I think my paintings may be a subconscious protest. For me, they decry cheap imitations of Christ I have unknowingly been “gifted” along with my Christian upbringing. A plastic collection of bait-and-switch Jesuses. Messiah impersonators that tell me the Maker of the Universe is too disinterested in and disgusted by my earthly experience to provide me with needs intrinsic to my humanity. These Christs are too “spiritual” to care for the myriad and simple ways that brokenness has affected our very being in the world.
A global pandemic, economic instability, rampant systematic injustices, the genocide of people in a remote land I’ll likely never be welcomed into, an ocean drowning in the irresponsible refuse of an endlessly consuming population, the declining mental health of a loved one who has been oppressed by years of unhealed festering trauma, and the scrounging survival of the homeless person who shelters in the alley behind my work building—these sufferings culminate like a hundred thousand little splinters too deeply buried for any easy remedy, just like the anxiety that constricts my chest by simply living on this spinning rock floating in the black void of space. These needs, big and small, are what weave the fabric of our humanity.
To get my hopes up, to believe that Christ might care, seems irrationally vulnerable. Mary, the Magdalene, surprisingly mistakes Jesus for the very identity he embodies: a tender and attentive laborer caring for the wellbeing of his garden. A new Adam. The “Cosmic Gardener,” as theologian N. T. Wright calls him. He is slowly and steadily rearranging the universe according to his new order. She thinks this Gardener is too alive, too human to be the one for whom she is searching.
Christ is not erasing the human story. His coup de grâce against the curse upon humanity is not the removal of my humanity. His final triumph is undying humanity.Joel Briggs
In my daily sufferings with anxiety at the fragility of existence, a Christ who redeems me to an ambiguous half-existence of a floaty nirvana is destructive. No, I need a Christ who cares for my humanness—the joys, struggles, needs, wounds, and delights. I need a Lord and Savior who is redeeming me in my humanness. I need a Christ with dirt under his fingernails and oxygen in his lungs, who is bringing new order to the old chaos, new life to the old, worn-out wastelands. This Christ is not erasing the human story. His coup de grâce against the curse upon humanity is not the removal of my humanity. His final triumph is undying humanity— his physical resurrection, in which human thriving is defined.
Perhaps our visions of hope realized were too informed by those cheap mimicries of Christ and their anemic visions of glory. The seemingly fragile promise of the inheritance of all creation is being held in the firm grasp of him who is both gardener and “first of the fruit” of his own garden. Hope seems irrational to our human sensibilities, which are profoundly accustomed to death. The very same Gardener tending these promises has ultimately and finally put death to death.
Joel Richard Briggs is a fine arts painter based in San Diego, California. He works predominantly in contemporary figurative representational oil painting. His work currently explores the intersection of traditional religious symbolism with the present-day embodied experiences of shame and sexuality. His influences range from Byzantine iconography, contemplative Christian practices, Jewish history and mysticism, shame psychology, linguistics, and Romantic and Neo-Romantic art movements. His work can be found on Instagram @joelbriggspaints