Bearing The Cross Of Caleb

I adjusted the cord on my plain cross necklace as I switched the microphone off and waited for the next station break. Leaning back, I glanced down the newssheet, making a mental checklist of what to include in my next broadcast. Lead off with one of the national stories, then a couple local stories, today’s big news about the governor, and finish with weather and a plug for tomorrow’s Morning Show interview.

David opened the studio door, fumbling with his usual armload of sheet music, books, CDs and a diet cola from Wendy’s. David was the station’s artistic director, and he had vouched for me to secure my internship at National Public Radio for the month. He gently dropped his pile of work onto the table and gave me a morning grin.

“Joe asked me to send you in to see him,” David said, straightening his tie and brushing at a stain on his shirt that had probably been there since before I was in high school. Joe Fallano, the station manager, generally stayed in his office and let the other staff handle my training and supervision; I hadn’t had much contact with him. He sat hunched over his desk as usual when I entered.

“Sit down, Caleb,” he told me, pointing a gnarled finger at the chair opposite his desk. I lowered myself into the seat, wondering whether it was my turn to speak or his. “Now, Caleb, you’ve been doing a good job here. You seem to be catching on.” He paused and opened his bulging eyes just a little wider.

“Thank you, Mr. Fallano,” I replied. “It’s been a great experience for me, too.” Joe’s stare remained firm. I shifted in my seat and clasped my hands on my lap.

“Do you know why I called you in here?” I shook my head and shrugged.

Joe stood up from his desk, but remained on the far side of the room. He straightened his tie and buttoned his suit coat, never looking away. “Caleb, we’ve got a professional image we need to maintain here, so I need to talk to you about how you dressed for work today.”

The collar of my turtleneck sweater suddenly became very itchy, but I breathed a sigh of relief that my wardrobe was the only problem. “I’m sorry, Mr. Fallano,” I apologized. “I didn’t realize this was too casual. If you want, I’ll be sure to wear a shirt and tie from now on.”

Joe turned and smiled a little. “I’m glad to see you understand.” He lowered his voice. “But I’m also worried about what you have around your neck.”

My fingers instantly found the wooden cross on my chest; the once-sharp corners had grown smooth and familiar over time. “My necklace?”

“Yes. But what’s on the necklace?”

“It’s a cross.” I wore it every day; people knew me by this necklace. It symbolized me. It was more than a cross; it was my cross.

“Right,” he grumbled, “but nobody said you could wear a cross at a public radio station.”

“Maybe the constitution,” I blurted, before taking time to consider whether this was a wise thing to say. Every wall in my defense system was up, and my instinct was to valiantly stand my ground in the name of Christ. This was the symbol of who I was and what I stood for. But it was only my ground; it was my cross, and I was only using His name.

Joe pointed that gnarled finger at me; his voice was pointed, too. “Caleb, you can wear whatever you want on your own time. But this is a public radio station, and here we’ve got to represent public opinion, not go showing off whatever we believe. Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m a religious man myself, but I don’t go showing it off to everyone I meet. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

My head whirled between truth and tact. “You don’t want me to wear this necklace anymore.”

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“Good.” Joe nodded his approval. “Now, you’re probably back on the air in a couple minutes.” His back hunched once again over his desk, and he returned to his work.

As I switched on the microphone in the studio, a temptation passed over me to tell the public what had just happened in the station office: how my personal rights had been violated, how my liberty had been trampled. I thought it was righteous indignation that stirred me. “Stand up for Christ,” my pride urged my will. My heart felt too big for my chest and my stomach was quivering. But in the end, I stuck to the news about the governor.

Many times afterward, I wanted to flagrantly hang that small wooden cross around my neck and parade my right to display whatever piece of religious jewelry I chose. I constructed several arguments that would justify me and my position. But that day I looked closely at the small wooden cross, and wondered: Would that represent Christ’s cause, or my own? His glory, or my pride? His cross, or mine?

That evening, I hung the necklace on a coat-hook in my room, and it stayed there for the remainder of the month. Conceding this piece of wood humbled me, but it revealed that wearing my cross so flippantly had almost kept me from carrying His.

[Caleb Sjogren has a passion for written words and improvised theater. He is also an avid literature and grammar geek.]

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