Japanese Christians, Liturgy of Life Readaing Group, Endo's Silence

How to measure holiness

Right now in the Liturgy of Life Reading Group we are reading Silence, a novel set in Japan during the persecution of the Christian church in the mid 1600’s.

Early in the story we come to a scene of two men, Christian leaders of a peasant village.  They are tied to boards and dragged to the edge of the sea positioned not to drown immediately, but so the water comes right up around their faces, covering their tense bodies. The older man Ichizo passes quickly from exhaustion. The younger, Mokichi, lingers for a few days singing,

We’re on our way, we’re on our way, We’re on our way to the temple of Paradise. . .

These Japanese Christians, like many in the persecuted church around the world today die for their faith without ever having practiced it freely. Their church life was conducted in hushed whispers in dark rooms, they learned through quiet instructions passed down, not from learned scholars, but from other peasants. They knew nearly nothing of the Bible, had few Christian traditions and many of their practices blended with local folklore so that in many ways it did not resemble Christianity at all.

And yet when the line was drawn they chose to stand on the side of Christ even if it meant their life.

 

NPR has a short article on Japanese Hidden Christians. In many ways their faith has developed into something separate from traditional Christianity as it mixed with other religious traditions around it. Still these men draw  strength from their ancestors who bled and died as Christians during times of persecution.

 

It makes me wonder.   What does it even mean to be a Christian?

 

Is Christianity something that begins when we are of an age when we can make a rational decision and recite a certain prayer, making the personal choice to submit ourselves to Christ.  If that’s so does it mean that our children prior to this point aren’t Christians?

 

Or is it baptism, even in infancy, which ushers in the presence of the holy spirit? Does this make the baptized a Christian even if they never practice their faith?

 

Or does our Christianity hinge on believing the right thing about Jesus? What about those who are never taught, or who are taught wrong because they have no teachers?

 

Most men and women who will be martyred this year are not especially devout. They are ordinary people, often simply born into a Christian family. They are people like us or our neighbors with no saint-like constitution or advanced understanding.  And yet when the trial comes and only holiness can lead them through it with faith intact these modern day martyrs will rise up onto their own crosses next to Christ. They will boldly (though probably quite fearfully) take a stand while the rest of us wonder if any amount of study or prayer will make us ready for that sort of trial?

 

We live in a culture where holiness is optional even among Christians.  Depending on your tradition, maturity in the faith is synonymous with either following rules or with the accumulation of Biblical knowledge. Mokichi and others like him don’t have the much of either, yet as they face impending death singing hymns to God there is little doubt in my mind.  They are holy. They seek Christ and He is with them.

 

Martyr stories make me wonder if our most painful moments are also our most sacred. And if praying to be released from suffering is also seeking to escape from the revelation of the deepest Truth.  As our bodies tear open and birth a child, or as we weep for the baby we never had, or stare down at a grave or up at the ceiling from our hospital bed, perhaps it is then that we encounter the Divine Spirit, maybe we even find Him within ourselves. And maybe it is this Holy Spirit that sustains us and draws us to the foot of the cross and to The One who suffers for us. And maybe as we find Him we become holy and maybe that is what we have been looking for all this time.

Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 

Japanese Christians, Liturgy of Life Readaing Group, Endo's Silence

 

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This post is part of our Reading Group series. Right now are reading Silence by Shusaku Endo. We would love for you to join us.

For more from Liturgy of Life you can subscribe here for monthly emails, like me on facebook, or join our facebook discussion group. Thanks for reading friends I look forward to connecting with you.

 

 

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Do we let them in? Thoughts on refugees, America and The Good Samaritan

Do we let them in? Struggling with this question makes my head spin and leaves me feeling dizzy and divided within myself.

 

Our border is a enormous  topic and I am the first to admit that I am an absolute amateur to even approach it.  But  it is the major topic of conversation these days, and what’s the point of having a blog if I can’t use it to share my two cents? So I’ll go ahead and throw them in, reserving completely my right to change my mind as I learn more about this topic.

 

Do we let them in, Thoughts on America, refugees and the good samaritan, liturgyoflife.com syria border

 

Since the attacks in Paris we have been bombarded with media about the Syrian crisis.  On one hand it is sensationalized, on the other it is long overdue.  Violence in Syria has been escalating for years now. It is a humanitarian atrocity.

 

Sadly, it is one of many.  In 2014 alone 140,000 unaccompanied minors crossed our own border (this figure doesn’t include the thousands of adults and families who also crossed, mostly to escape gang violence in Central America).  Countries like Somalia and Eritrea have remained volatile for years though they rarely make US headlines.  In 2014 our nation processed 120,000 applications for asylum.

 

The US, as it should, represents a haven of safety and opportunity for many facing violence across our world.

 

Yet while our country has a reputation as a place of refuge, we actually have no established overarching moral law that requires this.   There are laws to protect refugees once they are on our soil but we have no obligation to those abroad. Our government officials, despite all of the bad press, are elected to promote the good of Americans, to keep our nation secure and our economy stable. That may mean caring for refugees and fighting wars on terror, but the American politician makes these decisions based on America’s best interest not for concerns of the rest of the world.

 

We have  demonstrated that the openness of our borders is determined mostly by our own economic needs.  For decades we have used Mexican and other foreign works to pick and process our food and perform labor that Americans don’t want to do.  We welcome foreign workers as we need them and when they are no longer valuable we deport them.  It is an unkind (and unethical, if we could ever pin down what ethical means) practice, but tolerable when our national aim is to promote American business.  No matter what I personally think about our border or those suffering outside of it, America is obliged to take care of her own. I can’t find it in me to criticize those opposed to accepting refugees, in the American world view and value system it doesn’t make sense.

 

Of course that’s not the end of this post because being an American is not my only allegiance. I am also a Christian and believe that our nation exists within a larger nation which is the Kingdom of of God.  We who proclaim ourselves to be Christians in America (including our Christian politicians) do have a clearly documented and historically demonstrated set of standards under which we are to live.

 

The Christian faith is intimately involved with caring for the poor, the widow, the orphan and the stranger in our land. So much so that it should be difficult to call yourself a Christian if this type of work is not somehow part of your life.  Christianity requires generosity. We are asked not to give from our abundance but from our poverty, asked not only to love our neighbors but our enemies, not to look out for our own safety but in all things trust God.  And while we are called to abide by the laws of our nation we are called first to live for God even if it is dangerous, even if it destroys us.

 

Jesus speaks a powerful command when he says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.

 

Upon hearing this his listeners ask, “Who is our neighbor?”

 

In response Jesus tells the story of a Jew who is robbed, beaten and left on the road to die. The injured man is passed by two men from his community who ignore him before he is rescued by his cultural enemy, a Samaritan, who cares for him and makes provision for his recovery.  Jesus asks his listeners, who the true neighbor of the injured man is, and they respond, “The one who had mercy on him.

 

Jesus says simply, “Go and do likewise.”

 

As Christians we are called to love, whether it is in the best interest or the determent of our nation, whether it is dangerous or costly.  To do anything less is to make a mockery of Christ who suffered and died for us and of the thousands of Christians who have been martyred and those who are still suffering throughout the world.

 

Asking “Do we let them in?” is an urgent question. But perhaps even more necessary question in the heart of the Christian should be “How am I part of the church and how are we loving our neighbors so that the poor would know more fully the love of God?”

 

 

Thanks for reading friends,

 

 

Erica

 

To learn more about Liturgy of Life click here, or join us in our reading group, where we are currently reading, The Art of The Commonplace by Wendell Berry. Feel free to comment here or join in the discussion on facebook.

 

I wrote this several months ago: Thoughts on calling, the persecuted church and me

 

The Martyrs’ Witness and
The Kingdom of God.
Thoughts on The Cloister Walk

St. Catherine, The witness of the martyrs, liturgy of life
This bookmark was given to me by my aunt, it pictures  her namesake, St. Catherine. Catherine was born into a noble family but once converted to Christianity she refused a royal marriage. She was imprisoned and while in jail her preaching converted everyone around her.  She was then condemned to death. Initially she was pierced with a spiked wheel but the wheel broke and ultimately she was beheaded. She is the patron saint of preachers and philosophers.

 

This morning my house smells like another animal has died underneath it (really it is terrible,  there is a family of armadillos under there and no one can get them out, funny but also not so funny), my daughter has a fever and my husband and I had a fight disagreement this morning which we have not resolved yet.  My face is broken out with acne  which seems ridiculous now in my mid 30’s, there is no chocolate in the house and it is too early for a glass of wine.  I am cranky and quite sorry for myself.

During my daughter’s nap (the best thing about fevers are the naps, I had a friend tell me that when my daughter was an infant and I was horrified, now I get it and agree) I sit down and read Kathleen Norris’ The Cloister Walk which we are working through in the Liturgy of Life Reading Group.

This week’s reading ends on a chapter about the The Virgin Martyrs. A group of women saints all of whose claim to fame is that they chose death rather than to marry a non-believer or deny their faith. And though this may sound foolish to some, this wasn’t just a short lived trend. Our world continues to produce Christian martyrs by the thousands, about 2,000 last year, mostly in Syria.

When I first began reading this chapter I was annoyed. I wanted to sit and feel sorry for myself  but something about reading stories of people who were tortured and died for practicing not just any faith, but the same faith as me, came as a bit of a kick in the pants.  I stopped pouting and began imagining how terrible these tortures and deaths were, like somehow I could share their suffering just by thinking about  it.  And then, of course, I pose the question to myself. Would I make the same choice if I was in Syria today? If someone came in and put a gun to my head would I stand firm?

It isn’t a bad question, but I find myself circling round it, wondering if I would really be brave enough, imagining again the tortures and feeling more and more sure that I wouldn’t.

As I finish the chapter I read a line that strikes me, Norris says,

“But our cynicism blinds us to a deeper truth: a martyr is not a model to be imitated, but a witness, one who testifies to a new reality.

And I realize that I’ve been asking myself the wrong question, a question that in some ways ignores the truth of what these men and women are dying for.

You see the word martyr means witness, and the reality that Norris is referring to is The Kingdom of God.  Our Christian martyrs speak to its actuality, their death proclaims to the world, The Kingdom does exist.  Their lives stand as empirical evidence for something that remains undefinable and mysterious.  And with their sacrifice they give us courage to hope that life in Christ really does keep on getting better.

Earlier this year in our Reading Group we read Beginning to Pray, in it Anthony Bloom, a bishop in the Orthodox Church, he describes the influence of his father who one day said to him,

“Always remember that whether you are alive or dead matters nothing. What matters is what you live for and what you are prepared to die for.”

Bloom helps me to change up my question. The truth is most of us won’t face persecution like those Christians  in Syria.  But we will all face death.  The question for us then isn’t, “Am I willing to die?” because death is inevitable, willing or not.  But instead, “Do I believe in the witness of the martyrs?”

Do I believe that The Kingdom of God that they testify to is real?” And furthermore, “Does my life attest to this reality?”

Or conversely, if you subtracted my faith from my life and took out all belief, would I look or act any different, would I continue to make the same choices?

Right now I am not looking down the barrel of a gun. I am looking at a fussy preschooler, a frustrated husband, a stinky house and a face full of pimples. I want to stuff my head under the blanket where I can’t smell the rotting armadillo and go back to bed. The martyrs witness stands. They implore me to  proclaim with them The Kingdom of God not with my death but with my life.

I would love to hear from you and if you are interested in exploring some of these ideas further I’d love it if you would join our reading group and ponder and read along with us.

Thoughts on Calling,
The Persecuted Church
and Me

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“Where do you live? Do you work? What does your husband do?” These questions are the basis of small talk, and even when they are asked in all kindness and sincerity I dread them. It isn’t that I hate to answer, it’s just that the answer needs about an hour of explanation rather than the expected two minutes.

I already have a tendency to be a bit socially awkward so instead of having an answer prepared I end up mumbling something incoherent,

“Well, ug, we moved out to the middle of nowhere last year and we really felt like it was the right thing  . . . and so I quit my job . . . but then my husband lost his job . . . and so we moved into town, now we are trying to follow God on to the next step  . . . oh right, the next step , hmm (by this point I’m fully flustered and sputtering). Well, um, we are still sorting that out, but our lease is up in two months so hopefully we will have an answer by then . . .  we are thinking about moving back to Mexico.” I shrug my shoulders, my voice trails off, I laugh a little to lighten things up and try to change subjects as quickly as possible.

It isn’t surprising that my story is met with so many confused stares.  Like I said, it takes about an hour to give the full explanation and I am no good at being concise (if you can’t tell that from this blog you should ask my husband. It takes me 25 minutes to ask him if  I look better in the blue jacket or the pink one).

And beyond my communications failures I am also one of those people that really wants to fit in. I want to have a normal life and a simple story. But each year, rather than becoming simpler, I find our story becoming more complex, not just to explain but even to understand for ourselves.

What are we doing? Why don’t we just settle down?

Right now in the Liturgy of Life reading group we are reading The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris, it is essentially a poetic memoir of her time in a Benedictine monastery and I was interested in her thoughts on calling. She quotes Walter Brueggemann’s book, Hopeful Imagination,

“. . . a sense of call in our time is profoundly counter-cultural . . . the ideology of our time is that we can live ‘an uncalled life,’ one not referred to any purpose beyond one’s self . . .”

Brueggemann is referring to the the idea of the American Dream. We can be and do anything we want. And while this isn’t always true (certainly some of us have better odds than others), in the US, especially now with our increased mobility and access to technology, we have many open doors. No longer do we become a shoemaker because our last name is Shoemaker. We are free to become whatever we are capable of becoming. And while this is exciting, it can be tricky to navigate as a Christian. With so many options it is tempting to decide our path and then to find security in real estate and a retirement plan rather than in God (not that I’ve got anything against a retirement plan, I’d actually really like to have one someday).

Discerning a calling is not a sign of spiritual greatness. It is something that is required of us all. We are each unique and exist in a time, place and in a circle of relationships that belongs to only us. God asks the same thing of each of us, that we would live for Him, which means we use the skills and gifts that He gives us for His glory. But because we are so different, our particular path is  going to result in something beautifully unique to who  and where we are.  God doesn’t keep His plan hidden from us, He wants us to find it. But we have to want it.  We have to take at least the first step and choose to follow Him.

I was recently looking at the Voice of the Martyrs website,  they are a group that supports persecuted Christians around the world.

I came across a video called  Liena’s prayer which depicts a story told in a letter that Voice of the Martyrs received. Liena is a Christian in Syria and  one night she was praying about  her calling in ministry. As she sat down to pray and all she could hear was the voice of God asking her if she was willing to give Him all of he self, if she was ready to lay down her life for her faith in God.

She prayed and felt that indeed she was willing to die if that is what God asked. The following day she prayed again and this time she hears the voice of God asking her if she is willing to give up the life of her husband. She continues to pray and she and her husband together decide that they are both willing to die if that is what God required.

The third day she sits down to pray, this time she hears the voice of God asking her clearly if she is willing to surrender her children to Him. Their family is known for sharing Jesus with others, it is not safe for them in their country anymore. In anguish she and her husband pray and fast.  She sits down with her children and explains that they may see violence. She reminds them that their lives are a gift given by God belonging to Him alone and their purpose is for God’s glory. She tells them that if God would have them stay safe they will be safe and that if God would let their lives be taken they will be taken up into His eternal love.

At the end of her story she questions herself, is she being a good mother, is it more important to keep her children safe or to live a life so full of the love of God that it is worth dying for?

My own situation certainly doesn’t feel  as urgent as Liena’s. And my heart aches for the heavy decisions she must make to be a Christian in her country. She forces me to look at  myself, am I willing to walk this path?  Am I  willing to surrender all so that I can be free to do the work that God calls me to?

So this is a long answer to those small talk questions. Right now our family trying to find God’s call for us before we take our next step. It isn’t that we are oblivious to our financial and physical needs anymore than Liena is unaware of the true danger she is in. We would certainly rather God take us to cozy house with a fire place and a shady  back yard (and for many God may lead to exactly that sort of cozy spot) than to a desert or a foreign country.  But we also hope that when we look back on our life we will have left  behind a legacy of good works, having lived the best life that only a sovereign God could have chosen rather than be left wondering what we missed.

And so we wait and ask ourselves in Craig Barnes word’s,  are we willing to give up the life of our dreams to receive from Christ the life he died to give us?

 

May 7th is celebrated as the National Day of Prayer. Please Join us for a 20 minute Prayer Vigil for those in the persecuted church. http://thetrinitymission.org/otherprayers/prayer-for-the-persecuted-church/