I’ve been thinking about Dietrich Bonhoeffer again these past weeks. There’s something about his life story that continually intrigues me. Maybe it’s the sharpness of his rejection of a vapid cultural Christianity or maybe it’s the incisiveness of his political critique—I’m not entirely sure. Whatever it is, it’s caused me to pick up a book that’s been on my shelf for a while, Ferdinand Schlingensiepen’s biography. I’ve read sections of this biography before, the ones most relevant to the book I coauthored on Bonhoeffer’s ethics. There are a few parts, however, that I haven’t read closely. I’ve been enjoying those. One of the things that’s stands out about Bonhoeffer’s faith is the decisive turn it took during his time in New York City. Continue reading “Enlivening Faith – Dietrich Bonhoeffer in New York”
I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve told someone that our situation seems ‘surreal’ or ‘strange.’ I doubt I’m the only one that finds it hard to shift back and forth between thinking about normal things and thinking about pandemic things. Part of what makes this pandemic so disturbing for many of us is that we don’t have anything comparable in our own experience. Some people have drawn parallels to wars or terrorist attacks. Continue reading “Viral Theology #4 – We haven’t been here before, but Cyprian has”
I’m working from home today. Not long ago the doorbell rang. A delivery man handed me a box. An initial shake gave me the impression it contained books. Occasionally I do receive books that I forgot ordering, but not usually this many. It turns out this box of books was different: inside were several copies of my new book, Speaking of God. I wasn’t expecting these for several more weeks. In honor of the early arrival of the blue books I’m posting an excerpt from chapter 14, which is titled “They were all Together in One Place: Connections.” It’s about ways that we connect with God. Continue reading “Prayer and the Lumberjack”
I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. –Jeremiah 31:33
Several years ago my family and I spent four months on a sabbatical in a new part of the country. It was memorable. For one thing, this was the first time we had lived in a building that was the unique design of an internationally known architect. We also met interesting new people. One family we got to know had kids who matched up with our own. Over hand-made pizza one evening I was surprised to learn that they, little kids included, practiced elements of the Ignatian spiritual tradition. Ignatius was Christian teacher and pastor, a Spaniard from the sixteenth-century. Continue reading “Lent V – And Joy Too”
For some reason whenever I read the first verse of Psalm 19, “The heavens are telling the glory of God . . . ,” I am reminded of one of the climbing trips I took as a college student. Two friends and I were trying to climb a peak in southern Alberta, just east of Banff National Park. It was called Mount Joffre. We ended up there because the instructor of a glacier-travel course we had taken suggested it would be a good fit for our (relatively low) skill level. For one reason or another we attempted a more difficult route than he probably had in mind. We almost got ourselves killed, or at least that’s how it felt. Continue reading “Lent III – A Thought on Fasting”
Have you ever heard of someone ‘praying to the saints’? There may be some people who actually do this, but mostly it is a misconception. Protestants, Anabaptists included, have told tall tales about this sort of thing for a long time. The Bible calls all those who are in Christ ‘saints’. We have come to use the term more narrowly, though, to identify someone whose life is obviously holy. A saint is a role model, a hero of sorts. It’s a description we don’t use glibly. We don’t usually identify people in this way until years after they have died and some of the biases have settled out. In the wake of so many new allegations of sexual harassment and abuse this seems like good sense. Celebrity culture pushes us to admire public and powerful figures in a way that ignores their shadow side. The tradition of identifying saints isn’t perfect, but it is more patient. Continue reading “Together, the Saints and the Suffering (146)”
It was early spring and raining. My family and I went looking for adventure in a woodlot near our house. A two-day downpour had melted much of the winter’s snow and the little stream that we could jump over in the summer now barely fit under the footbridge. When you walk in the rain you feel the relevant facts. Things are wet, cold, slippery. What’s true and important is obvious, which is to say it’s different than taking in the news.
As my wife and I talked, two of our boys ran ahead to explore. They had their bright rain jackets on and several layers beneath. It was still relatively cold. I was focused on our conversation when I saw a child in the water up to his shoulders. He was wearing a red rain jacket. For some reason, I did not comprehend what was happening. We learned later that our son had been walking through shin-deep silty water when he stepped over the submerged edge of a curve in the streambed. Immediately he was unable to touch bottom. He tried, quite calmly, to swim.
You may be familiar with this story: Dirk Willems, imprisoned on account of his Anabaptist faith, was on the run and being chased by a guard. He crossed an ice-covered pond. His pursuer tried to do the same but fell through the ice. Willems turned back, stretched himself across the ice and saved the guard. The grateful man wanted to let Willems go, but a town official reminded the guard of his duty. This was the sixteenth century. Dirk Willems was jailed again, tried and then burned (MM, 741). Dirk Willems is an Anabaptist hero. He lived Jesus’ call to love his enemies.
On my drive in to the church today I was reflecting on how to respond to the events that have made news headlines over these past days. There has been yet another deliberate shooting of the innocent, an attempt to take as many lives as possible. We extend our prayers and sympathies to the victims in Quebec City as well as to our Muslim neighbors here in Ottawa. That much is obvious. As the news is recounted on the radio connections are made to the way our southern neighbour is closing its doors to those who wish to flee violence in some of the most unstable parts of the world.
It occurs to me that just as violence can creep through communities of faith and co-opt their commitment and devotion, so too it can poison the love of nation or culture. In a better world a person’s willingness to kill for an ideology, a faith, a culture or a nation would trigger some kind of automatic shutdown. It would tell us that we have gone too far and it would force us into some critical self-reflection. It would tell us that when our love for something we believe is ‘ours’ demands the death of others we have stooped too low. In a better world we would always recognize the inherent, divinely-ordained dignity of the lives of others. Continue reading “Breaking Bread in Response to the News”
I was driving home from work when I hit a guy. The light turned green, there were no cars coming, so I turned left. My victim was smoking a cigarette and had made it part way across the strip of pavement marked out by parallel white bars. At the last second I saw him and slowed, but I hit him anyway. Bumper to thigh. I stopped the car. Then put it in gear again and pulled through the intersection. He returned to the curb from which he had come and sat down on the embankment. A few people got out of their cars. Some made their world right by giving me the finger. A man in a ritzy SUV gave me a sympathetic look, as though he too had once smacked a pedestrian or maybe more than one. Continue reading “Saints and Victims – a short story*”