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The cross over my desk.

The cross over my desk. Yes, it is hung with a Christmas ornament hook and tape.

As we head into Lent, our Sunday school class is studying Christian symbolism. One of the first symbols that we studied was the Cross which is actually 400 different symbols.

In my mind, the cross has always been a comfort. Perhaps this was because I was raised by women who looked out for me both physically and spiritually.  They wore crosses and reminded me that God was always there for me, watching out for me, guiding me and listening to me.

I was surprised to learn that the Cross wasn’t used by Christians until the fourth century when crucifixion was outlawed and Christianity was legalized.  Until then, they cross, my cross, was a symbol of torture and execution.  Only the very worst criminals were crucified.  It was a symbol of shame.  And Christ, the Messiah, the Redeemer, had died on a cross.


Nailed up like a murderer.

Imagine what that had to feel like for His followers.  The shame and horror of seeing him hung up there, suffering and dying.  The self-recriminations – what could I have done differently?  Does this mean that all he preached, all that I’ve believed and hoped was . . . wrong?

The cross didn’t symbolize anything good until much, much later.

As we enter Lent, I’ve been thinking about what the cross means in the US today. Is it the signing of a loving Christ, drawing in those in need?  Calling the little children to him?  Because that’s what it means to me. As I pray, I can look at the cross and feel myself relax.  This is my refuge. My source of strength.

But is that how it feels to the transgender teen who is agonizing over what bathroom to use in school? Does it mean hope to refugees from war-torn countries?  Those who are just trying to reunite with brothers and sisters, children and spouses?

To many of these people it means judgement and recrimination.  It means despair and sparks fear.

Two thousand years and we’re right back where we started, but it isn’t where we have to be. The meaning of this powerful symbol has changed in the past.  It can change again in the future. It can truly become the Cross of Christ, drawing in those in need, calling to the children.


It’s been a tough Lent: full of loss and anguish. Today, I lost the uncle I adored; later, I had to put my sweet cat Smudge to sleep. I am aware that I am walking the way of the cross. Every loss I feel, every sadness each of us experiences, is a mere drop in the pond compared to the sacrifice of our savior. Jesus walks before us, always, and carries the brunt of the load. Here’s a poem to help us remember.


At first, it is a relief;
you are off your feet.
The first nail is bloodless,
threaded between the bones
of your hand and the blue veins.
Painful, yes. A shock.
The second should be easier,
a known hurt.
It is not.
The pain bangs in your ears
so that you hardly notice the feet.

It is worse when they stand you up.
The flesh tears, the bones snap
like twigs, like a bush ablaze,
crackling, roaring,
the blood now throbbing I AM, I AM.
You shift your feet, standing as best you can
on a nub of wood. Otherwise, your hands
would tear like tissue.
Body exposed, arms spread — how you long
to pull them in, to cover yourself.
Below, they see only a parody of welcome, an invitation
to poke and prod you, like devils
in this burning place of judgment.

They roll dice for your clothes,
made by your mother probably,
the thread spun from wool lovingly,
the last things you own.

She is there, too, her round face
flushed with heat. She wants to wail,
to rend the skies with her wailing.
Your eyes warn her: She is of no consequence
to them now, a woman, a beast,
but if she disturbs their games
they will beat her.
They long to beat her.
It is tiresome to wait for you to die.

In the end, they must break your legs.
In the end, they must pierce you with a lance,
offer your parched lips vinegar,
one last practical joke.
You cry for what seems furthest,
most distant,
and then you die.

They will be startled
by the sudden darkness.
They will be afraid of the answering call
from the sky. But they will not understand.
No. Not yet.

My friend Rosemary said something shocking the other night: Jesus didn’t die for our sins. Sounds like heresy, doesn’t it? Instead, I posit this — not only is she right, but considering the crucifixion in this light can be the most radically healing thing we can do.

As a high school teacher once told me, Bible means “book,” and like all books, the Bible was written to a specific audience: Men, obviously, as women couldn’t read, but even more so, to those of a like mind to its authors. Matthew, for instance, came from a Hebraic background and spoke in terms the Jewish would relate to and understand. Hence, we have Jesus as sacrificial lamb, an image that made sense to Matthew’s audience.

Rosemary’s theory states that Jesus died because He was a person of love, mercy and justice, hounded by those who were threatened by these qualities. I think He let down some people, too, who wanted Him to take the typically male approach to Jewish subjugation: military violence. That just wasn’t His style. Nothing makes a person madder than turning the other cheek or constantly responding with love. So Jesus made a lot of people mad. And they destroyed Him, physically anyway. He certainly wasn’t the last person of love, mercy and justice to be treated thusly.

Why do I consider this point of view a good thing? I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough of wallowing in my own sinfulness. I know I’m a wretch. To be told over and over again, from a tender age, that we are responsible for Christ’s death because we are sinners is to be repeatedly told that we are bad. I’m not so sure this engenders the best response.

Example: My husband and I adopted a feral cat who simply did not know how to behave toward people or other animals. He bit and scratched us viciously, chased our other cats, caused trouble. I found myself screeching, “No! Bad!” on a constant basis. This did not make the cat behave; instead, he got worse.

Then one day, I decided to do something different. I wiggled a string at the cat, and when he caught it, I said, “Good boy!” For once, instead of negativity, I concentrated on what he did right. The change in him was immediate. He sought out my lap for petting, walked away from altercations. He was a new cat, all because I started focusing on what was good about him.

What if, instead of blaming ourselves for killing Jesus, we revered Him for who He was and tried to live up to His example? What if, instead of wallowing, we raised ourselves up and did better? This is what I find so revolutionary about what my friend theorized: It encourages us, rather than breaking us down. It replaces guilt, which keeps us down, with a challenge to be Christ-like ourselves. He was human too, after all.

Let’s celebrate Jesus for what He did, not for what we didn’t do. Makes sense, doesn’t it?


Have a Mary Little Christmas

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