Regular readers of this blog (if there are any left after the hiatus of recent weeks) will have gathered that the Stranzblog household is in a state of flux at the moment, heading towards much that is unknown in the New Year. I'm not going to write too much about that here, gradually things will become clearer I hope.
I have spent Christmas very quietly moving from the sofa to the kitchen and to bed - inbetween dosing myself with antibiotics and coughing. It's been almost the first time ever that I haven't been able to go to Church over Christmas and I've missed that. However, I've been blessed to be able to listen to the radio and really appreciated two broadcast services the first from St Martin in the Fields on Christmas Day and the second on St Stephen's Day from Prague - it linked Wenceslas, St Vaclav, the velvet revolution and much more besides. If you follow the link you can read some good blogposts about the making of the Prague programme.
Both services were meditative, meaningful and joyful without being preachy, they were locally rooted and thoroughly international which touched me. You can download transcripts.
Here's a longer extract from Petra Elsmore's meditation:
Stephen couldn’t keep his mouth shut. His speech to the Council goes on and on – covering two pages in my Bible. And towards the end, it becomes a bit of a rant – “You stiff necked people,” he says. “Are your ears full of wax? You worship the law, not the living God”…Enraged, they take up stones and the first Christian martyr is killed.
His words might seem to us now to be inflammatory perhaps. Luke’s story leaves us with an uncomfortable feeling when seen from this side of the Holocaust. But Stephen’s extreme language was born of an extreme time – here was a new branch of the faith struggling to discover its own identity and rebelling against its parent… perhaps it’s helpful to see Stephen’s anger in that light.
Like so many Martyrs, Stephen’s trouble was that he made a nuisance of himself – he spoke out rather than keeping silent. Stephen, like Jesus, like so many who have been killed for their faith since then, died not for the beliefs in his head, but for the actions and the words which flowed from those beliefs. His passion for Christ led him in the end to share his master’s fate.
Here in the Czech Republic, during the days of communism, speaking out could get you locked up in prison, you could lose your job, you could be placed under heavy surveillance and constantly intimidated…. But courageous individuals spoke out again and again throughout those difficult years… people who paid the ultimate price because something in them just had to protest against the injustice and inhumanity of those in power. It takes extraordinary courage to be the one person in 10,000 who is willing to put their head above the parapet and take a stand. In the Czech Republic, often the individuals who did so were artists, writers, performers, poets and musicians. Vratislav Brabenec, a member of the underground band “The Plastic People of the Universe” said "We weren't political, man. We were just trying to be poetical." Asked why the band would not accept government control, he answered: "That's freedom, man, I'd die for that."
Faced with injustice, most people keep their heads down and prefer not to get involved. We like a quiet life, we worry about our reputations, we conform to comfortable social norms. Speaking out always carries a price. And in the West or even in post-communist Czech Republic, it may seem that there is little to protest about… but when we open our eyes to those at the margins of society and to those who struggle to feed their children in a wealthy society, we might think again.
The root meaning of the word ‘martyr’ is to be a witness. Are we willing to take a stand like Stephen, when our faith and sense of justice demands we act or speak and make a nuisance of ourselves for what we believe in?