Opening the Conversation About Death
September 3, 2015
by Robert Orr, MD, CM
I have never had the opportunity to live outside the U.S. and truly immerse myself in another culture. So when I travel, I try to understand the culture I am visiting as deeply as I can. In preparation for travel to a new country, I like to read either a history of the country or a novel set in the country as a way to better grasp the culture and reality of life. I’m currently in Poland – my first visit here and my first visit to a formerly Nazi-occupied country. This trip is pushing me outside my comfort zone, both with a visit to Auschwitz as well as with the work our mission team is doing (English classes and a youth camp). My pre-trip reading was a book called The Volunteer by Jack Fairweather, the true story of Witold Pilecki, a member of the Polish Resistance in WWII who volunteered to take on a false identity in order to get arrested and taken to Auschwitz to see firsthand what was happening there and to try to send information out to the underground and the Allies. As with all WWII reading I have ever done, I was overwhelmed by both the depravity of the human heart and the courage of the heroes who refused to comply with their silence. When I read these kinds of stories, I can’t help but wonder, “what would I have done?” I certainly like to think that I would have been willing to sacrifice my own comfort and safety in order to resist evil and tyranny. But would I have been willing to endanger my children? My parents? My husband? Those questions are a lot harder for me to answer. I honestly don’t know what I would have done if faced with that choice. And this very question is what makes my experience as a Christian in the U.S. different from that of most Christians around the world. I have never, and likely will never, have to face that question.
Of course, there have been changes in the U.S. in recent years. It’s not as comfortable or easy to be a Christian as it was a generation ago. There is discrimination that did not exist for our parents and grandparents. And Christian Medical & Dental Associations and other Christian organizations are working to challenge and prevent those changes. But, really, it’s still very easy for us to be Christians in the U.S.. And I think that because it’s easy for us to be Christians, it’s also easy for us to be lukewarm. The prophecies in Revelation caution against being lukewarm in our faith and walk. God even says He will “spit us out” if we are lukewarm (Rev. 3:16).
I think lukewarmness can be manifested as both half-hearted commitment to faith as well as a fierce commitment to an externally focused “Christianity” that cares a lot more about how people look, speak or dress than it does about the passion of their hearts. The first doesn’t mean much because it doesn’t change the lives of its followers, and the other actually drives people away by judging them rather than showing them grace. The Christian community in the U.S. is often guilty of both of these types of lukewarmness. And I, as a member of that community, am often guilty as well. Would a lukewarm Christian ever choose the good of humanity over personal safety? Could a lukewarm Christian make real sacrifices to bring others to Christ? Am I personally living day to day in my own comfort zone and being lukewarm, or am I sold out to the call of Christ and to making Him known in the world? If I’m honest, pondering those questions makes me squirm….I’m not sure I can answer them the way I want to.
It’s important that we hear the stories of people who have truly suffered for standing up for what is right. In comparison to other places, it has not been a common story in our country or in our lives, but it’s critical that we be pushed to think about it. If we allow ourselves to float along with the tide of cultural Christianity, we risk losing our passion for Christ and His cause. We risk becoming the very type of lukewarm Christian who watched their Jewish or Slavic neighbors be carried away in trains and didn’t say anything for fear of reprisal. We risk becoming complicit with evil by failing to speak out against it. We risk becoming Pharisees who value pedigree or appearance or wealth or influence more than we value the heart. We risk being spit out of God’s mouth. (Not being a scholar of Revelation, I’m not sure exactly what that would look like, but I’m sure it’s bad!).
I sometimes wonder if a little more persecution would not be good for the American church in that it would force us to wake up and make a choice – are we in this because of family, culture, or general comfort, or are we in this because we’re sold out to Christ? I want to pursue Christ with a passion so that I don’t have to wonder how I would answer those hard questions.