In a few weeks, I’ll sit around a table of delicious German food with some of my closest friends to discuss a true story of transformation, tragedy, and terror. We’re going to discuss a book about a life – the life of a man who would not tolerate a theology that would wipe out a race of people. Reading the book, Bonhoefferby Eric Metaxas, a few years ago was terrifying. I had walked inside the gates at Auschwitz in Poland and seen the incinerators; I had stood in the tower and looked across the field of long buildings built for suffering and death.
The account of this brilliant German man with the right pedigree and the right education and the right friends is ugly in its revealing of everything wrong about the world… about the human condition… about everything culture slowly and slyly considers “right” without question.
But book clubs with biographies are meant to focus on the past, to stir up nostalgia or pride or gratitude that terrible times had such wonderful people to overcome them. So why is The New York Times making me nervous today? Why do I think Bonhoeffer’s words would ring as poignant today, in our much progressed culture of tolerance?
Why does today seem so terrible?
I have to read the news in waves – a little bit here, a bit there… some in the morning and some over lunch. Because it feels ominous. A sliver of a column on the front page was dedicated to the continuing conflict in Syria while a lion and her cubs enjoyed a photo and feature further down on the page. Zoos are having trouble deciding what to do when babies “don’t fit the plan.” I guess those babies were part of, “All the news that’s fit to print” in a more prominent sense than the failure of any diplomatic, peaceful measures by Annan in the battered and bruised country of Syria.
This probably reads like a jumbled jigsaw puzzle and that’s because it is. I know I’ve got a hope secure and I know I’ve got to share this message, but is this world making anyone else nervous? When I sit around that table in a few weeks, enjoying good German food with kindred spirits, I have a feeling they’ll know exactly what I mean.
It’s been awhile since a “this & that” post. There’s plenty to look at, click on, hear, watch, and do. Do as little or as lot as you wish, but whatever you do – let knowledge be something that produces action. It’s my hope that the more I know, the more I can translate that knowledge into love actions in a way that pleases my Lord. Just like all Truth is God’s, all knowledge is possible only because He’s allowed it to be so.
Andrée Seu is a woman I’d love to meet. This piece, “Under an Open Heaven,” seems to be a page right out of my heart. Here’s a taste, now please go read the rest!
My lover is the fresh wind of the Spirit, blowing through the rafters of my melancholy. My lover speaks of God “in season and out of season,” like Jesus at the well in Sychar, in his fatigue and hunger. There is no difference between his “religious” talk and his regular talk. He does not sound one way in church and another at the mall.
Walking with him I feel no sides, no floor, no ceiling, and everything all new: No past, no future. No rules but God’s. No servitude but to Him. No man-made impossibilities. We do the adventure called “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” Let me be blunt: This is fun!
If I could choose a conference to go to this summer (in addition to the Muslim Missions Conference in Dearborn, Michigan), it would be the gem of a conference in Florida – The Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference. The next best thing, of course, is to read/listen to everything. Carrie Sandom, hailing from the UK, will be speaking and here’s an introduction that makes me excited to hear more from her. “Learn the Bible to Teach the Bible” makes a bunch of sense.
Do you doubt that a landlocked country could surf waves? Doubt no more. This is really sweet.
Not to be “that kind of fan,” but Metaxas has proved himself as a brilliant writer and historian (Amazing Grace and Bonhoeffer). This article, “Spirituality as Parody” is definitely worth the read as well (and a lot shorter than Bonhoeffer).
It’s true. I was always that girl who grew up on a farm and knew how to work hard, but I was never brilliant.
In high school, I campaigned enough to be President of all the right groups and practiced enough to make first chair trumpet. I played enough to letter in sports and performed enough to be cast as lead roles in musicals. I studied enough to make the Honor Roll and tested high enough to opt out of finals.
I was smart enough, but I was never brilliant.
In college, I earned enough good grades to be invited into the Pew Society and find my name on the Dean’s List. I was active enough in the community to annoy my friends with my schedule and passionate enough about missions to let it consume much of my time.
I was smart enough, but I was never brilliant.
I don’t mention these things to puff myself up, actually I’m about to do the opposite. As I consider the reasons why I haven’t pursued further study, I discovered a very twisted kind of pride. See, because I was not a child prodigy, I tried not to measure myself against brilliance. I read and thought and wrote and digested as much knowledge as I could get my hands on, but I didn’t want anyone to test me on it. I wanted to be an expert in areas I could handpick (and self-declare my expert status).
Ugh. This is ugly.
It didn’t matter that the topics I raised for discussion weren’t as interesting or as important to the people at the table (or that I rarely raised questions about their area of expertise), what mattered was finding that sweet spot where my “smart enough” looked pretty good.
I remember thinking, “Now, that’s brilliance,” as I listened to visting speakers and read various authors. I’ve always said that a dream of mine is to sit with C.S. Lewis, Corrie Ten Boom, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and G.K. Chesterton in a musty, old library. That’s a room full of brilliance, right there. But, I wonder if I would have chosen to hang out with those folks, had they been on my campus. I wonder how I would respond to their rebuke or their questions.
I was never brilliant, but I was comfortable thinking I could be the best of mediocre.
I wonder what Dietrich Bonhoeffer would say to that.
I just read this article yesterday, “Why Theology and Youth Ministry Seldom Mix” and now I’m wondering what we would say Theology does mix with? Or does the study of God always hang out in its own category – in the same coffee shop where people who study God hang out?
Is the solution to our watered down youth programs more theology? Is theology something we can add in to the recipe of various ministries where some have enough, others too much, and others not enough?
Maybe theology is about living. Doesn’t it make sense that the more we study God the more we know what pleases Him and the more we delight to do it? So, our ministry (whether formal or otherwise) is not about balancing out the messy games with the exegesis of Romans. Ministry is just about inviting others into our study of God – finding out what pleases Him and delighting to do it together.
I once tried to come up with a word for this: viviology.
I know it doesn’t make sense and thank goodness I don’t work at Webster’s. But, as I read through Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas several years ago, I struggled to come up with a way to describe the kind of life Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived. He was so serious about theology. I mean, brilliance ran in the guy’s family so he would have excelled in whatever field he chose to pursue. The interesting piece is not that Bonhoeffer was brilliant as a theologian, but that he was brilliant as a mentor, friend, and pastor.
To Bonhoeffer, theology wasn’t something that he worked in to a lesson plan. Theology happened when he played soccer and wrote letters and read for hours. Theology happened when he was in prison and when he struggled through sin and when conviction led him to take a stand against injustice. Theology wasn’t an additive.
Theology – the truest kind, I think – is always mixed. In fact, it’s mixed so much that it can’t be pulled apart from all the pieces of life it connects. Ministry is about drawing others into a study of God so that we know what pleases Him and are delighted to do it together.
“The lack of mystery in our modern life is our downfall and our poverty.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
I am more than a little inspired by the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Last year, I dove into the pages of his biography by Eric Metaxas and started referring to him as “my friend Dietrich” (see posts here and here and here). Okay, it did get a little out of control, but it’s hard not to be affected by this man’s life.
Fast forward to yesterday, when this book appeared on my bed – right smack dab in the middle of Advent season (an early Christmas gift from my aunt and housemate).
I flipped frantically through the pages last night – not wanting to miss anything, but wanting to get on track with the advent calendar days.
Week Two: Day One is titled, “Respect for the Mystery.”
“We destroy the mystery because we sense that here we reach the boundary of our being, because we want to be lord over everything and have it at our disposal, and that’s just what we cannot do with the mystery.”
there we reach beyond the boundary of our being there we traverse in lands where our control holds no power there we sojourn as mere mortals in a place overflowing with otherness
Mystery lies hidden amidst the grid of everyday traffic and underneath the steady steps of time. Where we are constrained by our senses, mystery breaks rhythm and sets a new pace of possibilities.
Ah, yes. Mystery holds the beautiful, unexplainable, impossible story of God being
The I AM of the days of Moses became a babe in a lowly manger.
The God who will one day ride on the clouds, shining like the sun at the trumpets call was ushered into the world with the sound of farm animals accompanying His humble arrival.
The Messiah, our only hope of salvation, emerged from a womb and filled His little lungs with earth air.
This is not science fiction – this is Truth, wrapped in mystery.
Oh, beautiful mystery!
In a letter to Bonhoeffer, Maria von Wedemeyer penned these words in 1943,
All that is Christmas originates in heaven and comes from there to us all, to you and me alike, and forms a stronger bond between us than we could ever forge ourselves.”
How are you watching this mystery thread through your life this Advent season?
I scanned the last sentence of Eric Metaxas‘s Bonhoeffer and it was regret that stared back when I saw the next page titled, “NOTES.”
Over 500 pages of a beautiful submersion into a life lived completely and I find myself wishing the book were longer so that I could walk next to someone who understood how theology spilled out into and gave purpose to *viviology (knowledge, study, and act of life or living).
Few people, especially those blessed with academic minds, are able to meet the needs of the former without sacrificing the demands of the latter. Bonhoeffer refused to only stand behind a podium in the high brow, organized classrooms of universities and behind closed doors of churches. The more he learned and studied, the greater he felt pulled toward living out the Truth he so passionately taught.
I love how he didn’t abandon the books and the study to live among the people in radical opposition to his intellectual contemporaries’ expectations.
Bonhoeffer saw, in his travels to the United States, what could happen when people step away from Truth and place something else at the center. He traveled to the US first in 1930 to study and teach at Union University and then again briefly in 1939 to consider a teaching position. Both trips were filled with the realization that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is and will always at the center of Christianity. This is what he said during his first visit,
“The sermon has been reduced to parenthetical church remarks about newspaper events. As long as I’ve been here, I have heard only one sermon in which you could hear something like a genuine proclamation … One big question continually attracting my attention in view of these facts is whether one here really can still speak of Christianity, … There’s no sense to expect the fruits where the Word really is no longer being preached. But then what becomes of Christianity per se?
The enlightened American, rather than viewing all this with skepticism, instead welcomes it as an example of progress.
In New York, they preach about virtually everything; only one thing is not addressed, or is addressed so rarely that I have as yet been unable to hear it, namely, the gospel of Jesus Christ, the cross, sin and forgiveness, death and life.”
It’s funny … how timely these words are today. Maybe “sad” better describes how far we’ve come since Bonhoeffer’s evaluation in 1930. We preach on “virtually everything” but what will reach, save, and transform lives. We preach on trees and health and wealth and all the ways the world is evil, but we don’t preach Christ. Could it be because we are scared of the price? Bonhoeffer’s approach to life was, in large part, informed by God’s approach to grace and discipleship.
We want the discounted version – the less painful, less costly kind of grace – but with the full benefits of its original value. In what he would call “cheap grace,” Bonhoeffer explains how we do ourselves a disservice in settling for something less than what God originally intended (by straying from Jesus Christ at the center of the Good News). In his book, “Cost of Discipleship,” he says,
We’ve created a grace that strips it of all its power. When we’re done sermonizing, what we’ve given people is at best hollow and full of despair. There is no life in it. In contrast, is this costly grace:
“costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” “
I still cannot figure out how Bonhoeffer merged his knowledge with his life, but I can certainly see that he did. For three months in 1931, he conducted confirmation classes in rough neighborhood of Wedding. He took the post shortly after being ordained and the zeal with which he approached the class of fifty boys might have been characteristic of a new minister, but the care and perseverance he applied in every aspect of his teaching was unique. His life with those boys emphasized community and sacrifice. The textbook was not drudgery, opened with great pain and resistance. The Text was carried around in their hearts and gave the greatest joy to its living out.
Even as the very church he helped to build up (The Confessing Church) failed to stand for Truth when it mattered most, Bonhoeffer’s resolve grew only stronger. He believed that he had been “grasped” by God – that he had been chosen for something. But, that something was only important because of (and dependent on) the God who decides to break through and use people, sermons, and situations for His glorious purposes.
He resolved to not only preach Christ and Him crucified, as Paul declared in his letter to the church in Corinth, but he endeavored to LIVE in obedience to Christ’s costly call to follow as a disciple.
How do we marry Theology and *Vivology?
I think it means knowing the Word so well it becomes a part of you. I think it means keeping your bookshelves loaded and guarding time for study, even if technically no longer a student. I think it means dedicating uninterrupted times of prayer. I think it means loving Truth because you believe in your deepest soul it redeems and reveals life. I think it means fellowship around campfires and crazy games of soccer. I think it means coffee and conversation and debate. I think it means keeping Jesus Christ at the center – recognizing that every good gift is only good because God wills it to be so.
And, I think it means delighting in this life. I think it means being deliberate about our thanksgiving – walking in each day knowing that God’s glory is what shines bright to reveal He is at the center.
I must end this musing here, but I promise I will continue to ponder.
Until then, would you, with me,
.let LOVE FLY like cRaZY.
*I might have just made up this word, but give me credit because it’s got two parts that should work together – viv is the latin/greek root word meaning “live” and ology is a suffix used to describe bodies of knowledge. I’m trying to say that, just like we aspire to grasp theology, we must also pursue a grasp of vivology and a combination of the two. What is knowledge of God without a life lived out as a result of that knowledge? And really, how does one know about ‘living,’ exactly?