Wednesday, February 22, 2017

February 22 - Sophie Scholl and Companions, Martyrs, Opponents of the Nazis, Nonviolent

Hans and Sophie Scholl had allied themselves with a secretive group within Germany. In the early 1940s, this was akin to signing your own death warrant given the subject that the group was concerned with: Nazi atrocities and how they might be stopped. They were university students and they were proponents of nonviolent resistance. Instead of planning assassinations and armed coups, these people--including Sophie's brother Hans--formed a group that became known as "The White Rose." Encouraged by their philosophy professor--Kurt Huber--the White Rose wrote, published, and distributed pamphlets about what the Nazis were doing. In their own words: "We will not be silent. We are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not leave you in peace!" They published statistics about the numbers of Jews and political dissidents arrested and executed in the name of "Nazi progress." Along with these statistics they appealed to the people of Germany to refuse to be a complicit part of genocide and atrocity.They also took to graffiti with a tar based paint on university buildings. Their graffiti proclaimed a great desire for freedom that they felt Hitler and his ilk were slowly strangling in Germany.

Sophie and Hans must have been anxious as they approached the university building where hundreds of students were attending class. They carried suitcases and this would be very conspicuous for two young people during the day. But they had no other easy way to carry the leaflets into the hall without the suitcases and so they did it anyway. Few knew who the members of the White Rose were but loyalists were on the lookout for suspicious behavior. They arrived at the class building and began quickly unloading the leaflets into several piles in the common area to where the classes would be dismissed.Once the classes began to empty, the students would pick up the pamphlets and read yet another stirring argument against passive acceptance of evil. The Nazis had recently lost the battle of Stalingrad and so the White Rose hoped to capitalize on it and convince yet more people that the Nazi campaign was not only evil but doomed to failure. Its writing hearkened back to the first leaflet they had released: "Isn't it true that every honest German is ashamed of his government these days? Who among us can imagine the degree of shame that will come upon us and our children when the veil falls from our faces and the awful crimes that infinitely exceed any human measure are exposed to the light of day?"

Hans and Sophie had dropped off the pamphlets and were fleeing before classes were dismissed when they noticed a handful of pamphlets still in the suitcase. Sophie grabbed them quickly and ran back to the building. She ascended the stairs and in a poetic--and partially prophetic--gesture she flung them into the air and let them flutter down to the floor. She was witnessed by the custodian who turned in Hans and Sophie. Soon, Sophie and all those who associated with her were arrested and facing trial for treason. They had dared to speak ill of those who would not accept the truth. For this, they were tried and condemned to be beheaded. On February 22, 1943, they were executed in the guillotine. Sophie was strong and confident to the end of her life and was not deterred by those who hoped to whitewash their sins. She died a martyr because she refused to stop seeing and decrying the atrocities that were being perpetrated. Her dying words were: "God, you are my refuge into eternity" while Hans preferred the prophecy of "...your heads will fall as well."

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

February 21 - Charalampus, Martyr, Old Man, Evangelist by Peace

Charalampus had been born roughly fifty years after Jesus' death. This means that he was born before any of the Christian Gospels had been written down. Yet, he did not die until the turn of the second century into the third. This means that he was over one hundred years old when he finally died. In this time, he had become a Christian even though it was frowned upon by the Roman Empire he was a part of. He had been a part of a congregation of people who met regularly to worship and practice their devotion to their savior. Over time, he had become a priest and eventually a bishop. His service to the Church stretched on through the years and his face was welcome in many Christian homes in the area--even if at times only because he had been the pastor to some of their grandparents. For his preaching--even at his advanced age--he was arrested and commanded to stop. Clearly not too keen on torturing an old man, the ruler insisted that if Charalampus didn't stop preaching he'd be forced to torture and kill him regardless of his age. The ruler insisted that Charalampus should stop for his own good. To this, Charalampus responded: "You don't know what's good for me. You don't know what makes me well. Nothing is more pleasing to me than to suffer for my Lord. So, don’t hesitate to put my old body to whatever tortures you want and you will learn that the power of my Lord cannot be overcome."

So, soldiers came in and began torturing hm by raking his body with iron combs. His aged skin came off in strips and chunks and his blood flowed easily but he did not cry out or even stop smiling. He patted one of the soldiers on the hand and thanked him for what he was doing by saying, "Thank you, brothers, for scraping off my old body and further preparing my soul for new and eternal life." The sincerity in his voice, his remarkable endurance, and the soldiers' discomfort at torturing an old man combined to effect the conversion of the soldiers. They confessed their faith and trust in Charalampus' Lord because of the sermon he preached with his suffering. The soldiers were immediately beheaded for this treason and others continued the task of his torture. When agonized screams could not be brought out of him, it was decided that he would be transferred to the emperor--Septimus Severus--to be punished and killed more effectively. At this pronouncement, three onlooker women began to loudly praise God and were immediately martyred as well.

Charalampus was brought into the presence of Septimus Severus but already rested within the presence of his God as he devoted himself to prayer on the journey while the soldiers had dragged him along by his beard. When he arrived, he was tortured with a variety of cruelties including fire and being impaled. When he remained alive, the emperor was incredulous and demanded to know by what power he maintained his life. Charalampus responded that it was by the power of Christ. The emperor had a task for Charalampus and brought a man before him who had been possessed by a demon for many years and asked what Charalampus might do about that. With a prayer and one spoken word he cast the demon out of the man and infuriated the emperor.Claiming that he must be a sorcerer, the emperor condemned him to be executed. As the executioner approached with his sword drawn Charalampus yelled: "Lord, you know that all people are only flesh and blood...forgive them for what they do and bless them all." With these words, he died before the executioner had even begun to strike. The daughter of Septimus Severus became part of Charalampus' legacy as well when she converted on the spot and became a devoted follower of Jesus.

Monday, February 20, 2017

February 20 - Frederick Douglass, Reformer, Abolitionist, Sage of Anacostia

Frederick was born in Maryland but it wasn't his state it was the state where his oppressors lived--Frederick had no place to call his own. Frederick knew who his mother was but he was stripped away from her while he was an infant as if he were only a commodity with no heart or mind to form connections. Frederick knew who his grandmother was because he was raised under he watchful eyes and kind tutelage but he was separated from her when he was only seven years old. Those who held him in slavery did not see any reason they should honor the bonds between he and his grandmother and so they had no problem taking him to another place to do a different job because their lives were and always had been focused on efficiency and profit. Frederick didn't know who his father was though it's very likely that he was the slave of his own father after being separated from his grandmother. Chances are, he was the son of a white overseer who had taken indecent liberties with a slave woman as was his presumed natural and God-given right. After that man died, Frederick was transferred to yet another family near Baltimore.

It was while he was serving the Auld family near Baltimore that he first encountered the written word as anything more than another way for those with power to maintain it. The slave master's wife taught twelve year old Frederick the fundamentals of reading and writing. Frederick took to it with his natural intelligence and was soon beginning to read and write on his own. But the slave master found out and insisted that this was inappropriate on the grounds that slaves who could read might question their lot in life and become dissatisfied with slavery. Hugh Auld knew well that education was a liberator and literacy was the gateway to education. What he didn't know what the already powerful dissatisfaction that brewed in the hearts of Frederick and his brothers and sisters. Auld put a stop to the lessons but the fire of knowledge burned bright and quick in Frederick's mind and he continued to teach himself to read even though he was warned not to. After honing his skills, the adolescent Frederick took to teaching reading to other slaves on Sundays. Given time by their oppressors to worship, they did so but Frederick was keen to teach them to read their New Testament. In it, they found stories of liberation and freedom. In these stories, they began to be freed from their many bonds--all except their most physical and real. Frederick was beaten for these lessons and suffered severe punishments but would not stop teaching or questioning the injustice of slavery upon religious grounds. He was turned over to a particularly cruel slave master for his persistence.

When he was twenty years old, Frederick finally escaped slavery on his third attempt. He boarded a train, he adopted a guise, and in twenty-four hours he was a man finally freed from his physical bonds. He became an ardent activist and abolitionist campaigning not only for the end of slavery but also the end of all injustice and oppression--he even ran to be the first African-American Vice President on an equal rights ticket with Victoria Woodhull (the first woman to run for President). He was quick to strike at the hypocrisy of the religious elite in their use of the scriptures that proclaimed liberation and life as tools of oppression and death and insisted that true religion was not a matter of control but of love and freedom. His work as an abolitionist hastened the end of slavery in the United States and testified to a Christian faith that found its root and power in a Lord who had been oppressed by the powerful.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

February 19 - Elias and Companions, Martyrs, Comforters, Inspiration to Others

The five men gathered together and agreed on one particular thing: they felt called to go and be a comfort to brothers and sisters who had been arrested by the Roman Empire. Elias, Daniel, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Samuel were Christians in Egypt during a time when Christianity was entirely unwelcome within the bounds of the Roman Empire.Rome had made it explicitly clear that those who were Christians were enemies of the state and would be treated as such with little regard for their nonviolent convictions. Elias and his companions had known people who had been seized and murdered for their faith and therefore they knew well that this calling could be their first step on a path that led inexorably toward their own martyrdom. Yet, they could not shake the conviction that God was calling them to go to Cilicia and comfort Christians that were slaves in the mines there. So, they packed their things and they went out. They arrived without interference and they found the ones they were looking for. They sang songs and prayed with these faithful individuals whose faith could not be deterred by Roman power. When both the comforters and the afflicted had been encouraged by their mutual faith, the men prepared for the journey home. That's when the problems started.

Rome was exceptionally adept at discovering and identifying Christians. By most accounts, they were also fairly successful at breaking the faiths of those whom they captured. They knew well that those who visited Christians in prison and slave camps were likely to be Christians themselves. When Elias and his companions visited their brothers and sisters, they marked themselves for Rome's attention. As they were returning home they were stopped in Caesarea by a group of soldiers assigned with their interrogation. Their captors asked them why they had made the journey and probably expected to hear some complicated lie that might cover over what Rome knew very well: these men were Christians and therefore unwelcome in the Empire. What they heard however was a frank admission by the men that they were Christians and they had traveled to comfort their brothers and sisters. Surely, they were surprised at the ease with which they had confessed--it was as if they weren't ashamed of the fact. The men had counted the likely cost of their journey--their own lives--and found it to be an acceptable price for serving God. They were tortured and asked to deny their faith but they did not. They would not be broken. Finally, they were beheaded.

Yet, after their deaths two men came forward named Porphyry and Pamphilus and insisted that these men who had traveled far to provide comfort deserved to be buried. They confronted the Empire and insisted on kindness.They must have known the likely outcome of their insistence since Rome was not interested in being kind so much as they were interested in controlling and dominating the minds and hearts of the people. They were accused of being Christian because of their insistence that the men be buried and mourned. They admitted that they were and were tortured before being burned to death. This wasn't the end, however, as another man named Seleucus came forward and spoke loudly in praise of the men who had been willing to lay down everything to follow after their executed Lord. He spoke highly of Pamphilus' and Porphyry's courage and bravery in the face of a grisly death. The soldiers seized Seleucus and he was also exposed as a Christian. For this crime and for the crime of speaking highly of those whom Rome despised and had killed, he was beheaded.It seems that all had indeed counted the cost and were willing to pay it for the privilege of following after a God who had been executed for loving too much, as well.