Replacements of white Jesus window proposed for Voskuyl Chapel


Sebastien Marty

Kintsugi Japanese Pottery

Kristi Phillips, Features Editor

The Voskuyl Chapel window, while no longer displaying a white Jesus standing on North America, remains a key symbol in the conversations surrounding diversity and racial justice at Westmont. In response to largely student-led protests against the original white Jesus window, last summer, the Westmont administration approved the “Looking Back, Looking Forward: Images for Worship and Devotion” project. The project’s goal is to develop several images that will evoke an appropriate devotional response while reflecting the college’s commitment to diversity.

Last semester, the “Looking Back, Looking Forward” project created four Capax Dei groups to generate ideas for images that could replace the white Jesus window. Each group focused on a different theme: Jesus through the centuries, worship around the world, the liturgical year, and the components of Christian worship.

The director of the project, art professor Dr. Lisa DeBoer, explained that the Capax Dei groups asked students to “[think] visually and [come] up with image suggestions … within a … theological and social framework.” 

While each group worked independently, all four found themselves asking similar questions. How sophisticated or simple should these images be? Is naturalism or abstraction more appropriate? Should we try to image Jesus? What is the place of text in these images?

Although the groups, according to Dr. DeBoer, “did not feel confident to outline a lot of real specific imagery,” their ideas are in the process of development and incorporation into images to be used for the next stages of the project.

To discuss these next stages of the project, Dr. DeBoer has met with President Gayle Beebe, campus pastor Scott Lisea, and theology professor Dr. Telford Work. After each Capax Dei group creates images from their ideas, Westmont hopes to host an elective chapel to invite the wider Westmont community to enter the discussion.

Ideally, this discussion will focus on both the broader conversation on diversity at Westmont and the specifics of the chapel window based on preliminary feedback.

The first group, engaging with Jesus as he has been portrayed throughout history, found themselves asking a host of important questions. The February report on the project quotes one student from this group and demonstrates the deluge of questions raised: “How can we better appreciate Jesus’ Jewish heritage? Conversely, does this close off the rest of the world? … What does it look like to depict Jesus as the mediator between God and humanity? If Jesus really is the image of God … how then do you make an image of that?”

Exploring forms of Christian worship from around the world, the second group generated a swirl of ideas that did not fully condense into a central image. The Japanese art of mending pottery in kintsugi, however, did manage to combine their discussions on brokenness/healing with their interest in distinctive vessels from various cultures.

The third group, also leaning towards a more symbolic representation of Jesus, highlighted the paschal candle as a recurring image in their considerations. The candle traditionally symbolizes Jesus as the light of the world.

Paschal candle (Philip Barrington)

In studying the different parts of worship, the fourth Capax Dei group considered creating six images that would symbolize the six parts of a service. They also entertained the idea of placing key images such as the Bible, Jesus, and/or the chapel itself onto the window.

As Dr. DeBoer summarized, each group “came up with core images or symbols, key ideas, and ‘lines of image development’ that could still go in a number of directions.” Members of the Westmont community interested in exploring these directions will have that opportunity in the upcoming elective chapel. 

Zion Shih, a senior at Westmont who participated in one of the project’s Capax Dei groups last fall, encouraged students interested in joining the conversation to “engage in thoughtful contemplation and conversation with one another in a posture of learning, praying for a heart to know, eyes to see, and ears to hear God and your neighbor.”

Maddy Booker, another student participant, echoed these sentiments, urging all members of the community to “intentionally listen well to student voices, especially to voices of our students of color.”

The upcoming chapel will be an important phase of the “Looking Back, Looking Forward” project in that it invites the student body to participate in considering who Westmont is and who the college hopes to be in the future.

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