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Secret Keepers Week 1 – A Christian Book Study

What does it mean to live out our faith as Christians today?

WELCOME!

This is a Christian book study based on my new young adult dystopian novel Secret Keepers.

My books usually start with some kind of theological question. This six-week series is a book study focusing on the theology and bible behind the story.

If interested, you can learn more about the book or get a copy here.


Today’s lesson begins with this focusing song by Casting Crowns. Press play, sit back, listen, and meditate on the message…

Who Are the Secret Keepers?

Discussion Question #1

What comes to mind when I say words like monasticismmonkclericnunconvent, monestary, etc? scroll to the bottom of the page and leave your answer as a comment. Begin your response by writing “DQ1” so we all know exactly what you’re responding to!

This is where the concept of the Secret Keepers started for me, with the old idea of monasticism. A priesthood, a people set apart from ordinary life to focus on understanding God’s will and enacting it in the world.

I then fused this idea of the priesthood with the ever-popular story trope of the “secret society,” or “elite group of warriors.”

Or superheroes who band together into superhero leagues in order to fight evil

Or even going all the way back to the demigods of Greek mythology.

Basically, in Secret Keepers, I turned my superheroes into clergy people and made the fact that they are clergy – or church leaders their superpower. Their weapon of choice – their faith, and willingness to do whatever that faith requires, no matter how hard.

And then, of course, I gave them a few actual superpowers, too…

What can I say, I was raised on Sci-fi and Fantasy – and I’m not changing.

Power and Faith – Good, or Evil

The world today has a tendency to see church power and religious power as negative forces.

Images of corrupt or power-hungry church officials are more common than uncommon. Even religious people have a tendency, today, to dwell on the mistakes religious people make. Worse is our tendency to caricature and belittle the leaders of “other” Christian denominations.

(Many Protestants, for example, don’t even think of Catholics as Christian.)

I wanted something else for children who, like me, grew up in the church.

Because I think that we deserve better. And truth is, we have better. Sure, bad things have happened in Chrisitan history. And Sure, Christians continue to do bad things. But the simple historical fact is that Christianity has been the dominant force of thought and social progress in the West for 2,000 years – which is a long time.

Which means, the simple historical fact is that most advancements in society, politics, thought, and yes, even science in the Western world have been spearheaded by Christians. And the largest organizations of social or economic relief in the world today continue to be run by Christians.

Do Christians have a monopoly on virtue or humanitarian aid? Obviously, that would be one of the most obtusely false claims anyone could ever make. But to deny our heavy involvement in these areas would be an equally obtuse and false claim.

And as Chrisitans, without denying or burying the bad, we deserve to celebrate the good. We deserve stories, both true and fictional that highlight the positive contributions of Christian leadership.

So I wrote one of those stories…

…A story that features church leaders as the moral guiding forces of their society, and its heroes – people to look up to. People children might want to become.

The Secret Keepers in this book have a lot of influence in their society, and a lot of power. We will talk during most of the upcoming weeks, about how the Secret Keepers use their power and influence for good.

We will also talk about how they avoid using their power for evil, and how we as Christians are called to do the same.

Which brings us to…

The Vow

If you turn to the very beginning of the book, after the table of contents and before chapter 1, you will find a page with “The Oath of the Secret Keepers.” It reads as follows

This day I vow,
To dedicate my life to God,
By service to my fellow Humans,
Through the Order of the Secret Keepers;

To go,
Without question,
Wherever I am most needed;

To form no attachments,
Of family, friendship, profession, or politics,
Which might prevent or hinder this vow;

To live simply,
Owning nothing,
Which might prevent or hinder this vow;

To reject all
Prejudice,
Oppression,
Injustice,
And Evil,
In whatever forms they may present themselves;

To let no wrong pass unchallenged;

To keep secret
That which is confessed to me in secret;
And to speak for those who have no voice.

~The Oath of the Secret Keepers, from Secret Keepers, Book 1, page 1

This is the promise that I imagine Secret Keepers would take in order to become Secret Keepers, a lot like the oath that doctors take, marriage vows, things like that.

Discussion Question #2

Take a few minutes to read over the vow and make note of parts that stand out to you (and why). If you can think of any bible verses or anything else that parts of it sound like, mention that, too. Begin your response by writing “DQ2” so we all know exactly what you’re responding to!

It was originally much longer, and it took me about three years to write, rewrite, and decide how much, exactly, should go in here. Ultimately, I realized that the vow needed to focus on the one thing that defines who Secret Keepers are and what they stand for first and foremost:

Dedication through service.

The Secret Keepers are founded on this one idea: That we show our dedication to God through service to other people.

The roots of this idea run all the way back into the Old Testament. Throughout the bible, the people of God are called to this thing called “righteousness” – which is just a drawn-out way of writing “right-ness.”

Basically, the people of God are called to live in the right way.

Okay… so what in the world does that mean?

What does “living right” actually look like?

On a day to day, practical basis, what is right?

The Secret Keepers are a religious organization founded on the idea that we show our devotion to God by helping others. This is what “righteousness” means to them.

And I did not make that definition up for them.

The idea, again, goes back to the most ancient world, the Old Testament, and to the prophets.

In the Bible, one of those groups called to leave normal life behind in order to serve a higher call were the prophets. They were, perhaps, the first monastics (at least in Christian history).

They were the ones who really began to question everything the people of Israel thought they knew about God and “right living.”

They went beyond rules, beyond all the formalities of tradition and worship, to ask: What does God really want from us?

Let’s hear what they had to say in their own words.

The Prophetic Refrain

This is something that I call the prophetic refrain, because either these words or a similar theme runs through every prophetic book in the Old Testament:

Seek Justice, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly with God.

The Great commandment is to love God above all else.

But how do we love God?

At first, as you see in Deuteronomy, it’s just about following the rules. But the prophets of the Old Testament, and Jesus, and the early Christians would all reject that idea. To them, following God’s law did not mean just “following the rules.” Rather, the key to the righteous life was humility.

See, if you can just follow the rules and be right with God, that means that being right with God is an achievement that you can control—and that’s not a humble statement.

Instead, Christianity teaches that no person is better than another person. That achievements aside, we all need help, we all need love, we all need justice and mercy. And to live righteously is to acknowledge this. To live righteously is, ironically, to stop obsessing over whether or not we’re good, and start focusing on the good that we can do for other people.

The great commandment is to love God. Loving our neighbors, seeking justice for others—not just ourselves—protecting others—not just our own interests—is how we show that we do love God.

Because here’s the thing—God doesn’t need our help.

God doesn’t eat. God doesn’t sleep. God doesn’t need. There is nothing up in heaven that we can make better through our sacrifice, time, or devotion.

What we can improve is life here on earth.

So How Do We Serve Others?

Discussion Question #3

What are some ways that we do serve others in this world. Begin your response by writing “DQ3” so we all know exactly what you’re responding to!

Once we understand righteousness as “living in service to others,” the questions do not stop. Faith is a journey, not a one-time decision. We may know that God calls us to “seek justice, mercy, and humility,” but still, we have to ask ourselves, how do we do that?

How do we serve others, in a godly way?

How do we do this, moreover, without devaluing ourselves in the process? After all, Jesus says to love your neighbor as yourself, not more than yourself.

So how do we do that? Let me know your thoughts.

Ultimately, though, I don’t think there is one answer to the question of how we best serve each other. I think that’s what the phrase “seek justice” really means—we have to be constantly re-evaluating what Justice is.

And what about our vow?

If you have formally joined a church, been baptized in a church, and confirmed in a church, then chances are you have also made a vow to God.

Perhaps it wasn’t phrased that way in your congregation, but the point of baptism and confirmation (well, one of the points, anyway) is to do what the monks of old did when they entered their monasteries.

Yes, to be a Christian is to remove oneself, at least a little bit, from a ‘normal’ life.

There has always been this idea of heroes in the faith, who go above and beyond in service and dedication to their faith.

But all of us are called to something more, something higher, something beyond the normal.

This calling is usually reflected in the promises we make at our baptisms and, in some congregations, later at our confirmations.

When I wrote the Secret Keeper’s vow, I was greatly inspired by the baptismal promises used by the United Methodist Church – my own denomination.

Discussion Question #4

Take a few minutes to read over the baptismal promise and make note of parts that stand out to you (and why). If you come from another denomination and can remember (or have access to) your the promesis your church includes in baptism, feel free to read and comment on that as well (how is it different? similar?). Begin your response by writing “DQ4” so we all know exactly what you’re responding to!

This is another example of an oath, a vow made to dedicate oneself to God through service to other human beings. You can check out the entire liturgy here (or starting on page 39 of the United Methodist hymnal – if you happen to have one handly). But I’ll share the highlights.

Participants in baptism (and confirmations) in the United Methodist Church promise to…

“…renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness,
reject the evil powers of this world,
and repent of your sin

“…accept the freedom and power God gives you
to resist evil, injustice, and oppression
in whatever forms they present themselves

“…confess Jesus Christ as your Savior,
put your whole trust in his grace,
and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the Church which Christ has opened
to people of all ages, nations, and races

“…remain faithful members of Christ’s holy Church and serve as Christ’s representatives in the world?

“…nurture one another in the Christian faith and life
and include [all members of the congregation] in your care?

“…proclaim the good news
and live according to the example of Christ.
…surround [the congregation] with a community of love and forgiveness,
that they may grow in their trust of God,
and be found faithful in their service to others.
…pray for [the congregation],
that they may be true disciples
who walk in the way that leads to life.”

Parting Thought

As Christians, most of us live more or less “ordinary” lives. But as Christians, we are also called to live beyond the ordinary – to a life of service, devotion, and love.

As you go through your “normal” life this week, how do you live out your faith in the real world? How do your faith and promises made at your baptism affect your daily life (or do they)?

 

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