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Filtering by Tag: the homeless

Fritz Eichenberg

Paul Luikart

26 artwork One of my favorite pieces of visual art is Fritz Eichenberg’s wood-cutting from 1951 called The Christ of the Breadlines. I have a print of it framed and hanging on the wall in my house. It depicts Jesus Christ standing in line at a soup kitchen, waiting with the rest of the down-and-outers for His turn to be served. In front of Him and behind Him are other raggedy people, hands in their pockets, wrapped up in shawls, anxiously waiting for food, a meal they couldn’t prepare for themselves. They’re all together nomads, riff-raff, vagrants, human dreck, homeless.

I like this piece simply because it’s not a very typical depiction of Jesus. Other artists, Peter Paul Reubens for example, who portrayed Jesus’ death and resurrection on more than one occasion, gleefully inserted muscle upon muscle into the Jesuses of their paintings. Doing so achieves a certain effect: Jesus, the All Powerful One, retains His strength even at the most vulnerable point in His life. What can keep Him down? Not even the Cross. Reubens’ canvases are also very busy with action and motion, with the twisting, straining bodies of Jesus’ friends and family, Roman guards and servants. The same could be said for Michelangelo or any number of other Renaissance painters. But Eichenberg’s Jesus is weak. He’s wrapped in rags. He’s entirely in shadow. No bulging abs, no mountainous biceps. And the figures in the painting with Him are still. They stand, with the Lord of the universe in their midst, motionless in their deep poverty and hunger, wanting the same thing He wants—rest, fulfillment, an end to suffering.

The wood-cutting is very dark. In fact, Eichenberg’s only light source in the entire image is Jesus’ halo, central to the composition. By it and only by it does Eichenberg permit us to see that there are even any figures in the etching at all. Whereas artists like Reubens composed their paintings so the figures and action draw the eye to Christ, whether He is on the Cross or on the ground just after His death, Eichenberg gives us a different kind of composition. The figure of Jesus is literally in the middle of the piece, but the details—the stuff that Eichenberg pays such close attention to—are of those in the soup kitchen line with Jesus and not Jesus Himself. However, they can only be seen by the light of His crown.

What the Rich Need from the Poor

Paul Luikart

homeless I was talking to a guy at church a while ago and he asked me what I did for a living. I told him I worked with homeless men and women and his immediate response was, “They’re all drunk, right? On drugs?” I came to find out he owned his own construction business and had, in the past, employed a few homeless people to do general labor on his construction sites. He’d been burned. “They’re never on time. They don’t work hard.” That kind of stuff. This guy was wealthy. He’d built the construction business from the ground up and put a lot of hard work into it over many years. He’d seen hard times, no doubt, but now lived in a palace off Lake Shore Drive.

At the very least, he had a logic problem—extrapolating an ironclad belief about an entire demographic from the behaviors of a small percentage of that demographic. On a grander scale, what he didn’t realize is just how closely linked the rich and the poor are meant to be. The poor see this need for connection more clearly than the rich see it. At the very least, the poor are typically much more aware of what they need from the rich. But Dorothy Day went so far as to say, “I firmly believe that our salvation depends on the poor.” If this is true, then a positive outcome in terms of heaven or hell necessitates an intimacy between the rich and the poor. It has to go both ways. But there’s a tragic affection common only to the rich that prevents this intimacy from forming. An affection not for stuff, like the big TVs, summerhouses and all the rest, but for privilege. Privilege allows for the unfair expectation that the poor should act like the rich if they are ever to become un-poor. It also allows for the notion that help without strings from the rich to the poor will only produce a sense of entitlement in the poor. What’s swept under the rug, in that case, is the enormous sense of entitlement possessed by the rich. The rich perceive irreversible failure in the lives of the poor but if they, the rich, are to lend their help, privilege expects conformity from the poor to an impossible standard.

By the way, I only know the guy lived in a palace off Lake Shore Drive because I ended up in a Bible study with him. Sometimes we met there. How ironic and personally irksome. Over the Word of God, I had to figure out if I could love this guy like he was my brother, if I could stand being linked to him for the sake of my own soul. I’m not rich. I’m not poor either, but my sentiments obviously favor the poor. I often wondered what he thought about my job. He and I never talked about homeless people again.