before you reaffirm your faith in the majesty of a loving God...

Earlier this week both Di and I got whacked with a stomach virus that's rendered us
woozy and out of sorts. Not fun. At the same time laying low has given me time to keep reading Bonhoeffer and I am grateful for small blessings. Today is Brother Dietrich's 111th birthday and, not surprisingly, a number of allies are quoting him with greater frequency. Two quotes are worth sharing.

+ The first comes from a 1934 sermon preached in London re: II Corinthians 12. It speaks of the weakness of Christ, the foolish wisdom of the Lord and the necessity for Christians to practice a measure of separation from those who hold political and economic power.

What is the meaning of weakness in this world? We all know that Christianity has been blamed ever since its early days for its message to the weak. Christianity is a religion of slaves, of people with inferiority complexes; it owes its success only to the masses of miserable people whose weakness and misery Christianity has glorified. It was the attitude towards the problem of weakness in the world, which made everybody to followers or enemies of Christianity. Against the new meaning which Christianity gave to the weak, against this glorification of weakness, there has always been the strong and indignant protest of an aristocratic philosophy of life which glorified strength and power and violence as the ultimate ideals of humanity. We have observed this very fight going on up to our present days. Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its apologia for the weak. – I feel that Christianity is rather doing too little in showing these points than doing too much. Christianity has adjusted itself much too easily to the worship of power. It should give much more offense, more shock to the world, than it is doing. Christianity should take a much more definite stand for the weak than to consider the potential moral right of the strong.

Lest there be any ambiguity, I am not aligned with the part of the Christian community that is driven by fear or cowering before an authority of any type. There are clearly millions who live under this spirituality and, while it breaks my heart, it is not my burden. I love them as part of the broken family but I serve the Lord of love who made everything I can grasp about God clear in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In a word, God's wisdom and power are revealed in the Cross. As Bonhoeffer made clear, both theology and discipleship are different ways of talking about Christology. Not making deals with the Devil. Not selling our for a Supreme Court justice (or two.) And certainly not betraying the Man for Others to one who is crass, mean-spirited, ignorant and willfully harsh to the least of my sisters and brothers. Old line fundamentalists and evangelicals claimed a pass during the election calling the President "a baby Christian." Others said, "We must give him time as he is still learning." 

That is naive and intentionally deceitful sophistry: Mr. Trump is not "learning" the ways of Christ, nor is he nourishing his spirit in a faith community or exploring the necessity of confession. He is engaging in the cheap grace of the powerful and trusting that this charade will suffice until he can consolidate his power. All of us are sinners who fall short of God's glory. Check it out in Romans 3: 23. But not everyone who cries "Lord, Lord shall enter the kingdom of heaven" (Mt. 7: 21)  And while all of us can change direction (that is repent) for the time being this quote to Republican pollster Frank Lutz stands re: asking God for forgiveness:"I am not sure I have. I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I don't think so, I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don't bring God into that picture. I don't." As in everything else, the President understands himself to be a law unto himself.

+ The second Bonhoeffer quote is taken from an essay written in 1933, "The Church and the Jewish Question." Like so many Christians of that era, Bonhoeffer still affirmed the heresy of supersessionism that believed Christianity replaced Judaism and nullified God's first covenant in Jesus. (This was only dismantled by the Roman Catholic Church in 1965 with the work of Vatican II's Nosrra Aetate', but still runs rampant in too much of the Church today. In time, B had a clear change in heart but was martyred by the Nazis before being able to live more fully into his new understanding.) His point re: the Church and social engagement however, is what I want to highlight and in it the witness of Bonhoeffer remains useful:  

A state that threatens the proclamation of the Christian message negates itself. There are thus three possibilities for action that the church can take vis-à-vis the state: first, … questioning the state as to the legitimate state character of its actions, that is, making the state responsible for what it does. Second, is service to the victims of the state’s actions. The church has an unconditional obligation toward the victims of any societal order, even if they do not belong to the Christian community. “Let us work for the good of all.” (Gal 6:10) These are both ways in which the church, in its freedom, conducts itself in the interest of a free state. In times when the laws are changing, the church may under no circumstances neglect either of these duties. The third possibility is not just to bind up the wounds of the victims beneath the wheel but to fall [ours-elves] within the spokes of the wheel itself. Such an action would be direct political action on the part of the church. This is only possible and called for if the church sees the state be failing in its function of creating law and order, that is, if the church perceives that the state, without any scruples, has created either too much or too little law and order. It must see in either eventuality a threat to the existence of the state and thus to its own existence as well.

When challenged as to why I am putting so much time into calling out the current regime, forsaking any subtlety for clear words like evil and dangerous, I find sustenance from Bonhoeffer's analysis in his own time. The Muslim ban - for that is what it is beyond all parsing - the invitation to emasculate regulations on Wall Street banking, the uncritical attempt to abandon the Affordable Care Act without a viable replacement, the mocking and ignorant tone at the National Prayer Breakfast, the belligerence towards our allies in Mexico, Europe and Australia, the executive orders allowing toxic coal waste to be dumped into rivers and rescinding a ban that would keep weapons out of the hands of those wrestling with mental illness all point to an administration hellbent on causing harm. Already 60,000 - 100,000 US visas have been nullified causing no added safety to the American homeland  but immeasurable suffering to vulnerable sisters and brothers in Syria, Lebanon, Egypt as well as students, scholars and high tech allies. Challenges - both legal and moral - are proactive based on the evidence of what has been promised - and already delivered.

And so, taking Frederick Buechner's challenge from his days with Union Seminary professor James Muilenburg, I struggle to affirm the glory of God in Jesus as he lived in the real world and take some solace even when I come up lacking.

"Every morning when you wake up," Muilenburg used to say, "before you reaffirm your faith in the majesty of a loving God, before you say I believe for another day, read the Daily News with its record of the latest crimes and tragedies of mankind and then see if you can honestly say it again." He was a fool in the sense that he didn't or couldn't or wouldn't resolve, intellectualize, evade, the tensions of his faith but lived those tensions out, torn almost in two by them at times. His faith was not a seamless garment but a ragged garment with the seams showing, the tears showing, a garment that he clutched about him like a man in a storm.


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