The Weekend Wanderer: 15 January 2022

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like. Disclaimer: I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles


webRNS-Eastbrook-Refugees4-011022-1536x982“At Milwaukee church, refugees find welcome from a less suspicious time” – Here is Bob Smietana at Religion News Service with a feature on the church where I serve, Eastbrook Church: “Asher Imtiaz is the kind of person who always seems to be wandering into a great story. Like the time in 2017, when the Pakistani American computer scientist and documentary photographer walked into a Target in Nebraska and ended up being invited to a wedding thrown by Yazidi refugees from the Middle East. Imtiaz had gone to Nebraska to shoot pictures of life in small-town America in the age of Trump, far from the country’s urban centers. Among his portfolio from the time is another Yazidi family, dressed in patriotic garb and heading to a Fourth of July picnic. ‘I went to see America and found these new Americans,’ said Imtiaz at a coffee shop on the north side of Milwaukee last year. Imtiaz fits right in at Eastbrook Church, a multi-ethnic congregation where he serves as a volunteer leader at an outreach ministry for international students at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus nearby.”


PAKISTAN-RELIGION-CHRISTMAS

“Pakistan’s top court grants bail to Christian facing blasphemy charge” – In Light for the Voiceless News: “The Supreme Court of Pakistan’s decision to grant bail to a Christian accused of blasphemy should give hope to others facing the charge, according to a prominent lawyer. Saif ul Malook welcomed the court’s ruling on Jan. 6 that Nadeem Samson should be released on bail. ‘It is a very important ruling, the first in the judicial history of Pakistan,’ the lawyer said in a video call reported by the Jubilee Campaign, a nonprofit promoting human rights. Samson, identified as a Catholic by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), was arrested in 2017 and imprisoned in Lahore, Pakistan’s second-largest city, after a property dispute. He was charged with insulting the Muslim Prophet Muhammad under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code. The 42-year-old’s supporters believe that he was falsely accused of the crime, which is punishable by death in Pakistan, an Islamic republic in South Asia with a population of almost 227 million people. Malook, who represented Asia Bibi, a Catholic mother acquitted of blasphemy in 2018, petitioned the Supreme Court at a hearing on Jan. 5 to break with the practice of denying bail to people accused of blasphemy.”


3326“From respair to cacklefart – the joy of reclaiming long-lost positive words” – Susie Dent in The Guardian: “‘Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them’: words of positivity from the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. But how many of us really dwell on the upside of life, as opposed to its mad, bad, seamy side? It’s unsurprising that we have lost some of our joie de vivre in the past few years – finding sparkle amid the grey has become distinctly difficult. But a riffle through a historical dictionary suggests that it’s always been this way, and at heart we’ve long been a pessimistic lot. Linguistically, as in life, our glass is usually half-empty. Usually – but not always. In recent times I’ve made it a mission to highlight a category of English that linguists fondly call “orphaned negatives”. These are the words that inexplicably lost their mojo at some point in the past, becoming a sorry crew of adjectives that includes unkempt, unruly, disgruntled, unwieldy and inept. Yet previous generations had the potential to be kempt, ruly, wieldy, ept and – most recently thanks to PG Wodehouse – gruntled. Some were even full of ruth (compassion), feck (initiative) and gorm (due care and attention). Now is surely the time to reunite these long-lost couples. It may not work for everything – there is no entry (yet) for ‘shevelled’ or ‘combobulated’, but Mitchell airport in Milwaukee has gloriously provided its passengers with a ‘recombobulation area’ in which to release some of the tension of air travel.”


alan jacobs“formation and martyrdom” – Alan Jacobs at his blog, Snakes and Ladders: “The question then is: How to form Christians in such a way that they are capable of undergoing martyrdom? (In any of its forms: red, green, or white.) I am convinced that this is indeed a matter of cultivating the proper practices – which include words and deeds alike, by the way, or rather speech and writing understood asdeeds: as Newbigin goes on to say, the fact that the witness of the martyrs was so exceptionally powerful does not abrogate the need for faithful preaching – indeed, faithful preaching was surely one of the means by which the martyrs were formed: ‘The central reality is neither word nor act, but the total life of a community enabled by the Spirit to live in Christ, sharing his passion and the power of his resurrection. Both the words and the acts of that community may at any time provide the occasion through which the living Christ challenges the ruling powers. Sometimes it is a word that pierces through layers of custom and opens up a new vision. Sometimes it is a deed which shakes a whole traditional plausibility structure. They mutually reinforce and interpret one another. The words explain the deeds, and the deeds validate the words.’  Preaching and praise, fasting and penitence, reading and serving – all are core practices of the Church.”


Human-as-Gift-Nick-Spencer-980x551“Human as Gift” – Nick Spencer in Comment: “Admit it, if only quietly and to yourself. You have, in those quieter moments of your life, daydreamed about what people will say of you at your funeral. Or, at least, what you would like them to say. Chances are, you don’t want the priest or next of kin to utter the words, “She managed her portfolio of shares with extreme diligence,” or “He spent long hours in the office but did at least achieve a bit of work-life balance with some amazing holidays in the Caribbean.” You want to be remembered for what matters. We all do. Death mercilessly cuts through the moral fog of living. Few people want to be memorialized for the stuff they had or the leisure they enjoyed, in spite of the fact that we spend so much of our time on earth pursuing these things and then talking about then. We want our funeral eulogy to be positive—obviously—but positive about the right things.”


Tombs of the kings Jerusalem“The Tomb of the Kings in Jerusalem” – Marek Dospěl in Biblical Archaeology Society: “There is no shortage of controversial sites and monuments in Israel. Among the less well known to visitors to Jerusalem is the so-called Tomb of the Kings which remains highly controversial in two aspects: its original purpose and the site’s current ownership. The Tomb of the Kings is an ancient funerary monument located about a half mile north of the Old City walls. The tomb complex, almost entirely carved out of natural rock, consists of a monumental staircase, a spacious courtyard, an imposing portico, and a maze of subterranean passages and chambers that could have held up to 50 burials. There are ancient ritual baths (mikva’ot) at the foot of the staircase. Despite its traditional name, however, the tomb did not serve as the final resting place of the kings of ancient Israel or Judah. The scholarly consensus has long been that the Tomb of the Kings was the family tomb of Queen Helena of Adiabene, a first-century convert to Judaism who moved to Jerusalem from her original home in Adiabene, an ancient kingdom in what is today northern Iraq.”


Music: U2, “White as Snow,” No Line on the Horizon

The Intermingling of Witness and Suffering

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.” (Matthew 10:16-18)

In Jesus’ words of commission to the Twelve here, we already see the connection between witness and suffering. The mindset of Jesus’ disciples must be shrewd and innocent at the same time. There is an expectation of difficulty, even vicious persecution, that Jesus commends to His disciples, requiring wisdom, innocence, and, as He says in the next few sentences, reliance upon the Holy Spirit. These are bracing words for these first followers of the Messiah. Who would really want to hear them?

But we need to re-hear them today because we have disconnected witness and suffering. In our comfort culture we have sought to avoid trouble as much as possible. We often water down Jesus’ words until the sharpness of the flavor cannot be tasted. Because of this, our witness also has been watered down. We avoid the realities of persecution, even though church history has taught us that persecution is often the soil in which the church most often grows.

Tertullian, one of the greatest teachers of the church, wrote: “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” While we should not seek needless suffering, may God help us be ready to suffer for the sake of His name and witness.

When Kingdoms Collide: the martyrdom of Polycarp

Along the western seacoast of Turkey there is a beautiful coastal town known as Izmir. Tucked amidst the high-rises and minarets is a Roman Catholic church built in the 17th century and dedicated to an early Christian many of us no longer remember from a time when Izmir was known as Smyrna.

There, nearly 1900 years ago, lived an early Christian named Polycarp, a convert during the ministry of the apostle John. Serving the Lord over the course of his life and well-respected in the church, Polycarp was wholly committed to the Lord Jesus at a time of great persecution for the church. The influence of the Roman Emperor appeared unlimited, and the basic declaration of allegiance to the Emperor was: “Caesar is Lord.” For the early Christians, the basic declaration of faith also reflected their allegiance: “Jesus is Lord.”

When Polycarp was dragged before the Roman Proconsul Statius Quadratus on trumped up charges, Polycarp was thoroughly interrogated and asked to swear allegiance to Caesar. “Swear, and I release you; curse Christ,” said the Proconsul.

To which Polycarp responded, “Eighty-six years have I served Him, and he has done me no wrong: how then can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” Again, the Proconsul said, “Swear by the genius of Caesar.” To which Polycarp responded once more, “If you vainly imagine that I would ‘swear by the genius of Caesar’, as you may say, pretending that you are ignorant who I am , hear plainly that I am a Christian.”[1]

It is this bold statement that eventually led to Polycarp’s execution by burning in public in AD 156. Polycarp’s situation sets in bold relief one of the greatest challenges of any discussion of the kingdom of God. We live as citizens of earthly kingdoms by birth or by decision, even while we live as citizens of the heavenly kingdom through faith in Christ.


[1] The story of Polycarp’s martyrdom is found in many places but I relied on James W. Skillen’s telling from The Good of Politics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014), 47-48.