Cross Traffic – when religious symbolism is needlessly offensive

My wife and I just spent a few days on California’s central coast. Two nights in Santa Barbara and another in Monterey – what could be better? Getting up and running in the cool ocean breezes in the morning, strolling through the shops, stopping to eat some treats from storefront bakeries, fresh seafood practically jumping onto our dinner plates. It was a wonderfully relaxing time.

Then we drove home.

The drive from Monterey to our home a few miles west of Sacramento wasn’t really bad. We started up along the coast and then took the two lane road that runs east to the freeway north. That’s where we saw the man with the cross.

The cross looked kind of like this one, only it wasn’t painted. It was made of 4×4 beams and had that wheel thingy at the bottom.

We knew there was something coming up, because traffic had slowed down. Then we saw him on the other side of the road way, walking with the oncoming traffic. As soon as we passed, we were able to go the speed limit again.

The people in that oncoming traffic weren’t so lucky.

He had them slowed down to a crawl and backed up for two miles as he wheeled his cross on the narrow strip of asphalt that constituted the shoulder of the highway.

I wonder whether any of those people who saw him found themselves attracted to the gospel of Christ.

Taking Up Your Cross

When Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23), I’m fairly sure he was speaking in a spiritual sense. Unless you’re about to be nailed to it (as some early Christians were), carrying a literal cross along the roadside doesn’t seem to me to be a fulfillment of that passage, particularly when you look at Jesus’ statement in context:

Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:23-26.)

The cross-bearing is about being completely identified with Jesus, unashamedly giving ourselves over to his word and following Jesus wherever he takes us. Hammering some beams into a cross and traipsing along the roadside slowing down traffic in no way fits the purpose of Luke 9. That passage is about losing our lives in Jesus and finding in him that we have gained more than the whole world has to offer.

That doesn’t take a cross on wheels. It takes Jesus.

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21 Responses to Cross Traffic – when religious symbolism is needlessly offensive

  1. I must say, two of my youth kids each participate in this event with other kids in their Catholic church where they will each take turns carrying a cross for a mile or something like that. . .a wooden one as well. They actually dress as Jesus when they do it. I never told them my thoughts on it, as I understand the mindset of them learning, but I agree. . .Jesus telling us to take up our cross and follow Him daily I don’t think he meant to go around carrying a wooden cross, but to use it in how we live and what we do and say. I love what you said.

  2. janehinrichs says:

    I agree with what you said about the passage, but our God is so creative. He calls His kids to do all sorts of zany things at times. My husband is out at the Sturgis Motorcycle Cycle rally this week copping. There is a minister there who has carried a cross in all fifty states. He told my husband it has given him many opportunities to minister to others. It is a conversation starter for him I think. I am not going to be carrying a literal cross anytime soon, but God may call some of His kids to do this crazy thing. God refuses to be put in a box and He sure doesn’t act how we expect Him to act.

    • Tim says:

      I thought about the opportunities it might create for sharing the gospel too, Jane. Go for it, I say. But wheeling it along a narrow roadside with about 3 inches of asphalt shoulder where you become a traffic hazard? Not quite the thing.

  3. Tim, I can’t speak from the faith’s perspective but on religious symbols, I can say this: symbols were given as metaphors, or as representatives of ideas, meanings. We humans tend to forget the meaning behind it and start worshipping the symbol in itself. Which actually is not a bad thing but the whole point becomes redundant if we forget the meaning behind it. The meaning is more powerful, doesn’t matter if you have the symbol or not.

    • Tim says:

      Our faith has a number of symbolic elements, Anu, but each is intended to point to God. If any of them take the focus off God, the Bible says they have become idols and are strictly forbidden. So for Christians, symbol worship would be a huge no-no!


      • Exactly my point. I guess you are referring to the worship of symbols in the Eastern religions, especially Hinduism, (uh only if they take away the ism) Hinduism is understood just on religious symbols, especially in the west. It is not actually the case. It is such a huge, vast concept as I briefly touched on my cultural appropriation post. The western world has just taken the “worship” of symbols to understand Sanatan Dharma, which is not the case. Hopefully, I can explain more in my future posts. But I get the context of your post and I commented in that context. Interesting write-up and I love your take on it.

        • Tim says:

          I was actually thinking only of Christian symbols, Anu. There are people who worship relics such as bones of ancient saints, or pieces of wood said to be from the cross of Jesus Christ. Some people even see any cross as a symbol to bow to and venerate. When doing this takes our focus off Jesus, then they become idols.

          Thanks for giving me the chance to clear up that I was only talking about Christian symbols, not symbols that might pertain to any other faith or belief.

        • No, no, I get your point in the blog, I was just referring to the comment, but I think you are referring to the comment itself – I didn’t assume you were referring to eastern symbols, I just kind of added. But my point is – even if a symbol is sacred to a religion, there still is a message behind the symbol and as followers of that faith, one shouldn’t get tied up with the symbol itself and forget the meaning. I commented on your post because I saw a larger connect in terms of – message vs. symbol of message. 🙂

        • Tim says:

          Good point. That’s the distinction I was trying to draw too.

  4. Jeannie says:

    I wonder what the guy’s story was. Maybe he had an interesting one. I would assume his gesture didn’t have much more impact than those religious signs you see — but you never know!

    • Tim says:

      I don’t know about the one I saw, but the guy in the picture above has visited almost every state and is doing this to open up opportunities to talk to people, much as Jane mentioned in her comment. Becoming a public menace on a narrow road is something I would hope they’d eschew.

    • Jerry says:

      Hummm. “Not quite the thing,” I’m thankful for people like the Cross Traffic dude who decided to take a risk for God. How do we know that someone in that line of traffic or wherever he might be walking needed that visual message? We don’t and we might never know. But God knows. True, it’s an inconvenience for traffic to be interrupted and slowed when people are often in a big hurry. I think praying for the cross carrying guy is also a godly thing to do, that God will use it to open up conversations and that God will fill this man with love and compassion to know how to respond to each person and for God to protect him out of the roadways. “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.” How thankful I am for that cross of Christ! Without it I am without hope. And I am glad to not only see it attached to church buildings but to people who do something to share it. Many Christians struggle to find a way or ways to share the Gospel, to let their faith in Christ be known to the world as Jesus calls us to do in Matt. 28:18 – 20. How do you witness? What way have you found that works for you that others can learn from? I commend the cross carrying man because the message of the cross has power when people understand and embrace Him. It’s certainly not the thing you see everyday. But it makes you think.

      • Tim says:

        I agree that God can use it. He can use anything, even people who create a traffic hazard on a narrow two-lane highway with no shoulder and a posted speed of 55 mph.

  5. michellevl says:

    I share your discomfort with this form of witnessing, and these efforts seem to do more harm than good. (They also do challenge me to think about the ways I do or don’t share my faith.)
    However, there are always stories about how God breaks through someone’s barriers using the kinds of things like this that seem showy or corny. My husband came to faith in Christ via reading a “Steps To Peace With God” tract.

    I’m glad you and your wife had a nice get-away. 🙂

    • Tim says:

      I think a lot of what God has done through me has been despite my efforts, not because I was so smart and wise in doing whatever I was doing! My own versions of doing something like toting a cross along a narrow highway, I suppose

  6. Dana Tuttle says:

    This is a big issue with me! My motto has always been, “If Jesus was electrocuted, would we wear tiny little electric chairs around our necks?” Loved this, Tim. Glad I’m not the only one!

    • Tim says:

      If we had those little electric chairs, Dana, would they include a lamb looking like it was slain sitting on the seat? My marketing people will be getting in touch with you soon.

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