I spent some time this morning reflecting on the 21. The 21 Egyptian Christians martyred for their insistent faith in Christ. The 21 led in a line down a middle-eastern beach, wearing orange jumpsuits and accompanied by intimidating men in black.
There has been a lot of reflection on them over the past few days, and I think that’s important. It’s important that we allow our minds to dwell awhile on the sufferings of the church around the world, and on the faithfulness of our brothers and sisters under such persecution. It’s important that we not forget. It’s important that we not take what we have for granted. It’s important that we consider what it all means.
So this morning as I washed dishes and listened to music in my headphones, the image of the 21 sprung back to my mind. They haven’t been far from my mind at all over the past few days, but this morning was different. This morning, a certain song began to play in my ears and resonated with my meditations and my heart in such a way that when it finished playing, I quickly dried my hands on my pants and pressed the repeat button. I had to hear the words again. I had to let the message overlap some more with what I was thinking about the men in orange. I had to let my story overlap with theirs some more.
Because that song? That song about learning to walk my own path and travel my own journey without my concern over the approval (or disapproval) of others? It strikes a particularly resonant chord in my spirit. It vibrates and strums and stirs something up in me that nearly takes me to my knees in repentance.
And why would I want to live for man
And pay the highest price?
And what does it mean to gain the whole world
Only to lose my life?
My struggle with being approved….with wanting so desperately to look good to other people….with wanting you – yes, you – to just like me………..it doesn’t mesh well with an image of men in jumpsuits walking with confident faith to their deaths. It doesn’t radiate a courageous trust in Christ, but reeks of comfortable American Christianity. I wish I could say with certainty that under the same circumstances I would stand strong and declare my unfailing allegiance to the God who never gave up on me…..but instead, something in my heart fears that I would waver. That my comfortable American faith wouldn’t have prepared me for a moment like that.
I don’t know. None of us can, really, because none of us has been there. None of us has been in that position because somehow, for some reason, our births ordained that we would live in a place and a time where we can escape those dangers. But our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world….well, their fates are different. And too many of them have to consider the realities of that danger every day.
I had a nightmare the other night, probably because I was reading articles on this subject before I turned out the light and went to sleep. I dreamed my family and I were standing before a man in black, and I was explaining the situation to my six year old daughter. I was telling her the importance of standing strong in her faith when the man approached me and asked me in a foreign language what I believe.
I woke up before I heard my answer.
And so I’m meditating on this today, and I don’t know if any of this makes any sense. I think maybe that’s all right, because this whole thing….well, none of it makes much sense, does it? And maybe you’re struggling to put words to what you’re feeling about it, too, so I’m not going to sit on this post or edit my words until they are clean and neat. Something like this….maybe it’s not meant to be clean or neat.
I’m not condemning myself or assuming I would fall short in a time of trial. I’m not trying to make this about me. I just don’t want this to be one of those news stories that captivates my attention for a few days and then fades. I want to be different because of this. I want to learn something from this and for my trust in God to be strengthened by the example of the 21. And so I’m just reflecting today on the scandal of the cross. On the assurance Jesus left that we would be hated in this world. On the fact that losing our lives in this world is a gaining of so much more. On the fact that in Christ, nothing is as it seems.
And I’m praying today that I’ll live in a way that’s worthy of the name “People of the Cross.”
Other reflections and articles on this subject:
The Last Words of the 21 – amazing and inspiring.
People of the Cross, an audio reflection by Brant Hansen
Who Are We, If Not People of the Cross?, by Jennifer Lee