Taking up one's cross refers specifically to Rome's instrument of intimidation and execution. It reminds us again that following Jesus' liberating way puts us on a collision course with oppressive regimes and institutions, which will resort to any means necessary to crush resistance. By voluntarily and deliberately facing the prospect of death, one is freed from its power as a deterrent. "Just as one must learn the art of killing in the training for violence," taught Gandhi, "so one must learn the art of dying in the training for non-violence" [Engaging the Powers, 1992].Religious conservatives who bemoan the government taking their tax dollars or who gnash their teeth that public school teachers cannot lead their classes in Evangelical Protestant prayers can only be judged to be speaking metaphorically about being threatened by government. The literal threat of the government taking our inalienable rights and detaining and torturing is now on top of those citizens who oppose the Bush Administration (even on Christian grounds).
Remember George Bush's statement: "You are either with us or against us." We can only conclude that those of us who continue to criticize the Bush policies are not just in metaphorical danger of losing the privilege of paying less taxes or the convenience of hearing our own prayers in public schools; we are in literal danger of being declared "unlawful enemy combatants" and being detained without legal recourse. That is quite a cross to bear.