The Irvine BadgeFr. Jim Irvine


the penultimate WORD

Series 2004 - November
The paradox of martyrdom...


The Irvine Tartan  My monthly column in The New Brunswick Anglican



In Revelation, to conquer is virtually
synonymous with undergoing martyrdom.


I’ve had exceptional luck at selecting videos.  Or so I thought.

I don’t mean to say that I have always found the movie I wanted when I’ve visited the local Video Store.  I browse the shelves to see what’s new and occasionally find a film that gets my attention.  I arrive home and slip the tape into the VCR player… and the notice appears as usual… “This film has been modified from its original version.  It has been formatted to fit your TV.”

I breathe a sigh of relief, and sit back.  As usual, I picked another video formatted to fit my TV!

My thirteen-inch screen is a standard size, but there are all sorts of other standard sizes.  I mean, I could just as easily selected a tape that hadn’t been formatted to fit my TV.  Or so I thought.

Regardless, time after time I picked tapes that fit my TV.  I never selected a movie that was ever rejected.

This caused me all sorts of grief when I decided to replace my TV with one that had a twenty-seven-inch screen.  My anxiety was relieved only when the very first video I selected displayed the same notice!  Before, I was lucky enough to consistently select properly formatted tapes.  Now, curiously enough, with a different TV the tape I selected fit!  Or so I thought.

Somehow I had taken this as an indication of simple good luck.  But I was mistaken.

Luck had nothing to do with it.  Blushingly, I discovered that I had been a techno-Luddite. All of these videos work flawlessly, regardless of the model of VCR or the TV screen size. What I suffered from was a severe case of technological myopia.

I learned that the wide-screen view of the film I had seen in the theatre was cropped in such a way that it would fit my TV screen.  The sides were cut off.  On these formatted tapes I wasn’t going to see the big picture, the whole picture.  The price I had to pay to see the film was not measured in the rental fee at the local Blockbusters.  The cost to me was more insidious: I was getting a diminished view based on an editor’s cut.  I’d get the general picture.  I could certainly follow the plot.  I could even say that I’ve seen the film. But it was less than it could be, less than it was.

I discovered that unwittingly I had acquired cultural myopia.

On reflection, it’s an affliction that reaches further than I had imagined.

Not seeing the big picture is a recurring condition of a lot of folks I know.  Many express it in political terms and justify a wide variety of positions – even opposing positions – with assurance in spite of not seeing the whole picture.  Socially we experience a cultural myopia when it comes to people who are different from us.  The poor, the disadvantaged, the diminished, each can be assigned a place of judgement that separates and divides – inevitably predicated on a narrower view of life than others live.

We apply it theologically and most dangerously we apply it biblically.

Our natural predisposition is to focus on the strong and the victorious, the wealthy and the powerful.  Those in positions of honour and wearing laurels have our full attention while those who have fallen get a nod, perhaps a salute, but little else.  The broad expanse of our outstretched arms greets the successful as brother; failure incurs our disdain.

November provides us with a wider view of life than we might find comforting.  It is a month that addresses death and loss as no other month does.  All of nature echoes the theme with once coloured leaves overhead now trodden underfoot.  The chill in the air is reminiscent of loss and grief. The breadth of our memory is reduced to the width of a cemetery plot, in European fields where men and women fell.  Fields that would otherwise nurture crops now give our fallen rest.  The battles won eclipse the poppies worn for a day.

Novembers of failure reach far beyond modern history.  We began the month with Saints and Souls whose names have escaped us.  They are remembered in the most shallow of ways.  Living clerics and synod debates flush our memories more than do these mistaken in the mists of time.

Failure is recalled in a personal way, like Stephen who enjoyed a very brief ministry.  There were others like him. They remind us of Jesus in some small way.  It was his redemptive failure that turned expectation on its head!

We jump to Easter almost too quickly and in the leap of faith employ the formatted view of a smaller picture.

The Revelation of John is a treasure trove of apocalyptic images of transformation.  According to Rev. 1:18 the son of man, clearly identified with Christ in this place, affirms: “I died, and behold I am alive.”  At the end of the discourses to the seven churches he says: “He who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Rev. 3:21).  In Revelation, to conquer is virtually synonymous with undergoing martyrdom.

Copyright © 2004 James T. Irvine

Sermon delivered at St Matthew's ELCIC, Fredericton

Series 2004