In this regular series, we share innovative practices from the world of stock photo ministry.

One of the most important questions churches have to contend with is how to decorate their worship spaces. Crosses, of course, are the standard ornament—but should they be?

When I first laid eyes on the image above, I confess I was more than a little confused. What was it about this cross bottony that made it so terrifying to our recoiling, mustachioed friend? Had it been used in a Madonna video? Had someone drenched it in Axe body spray? Did he just really prefer Celtic crosses instead? It was impossible to say.

After I thought for a moment, though, it occurred to me that perhaps that look of horror was intended not for the cross, but for something beyond it. Perhaps he was using it to ward off a vampire or some other unholy fiend. (Such, of course, is the peril of interpreting any stock photo—like a Joel Osteen sermon, it gives you no context.)

Whether you’re a vampire or a human, however, the cross actually can be pretty frightening. The Presbyterian church in which I was raised, for instance, took Exodus 20:4’s ban on “graven images” so seriously that it touched off a small controversy when we discussed adding a cross to our sanctuary. (Living in the Christian tradition means you can’t really ever escape the shadow of the Cross, but there are still many of us who try really hard.) We eventually warmed to the idea—but only after agreeing that the cross would be, if nothing else, “tasteful.”

It probably goes without saying, though, that “tasteful” is rarely an appropriate word to apply to a Roman torture instrument. Aesthetics of the Golden Ratio aside, talking ...

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