The background of the cross

Hanging crosses in an entryway or an office is a statement of faith and connects those who pass by to a great cloud of witnesses. What strategies do you use to signal the background of your life?

Our family has hung a variety of crosses on either side of our front entry walls. It’s a practice I inherited from my parents. In my childhood home, one wall of our front entryway featured crosses from my parents’ travels around the world.

Our own family crosses represent a great range of experiences and cultures. Some of my favorites include: a metal cross our daughter brought back from El Salvador; a pottery cross from my retreat at a convent in Florida; a straw cross from my mother’s choral tours in Mexico; a “cowboy cross” made out of cactus, from an open-air market at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico; and a God’s eye cross I made years ago from sticks and thread.

We know other Christian families who share this practice in their homes. For us, the collection holds multiple meanings. First, it is a statement of our faith. The crosses signal to those who enter that, as Christians, we attempt to be a place of love, welcome, hospitality and forgiveness.

But it is also a reminder to us that we are Christ’s people, as we race in and out of the front door, into a world that distracts us from our primary identity. When we moved into our house six years ago, a clergy friend came over to stand in our doorway and offer a blessing on us, the house, and all those who would come and go. This is a space we ask God to inhabit.

Kavin Rowe writes about such strategies in his description of Christ-shaped leaders.

He says that Christ-shaped leaders use strategies to “help us to organize our lives by means of focused patterns.” The patterns are what he calls “sense makers,” which make sense of the world and form the background for our lives.

“The importance of the background is quite remarkable: it structures how the world will appear to us and therefore how we will act in it,” he writes.

For our family, the crosses are the “background” to our days, our weeks and our lives. We try to live according to the cross and the faith it represents. We still argue and get cranky and selfish, but the crosses remain our background.

Second, the crosses connect us to a great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us in the faith.

Amidst the busy-ness of our days, I am reminded of the kindness of the man who talked with me for a long time before he sold me his cowboy cross. Who knew that something as prickly as a cactus could be transformed into a beautiful cross?

I think of my daughter’s stories of El Salvador, embodied in her cross; of the lives lost in a turbulent history of injustice; and of the brave souls who sacrificed themselves for a better life for their families.

I am reminded of the peace of the convent and the hospitality of the nuns there who made my pottery cross and who extend Christian welcome to pilgrims in search of rest from all over the country.

Not long ago I went to visit a pastor friend in her office. Like many pastors, she had a beautiful and unique collection of crosses on one wall of her tiny, cramped space. While I still focused on my conversation with her, my eye was immediately drawn to her collection. It spoke of her faith, her commitments, her experiences and her own great cloud of witnesses. I felt immediately oriented to the pattern of her particular faith journey.

Rowe says that becoming a Christ-shaped leader is about cultivating the right sort of background for ourselves and for our institutions. What other patterns do you use for your background as a Christian leader?