Magazine article The Christian Century

Cross Culture

Magazine article The Christian Century

Cross Culture

Article excerpt

CROSSES ARE this season's most voguish fashion accessory. In a New Yorker cartoon, two avenue trend-setters notice the pectoral cross on a bearded Orthodox patriarch and comment admiringly, "Fantastic crucifix!"

To investigate this "huge fashion thing" the magazine's "Talk of-the Town" writer visited a new boutique at Macy's--improbably named "Cross Culture." A clerk explained that "crosses are a fashion statement. This counter used to have silk starves and evening bags. That's gone. Now we're doing trend-type crosses here .... We have one of the best selections in New York City, but honestly, I'm a little low on crosses right now. They're flying out the door."

Considering the cross as fashionable adornment for the chic may strike us as an ironic whimsy, but we can hardly regard it as strange. Most of us have a few pretty crosses lying around in boxes somewhere. And given the commonplace origins of most liturgical garb, I suppose that wearing a pectoral cross while leading worship was once part of a trend.

Crosses are attractive. Whether made of gold or brass or carved wood, something about the symmetry of a cross is pleasing and satisfying-so much so, in fact, that we can scarcely hear, much less comprehend, the outrageousness of Jesus' proposal: "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me."

In notes for the new HarperCollins Study Bible, Clifton Black makes the terse identification: "Cross, an instrument of torturous execution." An instrument of torturous execution shaped out of gold or silver, decked out with pearls or rubies or maybe only colored glass and plastic: it's the sort of ornament devotees of some hollow-eyed heavy-metal band might adopt as a token of their grim loyalty. It most definitely does not seem like a sign of life.

Yet that is precisely what the Gospel of Mark insists that it is. For those who would "save their life," the cross is the only way. Clinging to life fearfully, we cannot open our hands to receive the gift of life; acquiring the things of life, we are dragged down and under by their weight.

Was it Mark who first symbolized the Christian dynamic of saving one's life by losing it in bearing a cross? For Mark, nothing is closer to the heart of the matter than the cross. Jesus's true identity is revealed publicly only after Jesus loses his own life on the cross and the centurion shouts, "Truly this man was God's Son! …

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