Found on the street: An Abstract Nativity Project
By Neil Allen
For many years, as I've walked for my health, I keep finding things that remind me of my passion for nativities. A "Big Hero" box - once holding hotdogs from that chain, sends a message to my brain that says, "Yeah - it does kind of look a bit like a manger box." An old Chrysler hubcap with it's five-pointed star - has been on my watch list for years!
I asked myself, "Wouldn't it be fun to build a nativity from things found on the street?" My theological brain thinks of the lowly manger and the cast-off nature of the place of the birth. It's so far from the white porcelain images of idillic beauty and much more relatable to the humble nature of Jesus.
Then one day, while walking Lincoln Street in Denver, Co, I found a broken piece of glass pipe some stoner once used to get high. It was purple - the color often linked to advent - and the shape reminded me of a gift held in the hand of a king (though this was hardly something he would treasure or present to a child - I thought of how, now that it was worthless to that individual - it added to the trashy appearance of the world - but yet how it sparkled). I reached down - reminding myself to wash thoroughly when I got home, and picked it up.
I sat it on the shelf of my office - looking at it from different angles - it really did look like a gift from a king.
The very next day, as I walked to my office on the same street, I found a VERY ODD scene. Someone had literally smashed a computer to bits. There were parts and pieces lying everywhere, and I could see how they had attached it to a stick to fling it violently on the old red stone sidewalk slabs from Red Rock.
What madness brought this soul to do such a thing?
But, as I picked up the pieces to toss them into a garbage bin, I found her - a piece of the "Mother Board" - seriously - there was a head - an arm - a gown....It was Mary!!!
I told some friends who saw these two pieces sitting on my open shelf space - "I'm thinking of building a street find nativity." I went on to explain the theological concept of how, if we can't find Jesus on the street, we're probably not going to find him in the sanctuary....and other such theological ramblings I'd thought about on my walks.
Two days later my friend brought me a cardboard box he had shaped into a trash bin with lids. He painted it green from a partially used spray can. He claimed he found the box on the same two-block radius where I had also found some broken wood - which I had asked him to cut into a city scape.
The Camel cigarette boxes were easy - as was the cardboard sign a homeless guy cast into the bushes - and another friend cut into the shape of a man - with the words, "God Bless" still showing.
I had Mary, Jospeh, the city scape, a trash bin to remind me of the lowly nature of the manger...and a beer can labeled, "Gold." There's the 5 pointed Chrysler star, but I cheated. It came off my printer - BUT STILL WITHIN THAT 2 BLOCK RADIUS! My makeshift nativity was coming together - troubling some and inspiring others - much like the whole birth of Jesus story.
For many weeks l left It visible in the outer office area - and watched as some folks thought my cheese had slipped off the cracker - while others thought it brilliant. I smiled at both and kept on with my search.
One day I found "Danger" plastic strips that had been used to block off an electrical work area. This became the foundation for the bed of Jesus (Philippians 2 "He became obedient - even unto death") - but no Jesus.
I probably looked for 3 months - keeping within my self-imposed two-block radius of my office...and one day... THERE HE WAS!
A Comcast installer had dropped him in the cracks of the sidewalk. He was a "connector" - a tool used to connect a signal from the heavens to our homes. You might say "It's just a coax connection" but I say "I found my baby Jesus." I taped a sick figure baby - also off my printer - to the "aforementioned coax connector/baby Jesus - put him on a cut-piece of ever-present styrofoam which I stained with coffee and dirt (I thought - one day I'll cover it with a smelly scrap cloth so it looks like one of those mattresses people lean up against a trash bin - can't get much lower than that for a bed!).
My nativity was MOSTLY complete, so I added a pizza box I made from - you'll never guess - A PIZZA BOX - no respectable (non-respectable) garbage bin is complete with out an empty pizza box!
I put it up in my show from time to time and people say, "What on earth is THAT all about?" That's something you probably shouldn't ask a pastor/artist/ (insert your own word here). It opens up a spirited theological conversation which some can relate to and others not.
I no longer search those streets - as I'm back in my Portland, Oregon home - no longer serving as Interim Pastor in Denver...but if I EVER see a hubcap from a Chrysler K-Car with a five pointed star.....