Yeah, that cross in my pocket. If you were with us at LPC for Ash Wednesday worship, you may have taken one of those pocket crosses home with you. On Ash Wednesday we talked about Jesus’ definition of discipleship as cross bearing (Mark 8:34-38), and then we were invited to take one of the pocket crosses and to bear it during the Lenten season. We were warned that this little piece of tin might become very heavy as we make our way to Jerusalem.
I must confess that I hesitated before ordering the pocket crosses for the Ash Wednesday service. It seems gimmicky, tacky; cheap trinkets. But people have reminded me of the “forgiven” nails we used two years ago and the “color purple” ribbons from maybe four years ago and how these cheap trinkets speak to them. The color purple still hangs by my computer monitor and talks to me from time to time.
The cross was in my pocket, jangling among the keys, when I walked into a meeting earlier in the week. It was not at LPC and not a single LPC person was there. It was one of those duty to community and church meetings.
Specifically, it was a duty to church meeting, so it began with a prayer and devotional. I could feel a slight uptick in my anxiety level the moment the devotional began. The person giving the devotional is someone I have grown to like. Of course, we could save a lot of time in our lives if we’d both agree not to show up at any meeting with an important vote on a controversial issue. We always cancel each other’s vote, so why waste the time? There were no votes on controversial issues scheduled for this meeting.
My friend giving the devotional began by asking if any of us knew of the author of the little piece she was going to read, Nadia Bolz-Weber. “You know, the Lutheran pastor with the tattoos,” she said. Yes I know. The Washington Post headline over a story about her reads, “Bolz-Weber’s liberal, foulmouthed articulation of Christianity speaks to fed-up believers.” Two or three sentences into the devotional we had already established liberal and foulmouthed.
I knew I wasn’t going to say anything by way of objection, no reason to say anything. It wouldn’t make any difference; I’d survive and my blood pressure would return to normal soon enough.
As I sat there listening, but mostly alone with my less than charitable thoughts, my hand reached into my pocket and I found that little Ash Wednesday cross among the jangling keys. I felt its sharp tinny angles as I massaged it between fingers and thumb. I thought about Jesus.
Oh, to be sure, the message of this foulmouthed pastor has some serious doctrinal problems that go beyond, but includes, her foul mouth. But as my fingers held tight that little cross in my pocket, my ears began to open just a bit. Even through the offensive language the Holy Spirit began to speak. The devotional was about judging others, about living out of assumptions rather than truth, about blaming others before listening to others. Bolz-Weber writes, “Every time we draw a line between us and others, Jesus is always on the other side of it.”
I’m not ready to give in to a foul mouth. Scripture calls us to something better. I don’t know Nadia Bolz-Weber and have no particular desire to meet her. But I do know my friend across the table who was giving the devotional. Oh, our votes on controversial issues may cancel each other, but I don’t want to cancel our relationship, our ability to talk and work together on things less controversial and maybe my ability to give witness to my faith in a God who calls us to think about “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable…”
Churches, even LPC, can be places of line drawing and side taking. The foulmouthed liberal just may be right, “Every time we draw a line between us and others, Jesus is always on the other side of it.”