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Annie Turner

Annie Turner
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Monday, March 14, 2011

The Martyr Thing, or--How Many Times Can I Cross My Fingers Behind My Back to Avoid Death?

Is anyone else out there as creeped out by martyrs as I am? As a Catholic convert, I still find parts of the church strange and alien, but martyrs are right at the top of "strange and alien" for me.

Maybe it's because I love my life so much. Maybe it's because I cannot understand a God who would require that kind of bloody sacrifice. Maybe it's the idea of people singing (hopefully on key) as they go to a gory death. Just to mention a few: today's martyr is Maximillian, an early Christian who refused to fight in Diocletian's Roman Army (of course, this dude was famous for his widespread slaughter of Christians...), saying to the Roman, "I serve in God's army and will not fight in this one." Something to that effect. I like that, I just hate the death part. If, like Eddie Izzard, I had a choice between "death and cakes," I so would so choose cakes.

Then there's Perpetua and her slave Felicity, who were torn apart by wild beasts in an arena in Cathage. I suppose we should be grateful they were not ravaged by wild or rabid cows, as I have read some other martyrs were. (This makes the mind furiously to think: how does an herbivore become rabid? And a cow?) Perpetua, as you will remember, had a baby at the time and was tormented by being separated from her baby. When someone bribed the jailers and brought her infant to her, she found "the prison was made a palace for me." Those are bracing words, and I admire her courage. But she refused to recant, despite her papa's pleas ('Please, honey, I will buy you a Pandora bracelet with ten trinkets if you just say 'I don't'...') and she and Felicity were killed.

Other martyrs spring to mind: Agatha of Sicily who was persecuted by Decius (he obviously had gotten his MBA in persecuting early Christians), and when she refused his less than welcome advances, he handed her over to a brothel where her breasts were crushed, then cut off. Boys, boys--if they've been crushed, I don't think they could easily be cut off, but that's a minor point. Oh, she also--after having been brought back to life by St. Peter--was rolled over hot coals. An earthquake then ensued, as in a play direction: "Roll of thunder heard off stage."
It's not that I'm against honoring those who have died being faithful witnesses, like the 7 monks in the new French film, Of Gods and Men. After all, "martyr" comes from the Greek word martys meaning "witness". I like witnessing to my own faith and try to do so with some regularity without causing people to either drool excessively or fall into comas. But in the long run, I just don't get it nor could I do it.

It's the whole idea of what are we willing to give up for God that nags at me. I'd so much rather come down on the side of, what can we give out for God--how can we be more merciful, more compassionate, more understanding, more forgiving? Like that.

Here's a starter: I am willing to give up bad knees to God; I am willing to give up distracted drivers to God; I am willing to give up food poisoning, rude people, cruelty, genocide, child slavery, abuse of women, and anything else which diminishes our humanity.

And, if that doesn't do the trick, I could be persuaded to give up March to God. I'll wrap it up in a neat and snowy package, tying the freezing nights and laggard days together into one bulky package, and sent it post haste to heaven. That's the kind of sacrifice I can get behind!