At the cross: A symbol for sinners, seekers

Posted 4/13/17

“Cause He died for a crowd

deep as it is wide.”

— Eric Paslay, “Deep as it is Wide”

Greg Zanis makes crosses.

Each one represents a life snuffed out, usually as a result of …

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At the cross: A symbol for sinners, seekers


“Cause He died for a crowd

deep as it is wide.”

— Eric Paslay, “Deep as it is Wide”

Greg Zanis makes crosses.

Each one represents a life snuffed out, usually as a result of violent crime. He has made over 16,000 since 1996, the year that his father-in-law was murdered.

The crosses seem to cause controversy wherever they appear.

Last year Zanis made 770 crosses — one for each person who died in Chicago as a result of homicide or suicide in 2016.

In January, he placed 44 crosses in memory of those gunned down during the first month of the year on a lot someone gave him on the city’s South Side.

A group called “Army of Moms” threatened to take them down. They said the crosses gave the community a bad image and led to the false impression that there had been a mass shooting in the area.

In 1999, Zanis placed 15 eight-foot high crosses on a hill near Columbine High School following a mass shooting that was a harbinger of senseless killings to come for the country.

A father of one of the 13 victims tore down two crosses representing the disturbed young gunmen because he could not stand for murderers being memorialized.

Before they were removed, some people placed black bags over those two crosses and wrote messages on them ranging from “Shame on you” to “May God forgive you.”

Zanis’ wife, Susan, explained the reason for including 15 crosses this way to a Washington Post reporter: “My husband did it out of love. They still have parents.”

I know a man who makes crosses.

He carves them from scrap wood. They are about the size of his outstretched palm. No two are alike.

He has gone through several prototypes because he thinks anything worth doing is worth getting right.

He would be the first to say he is no saint, but he would add that he believes in John 3:16 and the Golden Rule and is doing the best he can.

He started making the crosses after returning from a spiritual retreat.

I have been told by others that this is an intense period of introspection. Whatever hard truths or old demons he confronted there are between him and God. All I know is that the next time I saw him, he had a box of crosses.

He gives them out freely to family, friends and fellow seekers. One story in particular has stayed with me.

He had driven down to Florida, and he had a question about the location of something. About that time, a transgender person crossed his path.

He was uncomfortable at first. As he told the story several weeks later, he still wasn’t sure which pronoun to use for the person.

Overlooking their obvious differences, the two struck up a friendly conversation.

As they started to say goodbye, he hesitated and then reached in his bag for a cross.

This was a risky move, though it came with no hidden agenda. It was simply a gift, a way to say, “Thank you for being kind.”

However, it was impossible to know in what spirit the gesture would be received without knowing more about the stranger.

Had this person had painful encounters with Christians? Would it be seen as an act of judgment instead of hospitality?

Thankfully, the person accepted the cross warmly and said it was the perfect size to hold during his (or her) daily devotions.

I know a man who makes crosses and gives them out to God’s beloved.

He gives out a lot of crosses.

Jennifer Cohron is the Daily Mountain Eagle’s features editor.