Red, white and blue martyrs from the ancient Irish

Two days ago I wrote a book review about a family who travelled to an Islamic part of the world and the father who was martyred for his faith.  It’s drawn a fair bit of feedback from those more in the know than me.

But here’s a poem someone wrote off the back of it:

Martyrdom

Isn’t martyrdom, in a sense, the easy way?

Laying down one’s life for Him, to say

with a shout in one great glorious noble act

“I love You, Lord!”

But the daily plodding on, struggling with sin,

falling, failing, grieving Him,

but going on because He is all and there’s nothing else –

is not this the harder way?

The martyr has the perfect chance to shout

this was not me, this sin, this doubt;

nor was this me, this fear, this fall –

THIS is the real me, from now on.

But I who would welcome such a chance

know no such quick release from sin

accomplished by one moment’s choice for Him,

but only a dogged ongoing “I, too, love You, Lord”

whispered by a thousand petty choices

renewed daily.

‘Not with a bang but a whimper.’

Yet does the bang exalt Him any more

than the whimper?

©JCG 2017

And it led me to think of the ancient Irish roots of red, white and blue martyrs in the Cambrai Homily.  Perhaps ironic usage of colours, given those who die for red, white and blue over the past few decades are often seen to be the very antithesis of Irish (the British).  But perhaps putting aside coincidental colour schemes, we might consider the three colours which Pope Gregory I and Jerome both commented on.

RED martyrdom: blood martyrs killed for their faith

WHITE martyrdom: outward ascetics, isolating oneself from all society in monasteries or otherwise

BLUE (or perhaps green, as it’s the Irish “glas”): inward asceticism, like fasting.

Though sometimes over the years, to get away from what sometimes was the Roman Catholic tendency of removing oneself from the world, protestants would interpret this last one as inward spiritual renewal of any variety, which I would argue is closer in balance to the original intention of the verse that inspired these colours:

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

Matthew 16:24

This rich history of Christianity in Ireland stemming from 7th century documents like this, is the irony of a church now so struggling in many ways.

For those wanting to explore more of the darkness of martyrdom and individuals cases mentioned in my last blog, please check out the comments below from the responses of others.

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Dying to Travel: “we died before we came here” (Book review)

I’m always nervous about stories of travelling to your martyrdom.  Partly because the question “what are you prepared to die for?” is rarely as simple as the questions suggests.  There’s a rare case in which Christians are taken by their captors and asked to deny their faith in Jesus or die, and there doesn’t seem to be any reasonable other way of viewing it.  I could think of the Egyptian Christians taken by ISIS on the beach in Libya, and shot.

ISIS Egypt

In other cases there’s far more nuance about why such folk are killed.  Was it simply for their faith, or had they been abusing their colonial powers or privilege or been perceived to be on the side of those who were treating people awfully?

In the first few chapters of this gripping book, “Emily” (not her real name) tells of how her husband gave her Foxe’s Book of Martyrs when they were dating and asked her whether she was willing to live and die for Jesus.  But as someone who also read such a book when I was younger, I was not only encouraged by the stories, but also appalled by some of the political warfare, colonial attitudes and sectarian bigotry that led to many of the deaths, or the lack of information to prove otherwise.

Thankfully what emerged from the book was a story of genuine love for North African people who had not had a chance to hear of the name of Jesus.  The questions the book raises are exemplary to get people thinking of what it would take to cross cultures and take the good news to others.  The stories she tells are answers to the common objections that are raised by others on why such lifestyles are foolish.  Wouldn’t going to such a place ruin your children’s lives?  Isn’t it unnecessary risk?  Do Muslims in North Africa deserve the good news?  Do you have to be superhuman to go?  And the way that she tells them had me wanting to finish the book in a day!  It’s an easily read story of ordinary (but obviously gifted) humans, told with honesty and passion.

The main learning curve for me, was again in the story of martyrdom.  For me in my Christian life here in Ireland, I’ve always been baffled that it’s not the “non-Christians” who have caused me most pain in life, but Christians at my side.  And the more I go on, the more I think that despite such great pain, that they were genuine believers and not just “Christians” by name only who caused this misery.  I’m still examining the scriptures to see whether this is to be expected and Biblically normal to expect this.  But regardless, so it is with this story.we died before we came here

Her husband is billed as being a tremendous human being, working for an NGO and loved by all.  She portrays his faults, yes, but largely has great praise for such a man.  But Emily tells us of believers who (despite being some of the better discipled ones,) were so young in the faith, that when they were confronted over some patterns of sin of stealing, they turned against Stephen (her husband) and wrote articles about him on fundamentalist Islamic websites, where they’d be seen by extremists who would quite happily “deal” with him.

All this is quickly and quietly summarised in a few paragraphs on page 133 of the book, nearly in passing.  She also explains that their team situation had been escalating between expats, and that because of other reasons, they didn’t defend him.  She mentions that Stephen had tried to do Biblical rebuke/confrontation well, going first to the individual and then the group, but she doesn’t explain how this might have looked in a shame/honour culture, or whether they just ploughed on ahead with their usual western way of reading that passage in scripture “if a brother sins against you…”.

It was this, that set up his martyrdom.  But like many cases of martyrdom, it’s a murky one.  Did Stephen die for his faith in Jesus?  Or did he die because he didn’t know how to pastorally handle messy cases in shame/honour culture?  Why did his colleagues or team mates not defend him and prevent such things happening?

Similar questions have been raised in recent years about other martyrs, right up to the most prolific of Christian stories of people like the Jim Elliot in the Amazon.  Why did they have guns on them at the time?

But ultimately, despite the grey areas and question marks over the story, I do believe it is a story where Stephen did indeed die for his faith in Christ, and that his story is one that needs to be told.  Because ultimately, in the Christian narrative, Christ is not dying for those who perfectly follow him.  Christ is not abandoning those even who deny him temporarily (Peter).  Christ claims a weak and messy Bride as His own.  And even when it may be partly our fault for the abuse that we may get, it is still abuse for the sake of Him.  No one made those Islamic fundamentalists shoot him (or whoever it was).  No action of Stephen’s provoked them, other than His faith in Jesus and his spreading of it.

And so I’m praying that this book would touch many hearts and lives, as it has mine, and be an example of Tertullian’s oft quoted phrase:Tertullian

“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

I mean, it hasn’t always been that way.  The land of Augustine in north africa was a land where the church seemed to be persecuted out of existence for nearly 1500 years.  And in other settings we could report the same.  But in many cases, martyrdom has grown the church, and I’m praying such stories would do that, as many consider the call to die to themselves and live for Christ.  Emily, in a powerful way, writes that Stephen (and her family) could deal somewhat with his death in a better way, because of the words of a missionary (james Calvert) to Fiji and the Pacific Islands long ago who went before cannibals with the good news of Jesus:

“We died before we came here.”

And if we’re dying to self each day, and living for Christ, such stories of travelling for your martyrdom will be true, regardless of whether it is a physical death you are dying or whether a spiritual death of dying to self.

Traveller I ask you, will you be a martyr in your travels?  Will you die each day you live?

The world is your….battleground!

The world is not a playground, it is a battleground.
A.W. Tozer
+++
“Peter, I’d love to travel the world, but I’ve committed to only going places I have real need to go.  That said, God has been good and we’ve ended up in a few places, but not by our choosing.  I don’t understand those who think they can spend their life pleasure travelling simply for their own enjoyment.”
These were the (paraphrased) words of one friend and his wife who I visited recently who were heading out on the mission field to one unreached people group, for their lives (DV).
They weren’t those who you’d find in a monastic settlement, withdrawing from everything in the world and going around with sullen faces saying we’ve to pray and never enjoy life on the battlefield.  They were treating me to a nice meal in a local pub near where they were studying.  Which spoke even greater volumes, knowing their generosity towards others.
Within the last year they’d had the joys of travelling to southern Africa (on a rare trip to see family) and also to the place where they were thinking of living longer-term elsewhere in the world.
So how can they say to everyone else about not spending their life in a playground of travels, and then travel and live like that themselves (1)?  And why can’t the rest of us who have more salary to spare act like the US couple we met in a previous post (2)?  And who said travel needs to be expensive – what if we can travel for as much as we’d be living at home for (3)?  For three reasons:
  1. These two trips are both something the Bible calls us to do – love family and reach unreached peoples.  And this was a rare trip to see their family before years in which they may not see them again.
  2. For the reasons I discussed in yesterday’s post, that couple were acting sacrificially with their wealth, and without doubt, their lifestory screams that of battlefield, rather than playground.
  3. There are dangers of living on cheap travels.  One being that you increasingly forsake your normal church community and the preaching of the word as God’s means of acting in your life and the world; one being that you forsake the intentionality of living and speaking for Jesus in a community that doesn’t know Him; and one being that you soon find yourself spending more as you travel than you intended.
But I speak to my own heart when I say to myself: let’s not play the “justification game” where we try and look back and justify travels to [insert place here].  Jesus has already justified us and so we don’t need to try and justify our own existence/behaviour as Christians.
Having said that, why would I want to travel, if Jesus’ purposes and words weren’t central to my travels?  I’d be missing out.
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Many try and force applications of spiritual warfare onto people, so that they can’t enjoy cultural activities like this one.  For us in Cork, this pumpkin carving and bonfire session with students was one of the most spiritually profitable evenings of the year.  Soli Deo Gloria!

Travelling to run or running to travel?

I’m not someone who runs to get to things often (I arrive far too inappropriately sweaty for that – sorry if you didn’t need to know that!).  In fact nearly all of my running is escapism to get away from thinking!  When I’m pounding pavements, springing off trail runs or gliding along golden sands, I feel free!

It’s one of those bizarre things.  Freedom despite or even because of disciplined training and regime.  Not many my age would vouch such words could even fit together – it runs against the grain of culture today which shouts “get me more and give me it now”.  Long distance running “success” can’t be given now.  The keys lie in getting out there.  And that’s why more of my friends who run are often also disciplined in other areas of life, including developing their thinking and worldview.  But before I get too philosophical…

I love that some of my best friends are runners too.  I rarely travel in order to run, but I do love the fact that my friends and my work take me to stunning places to lace up my shoes and get out, often with no fear or time constraint – just running for the sake of running!  So why don’t you join me or suggest other possible things?  Check out the list of things below or add new ones yourself!

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Running at Maharees this morning with friends from church “homegroup” (photo (c) mine)

November 18th – Glendalough Trail Run – one of Ireland’s best locations to get running off the beaten track, up the Wicklow Mountains.

December 9th  – Clonakilty Waterfront Half Marathon – it’s a bit of a home run for me, or at least as close to a scenic home run as one can get without trundling round cities.  And although I’m only doing the half, a few friends are going for the full thing.

December 24th – 30th Belfast and NI (various locations)

January 1-5 England (various locations)

January 6-7 Fes Half Marathon

January 8-12 near Nice, France (various locations)

March 9-11 Berlin (Travel Festival) or if not, I’ll be running this, which must be one of Ireland’s most experiential runs!

April 9-12 Running in Poland (various locations)

May 7 – Belfast Marathon – because I fancy doing a marathon with home support!

June – December 2018 European Ultramarathons (undecided which as of yet)

So there we have it!  Fancy joining me for any of them, or seeing about running elsewhere – drop me a line!  Or if you aren’t much of a runner, you can give towards my work or (shortly) towards Diabetes Ireland as I train and run over 1000 miles in the next 9 months.

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Robert’s story is an incredible one of life persevering through adversity with a great spirit.  You’ll hear him speak of when he lost his sight, key moments in his life, his career as a trad musician and studying music, and the most fascinating bit of all: synesthesia.  This is how Robert sees colour through sound, and hence travels by it as well!  Enjoy!

Aljabr interviews: a visually impaired traveller

Confessions of a travel writer…

I guess the book review that I wrote yesterday comes with a bit of a caveat.  As I was sending my final manuscript of my book to the senior editor of the publishing company, a few friends very helpfully sent me a link to this newly published book.  Not knowing the implications of what that meant for the book that I was working on, I gulped, ordered my copy, and prayed that God would help me hold lightly to my aspirations of writing a book.

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Kilcrea Friary, Co Cork, late September.  The beautiful ruins on every street corner in Ireland remind me of the state of my own heart and thinking.  Made beautiful, but badly ruined, even as a regenerate believer. (c) my own

I mean, technically that was always my prayer, ever since the publishing company approached me and asked me whether I would consider such a book.  But I think this is one of the few times I’ve had to really consider whether I meant it.

Am I writing for the glory of Peter, or for the glory of God?

Do I delight that God is raising up others (in this case more qualified than me theologically) to write on this timely topic?

Will I speak positively of this book, and keep the main thing the main thing, or will I knit-pick and point out all the perceived flaws in it?

I technically know what all the answers should be to that.  Just like any moral situation.  But my heart doesn’t always find it easy to persuade my hands of the truth of the matter.

I love disguising the glory of Peter behind glory of God language.

I love praising others, while at the same time making my thoughts known about them.

I find it easy to drop positive reviews while insinuating far more negative to the astute reader.

Life is messy.  The blacks and whites of truth seem to mould and shift into greys as soon as they hit my life.  Anyone else?

Thankfully family and friends who I’ve been able to confess these things to, have helpfully reminded me of truths from the good news that are far better than the good news that I may or may not receive from the publishing house boardroom on Tuesday, when my contract is discussed.

After sitting with me in my worries and tongue-in-cheek suggesting that I negatively review the book in every evangelical magazine and paper in this part of the world, they point me to greater realities of where my identity lies; that there’s nothing in me that “ought” to get a book contract; that we rejoice in worldwide partnership in the gospel, not competition in the gospel; and that actually, this might free me to better get people thinking about the topic, without being seen to be out to sell merchandise.

It’s at moments like these that I am thankful for Church community.  And for all the same questions that I apply to my life about “why write?”, I guess we could apply similar to our hearts about “why travel?”, which is what the concluding chapter of Stephen Liggins’ book does so well.

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My mind sadly works over-time, long after everyone has gone home to relax.  Justifying myself and then reminding myself I’ve been justified already by One who has done a better job at it than I could ever do. (Photo here at Cork Institute of Technology 05/10/17 (c) )

 

“You can’t do that, you’re a girl!”

“Are you serious? But what if you get robbed?”

“You can’t do that, you’re a girl!”

“Let’s just change the topic. We disagree, and you’re not going to change your mind, so let’s talk about something else.”


These are just a few examples of the kinds of responses I get from well-meaning friends and family before I embark on any kind of adventure, be it up the country, or at the other side of the world – especially when I go solo.

Because I am a woman, I cannot be afforded the same luxuries and privileges as a man can.

Or at least that’s what the world tries to tell me. Society tells us that sure, you can get a good job, vote, make your own decisions, but please, do not try to travel on your own for more than a day. You never know, you might sprain your ankle or get shot or something. The Bible, I have found, says something a little different.

When I was 18, I went on my first 100% solo adventure. No friends or family to pick me up at the airport, in fact no flights at all this time, and no friends or family at the destination either (wherever that would be). Fast forward to today, tell me I’m not [insert adjective here] enough to do something, and you can bet I’ll be doing just that the next time we meet.

ML2

Where to next?
(Prague metro station deco is often worth a look!)

A 5000(ish) person festival in Germany, followed by an impromptu adventure exploring bits of France, Germany and the Czech Republic. The plan was just that: elusive and undefined. I vaguely planned the towns I more or less wanted to see, but even this “plan” was fluid enough to change about 3 times. Coming from a family where my mother had always seen to every last detail before we ever set foot in the car (and this does have it’s advantages, as I would soon learn), I wanted to break the mould a little. This kind of improvised travel was very new to me, which explained it’s very appeal in the first place.

So that’s a little bit about how I got to where I am now, not literally, but you get the idea. Right now, literally, it’s 21:40, and I’m sitting in what I understand to be a Spanish equivalent of Starbucks. It’s quite nice, but I just ran out of wifi and the AC is getting a little chilly for my taste; I actually prefer a thin, permanent layer of sweat and pollution to cover my skin while in Barcelona (be sure to pronounce that “c” correctly for full effect).

ML1

Where’s Wally? Some of the people I met at the beginning of that adventure during the summer of 2015; who encouraged me to pursue my travels in light of the theology we had studied together that week:

This time, I’m not travelling solo as I often would (apart from a couple of hours of airport travels), but have decided to embark upon a shorter, more planned adventure with my lovely, albeit very orthodox, grandmother. She’s an early riser and likes to tell me when to go to bed. I like to defy her well-meaning orders just as much as she likes to give them.

Over the next while, I’d like to explore a little more one side of the theology of travel that Peter cannot: the theology of female, Christian travel, in various contexts:

Oops, my grandmother is telling me to go to bed; so I guess 4 posts is all you’ll get!


 

Marie-Louise practices as a nurse here in Cork, Ireland, and can be found in her free time volunteering at Cork International Student Cafe, crossing cultures, and helping people think through their environmental impact on the world.  She is strangely not visible online (and so I can say what I wish here).

Book Review: Travelling the World as Citizens of Heaven (Liggins, Matthias Media)

Hallelujah!  It’s here.

Finally a Christian who thinks travel is a topic that merits some thought and wants to help us engage in the global phenomenon that has struck our wandering millennials (myself included).

And Stephen Liggins (an Aussie pastor/Sydney Missionary Bible College lecturer) didn’t disappoint.  Although I gulped a little at the “why I wrote this book”, and wondered whether we were going to have a tirade against travel, my early fears were relaxed as soon as I got stuck into to story after story from round the world.  Here was something who agreed with me that the Bible thinks travel is good!

The author takes us on a journey, seeing that travel is always in the presence of God (chapter 1), is good (chapter 2) and then gets very practical about how to connect with Christians (chapter 3), how to connect with those who aren’t Christian (chapter 4).  In chapter 5, he considers travelling in a suffering world, and then finishes off with practical advice in chapter 6 and some questions to our motivations in chapter 7.

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I love Stephen’s travel tales, that were so relatable in nature, that if you swapped stories, they could have been mine or yours too.  Finding himself in awkward group settings doing things he didn’t really want to be doing.  Finding himself chatting alongside a beautiful female late at night and wondering what he will do.  Wondering whether he should go on that holiday for months on end, or save every penny for other things?  These and so many more positive situations and stories.

This book oozes so much practical advice for on the road, that it would be a great read for someone as they travelled.  And yet for me, what it is most helpful for is learning from Stephen’s personal example and lifestyle.  The conversations he has had.  The way he decides to make choices.  The dilemmas of life.

But sadly two things irked me about this book.

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  1. how gospel truth is communicated

Stephen has a beautiful view of God.  I mean the Bible has a beautiful God, so it would be disappointing if we didn’t communicate this.  But it is clear from His writing that Stephen really thinks this is worth living for.  And he conveys it well, particularly in early chapters about the nature of a God who is with us, and about the nature of this world.

But I found he also rather dominated the book with a list of instructions.  I don’t know whether this is a difference in how Aussies communicate authority or commands, or just an older generation attempting to speak to a younger one, but it seemed to me to be like a parent listing of a list a “do” or “don’t do” things before their child headed off to explore the big, bad world.

Refrains that struck a lot were his thoughts on alcohol, sex, drugs, money etc.  And I’m not sure I would have disagreed with much of what he wrote, but I did wonder whether it needed brought up as much as it did.  They are huge issues while travelling, but I’m not sure the solution is to tell us thrice over about his “two drink” policy, wise as it may be (and caveated as his advice was).

Even the chapter on suffering turned into a comment on sex, drugs and racism (amongst other things).

2. cultural suggestions taking precedence

There were a few points in the book where I just thought Stephen was writing to a very conservative, western audience (socially so, not just theologically).  Socially, I wondered whether he needed to make as big a deal over how to chat to people about Jesus or how to apply some things.

For example, as a “Christian worker”, I can choose one of two ways to take a conversation when asked what I do.  I can make it awkward and tell a very forthright description, or I can give some response that will seem relevant to the listener.  Primarily because I want to be known for being human, before people know me as a Christian, I often do the latter.  And opportunities (through questions I ask), often open up windows of opportunity to say more.  There are other ways of doing things that aren’t his.

Equally, on hammering on about the importance of the evangelical “quiet time”, Stephen could well lose a respect from a traveller who has learnt far more flexibly to commune with God.  Obviously it depends a lot on the traveller and their spirituality, but I could easily imagine the type of person who is on the road, won’t appreciate being forced into such narrow definitions of what it might be to have a healthy communing with Him.

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Despite this, I was comforted that Stephen on his travels obviously was someone greatly used by God and a real person with a love for other humans, no matter who they were.  One doesn’t often get a letter back from a woman who said (pg. 122):

“Hi Stephen,

Lovely to hear from you again.  I can clearly remember that boat trip.  It was a time in my life when I had strayed away from Jesus.  I was fascinated to meet these two guys who were full of the joys of life and liked travelling to discover new places as I did.  I remember being somewhat surprised when you said you were training to be ministers.  This blew my perception of what a strong believing Christian was like, completely out of the water.  You seemed so normal and alive [and] seemed to get on with everyone on the boat….I often thought that meeting the two of you was a pivotal point in my coming back to Christ.”

What marvelous warmth of faith and personality that meant that this was just one of many stories in the book!  And things like that made me confident that regardless of what I disagreed with culturally and in emphasis, that this was a book that I would happily give out to my students and my travelling friends to help them and me as we travel this world together.  Much more could have been put in such a volume, but I’m very thankful that this author has opened the door for far more thinking on this topic at an understandable level!  May the conversation continue…

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“Home” – just one of the topics I was surprised he didn’t touch upon much (if at all), despite the title and the nature of travelling for fulfilment. Photo (c) my own

Worshipping with African Christians 

I’ve been thinking a lot about what we can learn from African Christians recently and how we can unite. This is just one of those ways. Christian travellers: take note!  I look forward to studying under this man (whose blog I reblog now) in a couple of years:

These things are written

Andrew Walls describes his experience of participating in Christian worship with African Christians:

It is one of the most extraordinary things–you don’t know the language, and yet you know you are in a Christian congregation, and gradually you find your place in this form of worship. And gradually you learn to pray and sing. You are reading the Scriptures together, as human beings together, looking to one Christ for salvation…. I don’t think anyone brought up in the thin-blooded North can go to Africa and attend African churches without something happening to give them new insights into Christian worship–that expression of joy, that enormous vitality that comes through the African setting, with all the poverty, all the distress that people have…. When people pray with you, you realize why the New Testament talks about praying with the bowels! I would hope other Christians would be similarly enriched. We are one…

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