Thursday, May 25, 2017

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 91

“First of all, it is the freedom of the other, mentioned earlier, that is a burden to Christians.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 78.

We want to make others into our own image, if we can do that then we need not bear with them for they will be like us – no doubt perfect…but perhaps never perfect enough, others will always need us to make them more perfectly perfect. If only others appreciated our efforts!

“But when Christians allow God to create God’s own image in others, they allow others their own freedom (page 78).” This “freedom” is a burden; the nearer the other person’s likes and dislikes to our own, the nearer the other person’s opinions and passions – the less of a burden; but as distance grows then burden grows. As Bonhoeffer notes, we have individuality, talent, weaknesses, peculiarities – these all can try our patience and lead to conflict. Jesus Christ must transcend these differences and preferences, the reality of who Christ is in us and who we are in Christ must be affirmed as we guard the unity of the Body and Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3). It is no great thing to experience and affirm unity when we are similar in appearance, custom, speech, and action; we don’t need the grace of God to get along with those with whom we have natural affinity and comfort. There is no “higher good” or transcendent vision when such people gather together, they need not sublimate their own agendas and preferences – there is no need to for they all are in basic agreement in speech and practice – they have all decided to part their hair to the right or left or down the middle, they all agree to stand up and sit down seven times in each worship gathering.

Are we willing to not only tolerate “the reality of the other’s creation by God,” but are we willing and committed to “affirming it, and in bearing with it, [and] breaking through to delight in it” (page 79)? This requires, I think, not only a Biblical understanding of the image of God, but a commitment to time together, to listening, to praying, and to confessing. To know one another we must serve one another; we must wash one another’s feet.

We may talk about the church being a body with many members, but we live as if all the members must be the same; all hands, all feet, all brains, all hearts. As Paul points out in 1 Corinthians Chapters 12 – 14, common sense tells us that a body isn’t like this, common sense also tells us that we need all the parts of the body; and yet we seldom live like this. More often than not we live as if we were the head of the body, individually and collectively; we live as if we were the heart of the body; we live as if the body is to serve us. In other words, we live as if we were the sun of the solar system and that all the planets should be viewed in relation to ourselves. Individuals can be like this in local congregations; local congregations can be like this in their denominations and traditions; and denominations usually are like this in relation to the universal Church of Jesus Christ. We measure others by ourselves and we give others freedom when they live and speak within our image, and we deny them freedom when they do not conform to our image.

Relationship is work, bearing with one another is work. We want the easy way. We want God to sprinkle holy fairy dust on other disciples and make them like us. We want Him to speed up the process of time so that we need not invest time in others. We want others to be given spiritual insight so that when they see us (individually or our traditions and denominations) that they will recognize that they see the embodiment of Divine truth and practice.

It is a grand and wonderful thing to be called out of death as Lazarus was, but unless the grave clothes are removed our lives are bound.

When we break through barriers to others, we break out of ourselves. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

A Lifetime of Books – Musings (6)

My earliest books were Little Golden Books. I don’t know if parents give these books to their children anymore, or grandparents to their grandchildren, but I am thankful to have not only read them but also to have seen them. If you read them as a child, can you still see them?

I couldn’t find any recent statistics on the bestselling children’s books of all time, but as of 2001 it was not a Dr. Seuss book; it was a book written by Janette Sebring Lowery and illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren. The cover of that book is still in my mind, I can see it after all these years. I also recall the covers of The Tawney Scrawny Lion, and Tootle. A quick search on the internet brought up other book covers that I immediately recognized and which evoked memories. I am glad to see these books still in print, I hope they are still being purchased and shared with children.

But it is images that I have been thinking about, for in a world of visual filth and pollution, in which children are daily exposed to visual toxins, it is good to have pure and innocent images in one’s internal art gallery. A little adult reflection on the cover of Tootle or The Tawney Scrawny Lion can be a fine respite for the adult living in a world of filth and who is willing to say, “There must be something more than the acquisition of things, of power, of position, of money.”

Chesterton said that all he really needed to know he learned in the nursery of his childhood. Images of innocent beauty, ideals of courage and honor and virtue, visions of hope and destiny and calling – these are (or were) the elements of childhood. But of course, as Chesterton continues, adults soon tell the adolescent and young adult that they must forget all that nonsense and get on with life, get on with getting the most toys, the most accolades, the highest position – forget childhood – be a man…be a woman!

Today we rob children of childhood in myriad ways. We give them a compass that points not to the north of virtue and character and calling, but one that points to money and things and success – not success as a person of integrity and selflessness, but success in a promiscuous materialistic world. We give them electronics instead thoughtful art and books and the exploration of nature; we give them activities instead of relationships. Children may know how to play organized and competitive soccer with one another, but they do not know how to build friendships with one another, how to go on an adventure in the backyard with one another. Children may play on a baseball travel team and win trophies, but they do not know how to play a pickup game in a neighbor’s yard with Bryce Harper or Derek Jeter – their imaginations lie dormant.

The image of The Poky Little Puppy is an image worth pondering, a drink of pure water in the cesspool of society.

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