“I get it, Mom,” said my 17 year old son as I packed my suitcase and he attempted an intervention. “Your motives are good. You want to help people think about God coming to earth for everyone in a fun way. And I think it’s really creative of you to want to take pictures of people with your…your Baby Jesus,” he said. “Really creative.” Then Sam softly suggested that maybe I should not take actual photos of these strangers, since it might be off putting or offensive (or embarrassing?) to some people. “You know what I think? I think one photo is really all you need for your post. I think you should start with one pic of Baby Jesus, one you take before we leave- I can even help you so that the lighting is really good- and then you write lots and lots of words. People really like your words.”
“Sorry bud,” I said, “I’m doing it. But don’t worry, no one will even know we’re related. I’ll give you plenty of time to walk away.”
I sounded pretty confident but could I really do it? As a minister to children I’m always telling kids how God loves them, no matter what. But could I actually ask a full grown adult if I could take their picture with Baby Jesus? Would they freak out? Would I?
It turns out that we did just fine.
Take this lady, for example. She sat across from us on the subway most of our way from Times Square to the ferry for Ellis Island, but I hadn’t planned on taking her photo. I had learned within my first few minutes in the city that I couldn’t make myself go right up to people and completely weird them out. It’d be too scary for all of us. I needed some kind of connection, even a weak one, and sitting in the same subway car didn’t qualify.
But as she watched us look at the map and try to figure out what we were doing (what was it that the conductor had said about sitting in the first five cars?) she decided to interrupt with help. SHE INTERRUPTED US- STRANGERS- WITH HELP! As the train began to slow I knew I wanted to take her picture. “Could I ask a favor?” I said, fishing in my purse for my phone and baby Jesus.
“Sure, I’ll take your picture,” she said.
“No,” I said, “I’d like to take yours.” The train screeched.
“Huh? You want MY picture?”
I nodded, bracing myself as we stopped. “See, we’re documenting our trip with photos of kind people we meet.”
“Well, of course you can!”
“Would you mind holding Baby Jesus?” I said, and handed him to her. “He’s sort of our picture mascot- a reminder that God comes for all.”
She gasped as I handed him to her. “Oh, he’s so nice.” The subway doors opened.
“QUICK! TAKE OUR PICTURE!” she said and cradled him as I fumbled and Todd and Sam called to come on. As fast as I could, I snapped the photo and she helped me get him back into my purse.
“Thank you!” we called to each other as I ran out the door.
Before this experiment I have to tell you that even saying “Baby Jesus” embarrassed me. I was fine saying it with kids, but with adults I always felt like Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights, praying to Baby Jesus in his ghost manger. Back when this experiment was just in my head, I wondered if I couldn’t just refer to him as the Christ child, or maybe add in an explanation that he was crafted in a monastery in France. Nope, I couldn’t do that. Let’s be real. I was carrying around a God doll- a Jesus doll, in particular. It was kind of my point, really, to appeal to the child inside of the strangers I met, to offer them a chance to recognize God with a child’s heart, and to see what the experiment had to teach me.
It turns out there was a lot for me to learn and plenty of kind people to meet.
This is Randy. When I handed him Baby Jesus, he held him as if it were our most precious treasure. “Where are you folks from?” he asked after I snapped the shot. When we told him South Carolina, (shocking, I’m sure, ha ha) he shared that his dad was born and raised in Charleston but he had grown up in Florida. When I thanked him for his generosity, he said, “It was a pleasure,” and handed Baby Jesus carefully back to me.
This is Gene, a travel writer and my seatmate from Charlotte to New York. We had a delightful conversation at the end of our flight and when I asked if I could take his photo- and would he mind holding something a little weird- he saw Baby Jesus and said, “Becky, I started at Fuller seminary years ago. It would be an honor.”
There were a few others I talked to, like this policewoman. I almost missed seeing her. School had just let out and suddenly we were surrounded by preteens chanting, “Milk the cow, milk the cow.” As the kids shuffled on with their backpacks, there she stood on the steps, shaking her head. “Milk the cow?” I laughed. “What does that mean?” She shook her head and smiled. “No telling. I never know what these kids are going to say next.” I asked if I could take her picture holding our Baby Jesus and she laughed and thought about it a second. “You know, why not? I have no problem with that. There’s a church next door anyway. It’s appropriate.”
One of my biggest surprises of the project was how much fun I was having, looking for kind strangers and finding them, stepping out of my comfort zone and watching them do the same, laughing together and smiling together as I took the photo. I hope they could see that I saw God in them. I hope they could see it in themselves as well.
But maybe the best part of the entire weekend was meeting the challenge to always have my eyes open, looking to view the world maybe as Baby Jesus might see it, imagining things he might say- and having fun with it. If you check out my Instagram posts as TravelingBabyJesus, you’ll find seven posts with people and 35 posts of Baby Jesus taking in other scenes, his precious baby head popping up in the corner, with a comment to serve as a caption. Now this was really fun!
Can you tell I had fun? It was so very fun that I’m going to keep on trucking, taking photos of scenes and photographing people. Why quit now?
But that’s no surprise to me. Baby Jesus came for the skeptics, too, after all!
(Baby Jesus says) Love to you ALL!