(Christian Week – August 2015)
HAMILTON, CANADA ✦ The ring that my wife put on my finger on the day that we married stayed there for some years until the sorry day it flew off while my arm was in mid-upstroke in an Ontario lake.
It was a great loss, this ring, gold and diamond and all that, a striking ring that was loved as much as any ring can be loved. The pain of losing it was only tempered in time when replacement rings somehow suffered the same fate.
Ring #2, a $10 purchase in an Indian shop in New Mexico, was misplaced somewhere in Uganda. For 70,000 Ugandan shillings, about $25, Ring #3 was then bought but later lost in a hotel in Hamilton, Ontario.
For more than a year I had no ring. Then my 10-year-old, recently, in an Ontario beachside trinket shop said, “Dad, you need a new wedding ring. I’ll buy you one for your birthday.”
So he did. For $12 from his allowance. Ring #4. It’s stainless steel, like the previous two, well-fitting and fine looking. It went on my finger, where it still is, in time for both my birthday and wedding anniversary.
One would hope I’d learn something with all these rings flying about, and I have: namely that you can have a fantastic ring and a hopeless marriage, like you can have a hopeless ring (or hopeless habit of losing rings) and a fantastic (you’ll have to ask my wife to confirm this) marriage.
I’ve also learned that it’s easy to get caught up in symbols and miss the truths they can represent; easy to toy with symbols, to let some metal or cloth or design become a façade to cover what’s really going on in your spirit.
Just before this summer’s church massacre in Charleston, when nine blacks were killed for simply being black, I was in that city. Then the worldwide attention. Then the boycott of all-things Confederate flag.
Overnight, this flag, which I saw often in the most innocuous of places, had become a symbol of bigotry. Nobody—South Carolina’s State House and retailers across North America included— wanted anything to do with it anymore.
Heart change, though, the sort that cuts into the history of any person, let alone the heart of any nation, the sort of change that allows God’s grace into your daily experiences and relationships, is something else.
It’s deeper. It’s messier. And while it may have public overtones, it’s first intensely private.
This is why even the cross, the symbol of torture that early Christians could never imagine as our faith’s defining symbol, is just that: a symbol.
Of course, you can wear a cross around your neck like you can wear your heart on your sleeve. (I’ve done both.) Or you can get a cross tattoo. (Like I’ve toyed with ideas of a ring tattoo.)
You might even say that the cross is the only way to peace and forgiveness, the only hope in a world hopelessly lost. You can then carry your cross or nail your old self to your cross.
And in all this, like me or anyone else, you might end up with little more than elitist pride.
Because it’s not your cross or mine. It’s Christ’s. It’s not just a hopeless world. It’s His. It’s not even your own brokenness. It’s His brokenness.
Only He can bring any good from the horror of it. And only He can marry anyone’s heart into it for His glory.