Once upon a time, I considered myself to be a pretty religious guy. I went to church at least once a week, participated in regular groups and bible studies, and felt like I knew all the right things to do and say. When I turned 16 and began driving, I bought a small wooden cross necklace and promptly hung it on my rearview mirror so everyone would know that a good solid Christian was behind the wheel. In recent years, I would classify myself as less “religious” and more “spiritual”…I don’t really know if there is a God and if there is, it’s impossible to say which group (if any) have the right idea of who exactly this deity is.
In time, I’ve come to believe that the details are not really the important part, and I’ve made my peace with the fact that the “unknown” will likely always remain unknown (at least in this life). Nevertheless, the wooden cross has kept its place on my mirror…each time I changed vehicles, it changed vehicles too. I suppose I kept it for what it represents to me. There are fundamental tenants of my Catholic upbringing that I still hold on to. Most of these relate to social justice concerns and include such things as forgiveness (77×7 times if need be), unconditional love, stewardship of our planet, grace under the most dire of circumstances, and support for the poor, lonely, disabled and other marginalized groups. The cross on my mirror reminds me of these virtues (everyone that knows me understands that when stuck in traffic or cut off by another driver, I can use all the virtue I can get).
Last month, a tragic turn of events in the history of our nation prompted me to attach something else to the thread that holds the cross in place…a safety pin. Following the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, people who stand in opposition to his racist, xenophobic and sexist propaganda began wearing safety pins as a symbol of unity and support. To those who feel marginalized, disenfranchised or threatened in Trump’s America, the safety pin offers reassurances that the wearer is a person with whom they may feel safe.
There are several reasons why I feel like the cross and the safety pin belong on the same thread:
These are both symbols of hope…to the believer, each offer the prospect of a better tomorrow, and an understanding that they aren’t alone.
These are both symbols of community…each represents an extended family, connected not by blood but in the belief they are a part of something much bigger than themselves.
These are both symbols of acceptance…a loving faith community opens their heart to all in the same way that those that don the safety pin are saying they open their hearts fully to others.
These are both symbols of re-birth…the cross represents the moment the history of our planet changed forever, the safety pin represents the election that changed the history of our nation forever.
These are both symbols of struggle…anyone who has seen “The Passion of the Christ” has seen how horrific crucifixions were; unfortunately as a result of this election, many among us will also know unnecessary struggle.
These are both symbols of the worst of humanity…an angry and uninformed populace, demanding vengeance, were responsible for the murder of the innocent man Jesus; an angry and uninformed populace, demanding vengeance, is responsible for the election of a demagogue that has the potential to harm many.
These are both symbols of the best of humanity…the cross represents people joining together to support and love each other, just as the safety pin does.
Over the past 30 years, the religious right has become a powerful force in our nation. But the Christ they promote is not the one that I grew up understanding. They use the name of Jesus to divide and judge, to condemn and grow wealthy. This does not match up with any of the new testament teachings that I ever studied. The religious right and fundamentalist groups in this country have bastardized Christianity (and Judaism and Islamism as well) for the sake of their own self interest. It is my hope the religious left in this country can find their voice and work to set the record straight. It’s time they help the rest of our nation realize that “loving our neighbor as we love ourselves” means accepting the refugee, forgiving those who wrong us, and promoting social programs that support the vulnerable and downtrodden in our midst.
The cross and the safety pin. Today both hang from my rearview mirror. I know they must be more than just a symbol; they represent a call to action…because we’ll need more than just a prayer to get through these next four years.
Photo: Getty Images