Cross IN? Or Cross OUT?

One of the most cherished gifts I received when I graduated from seminary was a cross on a chain. It was a gift from my wife.

It is quite an attractive cross, actually. It has a silver backing piece with a black cross laid on top. A silver loop and chain complete the piece and allow me to hang it around my neck. Here is a picture of it:    img_2528

But as much as I treasure this cross, I was really not sure how to wear it at first. That is, I could not decide whether I should wear it on the inside or the outside of my shirt.

You see, for most of my life, I have had a very ambivalent relationship to jewelry. I don’t really even think of my watch or wedding ring as jewelry, per se. To me they are both necessary articles of clothing that complete the daily routine of getting dressed.

I see them more as “wearable reminders”: one reminds me of the time and the other reminds me of my marriage covenant.

I finally decided on wearing the cross inside my shirt… and developed several (in my opinion) watertight rationales for doing so. First, I reasoned, I don’t think of myself as a necklace-wearing kind of guy. The image that springs immediately to mind comes right from the 70s; he’s the guy wearing sunglasses, with his hair combed straight back and his shirt unbuttoned down to here.

And that’s really not me.

The other rationale had to do with a hesitancy to come off as one of those “obnoxious Christians.” I really don’t ever want to appear to be someone who is “pushy” or prideful about his faith. Yes, my relationship to Jesus is central to my life and provides me with enormous joy, peace, and meaning. But I have also seen too many instances in which some Christ-followers have been judgmental and chest-thumping with their allegiance to Jesus, resulting in more of a repellant than attractant effect.

And so I sealed the “inside the shirt” decision with the statement, “After all, the purpose of wearing the cross is more as a reminder to ME of who I am supposed to be than as a billboard to confront other people.”

And besides that there is always the danger of the chain getting snagged on a door or cabinet handle and resulting in some serious chafing!

All well and good. Right up until the Bible study I helped lead a couple of weeks ago.

There I was with a couple of women from church. We were at a local retirement home with a group of the elderly residents… five or six sweet little old ladies. We were going through the day’s selected devotion from the Upper Room devotional guide when I got smacked right between the eyes by one of those sweet little old ladies.

I can’t remember what the scripture reference was or the specific story, but as we talked about the topic, the conversation drifted to the subject of the emblems of our faith.

I told them, “I wear a cross on a chain every day, but I keep it on the inside of my shirt. I see my cross more as a reminder to myself of who I am supposed to be, rather than as a statement to other people.”

Neat and tidy. Just like I had rehearsed it to myself.

But then one of those sweet little old ladies looked right at me and said, “You’re not ashamed of it, are you?”

Did I say SWEET little old ladies?

I smiled sweetly at her, but inside I was in turmoil. Hadn’t she heard my carefully developed explanation? Wasn’t she impressed with my decision to be non-confrontational in my discipleship? Did she forget that I am a PASTOR, for crying out loud? I mean, what kind of question is that??

As much as I tried to shake it off though, the question stuck and has stayed with me… to this day.

Am I ashamed to announce my faith publicly? Sure, I announce it all the time when I am inside a church… surrounded by fellow Christ-followers. But how often do I really do anything to make my allegiance known in a group of people I don’t know well?

I also began to wonder whether wearing the cross on the outside could possibly affect a change in my behavior… knowing I had become a walking advertisement for the Christian faith.

Today I am not sure I have come to a clear answer to the question, “In or out?” Some days I do one and some days I do the other.

But the question from the sweet little old lady sure made me stop and think. And even if it causes discomfort now and then, thinking critically about our faith and our relationship to Christ is something we should probably do every day.

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