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Martyrdom in the USA
Recently, we had a plumber in to fix a toilet in our home. The toilet, for some scientific reason far beyond my grasp, would not flush correctly. As a man, it’s always difficult to have someone come into your home to fix your stuff; it’s sort of an indictment of your manhood. You stand around feeling like a boy, wondering if you should hand the workman his tools like he was your dad fixing your go-cart.
So as he worked on the toilet I just kind of hung around the bathroom and we naturally began to talk about sports. It was a wonderfully manly conversation, and if he harbored any ill will regarding my lack of testosterone to fix my own toilet, it certainly didn’t show. He genuinely seemed to like me and vise-versa.
Well, whenever we experience feelings of acceptance or admiration or affection we, in effect, experience the sensations of life rummaging through us: motivation, energy, positive sense of self and the like. The stronger the connection, (the more life siphoned through it) the more difficult it is to sever.
As we continued to talk, the plumber eventually asked what I did for a living and I told him I was in ministry. As I already knew what he did for a living—he fixes my toilet—a more natural segue was to ask him about his spiritual background or where he went to church or something pastoral like that.
But let’s pause, because this choice to begin moving the conversation toward the gospel has some implications. The choice to point the discussion in a spiritual direction – toward Christ – typically involves a willingness to sever an emotional or relational connection, a willingness to cut yourself off from a source of life.
Hmm, severing oneself off from a source of life, that sounds like the definition of death. Yes, in a small way it is. Heck, I felt a connection with the plumber and I had only known him for twenty minutes. To risk a relationship in sharing the gospel or standing up for one’s faith is to risk a death—at least in the emotional, social and relational sense. And it is in this sense that we all get to be martyrs. Which is good because we are all called to be martyrs; when Jesus calls us to “be his witnesses,” the word he uses for witness is marturion from whence we get the word martyr.
When you expand the definition of death to include emotional, relational or social death; or the death of a career, upward mobility or academic advancement; or the death of your reputation, your respect, your influence, or your authority; or the death of a friendship or social circle, this is when you realize that it isn’t necessary to move to Algeria in order to be a martyr.