesus” was re-hung in its accustomed place by the end of my shift. To add sincerity to my repentance, I turned the knob clock-wise so that Jesus would shine “brightest” in memory of Aunt Margaret.

My comeuppance gave birth to a few learnings:

Never take down a painting, no matter how ugly it is, without asking first if there is a memory behind it.

Creating good memories is a great reason for living.

Loving memories of good people last for a very long time…maybe that’s the essence of eternal life.

John E. Holt, Cotuit, Massachusetts



2 thoughts on “Backlit Jesus

  1. Tomorrow, April 3rd is the 10 year anniversary of when Maggie Smillie under-went her double lung transplant. She lived a precious gift of a year and a half after that date. How beautiful some of those moments were. I was one of her lung donors. How blessed I was to have that opportunity (as was her dad). We would have (and tried) to do it again in a heart beat but that was not to be part of the plan. I am thankful for the support of my immediate incredible family, friends, and the UMC family that they demonstrated 10 years ago! Thank you everyone. Cemeteries are silent…was there today. debbie


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