Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Wren cross

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"Under the new policy, the cross will be returned for permanent display in a glass case and will be taken out when used in religious services. People of other faiths will be allowed to have their sacred objects also stored in the chapel."

In a glass case. This is far from over, methinks. The Wren Cross will now become a symbol of Christianity being sealed away in mere lip-service historical acknowledgment by institutions that owe their existence to it, and who have grown increasingly unwilling to hire Christian profs, or to allow Christian proslytization on campus, etc.

In a glass case. I fully grant that having an explicitly Chrisitan sort of building, namely, a chapel, is a problem for strict separationists who run colleges, and becomes almost an almost impossible issue if they want to grant other faith groups use of that same space. There really are tough issues here, and I am disinclined to question what appears to be a compromise forged within the William and Mary community, and not forced upon them by Justices like Sandra Day.

But in a glass case? What feels like a greater desecration in the year 2007, soldiers entering a chapel, defecating on the altar, melting down the cross for it’s metal value, OR, strict separationist all-religions-are-one college administrators, the same ones who treat Christian concerns poorly across the board, sealing up the cross behind glass?

What is the meaning of a cross in a chapel being put in a glass case? If I enter the chapel as a Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, agnostic, or athiest, do I feel that the holy space has been kept open for my sense of what is holy by the cross being encased in glass? Do I see the glass between me and the cross and understand, "Oh, this a sign that my religion (or irreligion) is being respected?" But why, if the cross is to be taken out during Christian religious ceremonies, should I have to gaze upon it all? Either the chapel is utterly and purely nonsectarian or it is not. If it is explained to me that I need to respect the Christian origins of this rigorously non-sectarian space, by allowing that glass-encased cross to be there, is this not an amazingly complex argument? Why did I enter the building in the first place? If I wish to pray in my Arabic or chant my Hindu chants, are there not other places in which I can do so? What is gained, and how is the tension between me and Christians reduced?

Now let us imagine that a Christian comes into the chapel to pray. How will she feel upon seeing that the cross is in a glass case? Is she in a museum? But no, this is a non-sectarian holy place. But where are the symbols of the other religions in their glass cases? Her cross is there, but in what way, symbollically, is it there? Why has she bothered to come here? God will hear her prayers anywhere, she believes. So how is her worship of God to be improved by coming here, when she will be reminded that her college feels it needs to seal up her cross. How can that help her pray, worship?

Now let us picture a college alumnus, a giver of money to the college who signed the petition to keep the cross there, entering the chapel. For the sake of peace, he knows, they sealed up the cross in a glass case and now he looks upon it. Why did he want the cross to remain there? Well, we felt is was a way for the college to recall its past debts, to the many Christians who built and supported the it over the years; metaphorically, he sees 18th and 19th century Episcopalians, and other dead Christians, peering over his shoulder at the cross encased in glass. What sort of altar is this? How is this not also a rebuke to the earlier generations, to the idea that Christianity had, has, and will have something to do with America, and with its aspirations for higher learning? He knows what the lawyers say, he knows he believes, more or less, in separation of church and state, but his gut tells him, as do the ghosts of the place, that this is a wrong.

In a glass case. To take a line from Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, the tour guide leads us up to it, boringly explains that William and Mary has a Christian heritage because that what it USED to be, and grinning, he lightly taps the glass, and says "Formerly, all the world was mad."

Exodus 26:33 "And thou shalt set the table without the vail under the taches, that thou mayest bring in thither within the ark of the testimony, and placeth it within a glass case with plaque of bronze which shall explain the history of all these things, and the case shall divide unto you between the holy place and the most holy."


John J. MIller agrees with you.

Oh I’m not done yet! Last night I dreamed a dream...of the Wren Cross sealed in its rectangular glass case...I saw it on a hillside overlooking the sea, enlarged to a great size, and the birds slammed themselves against the glass...I saw it minaturized around the necks of priests,thousands of them in a field, and then came others with the little englassed crosses round their necks, too...they carried other little glass boxes, empty with little lids, that they whispered into, and they would hand these to the next person, who re-opened the lid pressed up next to their ear...and I saw Bibles, rosaries, hymnals, icons, candles, tambourines, crowns, bucklers, and swords, each in their glass case with explanatory plaque. I looked over the rooftops of European cites, and each cross atop each cathedral or church had its own rectangular glass sealant. I saw, murkily, at the bottom of the sea, a cross in a cube, clutched by bony fingers and encrusted by barnacles, the team of divers brought it up out from the wreckage, in the sunlight they scraped off the barnacles, but could not open the glass. Now it was placed on a glass coffee table with other curiosities, fossils, mineral formations, geometric puzzles, tablets of hieroglyphs, and none of the guests could solve the puzzle, remove the thing from its glass...

And then came the its tail end came eight old men, carrying what looked like the ark of the covenant on two long poles...they smiled weakly and looked anywhere but at the ark, at the children with lollipops, at the parents in lawn-chairs...and then one of them stumbled, the ark tilted wildly, and out split a great glass cube, and lo, it was shattered with a clanging sound and the old men gnashed their teeth, rent their clothes, and crawled on the glass shards searching, searching, but also shrilly screaming at us that we must avert our eyes...the police had soon sealed off the area, and shooed the crowd away.

These words on the blog, can anyone interpret them for me? Oh, and I think he meant to write, "out spilt a great glass cube."

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