Martyrs and Camp Boys and the Cost of Discipleship

At twelve-almost-thirteen, summer Bible camp was at least as much about boys as it was about Jesus. (Probably more, if we’re being honest.)

That week, I chose/was chosen (briefly) by a boy named Pete. He had chains dangling from his baggy jeans and a neat buzz cut, and when our cabin groups were anywhere within the same vicinity, we exchanged long, blushy glances.

At night, whenwe gathered in that old, musty meeting hall, I always knew where he was sitting. We’d glance back and forth at one another through the raucous, wild singing and the skits.

By the time the speaker came forward, Bible in hand, my sun-drenched, waterlogged brain had settled well into a daydream about my romantic future with Baggy-Jeans-Pete.

We were pre-teens, barely teens, junior-highers, and that seasoned church speaker must have known that we were barely there. He must have known also that we were all desperate to be a little bit extreme.

He did what he could to make us want to be extreme for Jesus.

To do that, he told a story. The story was, apparently, based in fact, and featured a place that I cannot remember, where Christianity was illegal. There were soldiers, and they stood outside the doors of a church after service one day. They gave each person a choice: spit on a picture of Jesus, or die, shot straight on the spot.

The speaker must have said something like “There is a cost to following the Lord.” He must have made it applicable. All I remember is that I was fearful and guilt-struck by my own squandered freedom. And also, I remember the way it made my heart beat faster.

He kept talking, and I folded it into my daydream. I imagined that if it happened right then, that night, Baggy-Pants-Pete would force his way through the crowds to me and we would kiss between the white wooden bleachers before going to meet our brave martyrdom, hand in hand. We would do it together. We would do it for Jesus.

This is what hazardous faith looks like at summer camp at twelve-almost-thirteen. It’s all a little mixed up in romance.

*

These days, I am less extreme. Still crazy for the boys – but mostly just the small, wild ones flinging trucks around my living room, and their handsome daddy (who turned out to be so much hotter than Baggy-Pants-Pete).

Every now and then, I hear some preacher throw out some martyr’s story, anecdotal in its smallness, shrunk down into a sermon illustration. The take-away is usually some wildly off-kilter analogy along the lines of If those martyrs can do THAT then certainly we can do…[insert Americanized version of Christian bravery, e.g. inviting a friend to church].

I get a little cringe-y when this sort of thing happens. To me, it cheapens the sacrifice made by those who gave their one beautiful life in its sudden entirety. But it also cheapens the weight of the average, unimpressive life lived imperfectly but beautifully for God.

There is cost here too. For me, it is often in the believing. Just the believing.

This whole Jesus thing is so wildly upside down. It is illogical, a scribbled, spiral thing.

It suggests that given the choice between big, sleek, and desirable or small and barely holding together, the right choice will almost always be small.

It suggests that you swallow back that totally justifiable wave of anger, that you choose, instead, love. Instead of defending yourself, you are asked to take an unkindness straight to the chest, and it’s not a bullet exactly, but still, it matters.

You cling to promises that are, quite often, wholly invisible, totally unfelt. You follow a Whisper that you can barely hear, and you trust that something is happening, even if it is too far beneath the surface for you to see one lousy ripple.

There is cost to yes when everything in you is saying, hell, no, and some will be asked to give it all at once, but for most of us it will be each day, a little bit more than we have. A little more energy, a little more love, a little more grace and forgiveness and honesty.

When I say “cost”, I mean that place where I have not given it all…not by a long shot, and still I am empty. I mean that place where I find that, still, He is enough.

 

Today’s post is part of a synchroblog connected with the release of Ed Cyzewski and Derek Cooper’s new book Hazardous: Committing to the Cost of Following JesusLearn more here.

32 thoughts on “Martyrs and Camp Boys and the Cost of Discipleship

  1. You follow a Whisper that you can barely hear, and you trust that something is happening, even if it is too far beneath the surface for you to see one lousy ripple.

    I have always loved the ripples-in-a-pond metaphor for unconditional, sacrificial acts of love. But now I see the same metaphor working on me for forgiveness, acceptance. and even repentance.

    I drop a small stone that says “thank you” for a well-deserved rebuke to my behavior. No excuses. No explanations. Just “I’m sorry” and “thanks”. And then I am quiet. I hear the Spirit speak through her frustration, through her fear. I feel the faint ripples regret and repentance wash the wrong gently away into the past. My soul is refreshed, renewed.

    I love where you (and the Spirit through you) lead me, Addie. It costs a big chunk of my pride to admit to acting in opposition to what I was created to be. I want to explain. I want to soften the blow. I want to twist the rebuke so it doesn’t come straight at me and hit me where it will do the most good.

    And then I reverently turn my face back to God. I kneel. I lower my head out of respect and my soul whispers, “I’m sorry.”

    And somewhere deep within me, I feel a small ripple of Love that replies, “I forgive you.”

  2. You want to know the truth? Martyr stories are, on the surface, noble and good, and “giving all” should mean something.

    But.

    I think that dying for Jesus might be a whole hell of a lot easier than living for Jesus.

    I think that “giving all” really means giving our lives. Not as in dying, but living completely.

    I think that I might be able to take a bullet to the brain much easier than I could forgive someone for stabbing me in the back. I might be able to face a guillotine with less fear than I face the embarrassment of admitting that I lied to someone. I could possibly accept a hood over my head and a hangman’s noose easier than I can endure the mockery of atheists who hate Christianity.

    Living as a Christian just might be the most noble martyrdom of all.

    It annoys me when modern persecution is mocked, even tho I don’t want to dismiss the pain of those who suffer physically for their faith. That would be much worse than what I endure. Yet, the struggles of continually being challenged intellectually are, in a big sense, just as threatening to our faith.

    Communism trying to kill off Christianity only makes it grow, it appears, but in my world, the “attacks” are from friendly people who think God is dead or never existed.

    And holding on to faith through that, in my opinion, is statistically more difficult than we might admit.

    1. “I think that dying for Jesus might be a whole hell of a lot easier than living for Jesus.” Yes, perhaps. Different kinds of “hard,” I think. Different kinds of enemies. In the former, the enemy is outside of you, and you unite against him, and you maybe become braver in spite of all the fear. In the latter, the enemy is my own prone-to-wander heart. Both are hard; life itself, just hard.

  3. Are you sure we weren’t in the same youth group? I definitely went to a church camp exactly like that, and the discussion of extreme faith/martyrdom was there as well. I loved that camp, and made moon eyes at many a girl at that camp. I was also stung by three wasps in one day at that camp—the cost of following Jesus to church camp, perhaps? 🙂

  4. I always doubted if I was “paying” enough. If I was looking for a discount price because I wasn’t doing enough. I love this post. Thank you.

    1. I know what you mean, Stacey. Such a strange juxtaposition with grace that’s meant to be totally and completely free to all who ask.

  5. Saying you forgive is one thing, actually forgiving is something else entirely. We live in a world that always screams for revenge, and if you live in a big mean city half filled with pissed off people, turning the other cheek and forgiving isn’t so easy. Forgiveness isn’t a thing, it’s a lifestyle. How many times a day do we get angry? It happens to me everyday; I find myself irritable and I don’t know why. Someone mishears me; I get angry! Someone loiters in my way in a supermarket aisle where I’m trying to buy or browse something; I get angry! Someone, even by accident, gives me a dirty look; I get angry! And these are just minor everyday things.

    Yes, it’s easy to say we forgive, it’s very easy to say we are good Christians, but it’s not in the saying that any of it matters, but in the doing. We might not feel like being good, kind and respectable, or forgiving for that matter, but we do because in the end we know God is right, and our self-righteousness and rampant egos are wrong.

    There is a reason for being a Christian; sometimes we don’t see it or we can’t perceive why forgiving or turning the other cheek is the best idea, when so many people we see and even know like to settle the score in another way; turning the other cheek makes us look weak or walk-overs, and as I said for macho men who grow up in big dirty cities full of tough people, turning the other cheek is not easy. And yet, we see the value of Jesus’ gentleness and meekness when someone, even the seeming worst of people, responds to genuine Christian love and forgiveness. Sometimes, it’s not what we say, it’s simply what we do.

    1. Yes, Tim. I agree. (Also, I get angry a lot too. I almost decked some woman at the botanical gardens today for yelling at my kid.)

  6. I cringe a little whenever I hear boldly claimed that someone would die for their faith. I know that might be a noble thing to do. What bothers me is that I think it might just be a lot harder to live for Christ; to die over and over everyday. Harder to die everyday for him, die to wanting our own way; die to giving up some comfort; die so we can meet and support the undesirable; die in a way that our needs are subservient to others.

    I imagine if I were martyred for Christ that accolades would follow; I would be held up; my family would be praised as a result; and in death be loved more than in life. To live for Christ and to die to things daily does not produce many accolades; no cheering crowds; no articles about my great faith; no stories told around a camp fire. That contributes to the hardship; the not realizing how worthy it is to really live for Christ and to die to those things we hold dear that get in the way of us ministering to others.

    We know not the real butterfly effect of daily living for Christ but we must trust God that it is solely needed and worthy. Our obedience I would think produces results far more than we could imagine even if we know nothing of them during our time here on this hard rock we temporarily call home.

    I feel much as Bernard writes above.

    1. “We know not the real butterfly effect of daily living for Christ but we must trust God that it is solely needed and worthy.” Yes.

    2. Stephanie Posted on Great! Awesome!1st up the wedding china my mtehor gave me 18 years ago, while saying, with a VERY disappointed voice Well since it seems that you aren’t getting married any time soon, I might as well give this to you now. I’ve been carrying them around, thru 3 moves, thinking that I ought to keep them, that I would somehow curse myself or jinx myself if I got rid of them..that I would indeed end up alone.Guess what? Yep, I am still single. I’ve had a couple of relationships between then and now, but the end result? The dishes are not magical and I don’t have to expend any energy trying to make myself feel better about the dishes so that I can keep them.So, I am hereby embracing the real possibility that I may never be married and commit the dishes to craigslist, may they be gone in a wink and trouble me no more LOL!Thank you for the entertaining video about a serious subject.

  7. I think it’s all the more difficult to believe sometimes when you grow up with so many off center notions of God. I think I turned God into more of a superstition for far too long. He was just kind of magical when I needed him in between crushes and apocalyptic doom scenarios.

    1. I love that you used the phrase “apocalyptic doom scenarios” in this response. Excellent.

  8. This made me smile – for a few reasons! MY bible camp crushes were always counselor crushes – it is possible that I fell in love with my husband *a little bit* because he wears khaki-colored carpenter shorts and beat-up baseball caps. The martyrdom story you describe sounds like a Shusaku Endo story about the period of forced apostasy for Christians in Japan (“The Final Martyrs” I believe”). I haven’t read much of his stuff, but I know that his depictions of the “real” ways Christians have responded in the face of martyrdom give us just as much to wrestle with and learn from as any story about a saint who went to their death singing hymns.

    1. I’m arrested by this idea the “‘real’ ways Christians have responded int he face of martyrdom.” As a Christian culture, we are so suspicious of sadness and fear and any outward expressions of that; it makes sense that the martyrs we put on a pedestal are particularly those that faced death bravely and “singing hymns.” What about those who were fearful? Who fought? What about that Christian who, in fear, spit on Jesus while not actually renouncing him in his heart? Is that person less loved?

      There are layers, complexity to everything.

      1. ‘What about those who were fearful? Who fought? What about that Christian who, in fear, spit on Jesus while not actually renouncing him in his heart? Is that person less loved?’ That’s a really good point Addie. God knows our hearts. Who wants to be fed to the lions anyway? WHo wouldn’t choose imperfect life over a ‘perfect’ death?

        ‘There are layers, complexity to everything.’ Yes absolutely. We are even more complex than we know. A PC has a manual, a car has a manual but humans don’t; well, we have the Bible but sometimes even the Bible only hints at our ‘specifications.’

      2. Reminds me a a bit of the book Godric by Frederick Buechner. The books and stories don’t always tell the whole story. The Bible is kind of great because it doesn’t paint over the weaknesses of the people of faith who struggled so much. I suspect that’s why I find it so inspiring. Even when we don’t do it right, God still works out His story through us.

        1. I haven’t read Godric, but I love Buechner’s nonfiction. Will have to add it to the list!

  9. Yes, so much. Going through a situation (peripherally) that has me wondering how deep do we dive down, how small do we get? Where does self-preservation come in, what about boundaries? Was Jesus ever very good at boundaries anyway? I have so much to learn. Thanks for helping me see cost more clearly tonight. xo

  10. “it cheapens the sacrifice made by those who gave their one beautiful life in its sudden entirety. But it also cheapens the weight of the average, unimpressive life lived imperfectly but beautifully for God.”

    Yes. Yes.
    It is good to pause at the stories of the martyrs and reflect on our faith and our small hearts and realise the brevity of life. But as one of the comments above said- it is sometimes easier to die for Jesus than to live for him.

    As ever, you weave magic with your words and give value and dignity to the world of the small things, which I inhabit.

  11. Thank you for this, Addie. What you describe feels so manipulative to me – and most camps are WAY guilty of that. The scare-them-into-heaven or the lay-on-the-guilt-so-heavy-they-can’t-turn-away approach are the most common forms of said manipulation. I commented on another post yesterday – a young woman whom I admire tremendously for her obedient choices that cost her…a lot. She was feeling ‘under it’ from a popular book, one that implies Americans of faith are somehow less-than because we don’t have to ‘die’ for our faith. You are right – such comparisons (like most comparisons, actually!) are not helpful. In fact, they are insulting to both sides of the equation. Obedience is obedience, wherever we live it. Yes, we can always go deeper – but good grief! “guilting folks into the kingdom bears NO long-lasting results. Thanks for calling it out.

    1. Christianity is not about control-freaks. Most Western Christians are not persecuted in the way people were persecuted even in the recent past. Sometimes the hardest choice is just deciding what to have for dinner! But if we are obedient to Jesus, our obedience is as valid as anyone else’s in any age or place. We are not usually asked to DIE for Jesus, but to LIVE for Him after all.

  12. “But it also cheapens the weight of the average, unimpressive life lived imperfectly but beautifully for God.”

    If grace is what it purports to be, then the esteem of the average, unimpressive life lived imperfectly is the only beautiful thing there is. Fascinating! I’ve spent my life, as it turns out, first climbing the ecclesiastical corporate ladder, then descending it (partially on purpose, and somewhat unwillingly too), so I have learned to combat the effort our culture has made to “celebri-tize” authentic faith expression/leadership/servanthood. We have so attempted to do the impressive, to be impressive, and appear perfect.

    “It suggests that given the choice between big, sleek, and desirable or small and barely holding together, the right choice will almost always be small.”

    In my learning that real is better than perfect, I’ve also embraced that it isn’t a function of big or small, of well-oiled or coming apart, but of believing, loving, and intentional about an inclusive life of relationship with other real people.

    1. Great insights. I thought this was particularly compelling: “I have learned to combat the effort our culture has made to “celebri-tize” authentic faith expression/leadership/servanthood.” Yes.

  13. Just beautiful. Imagining a world where every Christian found ways to die a little every day? It’s mind-boggling to think of the change that could take place.

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