I write this from what must be one of the most beautiful places on earth. We’re on a family holiday on one of the small Gulf Islands in British Columbia’s Strait of Georgia. I know; you’re already feeling sorry for me. I’m enjoying rest, playing with my kids, conversation with my wife and, sandwiched in small bites on this full table of grace, a good book.
I need to revisit what I choose for holiday reading. Inevitably as a vacation approaches I get to a volume that has been on my shelf patiently waiting with its crisp, unbroken binding. I think that’s why I haven’t purchased an electronic reader yet; I hear breaking the binding is not so smart. Anyhow, persistently on these summer getaways I have ended up reading a book that moves me deeply and shakes my comforts and perceptions. It’s why I was drawn to the title in the first place. Yet this type of reading always seems like a conniving of the Spirit to mess with my vacation. You’d think I’d have figured this out by now.
A mentor of mine gave me a book on Christian growth a few weeks back and so I packed it along. I should have known Ronald Rolheiser’s subtitle, A Vision for a Deeper Human and Christian Maturity, was not going to treat me gently. A few pages in I came to this: “At one stage in our lives, Jesus calls us to give up something for God, at another stage he calls us to give up everything.” These and other words were unnerving my innards and necessitated some rumination so I took a break.
I turned to the newspaper and came across the deeply disturbing story of Iraqi Christians who, as I chilled with my morning coffee overlooking the Pacific, were being left with a decision between conversion to Islam or death at the hands of the advancing Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). These brothers and sisters of mine, in their own words, “have run out of places to hide.” Beheadings and even crucifixions have been reported. They find themselves in a stage of discipleship where Jesus calls to give up everything.
The contrast between their reality and mine couldn’t be greater. For me there has only ever been something to give up. I may sing or read about giving up everything for Jesus, but what do I really know of that? Very little indeed. I am humbled and somewhat disgusted with myself.
But, through my lifting fog, I see one constant I share with my suffering sister or brother: the call of Jesus. The call comes and I, and they, must be ready to respond as disciples who know his voice and follow. Rolheiser continues, “Sometimes Jesus invites us to small conversions, and sometimes he invites us to martyrdom.” So, while I must let my heart be expanded by the dilemmas of the world and my conflicted place within them, the way forward is equally shared by Iraqi Christians and myself: responding to Jesus again today whether that be in another small conversion or immense sacrifice. If I don’t do that then both this placid getaway and their inestimable suffering are wasted.
Phil Wagler lives in Surrey, B.C. and he’s learning not to take that for granted.