Wineskins Archive

February 10, 2014

Wearing a Cross on Your Lapel (Mar-Apr 2003)

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by Mark Landsbaum
March-April, 2003

There’s no touchier subject than politics. Except for religion. E-mail makes it easier to tread (and stumble) into those profane and sacred realms. I recently stumbled spectacularly by daring to broach both subjects simultaneously. With a client, no less.

An e-mail from a client criticized a politician. I responded that the politician is a good Christian. Why not side with the devout believer?

“I never go with the Christian who wears the cross on the clothes,” he e-mailed back.
What to do, I pondered. This was a good client, indeed, a friend. I suspected he wasn’t Christian. But he apparently also had some grudge against those wearing crosses on their lapels.

I replied: “I wear a cross.”

“Oops,” he replied. Our electronic conversation ground to a halt.

One of the gloomier effects of increasing secularization is the growing reluctance of Christians to publicly acknowledge they are Christians, let alone ask others if they might be. It’s amazing, considering 85 percent of us call ourselves Christians.

Good intentions are the root of this reluctance, as with so many other negative outcomes. What began properly as tolerance of others’ religions has perversely morphed into, “I don’t want to know you even have a religion.” Sadly, many Christians increasingly play along by shutting up.
This isn’t new. First century Corinthians compromised the church’s standards to accommodate and fit in with local culture. But Corinth had nothing on modern corporate America.

When I was in the newspaper business, I could count on one hand those in the newsroom whom I knew to be religious, let alone Christian. It just didn’t come up. Even at Christmas, greetings and wishes were secular. Since I left newspapers and have run my own business out of my home, opportunities to discover others’ (or reveal my own) Christian faith are even less frequent.

Call me dense, but it didn’t dawn on me that the contractor I hired was signaling his Christianity. His company is “Abba Construction.” If I figured anything, I assumed he sought a prominent Yellow Page listing. He wasn’t wearing his Christianity on his lapel. He was wearing it on his business card, the sign of his building, the door of his truck. “Abba.” It was on everything. He was veritably shouting, “I’m a Christian!” And I didn’t even notice. Why? Maybe because the assumption today is that Christians wouldn’t dare overtly proclaim their faith. My perception was shaped by this cultural presumption. I had assumed “Abba” meant to convey something other than “father,” and certainly other than “Our Father.” Even I, who desire to see bold Christians, was unconsciously intimidated into not seeing an expression of faith staring me right in the face.
I am saddened that the culture’s influence so effectively blinded me to a brother in Christ. But it helped me understand how pervasive the prevailing worldview has become even for Christians.

Christians are pinched from both sides. There are those who admittedly push the limits of obnoxiousness, flaunting Christian symbols and slogans almost as if to taunt unbelievers. Christian humility seems missing in such over-the-top testimonies.
There’s a sidewalk sign demonstrator we sometimes pass in our car after church, who always manages to deflate the sermon’s euphoria for me when he comes into view. His placards mention “God,” but I doubt he’s steered many souls to Christ’s saving grace with such flagrant exhibitions.

It’s not easy to be a Christian in a secular culture when our beliefs are openly mocked and scientists seek to disprove our premise. But if Paul withstood stonings, Christians should be able to face ridicule, unashamedly display our faith and offer the Word to strangers.

A lapel cross is a tiny symbol, but it may open a door. If we’re intimidated to wear His symbol, how much more will we be intimidated to start conversations that praise Him and His work in our lives?
There are subtleties that rarely provoke ridicule. Waitresses always respectfully stop pouring coffee if we’ve clasped hands to say grace in a restaurant. No one protests if I add, “God bless you” to my “Thank you.” This isn’t loud and obnoxious proselytizing. And I know it was easier to invite our waitress to join us at church once she responded favorably to our low-key pre-meal ritual.

It’s easier than we may want to believe to gently transform a business conversation with a stranger into a more personal discussion. And then it’s a short step to sharing a faith-based observation; and then not so difficult to graduate to inviting, or witnessing.

It’s jumping to the end of the process immediately that’s so off-putting to non-believers, who suddenly find themselves lectured on the inevitabilities of salvation and damnation.

I’ve prayerfully concluded that if I go through an entire day without someone noticing I’m a Christian, I’ve missed a day’s worth of opportunities for the Lord.New Wineskins

Mark Landsbaum

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