The day after Christmas...

Today was a regrouping day: regrouping from being public, regrouping from being active and in
worship, regrouping from working much of Advent/Christmas while others soaked-up family time (except, of course, hospital personnel and those who work retail!) After a stunning feast with our Plainfield, MA loved ones we came home and nearly crashed! These next three days are all about reclaiming some equilibrium because even though we managed Advent/Christmas in a mostly chill way this year, it was still emotionally draining.

Two things worth noting as I spend most of the day in solitude:

+ First, Martin Marty's small book, Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Letters and Papers from Prison: A Biography is highly insightful.  I am devoting major time in the New Year to rereading Brother Bonhoeffer, both because my first pass was in 1970, and because these days leading up to and including the Trump presidency resonate with too many Wiemar Republic overtones for me to ignore. One of Marty's best observations has to do with the use and misuse of Bonhoeffer's enigmatic expression:  the world come of age.  Writing a biography of a book (a fascinating idea unto itself) gives Marty the chance to discuss how early interpreters used these words for ideological purposes. Some "death of God" theologians talked about the 60s and 70s as a culture reaching maturation. Eastern block ideologues suggested that Communist Europe was an environment "come of age" - no longer in need of God to fill in the blanks - but fully just and humane. That both were wildly mistaken comes as no surprise in the 21st century. Nevertheless, they gave Bonhoeffer a bad name - saddled him with untrue naivete and branded him incomplete - when, in fact, it was the intellectual and ethical limitations of Bonhoeffer's interpreters who were at fault.  The heart of Bonhoeffer's late stage thinking was NOT that our culture had matured, but rather the suffering of the world had exposed to those with eyes to see that now was our time to act as true adults.

God compels us to recognize... that we now live in a world without the working hypothesis of God (to fill in the gaps.) We now stand continually before God and with God, we live, however, without God for God consents to be pushed out of the world - and onto the Cross. God is weak and powerless in the world and in precisely this way, and only so, is at our side and helps us. Matthew 8: 17 makes it quiet clear that Christ helps us not be virtue of his omnipotence, but rather by virtue of his weakness and suffering! This is the crucial distinction between Christianity and all religions.

Marty then quote Bonhoeffer's poem, Christians and Pagans, to make the point that in the incomprehensible suffering of this age, we experience God's presence not in our power, but in our powerlessness. It is almost as if the 12 Steps and the Serenity Prayer are prefigured in this poem:  

People turn to God when they’re in need,
plead for help, contentment, and for bread,
for rescue from their sickness, guilt, and death.
They all do so, both Christian and pagan.

People turn to God in God’s own need,
and find God poor, degraded, without roof or bread,
see God devoured by sin, weakness, and death.
Christians stand with God to share God’s pain.

God goes to all people in their need,
nourishes body and soul with God’s own bread,
takes up the cross of Calvary for both Christians and pagans, both,
and in forgiving both, is slain.

Marty concludes that "in his mind, Bonhoeffer thought that living by faith in Jesus meant living without relying on what was pious, metaphysical or a prop of the inner life... it meant living as Jesus lived, a the man for others."  With no assurances - no expectation of consolation - simply trusting that as Jesus was united with God in his suffering, so too would we, but only on God's terms, not our own.

+ Second, now that the high holy days of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are over - and I have had a chance to rest (a bit), it is clear that being prophetic about resisting the ways of Trump et al will take their toll on church attendance. Maybe this isn't true in some areas, but in our region it is clear to me that some are staying away because they will be challenged by the radical compassion and grace of Jesus. I would not have wanted this for my final year of Christian ministry - even part-time ministry - but such is the cost of discipleship. I think of the words of Jesus who tells us "I come to bring a sword." That is, witnessing to God's love separates us from culture. When I spoke Brueggemann's words on Christmas Eve about the "the fundamental task of the preacher is to nourish congregational oddity," some laughed. But as I continued, they got it: we are to look, act, feel and see differently from the status quo. Those who serve only wealth and power will increasingly feel the distinction - and judgment - of God's way calling into question the ways of the world.

Already I grieve not seeing a few whom I love who have apparently chosen to stay away rather than change their hearts - or politics. But more than ever, Christian oddity around cherishing the neighbor is essential: it will become the mark of discipleship for this generation.


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