Friday, May 1, 2009

Sometimes Torture is Necessary.

A new poll from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life finds that churchgoers are more likely to back torture.


Praise for Roos Arts!

Heige Kim hosted the inaugural exhibition at her new gallery, Roos Arts, in Rosendale, NY last weekend for a packed crowd. You can catch a brief review - and a plug for my upcoming reading on the 22nd, not the 23rd! - at under the headline, Things We Love to Look At.

Roos kicked into gear with a big-splash opening reception for its "Meet & Cake" inaugural exhibition last weekend, and will be highlighting works of enterprising artists from throughout the county in tightly curated shows geared toward visual discourse and creative inspiration for participating artists and audiences alike. The opening show, according to gallery director Heige Kim, is "a salon-style group show, which gathers friends who have influenced and inspired the founding artist of the space. The title references all the things that we love to discuss, look at, eat and share at a gathering of familiar and new faces."

Roos's upcoming schedule of exhibitions is ambitious and complementary to that of the region's best galleries, and includes upcoming creative writing readings on Fridays, May 8 and 23 - the latter featuring New York writer Ann Neumann. And the space itself, at 449 Main Street, is stunning.

O Most Delightful Warfare.

The Stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, from Martyrs' Mirror, pp 71

In the course of working on The Book (my book, the project I have been busy with for the past number of months and which examines my father's end of life and death and my subsequent travels around the world) and most recently, for a review of a movie by Carlos Reygadas for, I have had the chance to spend some time with what is the second most common book in the Mennonite Church, Martyrs' Mirror, the full title of which is: The Bloody Theater or Martyrs' Mirror of the Defenseless Christians Who Baptized Only Upon Confession of Faith, and Who Suffered and Died for the Testimony of Jesus, Their Savior, From the Time of Christ to the Year A.D. 1660. Compiled by Thieleman J. van Braght and translated from the Dutch (or Holland Language) by Joseph F. Sohm it is a guide to the Anabaptist believers, primarily the Mennonites and Amish. My edition is about 3" thick with a sturdy beige cover and was published by the Mennonite Publishing House in Scottdale, Pennsylvania in 1950.

The first 60 pages of the book are an introduction that lays out the tenets of the Anabaptist faith via a lengthy discussion of the founding of the church, the establishment of lineage from the 17th century Anabaptists to the first martyrs just after the death of Christ, and a discussion of practical issues including foot washing, marriage, shunning, and the second coming.

What most interests me about the book, beyond the most obvious family heritage (my grandparents were Mennonites from Lancaster County, PA, decended from Martin Harnish, a Swiss, then German, settler who came to North America to escape religious persecution), is the scholarship employed for the purpose of teaching how to die in the face of suffering. We are instructed to look at these martyrs as reflections of ourselves, to see ourselves in their stories of suffering.

Of course faiths are formed around the question of what comes after our time on earth. In his Easter Sunday mass, Pope Benedict XVI stated, "One of the questions that most preoccupies men and women is this: What is there after death? To this mystery today’s solemnity allows us to respond that death does not have the last word, because life will be victorious at the end." It is the promise of life eternal that allows believers to suffer great hardship, particularly persecution for faith, and to continue their belief. Images of the body of Christ, the first martyr, forever hang in churches, blood dripping, pain and death depicted on his waxen face, as a reminder of the impending death we all face. It is the suffering that will allow us to pass into eternal life.

What proof do we have of life after death? What iconography that reminds us of the guarantee that life is victorious? None really. And so it is the suffering of faithful believers, in Martyrs' Mirror, in the stations of the cross, on the crucifix, that we look to as proof that though our lives may be hell today death will deliver us. Christ was human, we are reminded. He and the martyrs are our community.

O most delightful warfare, which did injury to none, but good to all. O ye blessed heroes, who fought this fight! No princes or kings can be compared to you; for all the honors won by earthly heroes on earth shall vanish with the earth; but your honor is an everlasting honor; your glory shall never cease, yea, shall endure as long as God endures, whom you served. MM pp 14

Over the next few months, I will be recording here the delightful warfare chronicled in Martyrs' Mirror, by recounting the stories of those who suffered for their faith. As you will see, there is no end to the creativity with which death can be delivered to the God-fearing. And no end to the ways in which the believer can suffer - and triumph - in their faith.