confronting this present darkness - part two...

NOTE:  this is part two in my emerging reflection on resistance and serving Christ in this present darkness.

Tonight, at the close of Advent III, I am thinking a great deal of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Lutheran pastor during the Third Reich, son of privilege and prestige who was martyred for his opposition to Adolf Hitler, enigmatic and flawed activist who coined the phrase "religionless Christianity."  In his Letters and Papers from Prison, published posthumously in 1951 he wrote:

“What keeps gnawing at me is the question, what is Christianity, or who is Christ actually for us today? The age when we could tell people that with words—whether with theological or with pious words—is past, as is the age of inwardness and of conscience, and that means the age of religion altogether. We are approaching a completely religionless age; people as they are now simply cannot be religious anymore. Even those who honestly describe themselves as ‘religious’ aren’t really practicing that at all; they presumably mean something quite different by ‘religious.’”
If ever there was a time for "religionless Christianity," it is now. And yet three words of context are necessary to do Bonhoeffer's insight justice.

+ First, Bonhoeffer was writing from prison where he had already been incarcerated for smuggling Jews out of Germany. For years, German civil and military elites had been discussing how to assassinate Hitler; Bonhoeffer, a life-long pacifist, joined the plot. Discerning that the murder of one man would be less sinful and damaging to German society than allowing him to continue both genocide and his execution of a world war, a bomb was planted in the Fuhrer's study. Hitler was stunned but not killed. Soon incriminating paper's linked 
Bonhoeffer to the attempted murder and his fate was sealed by the Gestapo who then transferred him to Buchenwald. Pastor Bonhoeffer was hanged at Tegel prison on April 8,1945 after celebrating a time of prison worship less than a week before Allied forces liberated the concentration camp. Bonhoeffer never attempted to excuse himself from sin knowing that only God is the final judge of good and evil. 

What matters is not the beyond but this world, how it is created and preserved, its
given laws, reconciled, and renewed. What is beyond this world is meant, in the gospel, to be there for this world—not in the anthropocentric sense of liberal, mystical, pietistic, ethical theology, but in the biblical sense of the creation and the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

+ Second, the "religionless Christianity" was shaped by Bonhoeffer's sense of a "world come of age." Freed from superstition, institutions that had become morally bankrupt in praxis and outmoded traditions that no longer possessed energy or symbolic power, contemporary people of faith must redefine what it means to live and share the compassion and grace of Christ in our generation. Walter Brueggemann, in his opening essay to Deep Memory, Exuberant Hope writes that there was a time in the USA, "perhaps 250 years ago, when the Christian preacher could count on the shared premises of the listening community, reflective of a large theological consensus."  Indeed, there was a time "long ago" when the assumption of God completely dominated Western imagination."  But if the Holocaust did not destroy such illusions, and they did for many, the destruction, violence and hatred since 1945 have completed that task.

Today, God cannot be treated as a mechanical force called upon to solve our moments of 
weakness. Rather, the Holy is to be comprehended as the essence of life itself. What Richard Rohr calls the totality of our existence.  We are to live as if there were no God to rescue us. We must enter the suffering of others in solidarity and live as the very love of God for others - and ourselves. The Cross teaches that God enters the suffering and calls us to do likewise:

(This) is the opposite of everything a religious person expects from God. The human being is called upon to share in God’s suffering at the hands of a godless world. Thus we must really live in that godless world and not try to cover up or transfigure its godlessness somehow with religion.

+ And third, without illusions - or shame or superstition - we can finally live fully for love: This is what it means to be a people come of age: we have no false notions of God because God is in the living. “The world come of age is more god-less and perhaps just because of that closer to God than the world not yet come of age.” Bourgeois, white American Christians have rarely come of age. We have been blessed and cursed with our privilege and power for it keeps us from knowing how removed we are from God's presence in the world. We have constructed a privatized religion that only celebrates the inward journey. 

Now, whether we are ready or not, the emerging Trump regime will call us to forsake our lies and illusions for true solidarity.  Most of us, I trust, will not rise to the call. We will cling to our safety and hide behind wealth, class, race and gender protection. But, and this is a massive qualification, those who choose to let go and join Christ in the suffering that is to come, will come of age - and be embraced as the beloved of the Lord in ways we cannot yet imagine. As Bonhoeffer was led to his execution he said to a fellow inmate:  "This is the end... but for me it is the beginning of life."

credits:
1) Lent Madness
2) fineartamerica.com

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