I was just a kid when I heard about a cross burning in Wheeling. It was something I didn't quite understand. The hate crime was talked about in hushed tones by adults. Growing up in a Catholic household, I just assumed that someone burned a cross because they didn't like Jesus.
Only as I grew older and learned to read did I realize the real meaning of a cross burning in this country. And it had little to do with Jesus and nothing remotely to do with religion.
My encounters with the symbolic Christian cross would increase as I grew older. We had crucifixes in our home when we were growing up and so did most of my friends.
It was only when I attended a summer day camp that I truly encountered kids of different faiths and got my first look at the Star of David worn by a fellow camper. She admired my medal depicting the Blessed Virgin and I commented on the beauty of her Star of David necklace.
In those days, Catholics and Jews did not invite one another to their church or temple services and most remained within their faiths when choosing mates. I didn't quite understand this way of thinking. Most of the kids I knew were more interested in the latest Teen Beat magazine or baseball cards, not discussing religious differences. As our communities revolved and evolved, that thinking changed, broadening our lives.
My parents had friends of many faiths and exposed us to the idea that, despite our differences, we were all people from God, but not necessarily all believers in the same Creator.
If there were atheists among those friends, they probably never mentioned it for fear a rosary devotion might break out.
This week when I heard that someone had complained about a cross being a part of the city of Steubenville's promotional campaign artwork, I felt as if the clock had reverted back in time. Here we go again.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation out of Wisconsin informed the city that it had fielded a complaint about the logo and demanded its removal. The artwork, a lovely creation that depicts Steubenville, includes Franciscan University, an integral part of the community. Because the university is symbolized with a cross, the complainant wants the cross removed from the artwork. The city will comply.
You can argue there needs to be a separation of church and state. You can demand equal rights - which sometimes includes the minority stepping on the majority in the name of the Constitution. But how can you demand that an institution, vitally a part of the makeup of Steubenville, subdue its identity by eliminating the cross on which it was founded?
If this is the cross we must bear, we will need a whole lot of helping carrying it.
Heather Ziegler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.