Reflection: 11-09

This month’s reflection is taken from Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I must confess that when the book arrived and I saw the size of it, I believed it to be a quick read, what with less than 150 pages. How wrong I was! That little book is a very dense read. I was captivated by the words and found that on more than one occasion I would have to set the book down and reflect on one sentence, one thought, on image.

One such thought is found right at the beginning. On page 17, Bonhoeffer wrote, ‘It is not simply to be taken for granted that the Christian has the privilege of living among other Christians.’ On page 21 he wrote, ‘Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this.’ And finally, on page 24 he wrote, ‘Only in Jesus Christ are we one, only through him are we bound together.’ As can be discerned by the page numbers, these quotes all come from the first chapter. I would like to just spend a few moments looking at these statements.

The first statement hit me rather hard given the introduction to this book. As is widely known, Bonhoeffer was living through Nazi Germany and having to wrestle with the questions that this native occupation produced. I state ‘native occupation’ simply because Bonhoeffer and others were passionately against Hitler’s Nazi Germany and were very outspoken against it. So, for him to be given charge over a group of Christian ministers during this time, was paramount to his understanding of the life of Jesus. That is to say, the next few sentences after the initial quote on page 17 talks about how Christ lived among his enemies and how the Christian is called to do the same. I can see this ringing true for Bonhoeffer and those for whom he cared. But it got me thinking about our time. Do we still find it true today? Can we ‘take for granted’ that we can actually go to church and enjoy the company of other Christians while sharing the Office and the Sacraments? At first I was determined to make my case on the affirmative side. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it is probably more of a grace now. I quickly thought of the passage from 1Thessalonians that stated, ‘When people are saying, “Everything is peaceful and secure,” then disaster will fall on them as suddenly as a pregnant woman’s labor pains begin. And there will be no escape.” Are we taking for granted our coming together? If we just think about it for a moment, I think we would conclude that we are doing just that very thing. Just like we do with all of life. We have done it most of our lives. The small child doesn’t even consider such things. When she is running and playing outside, the thought that this could all be taken away at a moments notice doesn’t even enter her mind. The high school student may confront death at some point but it only seems to be a passing time of sorrow for most even if it’s a fellow student or friend. Most of the time the thought is, ‘This will never happen to me. That’s someone else.’ Most don’t think about the finality of life and death. It’s not even on the radar. The same could be stated for a some adults. We seem to go through our lives and not really think about all of the people we come in contact with or just the simple gift of breath that next day. But we are not promised any of this. We are not promised tomorrow as the saying goes.

But, there is a story in Matthew 6 where Jesus says not to worry about tomorrow because there are enough worries for today. What I am now getting from that conversation is being mindful. Being present. Sure, we have to think about our futures and things that must be done tomorrow, but does that distract us from the now? I know that it can. I think that is what Jesus was getting at. And in doing that, of being mindful, we will see (or should see) that we should not even take one breath for granted. It is only by Grace that we even opened our eyes today. We should never forget that.

The next two quotes can be taken together for they form the same type of thought. Again, Bonhoeffer wrote, ‘Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this...Only in Jesus Christ are we one, only through him are we bound together.’ My initial thoughts of this was solely for Christian communities. But what happens if we look at those statements as pertaining to a global humanity? What if we push it to include all creation? Does it lessen the truth of what Bonhoeffer was trying to say or strengthen it? I think it strengthen it and it reminds me of 1Timothy where it was stated that Christ is the Savior of ‘all people and particularly of all believers’. That is, the emphasis that Bonhoeffer was pressing can – and in my opinion should – be extended to ‘all people’ and even all creation. Simply put, we are all one. We are all connected. ‘Particularly...all believers’.

But what does this say about those not in the Christian family? Are we putting them in that category? As St Paul stated, the implications of what Christ accomplished was not limited to just the ‘believer’ but for ‘all people’. Therefore, we need to look at how we can see others in the world around us as people who may not yet be in the family but we should see them as on their way. In another of St Paul’s letters, he stated that God had reconciled the whole world to Godself through the work of Christ on the cross (Colossians 1; 2Corinthians 5). However, as we all know, for reconciliation to work it takes all of the parties involved. Paul knew this because right after he stated that God had reconciled all things to Godself, he stated that people needed to ‘come back to God’ (2Corinthians 5.20, NLT). So, to me, what Bonhoeffer was stating was something that has cosmic implications – we should see all creation as reconciled to God from God’s viewpoint and in the processes of being reconciled from our viewpoint. All humanity are our brothers and sisters because of the cross and resurrection – they just might not realize it yet. I think that it is with the conviction in mind that the stoning of Stephen makes the most sense. At his death, he asked, ‘Lord, don’t charge them with this sin’ (Acts 7.60, NLT). To me, if he was looking at those who were stoning him as potential future brothers and sisters, that prayer makes the most sense.

Furthermore, when Bonhoeffer was referring to enemies in the earlier quote, I think this attitude, this intention of seeing all people as potential brothers and sisters is how we can not have fear; how we can look on them (enemies) with compassion. Most certainly we need to be as ‘wise as serpents’ but how do we view others? That, to me, is a very telling question. Do we see those around us as people for whom hell awaits? Or are they brothers and sisters addicted to sin? Do we see them with the eyes and heart of Christ?

As I am writing this, Thanksgiving Day has come and gone. We have met with family and friends and feasted on too much food and drink. Some of us laughed. Some of us cried. Some wounds were healed and some new wounds were inflicted. I know that my mind has been swirling with the thoughts that Bonheoffer wrote. So much so that this reflection has been the hardest to write. How can we live with the ideas I have sketched out here? How can we not fall into the trap of taking life for granted? How can we view the world around us – the chaos, the pain, the loss – as becoming reconciled? It seems too much of a stretch for a lot of us. But recently I read some things that I think may help.

In a blog post someone retold a story about someone being hurt by a relationship that had gone badly. In one of the counseling sessions, the spiritual director gave the hurting person a challenge: ‘Ignatius’ 5 Step Daily Consciousness; or “Awareness Examen”.’ The challenge, as can be guessed, was to pray the steps every night or write them down for a month. The steps are:

* Step One: Be Mindful
* Step Two: Be Thankful
* Step Three: Be Humble
* Step Four: Be Reflective
* Step Five: Be Responsive

The person followed these simple steps and found that her life was changed is a very profound way. She wrote down each step in a notebook and soon filled several volumes. These simple steps so profoundly changed her life that she continues to write each day and hopefully will one day pass them on to her children. While this may seem simple, it is quite challenging. And that is the point. I can so identify with the difficulty of this little exercise. But, if we can just focus on step two – being thankful – for a moment, and write down the littlest things, like breathing or loving or the ability to work, our lives can take on a way of thankfulness. For me, this is an exercise in becoming. We need to ‘become’ those things. That is what Bonhoeffer meant for me. We take too much for granted. Only when we stop and reflect on the simplest things will we truly become.

The second question is a little more difficult to answer. How can we possible believe that the world is in the process of being reconciled when there is so much hurting, so much suffering, so much that is seems against God’s very good creation? Well, that is just the point. The reason for the hurting, suffering, etc., is because those things are still struggling with their addictions. People, I believe, are innately good but have become so addicted to sin that they struggle to go back to their true selves. It is the same with businesses and the economy and the environment. We have become so used to doing things a certain way that we can’t even imagine a world that humanizes their workers, realizes that wealth is for all people, and that sustainable living is actually do-able. But the question comes crashing to the fore: What are we doing to implement those things? Are we just treating symptoms or actually addressing the underlying issues? While there is nothing wrong with working at soup kitchens (we can always use help!), are we asking the tough questions as to why those people are there in the first place? Are we working for changing the policies that force so many families into those situations? Do we feel overwhelmed at the idea? Do we believe that we are too small and the system is too big? Well, how small is our God? Did not the boy David face the giant man Goliath and remove his head? Did Jesus not face the principalities and powers of hell only to be resurrected on the third day? One person can face all of the demons of hell and change the world. That is why we pray. That is why we live, laugh, and love. ‘The cross is the power of God unto salvation’, not just for us, but for the whole creation.

In the Grace of the Three in One,



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