Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Cross

A phrase that I learned at the 2009 Revival was "cross cringe". That's the reaction that we UU Christians sometimes elicit if we wear a cross or state that we are Christians in the company of our UU brothers and sisters. It's that little wrinkle of the nose, a start of surprise, a widening of the eyes, perhaps a soft "Oh." The cross cringe may be as overt as a suggestion that maybe we would be more comfortable at the local Lutheran church. I have seen the cringe from others outside the UU faith. In our society, the word "Christian" is most often associated with a literal reading of the Bible and a legalistic, judgmental religion. In that context, hearing the word "Christian" can move someone to shout "Hallelujah!"; others to respond with "the cringe".

In light of that, I was delighted that Rev. Tamara Lebak of All Souls Unitarian chose for her Sunday sermon the topic, "The Signs of the Cross". She said that it was in honor of the UUCF Revival visitors as well as her own deep fascination with this ancient symbol. Her own collection of crosses fills several packing boxes. And she grinned when she said that it was not often that the All Souls congregation heard the hymn "The Old Rugged Cross" which was sung so beautifully by the choir that morning.

She spoke of Greek crosses, with equal arms, that in 9500 BCE symbolized the horizon and the rising and setting of the sun. Four thousand years before the Third Reich, the swastika cross was used to denote the four directions (North, East, South, and West) and the world-wheel (the eternally changing world, around a fixed, unchanging center or god). The cross can symbolize the meeting of opposites, the merging of human and divine, immenence and transcendence. The Latin cross, the one associated with today's cross cringe, was carved into Bronze Age stones, was used as a ward against evil. It is a rich symbol, and even more powerful, Rev. Lebak said, because it rejects duality. It has so many meanings from so many different times, cultures and traditions, that it helps us to reflect on the Truth. Truth that can only be discerned by drawing all those diverse meanings together. Only then might we sense something of the grandeur and variety of life.

Read Rev. Lebak's sermon; there's also a podcast version out on the All Souls website. It will open your eyes to that "old rugged cross" and make you appreciate all over again that simple symbol. It's got me wearing my cross again, ready to face the "cross cringe".

How about you?

Today's post is the last relating my experiences at the UUCF 2009 Revival in Tulsa, OK. Next time I'll be walking down from the mountaintop and into everyday Christian life. Looking forward to meeting you there!


  1. If Unitarianism and UUism can include Pagans like me, why can't it include Christians? As long as each group affirms the presence of the other.

    I'm glad you use the equal-armed cross and acknowledge its Pagan origins :)

  2. Here in Norway we have the latin cross in the flag of our nation :-)

  3. Yes, Yewtree, I totally agree. But as Rev. Lavinhar found at All Souls Unitarian (see post "A Tale of Two Churches"), many people have first-hand experience of Christians abusing them, denigrating them, cursing them, consigning them to Hell, simply because their beliefs are different. In modern times, Pagans are not known for such behavior. Many UU's come from that painful "Christian" experience; it's small wonder that they cringe when they see a cross.