Sunday, April 02, 2017

Lenten Journey- Sunday 5- For the Children

The ultimate test of a moral society is
the kind of world that it leaves to its children.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Unknown source

It is always helpful for me to remember that Bonhoeffer grew up in what was considered one of the more civilized countries. Culture, science, theology had all flourished in Germany for decades and decades. They excelled in music- the home of Beethoven, Brahms, and Bach. They gave us Goethe, Schiller, and Remarque; Einstein, Albert Schweitzer, Count Zinzendorf, and Martin Luther. He himself was from an aristocratic family. His family pedigree was as good as it gets. His father was a well-respected and honored doctor of psychiatry in Berlin. His brother would become lead attorney for Lufthansa Airlines.

In the early 1930s they all watched with increasing horror as this great heritage was run over by brown-shirted thugs bent on undoing everything German and making it into their empire. For Bonhoeffer seeing Luther become an adjunct to Aryan theology while the church went along was the ultimate degradation. The source of moral direction, the church, was helpless at best and complicit in horrific evil at worst.

Bonhoeffer was not alone in this view of course. Many, even within the German Army (Abwehr) were horrified at what Hitler had done to their proud military heritage through the SA, the SS, and the Gestapo. The plots to undermine and then assassinate Hitler formed from the Abwehr where Bonhoeffer was working as a double agent with them against Hitler. He was convinced, with solid reason and evidence, that Hitler and his supporters were not just bad, but truly evil. Against such evil, victory will be very difficult and costly. It might even be he would have to wish for - and support - the defeat of his own country in war.

In the midst of all these conflicting concerns and feelings, Bonhoeffer worked on what he hoped would be his greatest work. It was started in the early 1940s and was his constant task during his time in prison. He never finished it but it has been cited by David P. Gushee, director of Mercer University's Center for Theology and Public Life as one of the five best books on patriotism. It was simply titled Ethik, Ethics in English.

For Bonhoeffer Christlikeness is at the center of ethics. No greater moral standard would there be but becoming as much like Christ as possible. An online overview describes Bonhoeffer’s thinking in this way:
All separation, fragmentation, and binary thinking must now be overcome. The practice of ethics, therefore, is not the division of the world into good and evil; instead, the goal of ethics is the full reintegration of all humanity into the divine reality revealed in Jesus Christ. Bonhoeffer thus sees the merging of secular reality and divine reality as imperative; separate, they, too, form a binary conceptualization to be overcome. ("Ethics - Overview" Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction Ed. John K. Roth., Inc. 2007 30 Mar, 2017 )
Simply put, Bonhoeffer’s ethics was therefore not a list of right and wrong, a code of behavior, or even judgement. It was the living out of one’s Christlikeness thanks to the work of God. It was always based on God’s acceptance of humans and God's love for humanity. Jesus does not love a moral code, but people. Each of us must “create his or her own moral behavior within the frame of his or her own Jesus-Christ consciousness.” (Same citation as above).

It is an over-simplification to say that this is a summary of the basic of his ethics, but without going into great theological and academic depths, it does seem to be a decent summary. It can therefore be our jumping of point for this Fifth Sunday of Lent and the week ahead. Keeping it simple and concise is important or we will end up playing all the old theological games like the number of angels on the head of a pin.

What about the world we leave to our children?

With that in mind here are the themes I am going to work on in my Lenten journey this week.

  • Christ-consciousness
  • Christ-likeness. 
Then, bringing them together into
  • How can my actions, not just my thoughts, help bring about a world where the moral example of God’s love is lived and 
  • How can my actions today help make this a more moral, I.e. God-directed world?
  • How can my actions help make this a better world, one we are proud to leave to the next generations?
We humans tend to be very short-sighted. If it's good for me right now, the long term consequences are not even added into the equation. Hence issues like climate change can be challenged and disbelieved since it isn't imperative TODAY. Why should I care about 50 years from now?  Someone, sometime will find a solution to these long-term problems, is the "optimistic" take on this. The reality is not so rosy.

A number of years ago I asked a confirmation class the then popular question:
What would Jesus do?
The answer was quick and concise.
We know what Jesus would do. We just don't do it.
But most of the time we don't even ask the question to try to figure out how we should act if we are to be Christ-like. We don't spend much more than a nano-second to check in our the Christ-consciousness within us. 

God has been interrupting me these Lenten weeks, getting into my face at times. I must now be prepared to do something with that. This week, then, is a good time to bring all these weeks together and use the Christ-consciousness we have been cultivating during Lent to be more Christ-like in our actions. It is a good time as we prepare for Palm Sunday and Holy Week next week, to put a few more pieces of awareness and spirit into my life.

[Note: This week's quote is one of the most often repeated of all the quotes I found from Bonhoeffer. What is interesting is that I cannot find a source. I did a bunch of searches in many places and the quote has not yet popped up. I have found almost all the other quotes in the Metaxas biography which I have been reading this Lenten season. But not this one. It may very well be in a book of sermons or letters that I have not yet found- or one that is not digitized for easy online searching. Whatever the situation, it is certainly well known- and one that should not be ignored.]

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