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-by John Wilson
Stranger in a Stange Land: War Stories
Talk about "spiritual warfare" makes many of us nervous-and for good reason when what is meant turns out to be a duel with the territorial spirit alleged to be in charge of Pittsburgh. But the war is all too real. And sometimes our uneasiness translates into "Don't bother me. I don't want to hear about it."
Especially we don't want to hear about martyrs. We are in the Age of Information. Martyrdom-primitive and embarrassing-belongs to another era. Obstinately, though, Christians keep getting themselves killed.
In Martyrs: Contemporary Writers on Modern Lives of Faith (Harper San Francisco, 333 pp.; $23), Susan Bergman issues a casualty report, reminding us what it means to be people of the Cross. (In this war, the dead are victorious.) Bergman, author of the memoir Anonymity and a contributing editor for this journal, commissioned essays on a representative selection of twentieth-century martyrs, figures as diverse as Archbishop Oscar Romero, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Edith Stein, and the five missionaries slain in Ecuador in 1956. Among the contributors she assembled are a number of outstanding novelists, poets, and essayists: Larry Woiwode (whose piece on the Russian martyr Aleksandr Men appeared in B&C), Carolyn Forche, Gerald Early, Patricia Hampl, Paul Mariani, and Kathleen Norris, to name only a few. Bergman herself contributes a superb introductory essay. "I overhear in the record of fragments," she writes,
a quiet mingling of purpose and sorrow that speaks sometimes in letters home from the field or in journal entries or phrases of static-congested radio transmission. It is here that the unseen imprint of God seems almost perceptible in the martyrs' astonishment at God's presence in the dire straits of their circumstances, in their repeated insistence on an unfathomable peace that suffuses the elements surrounding them.
Look for a review of Martyrs and two other new books-Paul Marshall's Their Blood Cries Out: The Growing Worldwide Persecution ...