Forget other people trying to kill me for my faith, I have enough trouble trying to do it myself!

Paul responds to Craig Hovey's guest post, on the place of martydom in modern western christianity...My first response in reading Craig's thoughtful question "are christians worth persecuting?" was who could be bothered to kill us when everyone is busy trying to find their own happiness to worry about the occassional dark little christian cloud that might sometimes try to rain on their parade?

My second response was i can't even kill myself in the way my faith suggests i should so why would anyone else want to bother. To use the jargon, i am so self obsessed that I'd rather be comfortable in my right to my life, my way, than die to myself and give up any ofmy rights, especially the right to be right.

There are a few potential killers out there of course... not least us christians! We are quite good at persecuting each other at times, my brand good your brand not so kosher, but at least we can unite to persecute the godless pagans!

Other suspects, well I'm sure we're the butt of many a new atheist joke but then again we're also very good at returning the favour.

Some of us even worry some sections of liberal society, especially that sneaky fundamentalist moral agenda - happy to label all sorts of behaviour as bad and affecting our eternal destination (so the church at least claims ownership of our immortal souls post death!).

Then again the govt has been trying to make a claim on our bodies in life, warning us of the dangers of excess alcohol, (illegal) drugs, obesity and cigarettes for instance and we've just kept chugging, snorting, stuffing and puffing away regardless!

On whose authority, I have none over me

Maybe that is the problem? When it comes down to it no one owns me but me, or, to quote from a Nada Surf song:

On whose authority I have none over me On whose authority There's none that I can see On whose authority I have none over me On whose authority No one speaks to me On whose authority I have none over me

Maybe the church can claim my soul post death. Maybe the government can tell me what to do with my body but I get to choose. I have rights. The idea that God might not be interested in my rights, might consider that I have no right, that I am his slave is deeply offensive to me.

I want God on my team, not the other way around. So a God who gets me what I want, awesome! A God who lets me feel smug that I am better morally, that's good! A God that gives me a natural high, stimulates my intellect, gives me "spiritual" experiences, finds me friends and helps me influence!

A God that calls the shots and then has the audacity to give up his divine rights and, in Jesus, model a life of suffering obedient servanthood - living out a new humanity and asking me to do the same in the same way - i don't think i like that God very much!

For me, being louder about being more (morally) right isn't the (full) answer...

I have a lot of sympathy for the line that says, ah yes we are compromised consumerist hedonists, who have watered down our morals and gone over to me first, me second and me always living. Where I start to baulk is a cry that we need to put clear pure moral water between us christians and society and be even shriller in our cry for Christian values or just give up and retreat into our own communities.

For me I think either more morals or withdrawing is a cop out - both simply makes me feel better about myself in different ways (but fundamentally that i right with a group of people just like me).

Hmm is this history repeating itself from 1st century palestine? When Jesus entered the stage there was 4 existing social options to side with: a pharisee [whiter than white morels], herodian [sod it lets just have a good time whilst the going is good], zealot (kill the problem i.e. the Romans) and essene [run away].

Jesus found, lived and died a fifth option...

Which is why I like Craig's connections to baptism (drowning of self), communion (breaking of self) and the image of connecting to the body. I wonder what it actually would be like to die to myself? I wonder what it would be like to lose my life, to give up my rights, to actually stop being right (vis a vie i know who's wrong)?

Giving up my rights, and even being right...

You see, for me, it is not a lack of knowing a moral truth that is the problem, it is my temptation to tell others that truth, that makes me far too easy to ignore. In a me first world, what's one more person telling us what to do that we simply ignore - there is no authority over me, remember.

What if instead of picking on other religions (or even my own), crazy frankenstein scientists, homosexuals, those who have abortions etc I examine myself in the mirror and actually stop sermonising, eye-rolling, protesting or walking down the other side of the moral highway:

Here's my new resolution, before i go diving into an issue where i comfortably have the answer, i am going to try and apply the dying to self test - what is going to cost me my "life" here. Maybe ask myself some questions like:

Homosexuality: do i campaign for justice/same rights for gays as I expect for myself (like for instance the Sexual Orientation Regulations?). Should I not start apologising for my homophobia and the countless homophobia of christians before me?

If i am believe that celibacy is the way forward for someone who is gay i.e. stop practicing it, would i give up my right to stop practicing being a heterosexual and commit to life long celibacy with them? Who am I kidding my own sexuality might tick the correct "I prefer the opposite sex preference box" but maybe i should honestly address all the other ways it is screwed up? Maybe i should stop contributing via warped morals to screwing up the sexuality of others?

Other faiths/religions/beliefs: do i have any idea what these people believe other than what i have gleaned through my own faith's perspective? Do i really want to bother being a good neighbour and introducing myself or am i happy just putting up a 6 foot fence and complaining about the noise? Do i care how my faith may have offended/hurt/upset others? What would i do to make it up?

Can i even see past somone's religion and see them as a human beings, with needs, like me, and not some enemy? What am i doing to address their needs as humans out of my own wealth/faith/community? Why do i worry about how other people practice their faith when I can't even live out mine most of the time?

Medical science - will i stop being lazy and grapple with complex issues? do i listen to christians who are scientists? Do i listen to scientists who are just good scientists? Can i even begin to imagine what i would do if i had a certain condition and science offered me a cure? Would i not bite off its arm? What if it was one of my son's who was ill? Where is my compassion? Where is me reaching into my pocket to fund what i might consider a more ethical approach? Do i even know what i enjoy the benefits of today that might have been questionably researched yesterday?

Abortion: Do I treat the mothers as human beings and not some label? Would I be prepared to adopt a mother, her child or both - open up my home, my life, my wallet to a stranger? How do I and my faith community treat people who fall pregnant outside of marriage, let alone have an abortion? Could it be that people have had abortions to avoid the shame of my moral judgement?

Have I made our community a place where, by hiding my own "invisible sin" so well, people who's sin sticks out in front of them feel they have to hide theirs too? What if I and our community cared, housed, paid for etc mothers and their babies in such a way that it made the difference in deciding whether it was viable to bring the child into the world?

Would I adopt a severly disabled child? Do i even really care/support the people i already know who have children (disabled or otherwise) let alone complete strangers?

And what about those moral issues that do affect me?

Maybe alongside these moral issues there are still yet ones that I haven't considered because they do directly affect me....

Environment: I profess i care about the planet and even my faith encourages me to care about it, but I still also want to drive my car, have my holiday, maintain my standard of living and do very little about the effects of it! The government proposes to put up car tax on the most CO2 producing cars and rather than pay more or give up my car I am proposing to vote them out of office!

Poverty: Whilst I may feel strongly about the rights of the unborn child, do i bother to care at all for the children that are born, or even the mothers who give die giving birth to them? According to UNIFCEF:

"Every year, an estimated 9.7 million children under the age of five die totally preventable deaths. Some are directly caused by illness such as pneumonia, diarrhoea and malaria. Others are caused by indirect causes including conflict and HIV/AIDS. Malnutrition, poor hygiene and lack of access to safe water and adequate sanitation contribute to more than half of these deaths. Two thirds of both neonatal and young child deaths — over 6 million deaths every year — are preventable. Half a million women die in pregnancy each year, most during delivery or in the first few days thereafter.

that's 16.5 million preventable deaths of babies, pre-school children and their mothers and i don't bat an eyelid in outrage, let alone reach for my wallet (by way of contrast the global abortion rate is 41.6m). I don't even want to start googling to find out the deaths from famine, poverty, war, aids, unsafe working conditions, pollution etc, which tells me a lot about my own enjoyment of my selfish life....

Community: it seems a bit mundane to put this on the end but for me my own isolation, my enjoyment of my self, seems to be another right that I don't want to give up. I admire the radical sharing generous nature of the early church in Jerusalem and then promptly refuse to share any more than i have to with anyone else.

I of course play grateful lip service that the State provides a minimum safety net and uses my taxes to pay for it (but since it takes it anyway i have no choice, if i had to give the money myself directly well that would be a different story!).

After all how often do i pay God/his church his due 10% and consider that is my limit (and then quibble about what's in the pot, is it pre-tax, after my mortgage has gone out etc)? Then again I do get fringe benefits from church, so maybe it is worth paying for, i get an experience out of it. I get to go along and be a spectator, share some space with other people (just like i do for any other event, gig, shopping trip etc), even if i make sure that i keep my "personal" space.

Giving of my money is almost too easy compared with giving of myself. In fact i was contemplating divorcing the person i had said i would share every aspect of my life with because I didn't want to share my life any longer, the price tag was too much. Splitting up was easier than facing the pain of being honest, of having to reveal vulnerable me and own up to some of my own flaws as well.

One body, broken together...

Craig, talks about how in communion we practice being one body, how that event is linked to suffering, being broken, being naked on our cross with each other and Jesus, who knows that experience all to well. I wonder when we practice being naked and broken with each other?

When do I invite others to have authority over me, to speak into my life? When will i stop hiding myself away and allow others to see my hurts, my naked parts that I am ashamed of, my addictions, my weaknesses? That, despite what I say in response to the Q: "how are you?", I am not fine most of the time!

Will i face the suffering that comes in having others who loving and truthfully poke my wounds to try and help me? And when do I offer to do the same for others, rather than assume it is not my problem? When do i extend grace and forgiveness when I get hurt cos i get to experience the worst of others but am oblivious that I am doing the same to someone else?

To quote U2: we're one but we're not the same, we get to carry each other..."

Would we finally be worth killing then?

I doubt if anyone is gonna kill me cos my morals, manners, or ability to annoy by being stange is superior to theirs (you may disagree?)...

Maybe if I finally managed with God's and his communities help to kill (drown) myself for long enough to practice some form of sustained care for others that cost me my life, i'd start live out the practice of communion?

Maybe that is what got Jesus killed, maybe that is what got his followers killed, maybe that's what would get you and I killed, a lived out manifesto that ran counter to the power/philosphy of our respective days (Ceasar then/myself now)...

Jesus is King, not me.

What do you think?

Paul Mayers