My 16-year-old son has had a mighty busy month. At one point, during a seven-day period, Mr. 16 received his drivers license, had his first real date, and got his class ring. Now his mother and I have our own thoughts about our oldest getting so much freedom so quickly, but the boy is in heaven with all the instant maturity.
The drivers license speaks for itself. Not that he has access to a new Ferrari or anything, but four wheels and a big front seat is a quick ticket to adulthood. Unfortunately for him, it's also a quick ticket to more responsibility. We're working on that.
The date caught his parents off guard. Mr. 16 has always been one of the "quiet ones" in social situations. I know he has an eye for the young ladies, but he lacks the nerve to do something about it. Or so we thought. To my mind that's all pretty stupid because he's a fine looking young man -- certainly better looking than his father was at age 16. He's just starting to come out of his social shell, but he still prefers to be at home or alone. I figure that'll end pretty soon.
His first date was pretty informal. It was a school dance after a basketball game. They met at the game and he drove her home afterward. (She lives less than a mile from the school. Not a lot of time to fake running out of gas or getting lost in our town of less than 1,000 people.)
But the third segment is a bit different. His mother ordered his class ring a couple of weeks ago. It showed up about three weeks before we expected it, and my son is trying to learn to adjust to wearing one. I think he likes it, but I remember when I tried to make that adjustment as a 16-year-old with a big chunk of gold and cubic zirconium on my third finger. I was forever beating the underside on desks and tables, forgetting that I was wearing jewelry.
When my son's ring was delivered, my wife told me to get my old class ring out of a case on her dresser. Frankly, I was a little surprised it was still around and in an obvious location. When I picked it up, I was immediately struck by how heavy it was. This was no skimpy little ring. Size 12. 14 karat gold. Big chunky blue zircon with a starburst on the top. High school name around the stone.
I put it on and tried to wear it for a day, but couldn't quite do it. I did have to put it on my pinkie for fear that it would never come off my ring finger, so that may have had something to do with it. Truth be told, I didn't wear it much while I was in high school. It spent most of three years swinging on a gold chain wrapped around the neck of my girlfriend, or dangling from her finger with the help of a big wad of yarn to keep it in place. It was my ring, but it was rarely on my own hand.
I started to think about the purpose of the class ring. Wedding rings are a symbol that you belong to another. I wear a wedding ring that isn't nearly as clunky as the old class ring, and it doesn't get beat around like that chunk of gold. But my wedding ring does signify my commitment to my beautiful wife in a love with no end. A few years ago I looked at my wedding ring and noticed that it has cracked and was actually broken. Talk about some bad symbolism for my marriage!
Rings have been used for centuries to show the relationship of belonging to another. Even biblical references mention rings and the symbolism involved. True, rings are also simply used for ornamentation, but often there is a deeper meaning.
The class ring doesn't exactly fit that mold. It signifies that one belongs to a group -- a group united around a particular year and a particular school. It's not that we belong to another as much as that we are part of a group. That holds true unless it's your significant other's class ring you are displaying, of course.
My 16-year-old's class ring signifies that he is a part of a class of around 70 youth who will share a graduation ceremony and a lot of class reunions. It shows that he is a part of something bigger than himself. Yet that ring is unique. It not only has the name of his school and his graduation year, it also has his name and insignias that display his love of music and baseball. No other ring is just like it. Color, design, size, and material set it apart despite its significance as defining the wearer as part of a particular group.
That class ring is a lot like my faith. It defines me as part of a group -- the family of God. My faith also is quite unique. I am not gifted like others. I share a church affiliation with a group of people, but we are all distinct individuals, for better or for worse. Although I am marked as a disciple of Christ, my faith shows me as someone who isn't a mirror image of everyone else in the church.
Most times I think non-Christians don't understand that concept. Christians are pigeonholed and broadbrushed as intolerant, hypocritical, prudish, snobs. I know a few believers like that, but not many. We are all different. Most Christians certainly understand that.
Or do we?
It's amazing how we Christians believe that we must all share more than just core beliefs. For many there is no room for differences in music, in ways to evangelize or to serve, or even translations of Scripture. It's sad that it is frowned upon to celebrate and utilize our own diversity at times.
But more than that, it's a shame that many choose not to wear their faith. Like my class ring, safely tucked away in a jewelry case, the faith of many people is taken out only for special occasions like Sunday mornings or Easter or spending a day in a surgical waiting room.
Of course the best use of faith is to share it, kind of like letting your class ring swing from a gold chain around the neck of someone else.
One more thought about class rings... a year or two after my high school graduation I knew a man who bought other people's class rings. He would carefully examine the ring of someone who had grown tired of the piece, determine its precious metal content and weight, then make an offer to the owner. Most times, the owner was more than willing to take around $100 for a piece of jewelry he no longer wanted.
After the seller left the store, the man would take a pair of pliers and grip the class ring between its jaws. Squeezing the pliers, the stone would pop out of the ring and the gold or silver would be crushed into an unwearable shape. The man would then take the shapeless metal to market and sell it. He told me that he never crushed the ring in front of the seller because it was too upsetting. But he always crushed it as soon as possible so the seller couldn't change his mind and try to get the ring back.
Without the stone and shape, the class ring held no symbolism. It was a lump of metal. Period. It wasn't the metal that made it special. It was the uniqueness and the sense of belonging to another or to a group.
My faith is useless unless I do something with it. It is a gift meant to be used by me as a unique person who is part of a group of fellow believers.