I cannot remember when my mail was last delivered by a USPS worker on foot. It must have been when we lived in southwest Dallas in the late 1980’s. Since that time USPS workers have delivered to our address via motorized vehicle.
One of the young fellows in our church delivers for the USPS and he does so on foot. His knees have taken a beating. It could also be that his knees suffer from plunges from the sky as he does love skydiving. Yes, that was an unnecessary digression.
Growing up on 17th Street we could spot the USPS truck and its characteristic red, white, and blue logos and stripes. We also knew who the Postman was by his uniform. Uniforms present us with signs and symbols. Dressed in his characteristic blue, our Postman could be counted on in all weather conditions. You may recall the delivery creed,
Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.
The creed sets the expectation. No matter the conditions we expect our mail delivered, even if it is late due to the conditions. These conditions include nature, as described in the creed, or the increase in mail volume due to various holiday seasons. We do not expect the Postman to decide not to deliver the mail because he thinks the sign and symbol no longer apply to him at arbitrary moments.
Recently a friend pointed to a social media update provided by a Postman. He reported,
To the lady that just cursed me out and said I’m going to burn in hell(?) for giving my homeless guys some food this morning cause I’m contributing(her words) to the trash in this city…. Would you please take that cross around your neck and give yourself a Linda Blair!!! God bless you.
I followed the comments related to this incident. As you may imagine, and rightly so, the criticisms of Christians was quick and intense. The sign and symbol of the cross worn around the neck meant something to the Postman, just as his uniform would signal certain meanings. Two things came to mind.
First, the sign and symbol of the cross is so ubiquitous in our culture that is is more kitsch than anything else. If the lady in the story self-identified as Christian, the point is evident. During the Christian Season of Lent the cross, as a sign and symbol of Jesus’ death, takes on a deeper meaning than a trinket to wear around the neck, a sign attached to an automobile, an accessory to hang on the wall, or an image created of light featured on high rise buildings at night. When the cross takes this place in our culture its meaning is threatened. Think of the incongruity of conquering under the sign of the cross. The cross represents the location of great suffering, its meaning is hardly carried by military victory no matter the century. Wearing it does not seem to captivate the wearer to be beholden to its inherent meaning of suffering. If that were the case in this illustration, the woman would join the Postman in feeding the, “homeless guys.”
Second, kitsch-y human texts fail to offer an affirmation of the Sacred Text. The Apostle Paul describes those who embraced Jesus in Corinth as an “epistle,” a text. The visible fragments of the lives of those who turned toward Jesus bore witness to the cross bearing One. In this way their lives affirmed the Good News. When we wear our crosses rather than bear our crosses there are no affirmations but instead indignations. Rightly so.
The Postman made a humorous suggestion for the cross wearer, “give yourself a Linda Blair.” The reference is to The Exorcist. At once we read the reply as anger but it really plays the role of humor quite nicely. Humor, conveys something incongruous, absurd.
I read this note on FB regarding Keirkegaard’s definition of humor,
It is absurd that a self-identifying Christian, if it is true that anyone who wears a cross intends such an identification, would pull a Linda Blair and “spin her head around.” But, upon close examination treating other human beings as trash would be construed as evil, at least devilish. Thus, the event exposes the unreliability of our expectations. In this case it is unreliable that a cross wearing person may indeed live up to the expectation of the sign and symbol of the cross.
When we appeal to human frailty, at least in this particular expression, we undermine the Sacred Text. It no longer functions as a Text, if not THE Text, that deconstructs us looking for an affirmation. In other words, if Christians claim the Good News makes new, then we cannot at the same time take something as simple as feeding hungry people as an occasion to demean another person for doing so.
In fact, and here is the uncomfortable part, the Postman, who serves as a human text that does not self-identify as Christian, becomes the text that deconstructs the cross wearing lady and exposes her own expectations as unreliable. So much so, that what is left to be affirmed is that the Postman actually portrays Jesus to the homeless guys despite his lack of Christian self-identification. The cross wearing lady, not so much.
May the Christian Season of Lent be more about cross bearing than cross wearing.