01 August 2005

Three crosses

I just got back from a short vacation, during which I saw all kinds of family and friends that I hadn't seen in a long time. It was fun, and really good to see Tyler Lincoln and Aunt Carol and Ron and Ta-Ta and lots of aunts and uncles and cousins and other folken. But it might be a short entry this week. Also, I want to apologize in advance that this entry is both highly speculative and rather critical of something about which I have no first-hand knowledge. So please take it as critical of my reaction and impression, which may or may not have any basis in reality.

While driving back through northern Maryland, I happened to notice three crosses set up by the side of the road (not unlike the image, except that the middle one was bright white and the ones on either side were brown). I pointed them out to Tina (who, as I've mentioned before, isn't a Christian, and hence is, among many other things, an extremely good source for informed non-Christian reactions to things), and asked her why she thought they were there. She suggested that perhaps they were a roadside memorial to someone who had died nearby. I've seen such things, and for all I know that may well have been part of the motivation for their construction, but it was crystal clear to me that they were meant to symbolize and bring to mind the crosses of Calvary: Jesus in the middle, and a bandit on either side.

Now, here's where it gets speculative (for which I've already apologized). I started wondering what the primary motivation might have been for erecting those crosses in that place. They might well have been intended to call Christians to remembrance of Christ's sacrifice on the cross. But my imagination doubted that that was their primary purpose. My guess was that those crosses' primary reason for standing there by the side of the road was evangelization. My supposition was that someone had erected those crosses primarily so that passing non-Christians, seeing them, would be reminded of the familiar Biblical story of the crucifixion and think, "Oh, yeah. Jesus died for me," and be convicted to make a decision for Christ.

This whole (utterly fabricated) scenario bothered me somewhat, on several levels, but I bet you can guess the main thing that I thought was wrong with this picture, based on my conversation with Tina. If my made-up construct of the reasoning behind those crosses is close to correct, then it's based on an assumption that is largely invalid in today's American society, and is becoming more and more so each year: that any given Biblical story or principle is remotely familiar to the average non-Christian. If I'm right, those crosses were meant to communicate something to folks like Tina, but the message was not being received, because Tina wasn't familiar enough with the story pointed to by the symbols to have a clue what they were trying to convey. And she's a pretty darned informed non-Christian, if for no other reason than that I never shut up.

To the extent that my speculation was remotely on-target, and to the extent that this type of evangelism--proclamation that assumes familiarity with Biblical stories--is practiced exclusively or even primarily by many Christians, I was a bit unsettled by this. I found myself worrying that a lot of effort is going into trying to communicate the good news in a way that it will never be received, as if someone dropped a Russian-language newspaper on my doorstep every morning. It might be full of great reportage, but who cares? I'll ever know.

Anyway, this is the extent to which my imagination got the better to me on a long car ride when it had nothing better to occupy it. I don't have anything against erecting crosses by the roadside, for whatever reason, and I pray that the ministry and mission of the folks who built those particular ones are richly blessed. Amen.

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