“I disagree with that!”


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By Bobby Neal Winters

In my town, the Catholic Church is on 9th Street about two blocks off Broadway. I was driving south Broadway today looked over toward it. There is a cross atop it’s steeple—probably the tallest spire in town—and from my perspective there in the car, it looked to me as if the cross was just a little off being straight according to the east-west line of 9th Street. I had noticed this before, but being a mathematician by trade, I rather suspect that it is simply a trick of angles or an artifact of projective geometry; however there is always doubt.

I was raised as a Southern Baptist in an almost exclusively protestant part of the world. Now that I am living in a more Catholic neck of the woods, whenever I see something different about the Catholics, I wonder if there is some special purpose to it. I asked a friend of mine who has a degree from Notre Dame about it, and he said there was no theological reason that he was aware of for a cross being askew from the straight east and west, so the question is settled for the time being.

The reason that I thought that the cross might be askew from the street is that the Cross is askew from the world, in particular the modern world. We are in an age of instant gratification and rampant consumerism. We are in an age of “anything between consenting adults.” We are in an age of “I’m OK, you’re OK.” The Cross is not about any of that. The Cross is about suffering for the sake of others. It is about paying the price for reconciliation between God and Man. It is about loving someone more than yourself.

If we don’t set our crosses just a little off the lines that are determined by our age and by the styles, then we certainly ought to.
I live in a small town, and attend the most liberal church in that town. At the time that I joined, I was probably among the most liberal there, whereas now I couldn’t say. I don’t even know what the word means. There are certain topics which seem to be characterized as liberal issues that I do not take the standard liberal line on. However, there are others issues usually thought to be conservative that I fail the litmus test on as well. I suppose that makes me a centrist. Some criticize centrist for being wishy-washy middle-of-the-roaders, but in my experience, everybody is mad at us half of the time. From my, perhaps smugly self-righteous point of view, I simply consider myself to be a Christian.

I experienced a religious reawakening a few years ago. The details of which are not important, but suffice it to say that I approached my faith with more energy. People looked at me, shook their heads, and said, “An energized Methodist,” with a grin that I did not understand. I had converted to Methodism from being a Southern Baptist without much of an idea of the polity of the United Methodist Church. I did not know how liberal the leadership was, and to tell you the truth, it wouldn’t have bothered me. I from fresh out of grad-school and had learned through osmosis that all of the traditional church’s ideas were hopelessly out of date.

However, in the light of my reawakening, I became aware that there was no cross in front of my church. Before the reader takes too much from this, let me say that most United Methodist churches do have crosses in front of them. We have a beautiful Cross-and-Flame symbol that I love, but for some reason that was not clear to me at the time and is not clear to me now, my church had no cross in front of it. To make matters worse, my church is downtown with the city hall to the south and the civic center to the north, and its architectural style makes it look like just another public/cultural building. In the fervency of my reawakened faith, I deeply desired that my church be recognized as a house of God, so I decided to put up a cross.

A pair of high school boys and I made a Lenten cross from redwood. We used two six-by-sixes; one was sixteen feet long and the other was eight. We notched the eight-foot piece in the middle and the sixteen-foot piece four feet from one end. A group from the men of the church then put it at the southeast corner of the block that my church owns three-quarters of and buried the bottom four feet of it into the ground.
It was there through the season of Lent, and at the end of Lent I was told to take it down. This was not something that I was eager to do. Those of you who have dealt with redwood and are of a practical turn of mind know why. A total of twenty-four feet of six-by-six board is incredibly heavy, and I was not anxious to move it again just to put it up the next year. The men who had erected the cross discovered in the process that there is more than one way to kill a man with one of those things.

I explained the difficulties in taking it down and putting it up, and with the greatest charm that I could muster asked whether we could please just leave it where it was. I was informed that having it in such a prominent place was unacceptable. There were negotiations at the end of which it was resolved to move the cross to a less conspicuous spot.
As the same group of men who had raised the cross in the first place dragged it about forty feet to its new home, it was opined that perhaps someone had objected to the cross being directly across from city hall, but I don’t know. I was too angry to investigate any further at the time, I’m still too angry, and I suspect that knowing would simply make me angrier.

Suffice it to say that the cross is at it’s new home. Each year it is draped with a purple robe on Ash Wednesday, a crown of thorns is added the next week, then an INRI sign, then a spike, then a hyssop, and then a spear. On Easter this is taken down, and it is draped in white.

I’ve done this for a number of years. Some years I share the chore, and some I do it alone, but I am always the one that takes it all down at the end and puts up the white robes of the risen Christ. Last year while I was doing this, something strange happened.

I was standing on a ladder, taking down the various props, when a young woman who was dressed in black with a college-student-standard issue backpack approached. She pointed to the cross and said, “I just wanted to tell you that I disagree with that.” She then walked away taking such a path that I knew she had walked out of they way in order to make her statement.

I was dumbfounded. Actually, until that point, I didn’t know what the word “dumbfounded” meant, never having experienced the condition with such intensity before.

She disagreed with some aspect of the cross and was content to simply make her statement and leave. I regret that I did not have the presence of mind to ask her, “Why?”

I realize that not everyone takes a path to God that passes through Christ’s suffering. Death on the cross was a hideous thing. However, I am left to wonder about the reason for her objection, “I disagree with that.”

In my wondering, I begin to think that it was because the Cross is askew with the world. We love the Risen Savior of Easter morn, we love the ‘suffer’ of “Suffer the little children to come unto me,” but we can’t stand the notion that suffering might be an inescapable part of life.
The truth is that it is not the Cross that is askew, rather it is the world. The world must we changed to line up with the Cross and not the other way around.
Namaste okie,

indeed... as we would say, dhukka, or more accurately unsatisfactoriness, is the defining characertistic of life. it is the recognition of this basic fact that spurs us towards a path of peace, joy and liberation.

as for objections... who can speculate on hers? i would suspect that most people that aren't Christian share some objections though i would tend to believe that people reject the Christian tradition for reasons that are theirs alone.

from my traditions point of view, if you are in a valid refuge, we are very happy for you and will totally encourage your practice.
Vajradhara said:
Namaste okie,
from my traditions point of view, if you are in a valid refuge, we are very happy for you and will totally encourage your practice.

Yes, if you are in a rock in the raging sea, hang on to the rock.