Shepherds—please, lead your flocks

I am like the sick sheep that strays from the rest of the flock. Unless
the Good Shepherd takes me on His shoulders and carries me back to His fold,
my steps will falter, and in the very effort of rising, my feet will give way.

St. Jerome

(sheep farm, Killarny Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

Firstly—- I read the following July 4th post written by our freind and
most knowledgeable Christian sister IB.

As I read it, I felt warm tears falling down my cheeks.

I too have most recently deeply felt her words.
A sense of pleading that our Chruch leadership does what they are entrusted to do…
that being to lead their flocks—come hell or high water.
Not cower in the corner of current ideologies…

A day later, I read a post by our dear friend and former Anglican Bishop, Gavin Ashenden..
A post that mirrored IB’s thoughts and words but simply written from across the pond.

I’ve cut and copied both posts here.
I hope their words will touch your spirit.

We Aren’t going to “Get Our Freedom Back…”

So listen, I don’t want to sound uncharacteristically somber and serious,
nor do I want people to think I’m a total conspiratress.
I am you know, I do love a good conspiracy theory.
The problem being this isn’t a “theory,” it’s simply common sense.
So, I just want to say, those who are waiting patiently for things to “get back to normal,”
it ain’t happening. It ain’t going to happen.

Those who seem to believe if we just comply enough, just cooperate enough,
just do everything they say, (wear your mask you idiot,
so we can all open back up again) it ain’t going to happen.

If you’re waiting for covid 19 to go away, it ain’t going to happen either.
We could get down to no cases anywhere and there’s another “pandemic” right around
the corner waiting for us.
The media is already on it.

Government and public health officials are already trying to say we’re going to have
to wear masks for years, certainly until we get a mandatory vaccine.
Besides, flu season is coming this fall…

Never in the history of ever has anyone in government voluntarily relinquished
power over others that they have managed to attain.
The only way to get our freedom back is to stop playing the game,
stop the charades, and stop buying into the fear.
We have to say “no,” and we have to say it somewhat collectively.
None of this can continue without our consent.

I’m pleading with Christians who are just sitting there quietly accepting
a ban on singing in church. C’mon on people, some part of you knows this is not okay.
The power of life and death is in our tongues, it says that in the Bible.
If we believe those words, if the singing we do actually means something,
then we have to realize that shutting down churches, mandating we all wear masks,
and telling us it’s too dangerous to sing our praises, are all huge red flags.

I’m pleading with everyone who has ever felt the “benevolent” hand of government,
anyone who still carries trauma from those experiences.
C’mon people, we all know what this is.
It smells just like history trying to repeat itself.
It’s a power play.

We flattened the curve!
Heck, we shut down unused field hospitals and laid people off from our hospitals.
We did not get our freedom back.
We shut our businesses down, we bought the hand sanitizer,
we put on the masks, and we stayed home and we still did not get our freedom back.
It ain’t going to happen. Freedom once taken is not something you just “get” back.
There will be no passively sitting around and waiting for our freedom to be politely
returned to us once we’ve met all the requirements.

We met the requirements. So they just moved the goalposts.
They will continue to do so.

We aren’t going to “get” our freedom back, like it will just be passively
and nicely returned to us based on our compliance. That is a big lie, a total deception,
and has never happened anywhere, in the history of ever. Frankly,
I’m a bit embarrassed people still believe that. Not even God Himself,
and He is Holy, just, and perfect, just “gives” us freedom.
He may open the door to our prison, tear down the walls, and coax us out,
but even then we have to walk out under our own steam.
Or crawl.
Whatever works.
The point being, it is extremely rare we ever get anything without first opening
our hand and reaching out for it.

Jan 22, 2020, is when all of this began in my state.
We are going on seven months now! 7 months. A quarantine is for the sick,
not the healthy, and it should last about two weeks.
To quarantine the healthy is simply tyranny.

Such notions often put me at odds with friends, family,
even some churches. The problem being, I know I’m right,
I know that everything I see points in the direction I am observing.
We get our freedom back when we stop voluntarily consenting to hand it over.
That easy, that simple.

Happy Independence Day!

The State, freedom of conscience, and civil disobedience.

The state and the Church have a history in our country.
The relationship status might read “it’s complicated”.
It ranges from the conversion and Christianization of the state to the deepest antipathy
of the State and its persecution of the Church.

Even when Christian, the Church has had to challenge the state.
Becket took on Henry 2nd and won. It cost him his life, but he won.

Thomas More took on Henry 8th. It cost him his life.
While he won the moral argument he lost the legal and political one.

The narrative in this country is of course set in the far wider and more
complex contest for a system of values fought in a variety of states
with a variety of aspects of the Church.

Glancing from the dynamics of Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar,
through the Maccabees up to Bonhoeffer and Hitler, Solzhenitsyn and Stalin,
the contest for setting the values by which human beings live,
across states and cultures, defines one of the most powerful narratives in human history.

The pendulum swings from benign to malign.

In our day we are moving with some speed towards the malign.
Any reading of 20C history demonstrates a three-cornered fight between
two totalitarian ambitions, Marxism and Fascism, and Christianity.
All three make absolutist claims on humanity that are irreconcilable.
The anaemic relativism of our decaying culture in the West disguises
the sharp and brutal quality of the contest.

Christians are rightly wary that the in 21st C there is no reason for thinking
that the contest has been suspended. Fascism’s toll of Christians (and Jews)
in Germany and Spain was horrendous but dwarfed by the toll wreaked
by the Soviet Union and Marxist China.

In each period of attrition, the sign that the struggle to the death
had begun was the control of Churches and worship by the authorities.

The beginning of this century has exposed the oncoming depth and intensity
of a cultural revolution of values that are inimical to the faith in the west
and suddenly out of nowhere, for medical rather than political reasons,
the state suddenly closes the churches and prohibits worship.

There are three patterns of Christian response.
The first is the highly secularized and spiritually incompetent one, which says,
“places don’t matter; your private thoughts are everything,
corporate worship is overrated.
We are not worrying about the implications for a weakened church losing financial
and philosophical traction becoming ever more bankrupt in both.
There is nothing to see here, move on, don’t fuss.”

The second response, more literate historically but still
underdeveloped spiritually says “yes it’s a terrible sign that that the churches
have been down unilaterally. Yes, it looks authoritarian and apocalyptic,
but check out the facts. It was a pandemic.
It was medicine and science, not politics.
Calm down.
Nothing to worry about.”

The third group is more inclined to the view,
“if it walks like a duck, looks like a duck and quacks like a duck,
it may well be a duck”.
There is no value free science; everything has a political dimension;
more importantly, everything has a spiritual temperature,
character and metaphysical flavour or dynamic.
Whether there was intentionality or not, the state took upon itself the right
to close churches, prohibit worship, and deny the autonomy of personal
choice and informed conscience. And although this was a temporary measure (it seems)
it set a precedent which should have been exposed, challenged and repudiated.”

This is not the place to argue that the science on singing, water droplets
and infection is contested, as is the nature of the virus itself.
But it is the place to make common cause with Lord Sumtion and vociferously claim
that civil liberties require us to make a distinction between those who want to withdraw
from public life in order to protect themselves in a situation that is scientifically
and medically ambiguous, and those who chose to take certain risks congruent with a
personal value system and the dictates of their conscience.

It is the place to say that Christians do not recognise the power or authority of
the state to prohibit gathering for worship in ways that are not
medically or scientifically lethal or antisocial.

It is the place for insisting that the bar that state has to cross to
outlaw worship, close churches and outrage Christian conscience is considerably
perhaps impossibly higher than the secular state recognises.

It is, therefore, a legal and moral duty for the Church to challenge
the jurisprudential and ethical authority of the state to have set a precedent
in the authoritarian closing of churches and prohibition of worship.

It is for this reason that Christian Concern and a number of Church leaders
(amongst whom I am the least) have issued a challenge to the government by means
of judicial review to test the legality of this programme of church closure.

Further, if the legal challenge should be lost, many of us believe that Christians
could argue that we had a moral and ethical duty to refuse to acknowledge
the legitimacy of unjust law that not only acted as a threat to civil rights
and liberties that our forebears fought so hard to defend, but also struck
at the heart of our religious, spiritual and moral allegiance and identity.

Bonhoeffer and Hope


You’ve read of my admiration for Dietrich Bonhoeffer if you’ve read my earlier post Heros, Bonhoeffer, and a Troubling Past
It was 68 years ago today that Bonhoeffer was led to the gallows at Flossenburg prison where he was hung, by Hitler’s direct orders. The collision of two very opposite paths meeting at this one most insane moment.

I will not recount Bonhoeffer’s life story as it is in that previous post. The young German Lutheran minister and theologian, murdered for his unwavering conviction and his lack of capitulation as his very church, the German Lutheran church, buckled under the Nazi regime—all the while knowing that doing so would put his very existence in jeopardy.

As I read the works of Bonhoeffer today, it is difficult for me to believe that he died 68 years ago as his words seem to speak so clearly and timely for the events of our lives in this day. I often find myself wondering as to how he knew this or that as it seems he is speaking to me so very clearly. But what I don’t understand is how troubling his world actually was at that time and that perhaps troubles of the past are not much different from the troubles of today.

Granted, here in the US we seem to always live in this protected bubble. We are not like the South Koreans who are waking up each morning, as of late, wondering if this will be the day that North Korea decides to “destroy” the world. We do not live in Syria wondering if this is the day we are to be shot, bombed or tortured. I could go on and on but I won’t. It’s just that often I must be mindful that although my world seems relatively unscathed from the traumas of life in the world, I am joined in brotherhood with my fellow man–wherever he or she may be and wherever there is suffering–I am as well.

As a Christian, we are bound by the suffering and are called to help ease that suffering. Mother Teresa did not just “minister” to the sick, hungry and dying Christian but to the sick, hungry, and dying Muslim, Hindu, atheist…—she made no distinction. If one suffers, we all suffer.

I will give you, this day, the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
“Hope does not disappoint us” (Rom.5:5) Where there is still hope, there is no defeat.

I always believe that if we can open our eyes each morning to a new day, regardless of what is raging about us, there is, indeed, still hope. Even as Bonhoeffer was being lead to the gallows, he knew and he believed in the very hope that greets each of us today.

Here is to your hopeful day!!

Heroes, Bonhoeffer, and a troubling past

Yesterday I introduced you to the Memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe while I was sharing with you about my, albeit short, visit to Berlin.  I had told you that there was much I wanted to share with you regarding Berlin and that I would have to do so in small increments.  Whereas cities such as Rome, London and Paris are important to our western history as developing societies, as their pasts have helped shaped how many of us live our lives today, Berlin, on the other hand, is more important to our recent history as developing societies, demonstrating 20th century divisions that give way to successful unifications.


I’ve also told you that I would share with you about my adoption, the loss of my mom, the suicide of my brother—oh, did I forget to mention that—that is for another day entirely, and then there is the rescue story of Percy, my other precious little cat…. but all of that must wait.  I cannot speak another word, especially about Germany, without stopping briefly and sharing  with you a tad bit about Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

This is not, however, the time for me to give you a full-fledged biography.  There are a myriad of books on the market that can do a much better job of that then I.   But I do feel obligated to share with you about my friend Dietrich.

I suppose everyone has a hero in his or her life.  Some heroes are real, some are not.  Some of our heroes, we know personally while others remain as strangers.  Some of our heroes are living, while some are long gone.  We all have our standards as to what constitutes a hero.  For me hitting a ball, running fast, making lots or money, being famous are not the pieces, which formulate my view of a hero.  Rather descriptors such as self-sacrificing, integrity, conscience, morality, conviction, truth, and yes, even brave—as in “I will walk into the fire of hell to save you or help you disregarding my own well being brave”—these are the words that come to mind when I think of what describes my hero.

I have several heroes—from the mighty to the meek, but there is one in particular who stands out– especially as I speak of Germany and as I trudge through Lent reading, as part of my daily devotionals, the wise counsel of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Let me tell you when I first “met” my hero….

Many years ago when I was a junior in college I had come home for the weekend.  I attended church at The Cathedral of St Philip in Atlanta—the large Episcopal Church in town.  My godfather was the Dean of the Cathedral (there is a story one day about my Godpoppa ).  The sermon that particular Sunday was about Grace.  Grace being the mercy shown to us by God (and in some cases other human beings), even though it is not deserved…. The Dean began talking about Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  All I knew about Mr. Bonhoeffer was the fact that he was a German Theologian and at 21, to me, that equated to someone heavy and boring.  But as my godfather spoke about Mr. Bonhoeffer, explaining about Mr. Bonhoeffer’s idea of Cheap vs. Costly Grace, he became quite emotional.

I was suddenly jolted back to paying attention.  There, before a congregation of almost 2000, my strikingly eloquent Godpoppa could barley finish his sentence.  What was this?!  What was he talking about?  Who exactly and what exactly had evoked this sudden and rare moment of intense emotion.  This is an Episcopal Cathedral remember?  The epitome of control and precision, not emotionalism!

Unfortunately at that time in my young unlived life, I was simply unable to comprehend what my Godpoppa, was painfully well aware of.  It was the realization of what the very words he was speaking actually meant—that of Cheap Grace vs. Costly Grace….. with the very real knowledge of that oh so costly Grace which caused the hurt and even palpable pain in his voice that Sunday. It was that very Grace, which cost a great deal for his very life, and for my life and for the lives of everyone listening that Sunday.  It’s just that I didn’t/ couldn’t quite grasp that concept quite yet.

I could go into an in depth discussion about this Cheap grace and Costly Grace but there is already a book dedicated to the subject.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote the book in 1937.  Now let us remember that my intent here is not to review a book or examine a Sunday sermon from days gone by, it is however to introduce you to one of my heroes.

His story is long, intertwined with treachery and was silenced prematurely–or so thought the Powers of the time.  Although his life was cut quite short, as he was only 39 on the day of his execution, his thoughts, writings, sermons and life lessons are as strong and relevant today as they were 68 years ago.

He was the youngest of 6 children—that is, he and his twin sister were the youngest two of six.  He was a devout Lutheran minister, teacher of Theology, and outspoken critic of the times.  It was the conviction of his outspokenness that cost him his life.  He was a prisoner of the Nazis for two years. Why?  Because he would not be quiet.  He believed in pacifism and yet agreed that a plot to kill Hitler was necessary.  While in prison, Bonhoeffer continued his writings ( please see Letters form Prison), preaching against oppression and witnessing for that Costly Grace even as family members and friends were being taken and killed.

Bonhoeffer proved to be such an irritant to the Third Reich with his outspokenness—outspokenness against the war, outspokenness against the Lutheran Church for its capitulating by becoming the official church of the Nazi Regime, outspokenness against the Führer and outspokenness for the killing of hundreds of thousands of Jews.  It was because of all this “outspokenness” that he invoked the full wrath of Hitler.

Dietrich’s outspokenness was not loud and brash. There was no screaming, no mass rallies, no marching.   His was rather a steady consistent path exemplifying Costly Grace.  And it was by that constant steadfast extolling of Grace that frightened the Evil of the day.

By April 1945 the war for Germany was in its final weeks.  It was obvious to all that Germany was all but beaten.  21 days separated their deaths.  Hitler ordered Bonhoeffer’s execution to be immediate even though he knew his world was quickly crashing down on top of him.  On April 9, 1945 Dietrich Bonhoeffer walked silently to the gallows never wavering in his conviction.  On April 30th Adolf Hitler, cowering in an underground bunker, put a pistol to his own head.  One brave, one a coward.

“If we want to be Christians, we must have some share in Christ’s large-heartedness by acting with responsibility and in freedom when the hour of danger comes, and by showing a real sympathy that springs not form fear, but from the liberating and redeeming love of Christ for all who suffer.  Mere waiting and looking on is not Christian behavior.  The Christian is called to sympathy and action, not in the first place by his own sufferings, but by the sufferings of his brethren for whose sake Christ suffered.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Heroes do not capitulate.  They are not loud and brash. They speak for those who have no voice. They go silently to their deaths never wavering. They run to the fire as others run away. They do not cower in fear. Their life and their death is a witness for justice, a witness to their faith, a witness to their love

The Christian singer and songwriter Steven Curtis Chapman has a song that is the epitome of this conviction as it is based in the verse taken from John 15:12-13 …“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.  Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his brethren.”

 Man of courage with your message of peace

What is that look in your eyes?

Why have you come to this faraway place?

What is this story you would lay down your life to tell?

What kind of love can this be?

There is no greater love than this

There is no greater gift that can ever be given

To be willing to die so another might live

There is no greater love than this

Broken hearted from all you have lost

How can you sing through your tears?

What is this music that can bear such a cost?

What is this fire that grows stronger against the wind?

What kind of flame can this be?

This is the love that God showed the world

When He gave us His Son

So we could know His love forever

Beyond the gates of splendor.

My hero Dietrich Bonhoeffer took this command and lived it for not himself but for those who were being persecuted.  He took the unpopular and dangerous stand to disregard self for the sake of others.  A young Lutheran minister who said that the War, the Regime, the murdering of countless Jews was wrong and it must stop…unto his own death.  Heroes are brave.

It wan’t until I had lived a bit more that I came to understand personally about this Costly Grace.  If it was not for Costly Grace, I could not and would not be writing this post.  My hope for you this Lenten season is that you may come to know and experience the costly yet redeeming Grace that is for each of us to claim as our own.