Thursday, July 5, 2007

a symbol of my faith 05/06/07

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


a symbol of my faith

A couple of weeks ago, toward the end of our time in Spain, my mother showed me a silver cross. She said it used to be my grandmother's; on my mom's last visit, her mother had given it to her but she had plenty of jewelry; did I want it? I accepted.

I've worn the beautiful silver cross almost every day since, although I don't know the story behind it. It reminds me to pray for Babci (my grandmother), who is struggling with her health. It's also reminding me of little bits of Babci's amazing life. A few days later, as we were leaving Spain, someone asked about the cross, and my mother said she really didn't know where Babci got it and Babci couldn't remember. Babci is a Lutheran from Poland, but she married a Polish Catholic in the U.S. so it's more likely she got it from her in-laws than that she brought it over from Poland.

Today I read in a (yet another) sociology of religion book that when Protestantism came to England, crosses were one of the first things to go. They were seen as a symbol of the established Catholic Church, and were too often used for magically-oriented rituals. So Reformation churches like the Presbyterian church took crosses out of their official directives. They don't seem to have banned crosses (the Presbyterian church I was born in has crosses!), just discouraged them as a reaction against Catholicism. Specifically, crosses were used as an amulet for more "magical" purposes. So I guess a Polish Lutheran is more likely to have received a silver cross from her Catholic in-laws than from her Lutheran family. (On an aside, one of my most precious keyrings is a crucifix given to me by a Lebanese Catholic friend; I imagine some Protestants would shudder to read that I now wear a cross and carry my keys on a crucifix - and that they do hold spiritual meaning to me!)

Well, Christianity seems to be coming full-circle on these symbol things. Today I learned that newer, more alternative-style, churches in Europe are often choosing to form partnerships and affiliate with traditional churches, as opposed to mainline Protestant churches. For many young Christians today, it seems it's better to embrace the symbols than to reject them. And many mainline churches also use the symbols now that the initial reaction against amulets and magic has worn off!

But what do crosses mean for people who don't believe in Jesus' ultimate sacrifice? Muslims believe that Christians are deceived to think that our religion's founder was killed on a cross - so it's a symbol of our flawed faith, as well as a reminder of the Crusades where the Catholic Church went to war against Islam.

I'm going to the Middle East next week. Do I wear the cross and advertise to the world that I'm a Christian, or do I hide it away? Wearing a cross will definitely transmit a message; some Muslims will likely really respect that I am a person faithful to my religion and see me as a kindred spirit because we share our worship of God, even if mine is a religion inferior to theirs. Other Muslims could be offended - after all, they perceive that Christians are causing lots of problems in the world these days! I've never worn a big cross around my neck in the Middle East before, maybe it would start some interesting interreligious dialogue! If I can manage to represent well what the cross stands for...

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