Monday, May 9, 2011

Walking & Testifying

Crossing Into the Lion’s Den, 2011

Maybe it’s a Southern thing. I don’t spend enough time in other places to know. But apparently it’s gotten so that you don’t have yourself a halfway respectable outdoor festival if you don’t have a man toting a cross on a wheel.

I’ve been noticing guys dragging crosses since 2004 or 2005, when I came across a man name chuck toting a cross along the highway outside Huntsville, Texas. Chuck had been crisscrossing the country for a number of years, and had the newspaper clippings to prove it.

Since then I’ve seen several man toting crosses like Chuck’s. It seems to have become de rigueur among the evangelical set. I don’t think they’re all walking along highways like Chuck. But I guess testifying is testifying wherever you are.

I’ve gotten to be curious about who would carry such a cross around. I’ve seen some who wielded their crosses like swords, standing on street corners haranguing passersby with all sorts of claptrap about hell and beyond. My guess is most of these guys use the cross as a “door opener,” an excuse for starting a conversation about faith. If Jesus walked among us, would he have stopped on High Street for a Coca Cola in a plastic cup?

Getting Ready to Work the Crowd, 2011

When I first saw this man at the Gosport Art Festival on Saturday, he had rested his cross atop a power transformer while he enjoyed a soft drink from one of the festival vendors. “Gosport,” by the way, is a fancy historic name for Portsmouth, Virginia, a city that has a lot going for it, only you wouldn’t know that from the way people talk about it.

While the man sat and enjoyed his Coke, I took the opportunity to get a closer look at the cross. Let’s just say Jesus had a much harder time. This man’s cross is made of stained landscape timbers. The name of a local Methodist church is written on the bottom.

As the man continued his stroll up the street, every now and then someone, usually an older man, would comment, “I like what you’re doing there.” We Southerners are nothing if not polite about recognizing people enduring hardships of faith, even if the cross they bear is made of the kind of light lumber one might use to line a rose garden. The man would answer each comment with a simple “Bless you,” as if he were the Pope.

One man even stopped the cross man and addressed him as “J.C.” He seemed as little fidgety, which made me wonder whether he wasn’t taking any chances with his eternal salvation by being unprepared just in case it really was Jesus walking among us.

Portsmouth’s a funny place about appearances. My wife and I once went on a Christmas tour of historic Portsmouth homes, one of which had been restored and furnished by a gay couple. In several places throughout the house were pictures of the two men. You can’t imagine two men looking as different from one another as these men do. They weren’t monks and didn’t have a cross. Yet for reasons still unknown to me the hostesses kept referring to them as “the brothers.”

I’ve since asked my friends who live in Portsmouth if this is some kind of local euphemism. They just shrug it off as a “Southern thing.”

Not having seen it anywhere else, I’m going to call it a “Portsmouth thing.”


  1. The wheel's a nice practical touch. Maybe he could add a little motor. No point in inconveniencing yourself.

  2. That's a riot. I think the wheel is cheating, myself. No crown-of-thorns? No stigmata? What's up with that?