Bonhoeffer Executed 70 Years Ago Today

70 years ago today, German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed for conspiring to kill Hitler. Surprisingly, my local newspaper published an opinion piece remembering him.

Here’s an excerpt:

…it is a paradox that this devoutly Christian man, who so often spoke and wrote about the importance of the Sermon on the Mount, could partake in an assassination conspiracy. He wrote nothing (understandably) that contains an explicit explanation. But we know from his writings that for him, Christian belief must be joined by “responsible action” in the real world in which we each live. In the concreteness of his times, to Bonhoeffer that meant taking guilt upon himself and acting as necessary to relieve millions of the suffering inflicted by Hitler.

Read the article here.

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Motivational Pick-Me-Up for Aspiring Church Planters (and Sundry Occupationally Hazardous Positions)

So long, Stuart Smalley. Later Matt Foley.

There’s a new kids in town.

As an aspiring church planter, I’m bound to encounter various difficulties, experience failure, and consider throwing in the towel. (Upon further reflection, it sounds a lot like life.)

But then I’ll just watch Apollos, and all will be well.

At least till tomorrow.

Heidelberg Catechism Devotional: An Update

It’s been several months since my family began using Starr Meade’s book Comforting Hearts, Teaching Minds: Family Devotions Based on the Heidelberg Catechism (previously written about here). Although our consistency is spotty (nothing new here), on the whole my wife and I agree that’s it’s been quite good. Overall our kids, ages 8-17 (not including our 19-year-old Yalie) are engaged, asking questions, learning, and don’t seem bored stiff (and all under 10 minutes). I’d call that a triumph. Moreover, they’re learning critical foundational truths derived from Scripture and building a vocabulary and rubric of faith with real life application.

Along with taking our kids through the Heidelberg for the first time, it’s also the first time my wife and I have methodically gone through it (not including various cursory readings). Which makes me wonder: why has it taken me this long to discover such a gem?

 

A Poem for Weary Souls

With the end of summer drawing near, school around the corner for my kids, recently celebrating 20 years of marriage, and taking my daughter this week to begin her freshman year at Yale University, I’m feeling pulled in many directions. Admittedly, I’m experiencing some weariness, just keeping it all together. Thus one of my favorite poems by George Herbert is particularly timely:

When God at first made man,
Having a glass of blessings standing by,
“Let us,” said he, “pour on him all we can.
Let the world’s riches, which dispersèd lie,
   Contract into a span.”
   So strength first made a way;
Then beauty flowed, then wisdom, honour, pleasure.
When almost all was out, God made a stay,
Perceiving that, alone of all his treasure,
   Rest in the bottom lay.
   “For if I should,” said he,
“Bestow this jewel also on my creature,
He would adore my gifts instead of me,
And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature;
   So both should losers be.
   “Yet let him keep the rest,
But keep them with repining restlessness;
Let him be rich and weary, that at least,
If goodness lead him not, yet weariness
   May toss him to my breast.”

Cremation, Confusion, and Christian Hope

Yesterday I officiated a funeral and subsequent burial. Beforehand, there was a viewing of the deceased in an open casket–nothing unusual here. However, just moments prior to the service, the funeral director informed me that the family wanted the casket open during the service. I’ve officiated funerals before, and this was a first for me. Furthermore, we were in fairly tight quarters. The casket was just inches away from me. I occasionally wondered if the people present for the funeral found it hard concentrating on the entirety of the service with the casket open before them immediately next to me. Admittedly, initially I found it a bit awkward.

However, along with the awkwardness I also found officiating a funeral with an open casket refreshing. How so?

  1. In an age where cremation is increasingly outpacing a more traditional burial, an open casket flies in the face of viewing death as a sanitized act. Death is normal (although we weren’t made to die). A funeral with an open casket, which would likely be viewed as overly-morbid (even gauche) by many, clearly communicates the harsh reality of death in ways that a closed casket, and especially cremation, often fail to do.
  2. It serves as a reminder that the person didn’t just disappear. Staring at an open casket, one is faced with the tangible, even tactile, act of death. One is looking at, sometimes even touching, a body whose soul is now departed. It’s much more difficult understanding this concept with cremation, where the body has been reduced to ashes, placed in an urn.
  3. It serves to remind everyone of a future resurrectionAs N.T. Wright puts in his provoking and excellent book Surprised by Hope, cremation suggests “the underlying implication, of a desire simply to be merged back into the created world, without any affirmation of a future life of embodiment, flies in the face of Christian theology (p. 24, emphasis mine).

I’m not suggesting an open casket funeral is preferable to one with a closed casket. However, it does provide some food for thought.

Cafes, Communication and Community

This shift, from receiving to generating media, has created an enormous epistemological shift between reading and writing, from talking to writing. Reading, by virtue of the constant interruptions we face due to electronic communication, is harder than ever before, whereas typing and publishing have become easier than at any point in human history. Walk into any cafe across America, and you will witness a stirring example of this phenomenon. Whereas once cafes were filled with people talking to one another or reading books or newspapers, now you will find people sitting alone before the glowing screen of their laptop, typing e-mails, working on documents, chatting with their friends a thousand miles away, or surfing the Internet. Sit down with a friend for a face-to-face chat, and you may be scowled at.

—John Freeman, The Tyranny of E-Mail, pp. 98-99

Three implications:

  1. Understand that culture isn’t neutral. Rather, it is always exerting influence upon us (as opposed to being static). We’re products, even willing participants, of our culture more than we believe.
  2. Because culture isn’t neutral, work to create a counter-culture for the common good. In other words, instead of being a passive bystander of culture, lamenting its influence and risidual effects, as a Christian seek to redeem our increasing relational void (due in no small part to technology’s ever pervasive advances). How, you ask? Read on!
  3. Meet with a friend at your local cafe or pub and engage in hearty discussion. People (and here I include both Christians and non-Christians) are increasingly relationally malnourished (in spite of one’s involvement in social media). Unplug, go to your local watering hole and do something novel: talk, listen, interact with actual people (even people very different from you). Face-to-face time can never replace screen time, contrary to popular opinion from social media pundits.

Blunt God and the Hybrid Gospel

A prayer in response to Galatians 2:15-21

Blunt God, you don’t leave any wiggle room on this one, do you? Either the salvation you offer is all in Christ or it is not in Christ at all. I love Jesus, but sometimes find a hybrid gospel appealing, adding some current spirituality to faith in Jesus, topping the gospel with my hard work or winning personality, augmenting grace with my pleasant idols. Confront me again with the unvarnished truth that my salvation is in Christ alone. Amen. (BC 22)

(From Seeking God’s Face: Praying With the Bible Through the Year, p. 475)