In my past life, battling through the highway throng on the ‘5’ out of Escondido, I used to stare in amazement at the gas guzzling Christian four by fours thundering past my little Volkswagen. As I tried to prevent myself from being driven off the road by the army of ichthus branded crusaders, it occurred to me that almost everyone’s car was covered in some sort of symbol to spread its personal message or philosophy to the multitudes in its wake. I suppose it’s hard to be salt and light when driving furiously down the highway; easier to let your light shine through the tarnished fish on your trunk. Having myself been pulled over by the Highway patrol for speeding (any of you knowing my dying car will find that hard to believe, but my student bank balance bore witness to the cruel fate) it would be unbecoming of me to write about Christians keeping the speed limit (although, of course, we should). My focus is rather on the necessity we seem to have for symbols to testify to our faith.
I don’t know about the States, but this issue has been raging in the media here in the UK, due to an air stewardess taking British Airways to a tribunal because she was told she could not let her cross be visible while she was working, BA having a dress code banning such items of jewellery. The press got hold of the story and soon the whole country was up in arms with the tabloids screaming ‘our Christian country under siege’ conveniently forgetting that on any other day, they were the ones holding the battering ram. BA backed down as even the Prime Minister got involved and we were all left in a rosy glow of self-righteousness, waving union flags and singing ‘Jerusalem’.
Now every few weeks, newspapers carry stories of similar hapless individual crucifix or cross wearers (no one seems to able to differentiate) who are having to take their employers to court for similar acts of discrimination, along the lines of ‘if she can wear her big black cloaky thing with the slits to see out of, why can’t I wear this.’ A couple of weeks ago, a teenager was in The Daily Telegraph taking her school to a tribunal because she wasn’t allowed to wear a ring which had some kind of engraved promise to remain chaste until her wedding day (didn’t Britney Speers used to wear one of these?) She had the backing of her local Anglican Bishop (the English girl, not Britney, as far as I know).
Now the cross wearers have come too close to home, they’re in my school. Until a few weeks ago, all was calm. The only ripple in the school uniform code was the usual desire for some of the more cool characters to have their top button open and their tie a teeny bit undone…then Easter came and with it the summer open necked shirt… and with it some teenage martyrs ready with their crosses. I honestly can’t blame them. Since Pop Idol is a dream far far away, they choose the sliver of limelight coming their direction, they want to stand in the glare of the celebrity persecuted. And they’re teenagers, so they want to do a bit of rebelling, they want to push at the uniform regulations and in a way that when a teacher tells them to get their jewellery off (as I did a couple of weeks ago) they can look all offended and cry discrimination. The fact that they’re being discriminated against by a Christian teacher in a state school which, if it abides by the Education Act, has to have a Christian act of worship each day, seems to have passed them by. Persecution, as we were reminded recently in Turkey, happens in many lands and it happens brutally and frequently and fatally. But it doesn’t happen in my school.
If only these girls were pointed to Romans 13 they would see how a Christian is called to live in the world, they would see that obeying those in authority over them is one way. Wearing a cross is not a requirement of their faith, but to be subject to their rulers is. Bearing the cross and wearing a cross are two different things.
If we weren’t so obsessed with our symbols, our bumper stickers, our necklaces, our rings, perhaps we would have time to look to the signs and seals given to us to remind us of His covenant blessings and promises in Baptism and The Lord’s Supper. Then we would realise the only covering we need as we shine as salt and light for our saviour, is the covering of Christ’s righteousness. Our gratitude for that would help the girls keep the uniform code and it might just help the rest of us to keep the highway code as well.
[This essay first appeared in 2007 on the HB]