Sunday, October 10, 2004

The Cross Around My Neck

Like many Christians, I wear a cross around my neck. But unlike some of my neighbors, I try hard to keep it hidden.

Part of it is that I don’t believe in waving my religion in people’s faces. A cross around your neck gives people an easy way to “tag” you and put you in a cubbyhole. Here in the American South, it will also tend to mark you as having a certain set of evangelical/fundamentalist beliefs about God and Jesus---and will make your neighbors who hold those beliefs all too comfortable that you are of like mind.

Partly, I keep that cross hidden to discipline myself. I get far too much pleasure from shocking the hell out of those folks when I tell them that I think gays and lesbians ought to be priests and ought to be able to get married in the church. I think Jesus enjoyed shocking people, but he was God, and I’m thinking God can get away with a bit more of that than I can. It’s not loving on my part---it’s anger and self-righteousness mixed up with some schadenfreude. I can get a real charge out of seeing the dismay on their faces when they realize I’m one of those people.

I also keep my cross hidden because there are days that I would be ashamed for anyone to know that I call myself a Christian.

Actually, I don’t mention my faith very often. There is a wonderful story---which is probably not true---about the writer Maya Angelou’s response to a man who introduced himself to her as a Christian. She is reported to have looked at him in mild surprise and said “Already?”

I take the lesson of that story to heart, whether it’s true or not.

So, anyway, I keep that cross tucked down inside my shirt because it represents what and who I am called to be---and so often fail to live up to. I don’t want the lady at the return counter at Home Depot to know that I claim a religious affiliation, because what would my pissed-off attitude convey about Christ’s influence in my life?

I don’t want my children to be reminded that I claim to follow Jesus, because how then could I justify my failure to be kind and patient with them?

So why do I wear that cross around my neck? I keep it hidden, for good reasons and base ones, but I never take it off. Because I hope against hope that it will remind me to be the person God wants me to be. Because I’m superstitious, and I feel better with it on. Because it reminds me what love---Real Love---will do for other people.

That’s a pretty heavy burden to carry around your neck. Good thing I can tuck it inside my collar---where it lies pretty lightly on my heart.