A Cruciform Life
I wear a lapis lazuli pectoral cross around my neck. The chain and the casing are made of Tungsten which makes it heavy. While I do not think it is large, many do. I am part of a Christian tradition that has, for the most part, condemned or discouraged jewelry. Naturally, as a pastor in my church, I have often received looks, letters, and been teased for wearing the cross.
The criticisms fall under three general categories. The first is “Christians should not be adorned.” This is generally followed by a silly “what if” argument about wearing a different torture device around our necks would Jesus have died in some other method (usually an electric chair). The second is “you look like a rapper.” Which is ridiculous and doesn’t deserve a response. The third is “you look Catholic.” If this is not said out loud, it is hinted at by people facetiously crossing themselves or calling me ‘father.’ While I could respond to all these criticisms, I rather simply share why I wear the cross. The reason is not what my critics expect. And I know this because their criticisms miss the point.
I do not wear the cross for others, but for myself. I wear it to have a physical reminder that hangs over my heart to remind me of what my life should look like. The cross constantly interrogates me with the question, “is your life cruciform? Are your words, thoughts, and actions cruciform? Is what you believe about God cruciform?” And cruciform simply means, “having the shape of a cross.” And I am not referring to physical shape, as in gothic architecture, but to the heart. Would the person I am becoming (or want to become) hang humiliated on a cross for others? Are my words, thoughts, and actions the kind that would belong to one who would allow himself to be given for others? Is the image I have about God reflect a God who would pour himself out on a cross?
Arrogance, pride, selfishness, malice, greed, and judgment are exposed in the questions. Because so often I’d rather give in to my worst impulses because they are easy. But what is easy is seldom good. Because if we are honest, the American god is not cruciform. A God who supports people who trust in guns, fear immigrants, won’t listen to historically oppressed people, slander, hold “god hates gays” signs would not hang on a cross for the world. The American god is loved because he leans into our worst impulses and offers us an easy life.
The Old Testament is filled with types and symbols that were meant to remind the Israelites of God. The OT sanctuary was one big symbol to remind the worshipper of their need for forgiveness. The Israelites were commanded to not mix fabrics or seeds in a field for the simple fact of having a visual reminder of their uniqueness in the world (Deut 22:9, 11). Just as the seeds in the fields and the fabrics of their clothes were separate, so too where they separate (holy). More notably in Numbers 15:37-41 and Deuteronomy 22:12, God commanded them to make tassels to remind them of Torah. In fact, it was when all the physical reminders were forgotten that the nation fell into apostasy, “having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim 3:5 ref: 2 Kings 22:8).
Physical reminders are not unbiblical, they are deeply Biblical and necessary. Necessary because we live in a world that competes for our attention and loyalty. And we need reminders that are ever with us to point us back to what matters most.
Some might say, “I don’t need a physical reminder.” To which I say, good for you. But consider how we always say “we are no better than the Israelites” yet we are always judging them as if we would not make the same decisions they did. If we truly are no better than the Israelites, then we also need reminders.
I do not wear my pectoral cross for others, but for myself. It interrogates me and reminds me to live a cruciform life. I do not believe wearing a cross is necessary in order to have a cruciform reminder, but for me, it has been a powerful symbol that continues to daily shape my heart into the likeness of the one who hung on the cross for me.