What the Cross Means to Me

31 07 2014

By Ralph Aona, Pacific Islands Mission Centre president

As a young child, I grew up in a congregation that had a framed painting of Jesus, who appeared to be knocking at a door. This drawing was in the front of the church, just above the baptismal font. It remained there for years, and then a painting of Jesus’ resurrection replaced it. His hands stretched out, as if reaching and touching us. Later, a koa (local wood in Hawaii) cross replaced that painting.

When I see that cross, it captures my attention. I am not sure why, but maybe it was the first cross that reminded me of my experiences on my journey with Christ. It is not the physical cross that captures me; rather it is what it represents. It represents my journey with the living Jesus knocking on my life and reaching and touching me.

When I went to college I thought I didn’t need to attend church. No one would know while I was in Washington. I was wrong. Jesus knew. Jesus was knocking on my door, my life, reminding me that he is not only lived out in oneself but in relationship with all sacred creation.

The fellowship and relationship with others in the community was important in my spiritual growth and journey. Jesus was right. On my first visit to the Woodland Congregation, I caught the bus and then had to walk several blocks. It was worth it. I met loving and caring people. In that fellowship, my faith continued to grow, my spiritual journey was strengthened, and Jesus was alive.

On another occasion, I was asked to go to the hospital to visit and pray for a young child with multiple medical needs. When I arrived I met the mother and saw her daughter hooked to several medical machines. The family members were not members of the church. So I had to explain about the sacrament of laying on of hands for the sick. The mother was receptive. She was open to anything that could help her child to live.

On another visit, I offered the sacrament again. After the prayer, the mother turned to me and said, “My daughter has taught me about love.” Her daughter did not have to say a word or move. It was her daughter’s presence that reminded her about love. Her daughter taught her that she was loved. The prayers just confirmed that to her.

Here, Jesus was knocking on this mother’s door through her daughter, and she was able to allow Jesus into her life through her child. The child passed away, but the mother found healing. When the celebration of life for the child was held, it was at a park with games, rides, and good food. It was a wonderful celebration.

The cross is all about Jesus knocking on our door and stretching out his hands to touch us. Jesus can reach us in so many ways—if we allow Jesus in. May we hear and see Jesus knocking and just be willing to open up and feel his hands reaching and touching us.

What the Cross Means to Me

30 06 2014

By Kris Judd, staff pastor

My physician wears a simple silver cross on her lapel. I had not noticed it until a recent visit, and I was not aware of her religious preference. But I knew she was a woman of faith by the way she spoke and treated her patients. I told her I appreciated that she was not afraid to wear the symbol of her faith, and she responded, “I wear it close to my heart. It’s my work.”

Jim Wallis of Sojourners made a similar comment when he wrote about the popularity of Pope Francis. “Francis is just doing his job. The pope is meant to be a follower of Christ.” I love Pope Francis, not only for what he does for the poor, the oppressed, the excluded, and marginalized, but for what he is doing for all Christianity in its diverse shapes, forms, and denominations.

He’s not ashamed of Jesus. People not only are noticing, they’re celebrating this humble leader who lives and loves like Jesus because that is his job, and that is who he is.

Feeding the hungry, crying for justice for those without voice, empowering the powerless…these are more than good deeds performed to build community. These are the actions, intentions, and inclinations of one who knows and boldly lives the invitation to follow Christ.
Wallis also comments:

The remarkable acts of kindness and grace we see with Pope Francis are the natural response from a disciple who has known the kindness and grace of Christ in his own life. The pope’s moments of Christ-like compassion and love point not to “a great man,” but rather point to Jesus. He is not asking us to follow him, but inviting us to follow Christ.

Many of us struggle with the Mission Initiative of Invite People to Christ. It is perhaps the most important, yet most difficult, to do. It challenges us to leave our comfort zones and face our egos, which prefer to avoid rejection at all costs; to state our truth rather than remain silently respectful of all other truth-tellers in our pluralistic societies; to boldly live our faith in actions and words that tell the source and reason for our faith.

Actions are critical because it’s through the work of our hands and feet that poverty is abolished, peace is pursued, and communities are built. However, if we fail to speak of the life and ministry of Jesus, the source of our faith and community as Christians, then we and our community become the worshiped. And when either the community dies or we are no longer present, so, too, does the hope and faith of the ones we’ve invited in.

We are called to point to the One who gives hope and is worthy of our faith, not to be the recipients ourselves.

Jesus Christ is worth speaking of through bold and generous lives, through story, testimony, invitation, and the simple and ordinary work of disciples, like Francis, my doctor, and each of us.

Why I Follow the Cross

30 05 2014

By Susan Naylor,
International Headquarters Operations

I have decided to follow Jesus
I have decided to follow Jesus
I have decided to follow Jesus
No turning back, no turning back.

—“I Have Decided to Follow Jesus,”
Community of Christ Sings 499,
S. Sundar Singh

I still can see the baptismal-font steps at the Walnut Park Congregation in Independence, Missouri, where I was baptized. I can see my dad patiently waiting in the font for me to walk down those steps, and in those last seconds I paused.

I’m sure he was thinking I had changed my mind. But the words of my prebaptismal teacher, Ralph Remington, rang loudly in my ears when he reminded those of us in his class that as we took that first step to say to ourselves, “I promise to always follow Jesus.”

On that day, my eighth birthday, Easter Sunday, my baptism, confirmation, and my first Communion…I promised to follow Jesus.

But that isn’t the question. The question is, “Why do I follow Jesus?” I follow Jesus because: (1) I know that he loves me, (2) Jesus is always with me in my life’s journey, and (3) my life is a reflection of Jesus for others to know.
And because I follow Jesus, I follow the cross.

From my earliest memories of Bible stories at my grandmother’s house, I wanted to be like the characters we read about who lived with Jesus. As I grew, the words of Doctrine and Covenants 155:7–8 have guided my walk with Jesus:

…Be not overly concerned with method as you go forth to witness in my name…the call is for workers in the cause of Zion; therefore, neither tarry, nor doubt that I am. I know your perplexities and I am aware of your uncertainties, but if you will call upon my name my Spirit will go before you into whatsoever place you are sent and I will continue to bless you as you have need.

So Jesus and I walk this exciting journey together, adventuring into places I may never have imagined.

Opportunities and challenges at times seem unmatched for my skills and experience. However, with Jesus going before me I find doors opened, others ready to be part of a team, and experiences that have no reasonable explanation other than Jesus and I were doing it together.

Being part of a young-adult witnessing team, I went to England to provide ministry, but instead received more than I felt I gave. Directing vacation church school, congregational retreats, mission center reunions, Spectacular, leadership events, and World Conference, I’ve often felt Jesus’ presence ahead of me in the planning and his Spirit working with others at these events and beside me, no matter the situation.

“…My Spirit will go before you into whatsoever place you are sent.” Our family’s walk with Jesus is always taking us on new adventures. Our daughter soon will graduate from high school and begin college; our family will move to Washington, DC; our son will begin a new school; and much more. In our discussions doubts have arisen, and questions of the unknown raise fears sometimes beyond our control. But I know Jesus goes before us and walks with us. Together we witness of the life of Jesus and follow the cross.

Music is a constant in my life, and in reflection, as the sun sets in my mind’s eye, I hear the campfire voices in the distance softly remind me again:

The Lord is my Shepherd I’ll follow him always, he leads me by still waters, I’ll follow him always. Always, always, I’ll follow him always.

—“The Lord Is My Shepherd,”
adapted from Psalm 23

No matter what, no matter where…I follow Jesus and the cross.

What the Cross Means to Me

30 04 2014

By Ron Harmon, Council of Twelve Apostles

This same Spirit calls us anew in this defining moment of history to live into a radical new vision of God’s future, where the hungry are fed, poverty eliminated, and every man, woman, and child has the opportunity to become fully who God created them to be in loving community.

This same Spirit calls us anew in this defining moment of history to live into a radical new vision of God’s future, where the hungry are fed, poverty eliminated, and every man, woman, and child has the opportunity to become fully who God created them to be in loving community.

I find it interesting that the symbol of the cross has become the symbol for those who claim to be Christ’s followers. You might think the early believers would have wanted to distance themselves from that horrific event. This of course is the perspective of a 21st-century believer who has to see and experience human suffering only from a distance.

For me the cross represents the almost-incomprehensible paradox of despair and hope. First-century believers were no strangers to suffering, and I believe the cross represented the worst of what humans can do to one another in the name of self interest and the best of a God whose unbelievable restraint and love point toward a radically different future.

The intersection of wood beams in the cross reminds me of the daily opportunities I have to see and accept the status quo or be disturbed and live into an alternative vision for our world. For me the cross is highly disruptive, challenging, and even scandalous in its call to adopt a new consciousness. It challenges a world that values power, control, and “sensible” approaches to the most perplexing problems.

I find myself at times a willing participant in that order, and other times deeply disturbed that I have not done more on behalf of those who yearn for tomorrow to be different than today.

Most important, for me the cross represents the resurrected Christ and the continuing, promised presence of the Holy Spirit that has sustained Christ’s followers throughout the centuries.

This same Spirit calls us anew in this defining moment of history to live into a radical new vision of God’s future, where the hungry are fed, poverty eliminated, and every man, woman, and child has the opportunity to become fully who God created them to be in loving community.

Like all symbols the cross also has been misused throughout history. In times past it was used to represent the very things it sought to eradicate: love of power, oppression, suffering, and despair. Even today some who claim the name of Christ use it to cause division and promote fear instead of inclusion and hope.

I believe we are called in our time to reclaim the cross as the symbol of radical love and inclusion in a world often characterized by fear and separation. I pray daily that I may have courage to be such a disciple.

What the Cross Means to Me

31 03 2014
Dan Nowiski

Dan Nowiski

By Dan Nowiski
Michigan USA/Canada Mission Center

The cross calls me to live Christ’s mission. It serves as a reminder that Jesus’ ministry to the marginalized involved challenging structures that devalue human beings and separate people from living in community.
Crucifixion by the Roman government was reserved for those who threatened the stability and control of the empire. Jesus’ death on the cross teaches me that his ministry with the poor, the sick, and the captive disrupted the normal flow of life for those who exercised power and dominance in first-century Palestine.

To be a disciple of Christ in ministries of evangelism, compassion, justice, and peacemaking requires one to encounter and challenge the forces of empire.

Above all else, strive to be faithful to Christ’s vision of the peaceable Kingdom of God on earth. Courageously challenge cultural, political, and religious trends that are contrary to the reconciling and restoring purposes of God. Pursue peace. —Doctrine and Covenants 163:3b

Unrestrained consumption destroys creation, families, and communities in places around the world. It is my responsibility as a disciple to challenge those structures by making Responsible Choices in my own life, advocating for legal reforms, and engaging with neighbors in my community to withdraw from mindless consumerism in the material economy.

Ignoring those who toil in sweatshops or seeing their land destroyed so I can benefit from lower prices and disposable products designed only for convenience is no longer an option when I look at the cross.

Jesus’ bold action to live with and speak for the excluded and forgotten set him apart as a troublemaker. I expect the path of discipleship likewise will bring me into conflict with many who choose to pursue comfort and convenience at the expense of impoverished persons around the world.

I was born into a position of privilege. I could use my standing as a means for selfish advancement, or I could choose to follow the model of Christ and give voice to the abused and neglected.

Many days I fall short and take in more than my fair share of energy and resources from our environment. The symbol of the cross pushes me to continual repentance for my role in the abuse of my brothers and sisters around the world.

Christ transformed the Roman crucifix from a symbol of dominance and oppression to one of humility and freedom. The image of the cross drives me to personal transformation and sends me into the world as a witness of the coming reign of God.

If you truly would be Community of Christ, then embody and live the concerns and passion of Christ.
—Doctrine and Covenants 164:9d

What the Cross Means to Me

28 02 2014

By Shandra Newcom, Rocky Mountain USA Mission Center

Shandra Newcom

Shandra Newcom

I am called to live radically, just as Jesus lived—to love the unlovable and feed the hungry; to free the captive and heal the broken. The cross represents this call to me.

It is this call that took me from my home in Colorado across the world to Chipulukusu in Zambia, Africa. I traveled there with HealthEd Connect, a nonprofit that believes deeply in the Worth of All Persons and works to end suffering.

I hadn’t realized that my disciple’s journey had become routine, that I had lost a sense of the radical reorientation the cross provides us as followers of the way of Jesus Christ. As I worshiped in the congregation in Chipulukusu, I saw what the cross means to my new Zambian friends.

The hope and praise I experienced as we sang, “There’s No One Like Jesus!” was more than meaningful. It changed my life. I began to understand, to remember that in our brokenness and struggles, Christ brings us all peace. As much as we are human beings who experience diversity in a wide range of ways, the unity Jesus brings ties us together and points us to a life of healing and renewal.

In Zambia I met women and men who have allowed the cross to change their lives. Some serve as health workers, volunteering their time and spending most of their day caring for the sick. Others teach orphans. Many have taken in children after parents died of disease.

While some might have seen death and despair in the places I visited (and there certainly were those things), I saw a fierce willingness to bring joy to life. I saw people who live with hope and who believe deeply in Christ as the one who brings freedom from the hopelessness that can come from a life lived in struggle. The smiles on the faces of the orphans who reached for my hand as I walked through their compound not only melted my heart, they reminded me that the peace of Christ passes all understanding.

I have changed my life because of that trip. I have looked carefully at how I live and what I do. I have realized that I do not live my call as deeply and fully as I want. I have allowed the example of my brothers and sisters in Africa to move me to a new way of being, a new way of seeing, a new way of acting in the world.

To say that following Christ and the cross has turned me upside down would be an understatement. It has taken me from complacency to a life lived in praise, celebration, and action in the name of the One who brings new life to me, you, and a waiting world. And I am grateful.

What the Cross Means to Me

31 01 2014

By Cathy Loving, Heritage and Visitor Services

Worshipers path

Cross on the Worshiper’s Path

Several years ago I met Susan, a woman struggling with life. She began coming to the Community of Christ Temple in Independence, Missouri, seeking God. I don’t think she knew what that was or meant. But Susan felt something drawing her each time she approached the building, passing by the large metal cross near the entrance.

When Susan began visiting the Temple, she was physically bent with downcast eyes. She looked to be carrying life’s heavy burdens. The first several months Susan came, she prayed only in the Meditation Chapel. Then she began praying at the cross on the Worshiper’s Path. Her encounter with the Holy Spirit was slow and uncertain. She often told me she did not feel worthy to be in the Temple, but she came because she felt at peace there.

As months passed, Susan’s tentative steps led her up the path toward the Temple Sanctuary…and, I would like to think, to God’s accepting love. She found an inviting Spirit during her visits. I saw her bloom and grow. She would smile, stand erect, and overflow with joy, anticipating how God was going to bless her that day.

Because of Susan and other guests, I often receive unexpected blessings and new perspectives of what the cross means to me. Our guests unknowingly cause me to rethink its meaning.

Negative emotions are connected to the cross. History tells of intense torture and pain. I saw that pain in Susan and realized that I, too, have had moments when I experienced life’s torment. I sometimes allowed the cross to weigh me down with fear and helplessness.

It took Susan to remind me of the hope of the cross, and how hope brings unexpected blessings. I looked forward to her smiling face, filled with new life. Those were moments when she taught me to let go of life’s burdens and let God in.

Since my encounters with Susan, I have been taught other lessons emanating from the cross. Indigent guests often visit the Temple. I try to be open to them and strive not to judge them for their choices. I remember that Jesus died on the cross because others judged him. I don’t wish to place anyone on the cross because I wrongly judged. I try to value the specialness and worth of each person entering the Temple. Sometimes that is not easy.

The cross also reminds me to forgive. Jesus forgave those who accused him. When I am busy and overwhelmed it can be a struggle to openly listen to demanding guests with a forgiving heart.

I see the cross and daily find hope, acceptance, and healing. It challenges me to understand where my faith journey is taking me. I am thankful for all the Susans and others who enrich my journey and teach me what the cross represents. I wonder who will cross my path today…

What the Cross Means to Me

30 11 2013

By Mark Scherer, World Church historian

In 2009 I had the honor of visiting members in Papeete, Tahiti. This was my second visit as church historian. As people left my class in the Tarona Congregation sanctuary, a young boy ran up to me and enthusiastically pointed to the ceiling.

A panel that fell from this part of the ceiling played a role in the history of the Tarona Congregation in Tahiti.

A panel that fell from part of the ceiling played a role in the history of the Tarona Congregation in Tahiti.

He spoke French, and I could not understand him. At first I thought he had seen a small lizard in the rafters and wanted me to see it, too. My translator said the boy was telling how a heavy ceiling panel had fallen during a similar class. His well-known story was about Elder Taiura Piehi.

In January 1969, Taiura fell asleep on his couch. He dreamed that a personage told him “his work is finished.” After he awoke he told his wife, Adele, and her brother, “A spirit has come to tell me that my work is finished. I know that I am going to die. Here is how it will happen: Your eyes will not see it, but someone else will come and tell you. That’s how you will learn of it.”

Family members and friends tried to dissuade Taiura from such notions, suggesting he just had a bad dream. But Taiura knew what he saw, clearly understood the message, and rejected their rationalizing. No one slept well that night.

Over the next several days Taiura did chores that needed completion before his passing. He did painting and carpenter work, and he reminisced with neighbors about good times. In his farewells he expressed the joys of witnessing and missionary service in the outer islands. He shared stories about those he baptized, those he ordained, and of the churches he helped to build.

On Saturday, January 18, Taiura attended a district conference at Tarona. Adele was unable to join him. Everyone knew where Taiura would sit—always in his pew at the rear of the sanctuary. However, on this day he unexpectedly moved toward the front and sat in a pew just behind the Graffeo family.

While he quietly listened, a sudden movement from the ceiling caught his eye. Two heavy wooden panels dislodged from the tall ceiling. One landed in the center aisle. As the other fell, Taiura lunged forward to protect the Graffeo family.

Judy Graffeo received lacerations, was rushed to a nearby clinic, and then was released. Taiura was hospitalized with a crushed skull. To his visitors, Taiura testified that his accident was the result of God’s love and not revenge. Then, on Wednesday morning, January 22, 1969, Taiura died, thus fulfilling his dream.

This event creates an existential crisis for me because the details do not fit neatly into the many years of my secular education in the historical discipline. Normally I would approach this account with healthy skepticism. But everyone in the sanctuary that day and all those who visited Taiura’s hospital room and heard his testimony authenticated exactly what happened.

Veracity is beyond question. So I strongly hold to my computer-generated e-mail signature: “Willing to search for truth beyond reason but not against it.”

Both the meaning of the cross and Taiura Piehi’s story affirm that there most certainly is “truth beyond reason.”

What the Cross Means to Me

31 10 2013


by Stassi D. Cramm, Council of Twelve Apostles

When I went to work full-time for Community of Christ as a minister, my husband and children gave me a beautiful cross necklace. I have worn it every day since, and I often find myself pondering what the cross means to me.

First, the particular cross I wear reminds me of the unconditional love and support of my family. Their love and support are physical expressions of God’s generous love and support for all people.

The empty cross reminds me that life conquers death, love wins over hate, and grace prevails over judgment. This is the promise of the cross. This promise is shared with all who claim the cross. Followers of the cross are sent to generously share life, love, and grace with all people.

Second, the cross is a reminder that we can twist good and use it to harm. I know many disciples have twisted the message of the cross into a message of oppression and conquering. The cross reminds me that we must always remain open to God’s guidance through the Holy Spirit to keep our human desires for power, expansion, and being in check.

This is the warning of the cross. Not everyone who claims the cross remains true to the meaning. Others may look at the symbol with skepticism or even fear. Those who claim the cross are challenged to do better than those who have abused others in the name of the cross by remaining true to God’s message.

Third, the cross is a reminder that discipleship comes at a cost. Jesus invited people to take up their cross and follow him. Jesus courageously challenged political, social, and even religious ways of life that were contrary to God’s unconditional love and openness for all people. The cross reminds me that pursuing the Worth of All Persons, ending needless suffering, and working for God’s vision of shalom (to name just a few) can create controversy. After all, Jesus was crucified for his actions.

This is the risk of the cross. We share this risk with others who have been transformed by the promise but also heed the warning of the cross so that our risk-taking actions are true to God’s desires and not misdirected by human ego.

Why I Follow Jesus

30 09 2013

By Ron Harmon, Council of Twelve Apostles

Ron Harmon

Ron Harmon

I follow Jesus because I was invited. It is really that simple.

As a young boy I heard the good news of the kingdom proclaimed in my small congregation on the west side of Cleveland, Ohio. I experienced the Holy Spirit’s invitation in many ways beginning with the intentional and effective guidance of my parents. They did much more than convey the good news; they lived the good news!

It was made real in their marriage, how they treated me as a child, how they spent their time, and how they spent their money.

I also heard the invitation in meaningful relationships with all ages that developed in my congregation. For me it was much more than attending church; it was a family where the interactions I had on a weekly basis affirmed my worth as a person. During difficult times I always knew there was a place, a home, where I could go and feel accepted and loved.

Something significant was occurring that went deeper than the services and Christian-education classes. I was experiencing the love of God in tangible ways that brought to life the gospel I heard preached and taught.

As my opportunities to experience more of the world expanded I began to hear the invitation in a different way. I heard the invitation as the deep yearnings of God to alleviate the unnecessary suffering occurring all around me.

New relationships brought me into direct contact with poverty, hunger, loneliness, addiction, and exclusion. In the stories of those I encountered I sensed the call to extend the invitation as it had been extended to me and to partner with Christ in bringing new life and healing.

Today I follow Jesus because I continue to hear the invitation, “Come and follow me.” The disruptive promptings of the Holy Spirit have helped me see situations and relationships as they really are and as they could be.

While much of Christianity is preoccupied with proper indoctrination as the tool of invitation I believe the concept is much simpler and more powerful. I believe the invitation occurs every time we are willing to risk a new relationship with a store clerk, waiter, neighbor, and co-worker. I believe the invitation occurs as we surprise people with our desire to be fully present with them and are open to receiving and giving Christ’s peace as our relationships develop over time.

Every time I risk a new relationship I am reminded that I first experienced the Living Christ through caring people who were willing to risk a relationship with me. It is now so much a part of who I am that I can’t imagine a life void of the hope I have in Christ. I can do no other than share the good news of what God is doing in Christ to bring hope and healing to our world.

This is why I follow Jesus.