Monday, February 28, 2005

Prayer to Start the Week

In his book, The Meaning of Prayer, Harry Emerson Fosdick writes:

"One day in Paris, a religious procession carrying a crucifix passed Voltaire and a friend. Voltaire, who was generally regarded as an infidel, lifted his hat. 'What!' the friend exclaimed, 'are you reconciled with God?' And Voltaire with fine irony replied: 'We salute, but we do not speak'."

I hate to admit it, but there have been times when that picture described my relationship with God. I've never ceased to believe that God exists; I've consistently seen so much that points to his reality. Yet I've not always maintained a real relationship with God. There's never been a time that I didn't salute; but I've not always spoken to Him.

I need to "salute." I also need to speak to God. You too:

Lord, our Father and friend. At the beginning of a week filled with reponsibilities and busy-ness, we stop to confess afresh that you are God, the maker of heaven and earth, the creator of all that exists, our savior, redeemer, and friend. We could never have concieved of a God like you; we thank you that you have chosen to come and reveal yourself to us in the person of your Son, Jesus!

Lord, for those times when we have failed to reflect your holiness and goodness, we're sorry. We ask you to forgive us, and thank you for continuing to be patient with us.

Help us, Lord, to be more responsive to your direction. Help us to be more obedient to you. And help us to love, receive, and be patient with the people around us. We know that they need your grace too. Guide our words and actions, so that they'll know that grace is here.

For people who are near us and who need your special care--and for those millions we don't know--we ask your special blessings. Please grant that all of us will seek and find and know you. We want to love you and rejoice in you. Lead us into that life, dear God.

We give you all praise and we ask for these blessings in the name of Jesus, your Son and our Savior. Amen.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Bonhoeffer Biography

In an earlier post [see "Messages from a Martyr"] I mentioned Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian and pastor who was hanged by the Nazis on April 9, 1945. Over the next few days, I want to put some of his best ideas on the table and talk about them. Again, I'd love to hear from you.

What follows here is a little more of his life story, important background for discussing his thought:

Bonhoeffer was born in 1906, the son of a notable psychiatrist. He surprised his non-religious family when, at an early age, he announced that he would study theology. But it was no empty dream. At age twenty-one, he completed his doctoral dissertation and was quickly becoming one of the brightest religious thinkers of his day.

As war approached in June of 1939, he came to New York as a guest teacher at Union Theological Seminary. But within days after his arrival, he realized he could not stay. Just before he returned, he wrote to theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, his American sponsor: “I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people.”

His return began several years of tension and intrigue. Bonhoeffer had been one of the first to openly denounce the idolatry of nationalism and the concept of fuhrer. Naturally, leaders of the Third Reich mistrusted him. But they also recognized his usefulness; at international church conferences, he could put a good face on Nazism and even conduct espionage.

Bonhoeffer had different goals. In a 1937 book, “The Cost of Discipleship,” he had built a strong case for Christian pacifism. But his stance was never unconditional, and the conditions of a godless, bloodthirsty, anti-Semitic regime compelled him to join an underground resistance movement that intended to assassinate Adolf Hitler.

Suspected by the Gestapo all along, he was arrested in April 1943. The two years that followed included ruthless interrogations and the harsh life inside Berlin’s Tegel prison, a frequent target of Allied bombers.

It was during those years that his thought began to flourish. From his cell he wrote dozens of letters, poems, and essays. Some of these were eventually collected and published as “Letters and Papers from Prison,” which has since become a modern Christian classic.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Prayer to Start the Week

Today, I'm praying with Augustine:

"O Lord, you were rich, yet for our sakes you became poor;
and you have promised that whatever we do for the least of your brothers is done for you.
Give us grace to be always willing to serve the needs of others, and so extend the blessings of your kingdom throughout the world."

We pray through Christ the Lord, Amen.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Messages from a Martyr

“He hardly finished his last prayer when the door was opened and two evil-looking men in civilian clothes came in and said, ‘Prisoner Bonhoeffer, get ready to come with us.’ Those words, ‘come with us,’ for all prisoners had come to mean only one thing—the scaffold. We bade him good-bye . . .. ‘This is the end,’ he said, ‘For me the beginning of life, . . .’ Next day, at Flossenburg, he was hanged!”

Those were the last cold days before the Allied liberation of Nazi Germany. The executed prisoner was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Protestant minister and theologian who died on April 9, 1945—nearly sixty years ago—and whose influence has grown ever since.

Over the next few weeks, I plan to include an occasional post about Bonhoeffer. I'd be glad to hear your thoughts and reactions regarding his life and work.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Getting Passionate

It was this time last year that millions were crowding the theaters to experience The Passion of the Christ. Twelve months later, Mel Gibson's mega-hit has endured what many have considered a snub from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

The Passion recieved a few nominations for minor awards; it did not recieve a nomination for Best Picture or any of the other major awards. As a result, we've had to listen to advocates who say, "This amounts to an anti-Christian putdown!" while defenders of the Academy answer, "It's a good film, but it's not that good."

I suppose that if the debate were simply about the relative merit of a film as a film, then it might be worth a minute of discussion. But we all know that's not the case. So here I think it's important to recall that Jesus never said, "Go into all the world and promote my movie to all creation." What he said was, "Do not resist an evil academy. If a small group snubs your film, release it on DVD!"

Of course, that should settle it. But I know it won't. One reason it won't is because a part of the tradition in which we stand is a perverted form of Christianity that has grown used to and has come to expect the position of privilege. Had he wanted to, the man of sorrows, the man who had no place to lay his head, would certainly never have had a platform from which to demand fair treatment for his film or anything else.

More than ever, the question that now comes to American Christians is, Will we follow the easy pattern of using and protecting privilege? Or will we, following the pattern of Jesus, disregard and relinquish such weak and temporal forms of power so that we can take hold of a life that is true?

I have to confess that I don't understand much of what that entails. But I want to.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Prayer to Start the Week

What makes a classic a classic? Pondering that question, I turned to one of my best friends, my New Oxford American Dictionary (presented to me by Michele on Valentine's Day 2004; true love in action). A classic is "a work of art of recognized and established value."

Okay, but what causes us to recognize the classic's value? I think it's about an ability to speak, make sense, and to stir us, even though many years may have gone by. That is, the classic never fails to make its impact. At least that's why I consider Augustine such classic stuff. Sometimes, if I didn't know better, I'd guess I was reading someone's really great blog.

Take, for example, this one from among his letters:

"Why does the Lord urge us to pray, when we know what he needs before we ask him? This can seem puzzling and can make prayer seem like wasted effort. But prayer is not merely expressing our present desires. Its purpose is to excercise and train our desires, so that we want what he is preparing to give. His gift is very great, and we are small vessels for receiving it. So prayer involves widening our hearts to God.

"We pray at fixed times of the day in order to remember our desire for God. And we pray in words--which in themselves are mere symbols--in order to focus our hearts on the inner truths behind the words."

"O God, you are close to all those who call on you in truth. You are truth itself, the source of eternal life. Instruct us with your wisdom, and teach us your love, so that we may know the truth that works through your love. We ask this in the name of Jesus, in whom truth was made manifest."

Amen.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Great Last-Minute Seats

Item 1. Last summer, my wife and I were in New York, standing across the street from Radio City, holding our tickets to a concert that would start in less than an hour. Just then, a girl (i.e., a female under 25) came running from across the street and squealed to her friend how she had just bought tickets to the show at the box office. I realized from her description that the tickets she'd just gotten were better than the ones I had ordered on-line two months before.

Item 2. The next morning, we were wandering through the city when we happened upon the theatre that hosts the musical "Chicago." She's not that into musicals, but said she'd love to go see this one. My expression said, "Are you kidding? There's no way we're gonna walk into this theatre and get seats to a show for anytime this year." But we were feeling adventurous, and didn't care if strangers laughed at us. Five minutes later, we walked out of the box office with 14th row, center-section tickets to the performance for that afternoon. When we attended said show, we got the distinct impression that everyone around us had ordered their tickets weeks if not months before.

[Note well: This isn't typical stuff for us. If it was, I don't know that we'd be able to enjoy it. It was sort of a second honeymoon, and we had a great time. I guess I'm saying this because, where I come from, you'd get embarrassed if people thought you were running around attending shows in Manhattan all the time. Gordon Lightfoot speaks for me: "Sometimes I think it's a shame when I get feelin better when I'm feelin no pain"].

Anyway, on to Item 3. A lecture-series ad in today's New York Times includes this note about sold-out events: "A limited number of tickets may be available at the box office one hour before curtain."

Now, WHAT IS THIS ALL ABOUT? Do theaters in New York (and other places) hold back a few choice tickets to sell at the last minute? If so, why? It's mainly just a curiosity for me. But, yes, there's the very practical side too. I'd appreciate hearing from anyone with similar experiences, and especially from whoever knows the inside scoop.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Prayer to Start the Week

Jesus taught his disciples "that they should always pray and not give up" (Luke 18:1).

Another prayer from Augustine:

"Who, O Lord, will allow me to rest in you? Who will allow you to enter my heart and make me drunk with your love? Who will make me forget my wicked ways, and embrace you, the only source of goodness?

Have mercy on me, that I may speak to you. What am I to you, that you should command me to love you? Say to my soul, 'I am your salvation.' Open my ears to your voice. Open my eyes to your face. Open my heart to receive your grace."