The Evolution of a Painting: Modern Day Good Samaritan and Merton’s Epiphany

In January of 2019, I had an idea for a painting. Perhaps I could illustrate the Parable of the Good Samaritan from the gospel of Luke. How would Jesus have told the story if he were living in the US in 2019?

As I thought about the painting, I wanted to emphasize the fact that in the parable, Jesus chose to identify the hero of the story as a person representing an oppressed minority, a Samaritan. Who could represent an oppressed minority in the US in 2019? I chose a Black Muslim woman as the heroine of my painting.

Stage one of Modern Day Good Samaritan and Merton’s Epiphany

With the plan in mind, I drew a white man who had been injured, and a Muslim woman who had stopped to help. I used photos from downtown Louisville as references for the streets and buildings in the background.

As I worked, I became agitated, worrying about how some might respond to this painting. Then this happened:

Stage 2: In my angst over how this might be received, I started throwing paint at the canvas.

I started hurling yellow paint, then red paint, then more yellow paint at the canvas. All the while I was thinking, “Why should this be controversial?” (Paint splat!) “Jesus was always standing up for minorities!” (Paint splat!) “How can we be so divided that I’m afraid to paint what I feel or think?” (Another paint splat.) I threw paint until I was calmed down a bit.

Stage 3: The yellow lights reminded me of Merton’s epiphany.

As I continued to work, the yellow lights made me happy. They reminded me of Merton’s epiphany in downtown Louisville when he felt a love for everyone, and saw them all as “shining like the sun.” I hoped love would always be the background for my art and all my communications. I then added the male religious figure in the distance, ignoring the problem, matching the biblical account of the leaders who walked past the injured man without helping.

Modern Day Good Samaritan and Merton’s Epiphany
Acrylic and Oil Pastel on Canvas
36 x 48 inches

This is how the painting turned out. The woman is looking straight out of the painting, confronting the viewer. Sometimes I am tempted to look away from my friends and the oppression they endure, but my God, help me not look away. I will try to see all people as Merton did, “shining like the sun,” but the heroes and heroines in the 2020 Parable of the Good Samaritan are my black sisters and brothers, the peaceful freedom fighters who link arms to protect lone policemen and sing worship songs in the middle of a downtown protest. If Jesus were walking the streets of Louisville today in the flesh, he would likely be standing with them.

The Evils of White Supremacy: The Story behind the Painting

White Supremacy, 24 x 18 inches, Acrylic and Oil Pastel on Canvas, exhibited and sold at KORE Gallery’s Black and White exhibition, September 2019.

The term white supremacy is sometimes used to refer to extremists who openly spew hatred and violence against Black, Indigenous, and People of Color [BIPOC]. These fringe groups seem to be on the rise in recent years, and they are included in the thoughts behind this painting; but it is systemic white supremacy, the idea that whites are somehow superior, built into so many of our social systems—that is destroying our country.

In the painting above, the colors inside the map of the US represent our beautifully diverse country. The boot above, coming down to crush our nation, is the boot of white supremacy. In the painting, some white people are trying to climb up onto the boot, thinking that white supremacy will save them from destruction. The boot is oozing “whiteness.” If you look closely, you will see there is a knife coming down to the boot. The idea is that white supremacy is self-destructive.

“Mother Teresa diagnosed the world’s ills in this way: we’ve just ‘forgotten that we belong to each other.'”* Let’s find a way to change the destructive systems and remember “we belong to each other.”

*Rohr, Richard, “Being One with the Other,” Center for Action and Contemplation, June 4, 2020, https://cac.org/being-one-with-the-other-2020-06-04/.