Symbols and gold watches and those monsters on the lake

August 22, 2015

A cross can be quite something, that is wearing a cross as a symbol of one’s love and devotion to the God-Man who hung on one 2000 years ago, and, in doing so, changed the course of history.

And yet.


What I didn’t tell you recently, when I told you how my 10-year-old son bought me my current wedding ring, is that in the same trinket shop at Sauble Beach, we got him a necklace with a cross on it.

And I’m proud of Jon for even being interested in wearing such a symbol. It was his choice.

Like I’m proud of Jon for the interest he once expressed in the ichthys, this symbol of a fish, (that is the symbol of the faith for early believers), even if he’d tattoo said fish on his leg.

Still, there is another side to symbols, even the best of symbols, a side that isn’t all that flattering.

More on this in a minute.


The children and I are spending these days housesitting a rather beautiful cottage home north of Toronto, a home on a lake that happens to be the lake where Wedding Ring #1, The Beautiful Original, was lost by Yours Truly some years ago.

Which is to say, that we did not bring Jon’s necklace up here, lest the lake reaches out and swallows it, so to speak, like it did my original wedding ring.

But the children and I did go for a late-night dip last night in said lake (no ring to be seen), under a sky that was not only filled with stars but coloured a rather remarkable purple, this, after a stunning sunset displaying a symphony of reds and yellows on the horizon.

This is the markings of an Artist at work and a sort of symbol in its own way, one of great value because it can be one stunning beauty one evening, and another on the next.


The other news of the moment is that there is no sign of any monster here on this particular Ontario lake.

You think I jest, but I should let you know that one of my first biggest stories in the newspaper game, maybe the biggest, was a series on the fabled Lake Erie Monster, a monster that looked, in one photo, more like a brontosaurus than anything.

LEM (short for Lake Erie Monster) was a monster that was reported one summer day in the Weekly World News (with front page photo) as a difficult monster who had just capsized a boat filled with Chicago area tourists somewhere on Lake Erie.

So, along with another reporter who I snagged from the newsroom to help me in my search, I went to the the shore of Erie to start my own search, this on the lake’s north shore, at Port Stanley, Ontario.

I figured any monster worth its salt would easily be able to navigate its way around the entirety of even a Great Lake, so it would have no problem travelling that far north, especially in the warm climes of summer.

I will have to share more on this someday, but for the moment, I can say that after I wrote this monster story and submitted it for a prize, it won me $2,000.

I used a good chunk of that money to buy a gold watch, which I pulled out for special occasions, like when I dated My Bride in those early years, especially in special places.

Besides that Original Wedding Ring, the watch was my most prized piece of jewelry, filled with great personal meaning and symbolism — it reminded me of, if nothing else, what can be the absurdity, in a fun way, of the daily news.

Unlike my wedding ring, I had that watch for some 20 years. Until earlier this summer when, you’ll recall, there was this theft in Ottawa when the family was up there for My Bride’s Order of Canada ceremony.

In one of those two stolen computer bags was the Great Gold Watch.

Which is all to say that symbols and other cherished things, even from monster stories, have their place. But when they get taken from us, which in one way or another they always will, we need things more substantive to fall back on.


Here’s more on it all from that above-noted column on symbols, here, and below.


The symbols we love. (And toy with)

(Christian Week – August 2015)

HAMILTON, CANADA ✦ The ring that my wife put on my finger on the day that we married stayed there for some years until the sorry day it flew off while my arm was in mid-upstroke in an Ontario lake.

It was a great loss, this ring, gold and diamond and all that, a striking ring that was loved as much as any ring can be loved. The pain of losing it was only tempered in time when replacement rings somehow suffered the same fate.

Ring #2, a $10 purchase in an Indian shop in New Mexico, was misplaced somewhere in Uganda. For 70,000 Ugandan shillings, about $25, Ring #3 was then bought but later lost in a hotel in Hamilton, Ontario.

For more than a year I had no ring. Then my 10-year-old, recently, in an Ontario beachside trinket shop said, “Dad, you need a new wedding ring. I’ll buy you one for your birthday.”

So he did. For $12 from his allowance. Ring #4. It’s stainless steel, like the previous two, well-fitting and fine looking. It went on my finger, where it still is, in time for both my birthday and wedding anniversary.

One would hope I’d learn something with all these rings flying about, and I have: namely that you can have a fantastic ring and a hopeless marriage, like you can have a hopeless ring (or hopeless habit of losing rings) and a fantastic (you’ll have to ask my wife to confirm this) marriage.

I’ve also learned that it’s easy to get caught up in symbols and miss the truths they can represent; easy to toy with symbols, to let some metal or cloth or design become a façade to cover what’s really going on in your spirit.

Just before this summer’s church massacre in Charleston, when nine blacks were killed for simply being black, I was in that city. Then the worldwide attention. Then the boycott of all-things Confederate flag.

Overnight, this flag, which I saw often in the most innocuous of places, had become a symbol of bigotry. Nobody—South Carolina’s State House and retailers across North America included— wanted anything to do with it anymore.

Heart change, though, the sort that cuts into the history of any person, let alone the heart of any nation, the sort of change that allows God’s grace into your daily experiences and relationships, is something else.

It’s deeper. It’s messier. And while it may have public overtones, it’s first intensely private.

This is why even the cross, the symbol of torture that early Christians could never imagine as our faith’s defining symbol, is just that: a symbol.

Of course, you can wear a cross around your neck like you can wear your heart on your sleeve. (I’ve done both.) Or you can get a cross tattoo. (Like I’ve toyed with ideas of a ring tattoo.)

You might even say that the cross is the only way to peace and forgiveness, the only hope in a world hopelessly lost. You can then carry your cross or nail your old self to your cross.

And in all this, like me or anyone else, you might end up with little more than elitist pride.

Because it’s not your cross or mine. It’s Christ’s. It’s not just a hopeless world. It’s His. It’s not even your own brokenness. It’s His brokenness.

Only He can bring any good from the horror of it. And only He can marry anyone’s heart into it for His glory.

cross photo from cw

(PS – the above photo is from Taos, New Mexico, where Ring #2 was purchased.)

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August 22, 2015 • Posted in
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