Monday, 28 December 2009

Outward signs

I've been thinking about this one for a while.

When I was actively avoiding anything to do with Christianity -- remember there was around a decade of this -- it was easy to feel inundated by it. Frankly, I find it hard to have much sympathy for people who feel Christianity is becoming a minority faith, pushed to the sidelines. Just try keeping a faith where all the religious holidays mean you have to take time out of your allocated holiday, rather than having convenient Bank Holidays to help out with the major ones. Try having your strictly-kept Sabbath a day earlier than that of the established religion and finding that some of your local shops don't open on your other weekend day because of Sunday trading laws. The "secular" world in this country is still very Christian, from the perspective of anyone trying to follow Jewish law. And while I think changing public service adverts so that they don't have the word "Christmas" in is rather silly, I find the assumption that everyone is Christian very grating, too.

My experience of Christianity growing up was not the worst I have heard of, but it did lack the space for me to ask questions. My exposure to people who talked about their faith anywhere other than at church was limited to those who were quite evangelical in a "going around trying to save people" sort of way.

Something I've noticed recently is that my reactions have changed.

There was a time when seeing various Christian posters and advertisements -- you know the ones, they come in varying degrees of fundamentalism but tend to contain a passage from scripture and seem to be meant to encourage people to convert -- made me feel hounded or shouted at. Now I'm a lot calmer, and sometimes even take some comfort from the passages quoted.

There was a time when seeing someone wearing a cross or crucifix around their neck would make me feel quite uncomfortable, quite wary of that person. That was certainly a prejudiced reaction on my part, but one based on my previous experiences. Seeing someone wearing overtly Christian jewelery made me feel I had to brace myself for the possible barrage of being told what I ought or ought not do to be saved. I felt defensive. Again, I'm now a lot calmer; when I see someone wearing Christian jewelery, even the "let's go convert heathens!" fish, I mostly take comfort from the idea that this is someone trying to follow a set of values, someone trying to be kind and do what is right, and they may not always have the same interpretations as I do but at least they're trying. Or sometimes the cynic in me despairs that they may only be wearing a cross because it's fashionable.

The odd thing is that I've never much had trouble with clergy wandering around in collars, cassocks or whatever else their particular tradition asks that they wear. I suppose my stepdad being both clergy and in the military got me accustomed to the idea of "uniform" pretty early. As a musician, too, there are specific and distinctive working clothes I'm expected to wear on some occasions. But jewelery, bumper stickers, posters... these all seem optional, and when I was avoiding Christianity I found them intrusive and threatening because of the implied criticism I imagined they carried, the perception on my part that anyone who subscribed to this faith would set out to convert me.

I don't wear much jewelery myself. For several years I had a necklace an ex-boyfriend had given me, and I wore it always; eventually it broke and was lost. As a teenager I had a series of very simple rings, always for the middle finger of my left hand, but these too broke or were lost. I have a pearl necklace my mother gave me, a pendant and chain Intrepid Anthropologist gave me for a graduation gift, and a lovely glass snake that Sweetie gave me; I don't wear the first two often because they seem too special for every day, and I don't wear the third because I don't have an appropriate chain for it. My ears were pierced when I was 11 but it is several years since I even owned a pair of earrings; my skin tends to be quite sensitive so I had to stop wearing the earrings I had.

I've been thinking I'd quite like to wear something which reminds me of God... something I can wear all day most days, which I can feel, something symbolic... but I don't necessarily want it to be something which will mark me out as Christian. Why not? Well, partly because of my own experiences of feeling defensive. I don't want anyone to feel that way around me and I realise that many people would, including some of my students. But it's also because I still balk at labels, I still balk at being called Christian -- not only because I do not wish to be associated with the more harmful interpretations of Christianity, but because representing Christ on earth is a huge task, one at which I would almost certainly fail. I don't want to be associated with the negative aspects of Christianity, but I also don't want Christianity to be stuck with my mistakes. When I forget myself and act unkindly, when I am tired and make poor spending choices, when I am selfish -- I don't want the stranger on the street to lump that in with Christianity.

I can think of a few different symbols that will mean something to me but aren't so overtly Christian as to cause anyone any distress. There's no rush.

But I don't know whether this shyness on my part is right. I don't know whether my reluctance to label myself "Christian" despite increasing involvement with the Church is right. I don't know whether my reticence to identify my faith in a public and outward way is a symptom of fear, in a society which increasingly derides all theist religion and expects people to parcel up their faith and keep it private, or whether it is in keeping with the respect for others' experiences and beliefs that I value so much.


Ernest said...


Small signs sometimes are the best. I like you have had an aversion to outward Christian symbolism, albeit, I have been comfortable about talking about my faith and belief.

I do normally wear some form of badge on a jacket, A Veterans Badge and one identifying my Regiment in the Army, but that is all. I also wear a wedding ring.

When I was asked by my spouse, what I would like for Christmas, out of the blue, came the idea of a small crucifix, plain, on a chain which I could wear around my neck under my shirt etc.

So, out we went and bought one, which was relatively expensive but it really plain and understated.

I wore it for the first time at Christmas, and found that I actually did feel that it belonged.

How the idea came, I can surmise that it was from God as I had not considered it before. I am not sure of the symbolism of this, but I know that it is something I felt I needed to do?

In your case, perhaps the sign of a fish, which has clear christian symbolism, but no so prominently to some as a crucifix.

Song in my Heart said...

No, not a fish, I don't think, for me; I associate that symbol very much with the sort of evangelism that I've found intrusive in the past. But maybe a dove, or some sort of Celtic representation of the Trinity. Or some kind of 3D model of the mathematical symbol for infinity.

Thanks for sharing your experience with this, Ernest. I'm glad you found something you're comfortable wearing.

Ernest said...


I just felt that for me it was right!

But I appreciate that what you feel is personal and must have a meaning that you can be comfortable with.

I must say that I like the Celtic Representation of the Trinity, which is not something I had considered?

Perhaps my lack of creativity is the issue - you are an artist and musician = creative by definition. So can visualise in a way that others can not.

Anyway, great sharing with you. I have also decided to revive my blog a little and see where it takes me.

Anonymous said...

This blog is great! Thanks for your hard work on it.

Song in my Heart said...

Ernest, I don't think I have any special ability to visualise in ways that others don't. But I do have a lot of training in seeing and creating layers of meaning in a very abstract form, so perhaps I'm less likely than some to just take a symbol at face value.

Anonymous, thank you.

Erika Baker said...

When I first became a Christian I bought myself a cross to wear and I loved it. I wore it shyly at first, then with more confidence. It was lovely to recognise others who shared my values, to feel I belonged.
Now things are different. I am wary of people who wear crosses; I talk to them very carefully before I trust them.
Too many are conservative, homophobic, judgemental. Where I used to feel "I belong" I now sense the flip side - "those who are unlike us don't belong". And increasingly, I don’t want to be seen as belonging to those who exclude others, who feel pity or contempt for those "not saved".

it's margaret said...

Hope your not posting means you are busy and alright. Happy New Year, Song.

Song in my Heart said...

Thank you, Margaret.

I'm well, but busy, and this is cutting down my time for reading and commenting as well as posting.