My mother works as the communications coordinator for a small suburb of Denver, and part of her
job involves answering and routing phone calls from citizens to the various departments housed in City Hall. One citizen, an eccentric old man with a great need to have dialogue with someone about something, calls the City of Arvada government offices repeatedly – as in, at least four times a week. My mom patiently helps him out every time he calls, and about a month ago, the man was so overwhelmed with gratitude for my mom’s help that he drove to City Hall to give my mom what he claimed was a “signed, numbered original” of a famous artist’s pencil drawing of Jesus’ face.
It was not a signed, numbered original, of course; it was a very nice print. My mom took the paper with Jesus’ life-size face on it and placed it in her car to take home. My mom is not a particularly religious person, but she was raised Presbyterian, and after a few days of driving around with Jesus in the backseat, she began to take comfort in His presence and decided maybe she should leave the print in the car. The picture has remained there ever since.
I wasn’t aware of any of this until I went home for spring break. I made the mistake of tossing my coat into the back seat, covering the drawing, and my mom quickly yelled, “Wait! You’re covering up Jesus!”
We had opened a can of worms. From that point forward, the print of Jesus seemed to come up in every conversation we had in the car. We were constantly asking each other things like, “Do you think Jesus wants the car to be warmer?” and, “Do you think the sun on His face is bothering Jesus?” and “Is there room for the groceries on the seat next to Jesus?” We didn’t say anything blasphemous unless you consider my comment, “Mom, Jesus wants to go to Starbucks!” disrespectful. My mom’s eyes widened as she looked at me and said, “Jordan, you shouldn’t use Jesus to get Starbucks.” It dawned on me that maybe I should consult the picture of Jesus, and, surprisingly, it did look like the picture was a little angry with me. It was then that we realized that Jesus’ lips were drawn in a way that sometimes caused Him to look angry and other times caused Him to look amused; sometimes He looked approvingly at us.
One evening on our way to dinner, my dad was sitting in the backseat with Jesus. My dad, who tends to be a bit irreverent, kept remarking that we should hold the image of Jesus up as we drove through traffic so that people could see that we were riding with Jesus, causing us all to laugh as my mom began to scold him for being disrespectful. This line of conversation escalated until we were all laughing so hard we could barely breathe. We pulled up to a stoplight and simultaneously looked over to see a heavily-bearded, long-haired man in the car next to us meticulously brushing his beard in his rearview mirror.
My dad mischievously took the picture of Jesus and held it up so that the beard-brushing man could see Jesus’ life-size face watching him. The image immediately caught the man’s attention. He smiled broadly, offered a “‘sup nod”, and gave a thumbs up, causing my parents to roar in laughter as I hid my head in my hands, wondering what had gotten into them.
Even though I’m not particularly religious, when I look back on that night, I think there is something kind of powerful about the picture of Jesus in the backseat. My mom has admitted that it makes her think twice before judging other drivers when they cut her off in traffic, and my dad has admitted that when he is riding with my mom, he is less likely to be a backseat driver, leaving that task to Jesus. Even I will admit that when I drove my mom’s car over spring break, I was always cognizant of the fact that Jesus was there. It made me a little uncomfortable and a little comfortable at the same time.
Perhaps the lightheartedness of our banter stemming from Jesus’ image in the backseat might be considered blasphemous to some, but at the end of the day, the Jesus drawing has made me think about God and wonder if Jesus has a sense of humor. And who knows? Maybe Jesus will be waiting in line behind me the next time I’m at Starbucks. I wonder what He would order.