Baby Jesus has been swapped for a life-sized figure of a bloodied Trayvon Martin in a chilling nativity scene at a California church, the Daily Bulletin reports.
The murdered African-American teenager is wearing a black hoodie and cupping the blood pouring from his chest where he was shot in 2012 by George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch triggerman who was found not guilty of second degree murder by a Florida jury.
It's the seventh straight Christmas in which parishioner and creche creator John Zachary of the Claremont United Methodist Church has used the Nativity scene for social commentary.
Zachary said Zimmerman's acquittal struck him as a worthy subject on gun violence.
At first glance it looks like a typical nativity scene with a stained glass backdrop and straw on the ground. But, “if you drive by, you think, oh, that’s nice. Then you think, what’s that black kid doing there? So you take a look," Zachary told the Bulletin.
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"Easter and Christmas should be tied together. It's all the same story," the birth and crucifixion of Christ, he said referring to the inscription across the art installation that reads "A Child is Born, a Son is Given."
Zachary said the photo of lifeless Martin lying on the pavement convinced him make the nativity scene. "What if Jesus was lying there bleeding to death? I was kind of thinking of that," he told the Bulletin.
“I think the value of this is that it stretches us to think, what does the birth of Christ call us to do?” said church pastor Sharon Rhodes-Wickett.
“I found this year’s hard to look at. It’s hard to look at a young man who’s shot and bleeding to death. But even though I’m uncomfortable with it, that’s the point. We have to take a look at the violence," she said, adding, "some people think it’s too edgy. I understand that point of view."
Zachary, a 58-year-old Hollywood production designer, who has built sets for the Fox sitcom, "Raising Hope,” first unorthodox nativity scene was turning Joseph and Mary into a modern homeless couple on a ghetto street. The backdrop was a wall of graffiti.
“It was appropriate historically. They were homeless refugees,” Zachary explained. “You try to put it in a context of how it would be today.”
It garnered positive reviews from the community.
In 2008, he turned Mary, Joseph and Jesus into Iraqi war refugees, surrounded by American soldiers, against a bombed-out wall with the slogan “Peace on Earth." The following year they were Mexican migrants stopped at the U.S. border. In 2010, Mary was an African-American woman holding baby Jesus in a prison cell.
In 2011 the nativity scene was scratched in order to depict a same-sex couple holding hands. That display was vandalized.
In 2012 he repeated the theme of a homeless family.
“As I’ve done these, Christmas has become more meaningful to me,” Zachary said. “It’s become deeper — but not so literal.”
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