Small Martyrs

I am grateful to the resolute lion in winter clothing, psychologist Richard Beck, for bringing to light a quote by the Catholic social activist Dorothy Day. Here it is in part:

“Martyrdom is not gallantly standing before a firing squad. Usually it is the losing of a job (and so the means to life) because of not taking a loyalty oath, or buying a war bond, or paying a tax…Martyrdom is small, hidden, misunderstood.”

We often mistakenly assume that the big things in life are the important things and that the smaller things are somehow trivial, less important in our eyes and in God’s. Very few of us in early twenty-first century America will lay claim to the label of martyr for our faith in Day’s “gallant before the firing squad” sense. We won’t wind up on a cross, upside down or otherwise. But there are those moments in each day when we find ourselves faced with a choice to do or not do the good and in choosing (either way) we suffer consequences, however small.

There is that moment, standing in the checkout line at the grocery store when an elderly man or woman gets in line behind you. The internal debate begins. Should I step aside and let them get to the cashier before me? Will they be insulted or feel patronized if I defer to them? Will I be doing it out of kindness or simply as a way to prove what a kind person I am, seeking their approval (or perhaps God’s) for my unselfishness? Over-thinking this kind of choice can be paralyzing.

Or how about that last piece of your favorite pie sitting in the refrigerator right now? Your ever-ravenous teenage son would love it—not to mention that it is safe to assume his metabolism can handle it better than yours. But it is your favorite; and besides, the kid’s not around right now anyway. Whatever shall you do?

By comparison even to Day’s small martyrdoms, these decisions seem infinitely less important. Without a doubt, if we do set aside self-interest in those little things but do it with a “woe is me” attitude, then we will have fallen into the kind of martyrdom that the apostle Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13:3. I’m guessing it would be better to simply eat the pie than to “surrender my body to be burned” (figuratively speaking of course).

We could be forgiven for assuming that those kind of situations are trivialities—small things that don’t matter so much in the big picture. But is that true? Do they matter? Perhaps those seemingly trivial choices are the ones that are most instrumental in developing our character. Maybe the decisions we make in those small choices are like the thin, translucent layers that build up around a grain of sand in an oyster. Maybe they are the raw materials that go into producing a pearl of great value.

And just maybe they are a part of the process that God uses to answer the Psalmist’s prayer, “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” (Psalm 51:10)

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The Devo140 Back-Story

On launching a devotional Twitter account: @Devo140
I am not, by nature, a morning person. From what I understand (or at least from what I am told by my friends who are morning people) all of the greatest followers of Christ—the divines, the Christian mystics, the great evangelists, the most famous theologians from Augustine to Oprah, Dr. Phil and Christopher Hitchens (can you say via negativa?)—are, or were, morning people. Most of the time I am in a fog from about 7:30 AM until 10:00 AM. 
 
I’m usually up by 7:30, but up does not mean awake. I operate on autopilot. Making coffee. Showering. Making and eating breakfast. Checking email. Attending a conference call. Working, etc. I could beat myself up for this propensity and label myself as lazy. But with all due respect to Ben Franklin, I prefer to rest in the fact that I have no interest in spending my earliest waking hours catching worms. 
 
March 8, 2013, the day I started @Devo140, was not much different. I “woke” up about 7:30 with a vague idea from out of the blue that creating a Twitter devotional would be a cool thing. Not especially original, but cool. I even had the idea for a name and, before I even had my coffee, I set it up, designed a simple little logo, and launched the first Tweet: 
 
“In the beginning was the Word.” John 1:1 The best place to start. Word Up!” 
 
Given my tendency to have an idea, then figure out all the reasons why it won’t work, and eventually talk myself out of it, the fact that this went from idea to reality in about 45 minutes is evidence that it did not originate in me. And keep in mind that prior to this point, I had created maybe 40 tweets out of my personal account, mostly about politics.
 
The first profile, which lasted barely an hour before I started to tinker with it, included a line from one of my favorite Mark Heard songs (Orphans of God), “…beating our wings against the walls of this place.” I thought of it as a reference to how confining 140 characters could be, but something about it sounded a bit too serious for someone as prone as I am to occasional bouts of the eighth deadly sin—snarkiness. I’m not a real theologian, and even though I had just committed to playing something like one on Twitter, I didn’t want people to get the wrong idea. So, in acknowledgement of all that, I changed the profile to read: “I am the voice of one tweeting in the wilderness. (Honey, please pass the locusts.) Daily Devotionals in 140 characters or less.” Certainly sets the tone—for now. 
 
Feeling somewhat self-satisfied as a newly minted purveyor of Twitter wisdom, I brewed my first cup of coffee. Then I had a second cup. Then… I woke up. The realization hit me that I had just launched a DAILY devotional. Emphasis, if you hadn’t noticed, on the word “daily.” Unsure if that was a promise I could keep, I added a question mark after the word “daily” in the profile copy to provide me with a little breathing room. Last thing I wanted to do is over-commit. (Myers-Briggs fans would say I like to keep my options open, but they would use only 4 letters to do it with.) Anyway, if this goes well, I might drop the question mark after, say, 40 days (nights, too, just to be biblical.)
 
About a week after starting the Twitter account, I decided to look into what it takes to write a good devotional. Yeah, I know. Ready. Fire. Aim. For some reason, there seems to be a consensus that devotional writings—at least those you find in places like The Upper Room—are short reflections of 250-300 words. A little quick math: The average number of letters in an English word is about 5. That means a 300 word devotional is around 1500 characters, or roughly 1160 characters more than I have available to use in a Tweet. 140 characters is 28 words, give or take. This box is smaller than I expected.
 
It also occurred to me that most of the devotional writings I have read contained three elements—scripture, insight and application. Sometimes, though, it is just scripture followed by a really good question that creates a holy pause. So here’s the plan: Daily. 140 characters. Scripture. Insight and application, or maybe just a question. 
 
The more I reflect on this adventure the more challenging it becomes; yet it is even more appealing. Something valuable is taking place on a personal level. First, I am going to be forced into daily examination of scripture. Second, it is not just light reading, if I am going to come up with insight and application, this will require genuine study on a verse-by-verse basis as well as actual reflection, followed by careful and sometimes frustratingly concise writing—likely much more difficult than I expect. I hope it helps. If not, it keeps me in the Word, and if that is all it does, that is enough.