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Tolstoy (who loved America but never visited there) had this to say about American politics, American prosperity and America’s salt and light destiny in the world:
“Prosperity, prosperity! What a shameful plea that is, which you American platform-makers address the voters. They do not say, ‘we will give you an honest rightful government,’ but they say, ‘We’ll make you fat and sleek. If you vote for me, you will have a double chin!’ And no one rises to say, ‘What will your full dinner pails profit if while gorging your bellies you lose your immortal souls?’ The fall of America, when I see the deserted shrines of your forefathers, I think it will come more swiftly than came the fall of Rome… [Yet] I know the salt has not yet lost its saver. Listen: ‘We who know the truth, must first change the world in ourselves internally, before the world can be changed in others externally. If we know the truth of life, and do not live it, we are as a lighthouse set upon a hill in which the light has gone out. Forgive me if my judgments have been harsh, or have seemed so. Only remember that you live in a light-house set upon a hill, and that in the last few years, it has seemed to many watchers that the light which was once the light and hope of the world, whose rays penetrated into the uttermost parts of the world, was about to be overwhelmed by shadow. Pray that your Americans would see to that light, and keep it day and night. It is the flame that their fathers lit, and it has become the light of the world, as well as yours. It would be a dark world without it.”
– In “Tolstoy Prophesies the Fall of America” by Stephen Bonsol, New York Times, 7 July 1907.
In response to the above a friend said he wondered what Tolstoy might think of Putin. My reply was: The T-man said he hated three things in this world: Autocracy, Orthodoxy and Militarism which he deemed the three pillars of Russian government. He would NOT be a fan of Putin or the Donald. But then again he rejected all forms of earthly government and pioneered a version of what is considered today Christian Anarchy.
Abeyance. Sounds a bit like obedience but it means practically the opposite. More Christians abey the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount than obey them. Abeyance means a state of temporary suspension. It’s legal term for a temporary abeyance of a law or requirement.
Never would a Christian consider any sort of abeyance of Jesus’ teaching about lust or adultery. There is a never a situation where those are acceptable, even temporarily. However when it comes to not swearing to oaths, turning the other cheek, not-retaliating, not killing anyone… the compromised Church issues all sorts of abeyances.
Tolstoy puts it best:
Do the ministers of the Gospel believe the Sermon on the Mount, including the commandment of non-retaliation, to be of divine origin?… [do they] consider the Sermon on the Mount and the commandment of non-resistance obligatory upon a Christian…. Did Christ practically require his disciples to do that which he taught in the Sermon on the Mount…. May a Christian remain a Christian and still disobey the direct command of Christ; may he promise or conduct himself in a manner directly opposed to the doctrine of Christ, by entering into military service and putting himself in training to be a murderer?… How are we to reconcile those lessons of forgiveness, humility, patience, and love towards all mankind, our neighbours as well as our enemies, taught us by the Teacher, which dwell in the heart of each of us, with the necessities caused by military aggression against our own countrymen as well as against foreigners? (36-37, The Kingdom of God is Within You)
The commandment against fornication they [clergy] acknowledge without reservation, and in no case will they ever admit that this sin is not evil. There are no circumstances mentioned by the clergy when the commandment against fornication may be broken, and they always insist that the occasions for this sin must be avoided. But in regard to non-resistance that is a very different matter. Every clergyman believes that there are circumstances wherein this commandment many be held in abeyance, and they preach accordingly…. Clergymen have never been known to advocate the breaking of any other commandment, but in regard to the doctrine of non-resistance, they distinctly teach that this prohibition must not be taken to literally, that so far from always obeying this commandment, one should on occasion follow the opposite course– that is, one should sit in judgment [on a jury], should go to war, and should execute criminals. (p 40-41, The Kingdom of God is Within You).
When we go to war, in some sense we go without God, at least without his favour and blessing. How could he bless it, he loves our enemies too? Is it too utopian, this scary-silly Sermon on the Mount of that radical but woefully unrealistic Jesus, to suggest that our national leaders could one day decide that we want God more than we want war– that we want God more than we want revenge or victory– that we want God more than we want to punish and rid the world of evil– that we want divine protection not drones?
Here’s to the hope that one day when provoked our national leaders will declare that we want the favour of God, not war, and instead of revving up the war machine they call every person of faith and parish in the land to fight this one in the heavenlies asking God to settle it all in the earthlies. What might result if people of faith and parishes humbled themselves, repented and renounced their trust in horses and chariots? Is it not when we are weak that we discover his strength? When did we all become such Deists who disbelieve in a God who breaks in to intervene?
We learn in the New Yorker that Donald Trump ends every phone call with “You’re the Greatest!” If I had time and inclination to write a biography of Trump perhaps a good title can be adapted from an old Charlie Brown book;
You’re the Greatest, Donald Trump.
Greatness, it seems, is his highest ambition.
Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter for one of Trump’s best-selling books, The Art of the Deal, has just given the New Yorker a tell-all:
Trump only takes two positions. “Either you’re a scummy loser, liar, whatever, or you’re the greatest…. There is no private Trump…. All he is is ‘stomp, stomp, stomp’—recognition from outside, bigger, more, a whole series of things that go nowhere in particular… .”
Writing in Trump’s voice, he explained to the reader [in The Art of the Deal], “I play to people’s fantasies. . . . People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration—and it’s a very effective form of promotion.”
Schwartz now disavows the passage.
“I don’t do it for the money,” Trump declares. “I’ve got enough, much more than I’ll ever need. I do it to do it…. I like making deals, preferably big deals. That’s how I get my kicks.”
…Of course he’s in it for the money,” Schwartz said. “One of the most deep and basic needs he has is to prove that ‘I’m richer than you.’ Schwartz saw Trump as driven not by a pure love of dealmaking but by an insatiable hunger for “money, praise, and celebrity.” Often, after spending the day with Trump, and watching him pile one hugely expensive project atop the next, like a circus performer spinning plates, Schwartz would go home and tell his wife, “He’s a living black hole!”
And now Donald wants to take us all into that black hole with him and Make America Great Again. [And, yes I still think Hillary is a far worse choice. Both have deep character issues, but as I’ve written elsewhere…. Hillary has become a stunningly corrupt, bought and arrogant tool of those who give the world’s bad guys free weapons and the rest of us bloody war– the elites, Wall Streeters, globalists and central banksters who for centuries have made war to make more money.]
Friends on this side of the pond gristle ungratefully at any notion of America’s greatness (or goodness), or any country’s greatness for that matter. Paul gave good advice in Romans 12:3… “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment…”
Yet, national greatness was a promise God himself made to godly nations. It’s in Genesis 12:2… “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.” And it wasn’t just a promise to Abraham on into Israel then and now. In Genesis 35:11 that promise was extended greatly: “A nation and a community of nations will come from you... .” It is the promise of God that Judeo-Christian nations will be a blessing to the rest of the world and great in God’s eyes.
But what makes us great is where Mr. Trump has it all wrong.
Jesus said those who practice the Sermon on the Mount will be called greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 5:19). The Sermon on the Mount is the standard of greatness by which God will measure kings and nations, and you and I. In the halls of academia we speak of a coming eschatological reversal where the first will find out they are indeed, last. Trump still has time to figure this out and that is my prayer.
“But as far as his worldview, Trump’s worldview, you know… I was debating an evangelical professor on NPR and this professor said, ‘Pastor, don’t you want a candidate who embodies the teaching of Jesus and would govern this country according to the principles found in the Sermon on the Mount?’ I said, ‘Heck no.’ I would run from that candidate as far as possible, because the Sermon on the Mount was not given as a governing principle for this nation…. “Nowhere is government told to forgive those who wrong it. Nowhere is government told to turn the other cheek. Government is to be a strongman to protect its citizens against evildoers. When I’m looking for somebody who’s going to deal with ISIS and exterminate ISIS, I don’t care about that candidate’s tone or vocabulary. I want the meanest, toughest, son of a you-know-what I can find. And I believe that’s biblical.”
Trump is as much a Christian as Obama, in my view. Regarding an issue very important to me, to all the other little people like me all over the world, and to Jesus, neither Obama or Trump are men of peace. Hillary has become a stunningly corrupt, bought and arrogant tool of those who give the world’s bad guys free weapons and the rest of us bloody war– the elites, Wall Streeters, globalists and central banksters who for centuries have made war to make more money.
Lance Wallnau made a comment recently that we should all think long and hard about; “Christ in you is the hope of glory, not Christ in the White House. What do you think, should we really give up hope on any sort of notion of a Christian (Christlike) nation? The Sermon on the Mount is what Christlikeness looks like.
My friends on the Christian Right (who BTW consider me a grand disappointment) have long been saying we need to elect people who represent “Biblical values.” Apparently we now learn from Pastor Jeffries those are not the values of Jesus. Apparently it is okay with Pastor Jeffries if governments more reflect the values of Genghis Khan than, say, Jesus. The Sermon on the Mount, he believes may work on a micro level but not in a macro application.
In Pastor Jeffrees re-reading of the infamous Sermon on the Mount he in so much imagines Jesus ascended the Mount to say: “These are some strategies that I commend to you for little matters. Honestly, for the more complex conflicts I have nothing for you in terms of heavenly wisdom or strategy so go ahead and ‘do unto them what they’ve do unto you’ and I’m okay with whatever response seems and feels right for you at the time. Not to worry, forgiveness comes easy with me, and grace cheap.”
When will the Christian Right wake up to how inconsistent they are in valuing all human life? Bombs away, Jesus love you!
Ya, ya, ya… here comes someone to remind me of Romans 13 (someone who apparently has never read Romans 12: if your enemy is hungry, feed him… overcome evil with good, etc).
How many times do I have to say this?… In Romans 13:4 Paul was writing to believers in Rome saying they need to revere Roman authority as God gives governments even the authority of the sword. He was not telling Christians that they are justified to forsake the mercy path when they one day get in power. Why then are so many Christians today defending the values of the Romans and the ethics of Nero?
For those genuinely conflicted on the application of the Sermon on the Mount to anything beyond an individual Christian life I offer the following (which will soon appear in a book I’m now putting the finishing touches on: Tolstoy’s Novel Idea: Obey the Sermon on the Mount).
From chapter seven of my forthcoming book:
The two main interpretative questions for the Sermon on the Mount, again, are; Is it liveable? and; To whom is it for? Over the centuries, very few interpreters of the Sermon on the Mount have given the Sermon application beyond the individual believer. The contention is that the ethic was given to individuals, not to nation-states. Yet, Tolstoy challenged this entirely and sought to settle this centuries-old ambiguity with a simple appeal to the words Jesus actually used in Matthew 5:43-44 (and what they would have meant to his original hearers); “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies…” Tolstoy explained: [N]eighbour in the Hebrew language meant, invariably and exclusively, ‘a Hebrew.’” Considering the lengths he went to describe the thoroughness of his study of these words, that he seems to imply Jesus spoke this originally in Hebrew, not Aramaic, is peculiar. His justification may be it is the same word and meaning as in Luke 10:29 where the “neighbour” is a Samaritan– someone a Hebrew would have clearly not regarded as a neighbour. Finding the same meaning in Acts 7:27, his conclusion is “‘neighbour’ in Gospel language, means a compatriot, a person belonging to the same nationality. Therefore the antithesis used by Jesus in the citation, ‘love thy neighbour, hate thine enemy,’ must be in the distinction between the words ‘compatriot’ and ‘foreigner.’” Tolstoy contended his supposition was further confirmed when seeking the Jewish understanding of enemy. “The word enemy is nearly always employed in the Gospels in the sense, not of a personal enemy, but, in general, of a ‘hostile people.’”
Based on the words Jesus used, Tolstoy’s conclusion is that it is not possible that Jesus intended his teaching to be applicable only on the interpersonal level. Jesus never differentiated between loving a neighbour and loving a neighbouring nation. Tolstoy spoke of “the widening sphere of love” and believed a nation could be loved too…. Tolstoy believed obedience to the teachings of Jesus worked on both the micro and the macro level. Goodness on a small scale does not somehow become badness on a larger scale and he decried the notion that badness on a small scale could be construed as goodness on a larger scale…
I’ve always been proud of you and taken keen interest (and even supported in various ways) the incredible things you’ve done, even though you’ve come now to a hostile tone in your activism for civil justice. Knowing you, I believe it to be a righteous anger though my letter here is about a new commitment to non-violent strategies instead of violent aggression.
Ya, ya, all lives matter, like all bones in the body matter. However, we agree our nation has circled back around in the present day to an opportunity to tend a vital bone that is presently bruised and broken. In America right now, yes: Black Lives Matter.
My appeal in this short letter is to your Christianity; a true Christianity that is perhaps more true to Christ in the Gospel tradition of Black American History than in White American History. The time is now for Dr. King’s non-violent mantle to be picked up. If not by you, then who? The Sermon on the Mount strategy works on both the micro and the macro scales when it is lived. My prayer is that you rise up in the days ahead as another King for this leg of the civil rights march.
There is no reason for me to doubt you still consider me friend and hopefully you share my warm sentiment for the season our lives and work more directly overlapped. Consider my letter here an invitation to join again in working together, this time as champions of a Sermon on the Mount-style activism that made the other King, and the King of Kings, so great.
For posterity sake I’ll repost some fragments of my recent Facebook rants…
If Gideon could get by with a ridiculously smaller army, maybe America can too? God chooses the weak things to confound the wise. My “fiscally conservative” colleagues in government all seem hell bent to borrow and spend LIBERALly when it comes to Defence spending (basically welfare for the Defence contractors). Let’s cut our army in half, and double the salary/benefits of every solider and cancel every college debt for the youth of America – it’s just digital-from-thin-air-money anyway. Heard a great quote yesterday from Kim Fabricus: “The Sermon on the Mount– ain’t for extra credit.” Either His ways are indeed higher than our ways or they are not. Maybe we should quit questioning His judgment and just do what He says. Some trust in chariots, some in horses but we apparently trust in our military-industrial complex.
Why don’t my gun control friends join me in renouncing Obama’s illegal gift of guns to Mexican drug cartels that soon kill US border agents (fast and furious) and also remind the world that Obama and every recent US administration before him spends millions arming those who want to kill us and our friends around the world. If you are really for gun control, why don’t you care about the guns that are really killing thousands and thousands of people all over the world, and at home? The vote in the Senate yesterday was a reactionary feel good bill that is a complete swing and a miss at solving any really problems.
The United States is now an oligarchy. “Give me control of a nation’s money and I care not who makes it’s laws” — Mayer Amschel Bauer Rothschild. Did they ever count those extra 2 million votes in the California primary? I think Sanders won fair and square. I also don’t think elections matter any more nor do I have any confidence that votes are honestly tallied and the winner really wins. I care more about who is in boardrooms and war rooms and what is really going on in there than I do about bathrooms and who and what may be going on in there. Good grief. Enough with our selective moral outrage – guns are the problem– no, gays are! I’m pretty sure we Christians don’t resemble Jesus all that much. Bombs away! Jesus loves you.
It is outrageous to me that media networks in the US can blacklist a decorated presidential detail secret service agent who protected the Clinton’s (but now thinks America needs to know the character of the Clintons) and also blacklist a special forces vet who defended an abandoned (by Hillary) US Ambassador in Benghazi. So much for free speech and free elections and for the fourth estate. One reason Trump is so popular is he bypasses these things which in the past have given us the people they want us to vote for – money and the media. No one alive has more baggage than Hillary Clinton. Now Wall Street gives Clinton an ultimatum; if you choose Elizabeth Warren for VP we will cut off your cash. Of course, Warren is a sworn enemy of the banks and Hillary is an ally.
My world for the next few months is all things Tolstoy. I’m onto an important linkage between Tolstoy and Bonhoeffer but I’ll not spell all that out here. Hopefully some of my findings will make their way into a book I’m writing called: Tolstoy’s Novel Idea: Obey The Sermon on the Mount.
Obey the Sermon on the Mount. What a novel idea, huh?
Here’s a crash course to give the basics needed to explain this fascinating Fresco which is my interest in this post.
Tolstoy was a famous and successful nineteenth century Russian novelist who wrote what is considered the greatest novel ever written, War & Peace. That would be what I’m calling First Tolstoy – his literary writings. Second Tolstoy is my designation for the second half of his prolific life– his religious writings; mostly a call to obey the Sermon on the Mount. He was anything but orthodox and rejected significant dogma we’d think is orthodox, and he was excommunicated from the Russian Orthodox Church. It’s more complicated than that but simply put, he believed the Church had become a great hindrance to the Gospel and was full of superstition, paganism and idolatry. Tolstoy was a reformer who had no interest to reform the Church. The Church was too far gone. Best to go back to the plain meaning of the teachings of Jesus, the Sermon on the Mount.
Tolstoy died in 1910. However this Fresco was sanctioned (27 years earlier) by the Orthodox Church in 1883, the year Tolstoy published his first book on obeying the Sermon on the Mount (My Religion – What I Believe).
Gotta love the Church /S.
Tolstoy was deemed a “madman.” If Tolstoy was mad for his adherence to Jesus’ teaching, what would that make Jesus? What a paradox that literal obedience to the teaching of Christ is still considered crazy radical even in Christian circles today.
Retraction and Correction – Page 228
Please strike over and disregard the entirety of the second full paragraph on page 228 of my Sermon on the Mount book. It is rubbish I wrote in 2003. This book was written over of a couple decades and there are several places where I’d say things differently today. However, the issue I correct here is so central at the very the summit of the mount it cannot stand uncorrected. There is no section of the Bible like here at the summit of the mount (enemy love) where corporately, Christians contort themselves more to get out from underneath its demands. Here we come to the second of the two main issues of interpretation with regard to the Sermon on the Mount. The first being, is it liveable? Is it an obtainable standard? The entire thesis of this book is absolutely, it is liveable and obtainable. The second issue then becomes who is it for, an individual believer or also for Christian’s corporately, including nations seeking to adhere to Judeo-Christian values? If you want a more developed article on non-retaliation go to my essay: Love as a Foreign Policy: September 11 and Turning the Other Cheek (pdf alert, 11,000 words). One of the first questions I get on this is; what about self-defence, what about defending the nation?? This article is about retaliation and to whom the non-retaliation commandment applies. If that is not kept in mind one will misunderstand and misrepresent my argument. The following constitutes the corrections I wish to make in place of the disregarded paragraph.
Christians quickly hide behind Romans 13 arguing God gives governments the power of the sword. Romans 13 does say just that, except the passage does not say God agrees with and sanctions every pagan governments decided use of the sword. And most certainly, Paul was not telling Christians that they are justified to forsake the path of mercy and love if and when they one day assume positions of power. Why then are so many Christians today defending the values of pagan Romans and the ethics of Nero? Perhaps it should be the case that governments in the Christian sectors of the world are based more on the ethics of Jesus rather than on the ethics of Nero. It is remarkable how much weight Christians throughout the centuries have given to this eisegesis of Romans 13:4. Somehow it outweighs fifty verses from Jesus on showing mercy and love.
Retreating to a bifurcated interpretation of “turn the other cheek,” in that it applies to Christians interpersonally but not to Christians corporately and politically, is to entirely miss all that the Apostle Paul underscored in the chapter immediately before Romans 13, chapter twelve. Chapter 12 of Romans reads much like the Sermon on the Mount; “Love must be sincere… Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse… Do not repay anyone evil for evil… Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Those were Paul’s instructions immediately prior to his Romans 13 statement on Christians living submissively under pagan governments (whom God has delegated the power of the sword). There is no caveat that they do not apply to the Christian later, if and when they find themselves in positions of power and political authority.
There is no caveat that these divine strategies of responding to hate and hurt with love and responding to evil with good only work on a small scale. My contention here is those who have been faithful and obedient in smaller situations can be entrusted with the same in larger situations. Jesus never differentiated between loving a neighbour and loving a neighbouring nation.** Effectually it is as if we believe Jesus said “These are some strategies that I commend to you for little matters. Honestly, for the more complex conflicts I have nothing for you in terms of heavenly wisdom or strategy so go ahead and ‘do unto them what they’ve do unto you’ and I’m okay with whatever response seems and feels right for you at the time. Not to worry, forgiveness comes easy with me, and grace cheap.”
**Leo Tolstoy settles this centuries-old, unnecessary uncertainty with a simple appeal to the words Jesus used and what they would have meant to his original hearers. “…[N]eighbour in the Hebrew language meant, invariably and exclusively, ‘a Hebrew.’” Considering the lengths he went to describe the thoroughness of his study of these words, that he seems to imply Jesus spoke this originally in Hebrew, not Aramaic, is peculiar. His justification may be it is the same word and meaning as in Luke 10:29 where the “neighbour” is a Samaritan– someone a Hebrew would have clearly not regarded as a neighbour. Finding the same meaning in Acts 7:27, his conclusion is “‘neighbour’ in Gospel language, means a compatriot, a person belonging to the same nationality…. And so the antithesis used by Jesus in the citation, ‘love thy neighbour, hate thine enemy,’ must be in the distinction between the words ‘compatriot’ and ‘foreigner.’” Tolstoy contended his supposition was further confirmed when seeking the Jewish understanding of enemy. “The word enemy is nearly always employed in the Gospels in the sense, not of a personal enemy, but, in general, of a ‘hostile people.’” His citations are Luke 1:71,74; Matthew 22, Mark 12:36 and Luke 20:43. Based on the words Jesus used, Tolstoy’s conclusion is that it is not possible that Jesus intended his teaching to be applicable only on the interpersonal level. [Source: Tolstoy, Leo. My Religion–What I Believe. (Guildford, UK: White Crow Productions Ltd, 2009 reprint of the 1884 text), 72.]
The West doesn’t want to admit it but we find ourselves in the midst of a brutal holy war. As the sun comes up in Paris this morning the world is reeling from last night’s attack on Paris by the Islamic State. Media outlets are still unsure the exact body count. Muslim radicals are engaged in a full-on holy war against the West. The leaders of this holy war aren’t military generals, they are imams. What if the religious leaders of the West took the lead in responding?
The President of France immediately announced France will respond mercilessly. Haven’t we learned since 9/11 this (a merciless response) isn’t working? We’ve mortgaged our future spending trillions on the sword. Selectively fiscal conservatives still think additional trillions in defence spending and ongoing war will make us safer and depopulate the world of bad guys. It has done the opposite. Maybe it’s time we push the leaders espousing those failed solutions aside. Where is the radical leadership of those who hold to the values of Jesus? Is it really nutso to say if they bomb our children we will only work harder to feed their refugees until they can be screened and relocated? There is a demonic spirit in radical Islam. You don’t disarm a demonic spirit with more bloodshed. That feeds it. You dislodge a demonic spirit by moving in the opposite spirit. My pushback here is fuelled by my concern that in Christian circles in America the same spirit of violence in radical Islam is also operating increasingly in us.
My weariness is in all the creative rationales Christians concoct to avoid the mandates of the Sermon on the Mount. For example, turn the other cheek only applies here or there but not every where?!? What is left is that we live none of it because we’ve wiggled out from under all of it. These are questions I raise in my Sermon on the Mount book: What does turn the other cheek mean to a Christian leader the morning after a 9/11? I’m not suggestion police officers or soldiers turn the other cheek. I’m saying what if our Presidents, Prime Ministers and Generals effectually and strategically did? If something is God’s strategy on a small scale, why will it not work on a larger scale? Where has it be tried? Is a bomb really the only thing in our arsenal? The more we kill them, the more they kill us. And who wins? They kill our children and we kill theirs. And Christian leaders essentially baptise all this with their silence and lack of leadership. Baloney that our role is to only comfort the grieving and pray blessing on our soldiers.
Time for some radical alternatives. We need some holy leaders for this holy war. Wouldn’t it be something if 100 Paris imams held a press conference with 100 Paris rabbis and Christian ministers and said – Stop, both sides, this isn’t the way forward and call for a total renouncement of violence from all sides? I’d like to see religious leaders take the helm from the national leaders and navigate our way out of these times. The time for peacemakers is now. A peacemaker is one who stands in the middle of conflict and sets both sides back. National leaders don’t have the tools or the anointing for peacemaking. That’s our job.
Every bomb we drop has proven to be a seed that produces ten more people who hate us. Closing borders is step one. Slowing down the welcome of refugees is step two to vet them properly so radicals aren’t waltzing right in among them. A military response here is more of the same and produces more of the same. We need to use our values not our bombs. Certainly there is a Sermon on the Mount response that will effectually heap burning coals on the heads of our enemies
If you’ve never read Mark Twain’s short War Prayer I commend it to you today. If you think these ideas are worth considering, please forward the link to this post on to others. Maybe it’ll resonate and gain some traction.
It’s possible to change the world’s political architecture through prayer! The most recent (and most grossly under-reported) example of this is with regard to the fall of the Berlin Wall. This post will be the first in a series where that story gets told, including interviews with those who were in the battle behind the battle.
Kristen and I both read a great book (loaded with pictures!) recently on the Berlin Wall and it’s fall called “Check Point Charlie and the Wall” but regrettably only one sentence in the book spoke of what really took down the wall… “In the top secret document ‘MfS, ZAIG, nr. 496/89’ he confirmed the rapid increase in politically motivated meetings organized by religious institutions and the sharply higher numbers participating in open air demonstrations.” Another book I ordered and can’t wait to read also mentions what I will tell you about more fully here – that book is Voices in Times of Change : The role of Writers, Opposition Movements and the Churches the Transformation of East Germany. (The role of writers and churches?? Uh oh, perhaps this will only encourage my blogging!!!)
I know of only one book (in English, though now out of print) that is devoted to this topic, Candles Behind the Wall. Author Barbara Von Der Heydt writes… “Six candles in Leipzig did more to topple the wall than 6000 missiles in Western Europe.”
The guy behind those six candles is named Rev. Christian Fürher. It is perhaps my only regret on my six weeks this summer in Europe that a meeting between us didn’t materialize. However, we are in communication and a meeting is pending. There are few people alive today who more encapsulate nearly all of my callings; strategic-level prayer, pastoring and politics, Bonhoeffer, the culture war and the Sermon on the Mount. (If only he was a church planter too!)
His name, Christian Fürher, is the first curious thing about him, at least to the English speaking world. When we hear “Fürher” we think of Hitler, but in German the word simply means leader. (Two weeks before Hitler was elected, Bonhoeffer rebelliously said on German radio, “Jesus is my Fürher. “) Christian Fürher was born March 5, 1943 in Leipzig, just south of Berlin. Little did the world know that as one murderous Fürher was ascending in power, God saw to it that another was being born – Christian Fürher – his name, Christian Leader, is quite prophetic in terms of how God used him.
The Berlin Wall (1961-1989) was 65 running miles of concrete, another 79 miles of alarm-equipped electrical fence in the rural areas, 20 earthen bunkers and 302 watchtowers. Unlike other city walls throughout the centuries, the wall was built not to keep people out, but to keep people in. Over 170 people died trying to defect by crossing the wall from East Berlin to West Berlin.
Here I am at one of the only remaining segments of the wall today.
This pic is of a hole in the wall – I’m bummed the view on the other side is blurred. Family members on each side of the wall would gather at these types of places to talk or exchange things. When that got out of hand, even the windows of the buildings facing West Berlin were bricked shut.
A museum and place for old ladies to die OR a grassroots counter-movement
In 1980, Rev. Fürher, started a November teaching series in his church (Nikolaikirche) in Leipzig on the theme of peacemaking. His zeal on the topic was fueled by the rising nuclear threat from proposed Soviet SS20 missiles and American Pershing Missiles. Rev. Fürher took the bold political step and opened the doors of his church to “alternative” young people who were forming protest groups for disarmament. He’s says “I suddenly realized that if we would open our doors for these types, the communists would no longer be able to say the church was a museum, a place for old ladies to die. The church could again become a grassroots counter-movement.”
In 1982, Rev. Fürher started a Monday night prayer meeting at his church – the prayer meeting lasted seven years (until the wall fell). Every Monday night at 5 p.m. a handful of people gathered, and at every meeting the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount were read in unison. These prayer meetings marked a new level of engagement. The meetings were called Friedensgebate (Prayers for Peace).
In 1988, a few protesters were arrested in Berlin and Rev. Fürher dialed up the prayer resistance a notch… he held his prayer meetings daily. Rev. Fürher frequently quoted Bonhoeffer, “the church is only the church when it is there for others.” People coming to pray daily for the release of the protesters quickly reached two thousand in number. Obviously the government was on high alert and they sent hundreds of their undercover STASI agents into the prayer meetings. Rev. Fürher began the meetings and joked about the undercover agents there – everyone laughed except the agents and everyone could easily look around identify who they were by who wasn’t smiling. (STASI secret police had over 100,000 agents and had assembled files on one-third of the East German population!!) Rev. Fürher did not mind the agents in his meetings but said “this is great that the government sent its employees to church and they were forced to listen to Jesus’ teachings!”
In September of 1989, other churches around Germany began to hold similar prayer meetings. At first that sounds like something great to report, and it is certainly. However, as one who has been in some similar battles what I see there is that Rev. Fürher had little help from other churches for six and a half of the seven years of his struggle. In his book, only available in German, he speaks of the discouragement he had to deal with of being the lone radical following the path of the Sermon on the Mount. He comments that he and his church experienced ten years of suffering and defamation prior to this point.
In October 1989, 60,000 people gathered in and around the church which was the largest demonstration ever held in the German Democratic Republic (GDR). All the people came with candles in hand. Rev. Fürher says “the Lord reminded me of this Scripture that says, ‘It’s not by might, and not by power, but by His Spirit.’ The only successful revolution in Germany was a non-violent one. Later the police said they were prepared for everything but not for prayers and candles.”
With two hands on a candle you can’t pick up a stone
The Berlin newspaper reported that the counter-revolution would be put down on Monday October 9 by “whatever means necessary.” Rev. Fürher reports that the day before some doctors came and visited his church to tell him that “hospital rooms had been made available for patients with bullet wound…
…So we were absolutely terrified of what might happen. The police had NOT been briefed for this possibility (candles and prayers). Had we thrown stones, they would have known what to do. They would have attacked. But the tanks had no choice but to withdraw without a single shot being fired…. we had the sense that something extraordinary had happened but we really only understood the enormity of it later… thousand of people with candles. People who have never met before, suddenly a family. They lay their candles at the feet of the armed soldiers and police. The steps of the STASI building, the organization that spied on, abused and sold people out, now awash with candles. It looks like a river of peace and light. …When more than 2000 of us came out of the church – I will never forget the sight – tens of thousands more were waiting outside in the square. They were holding candles. When you hold a candle you need both hands. You have to guard the flame, stop it from being blown out. You can’t hold a stone or club at the same time. And then the miracle occurred. The Spirit of Jesus, a spirit of non-violence, took hold of the masses and what resulted was material, peaceful violence. The army, fighting patrols and police were drawn in, started conversations and retreated.
On Oct. 18, these prayer meetings (protests) led to the resignation of Erich Honecker, the communist East German politician later tried with crimes against humanity. Honecker was contemplating the “Chinese Solution” to shut down Rev. Fürher’s prayer meetings – the Chinese Solution referred to the massacre at Tienanmen Square in Beijing only five months earlier. A leader in the old GDR regime said before his death… “We had planned everything. We were prepared for any eventuality. Any except for prayer and candles.”
Ronald Reagan’s famous speech at the Brandenburg Gate was June 7, 1987 – “Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Rev. Fürher contends that the reason Gorbachev didn’t come and tear down the wall is because the request was made “in a spirit of war.” Two more years on contending in prayer were necessary to undermine the real foundations of that wall. Rev. Fürher stood at the same wall (on the other side) and led hundreds of thousands of others to call on God to tear down the wall. God answered and the Belin Wall fell November 9, 1989.
That’s a pic of us at the Brandenberg Gate a couple weeks ago.
The Sermon on the Mount in two words
Later when asked how he was so confident that peaceful prayer protests would work Rev. Fürher commented, “we were not in the least confident. We were afraid day and night, but we had the courage of our convictions. The Bible had taught us the power of peaceful protest and this was the only weapon we had. Resorting to violence makes us no better than our enemies, and then we are no longer blessed.” Obviously he’s strong in the flow of the Sermon on the Mount.
About the Sermon on the Mount he said; “It still moves me today to recall that in a secular country the masses condensed the Beatitudes and the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount into two words – NO VIOLENCE (KEINE GEWALT!) and they practised what they preached.” Keine Gewalt became their slogan.
In the same way this unjust system has fallen
There was a particular Saturday in 1989 about which Rev. Fuhrer writes: “Fourteen hours, uniformed men beat the defenceless people, who did not retaliate, and took them away in lorries. Hundreds of them were herded into stables in Markkleeberg.” During this period, Markus Laegel was only 13 years old. Today he heads 24-7 Germany and has written here of his memories of that time. Later, at the fall of the wall Markus says he sensed the Spirit of God saying, “in the same way as this unjust system was fallen, so every other unjust system will fall.” He notes that the reason he is doing this 24-7 prayer thing is because he sees his generation has “merely swapped communism for consumerism and they are no more free.”
The street and the altar
This is long enough, but it’s powerful stuff. I have a number of specific questions for Rev. Fürher and I’ll post again on this topic and include his replies. I’ll have to arrange another time/place to meet – perhaps in January. I believe that his story and testimony need to be told in the prayer movement outside of Germany. Here’s a pic of him today in his cut off jean-jacket and white spiked hair, both of which have become his signature look. Also, here is the New York Times article which was a story about his retirement from the church last year. I’ll conclude here with his statement: “I always wanted also to move in the earthly realm. It is not the throne and the altar but the street and the altar that belong together.”
Wow– this week my blog has really turned into more of a slideshow of my pictures rather than my commentary. But, there are still more things to say and show.
Many times I’ve mentioned the privilege I had to study for three years under one of the world’s leading Bonhoeffer scholars – Dr. F. Burton Nelson. Burton died in 2004, he was a personal friend of the Bonhoeffer family. He challenged me to pick a theological companion to walk through life with, so I picked Bonhoeffer. What a treat for me to visit Bonhoeffer’s home (actually his parents home) in Berlin a few weeks ago and be given a private tour. Thank you Knut Hämmerling for that treat. Here we are in front of the home at Marienburger Allee 43.
For those of us who’ve seen this address written in his own script, even walking up to the home is pretty cool. A couple days before he was stripped naked and hung in the concentration camp at Flossenbürg, he wrote that script in the front of a book that he wanted returned to his parents. His body was cremated with thousands of others in the ovens and his family didn’t learn for certain of his death until months later. Bonhoeffer was killed on April 9, 1945. Hitler committed suicide twenty days later. Germany surrendered on May 7.
For a couple of hours Knut downloaded details of Bonhoeffer’s life for me and my family. I won’t take up space here introducing you to Bonhoeffer if his name is new to you. Take a couple moments and read about him here. Here I am in Bonhoeffer’s bedroom/study. (One of the things I’ve given much thought to here is my new home office – I am borrowing a couple ideas from his here – one is the big window which I plan to install when I get home.)
At this desk he wrote what was to be his life work Ethics. He was arrested by the Gestapo in this house and did not complete Ethics. Pages of it were found ten years after his death hidden in the rafters of this home. His good friend Eberhard Bethge compiled them and that is the version of Ethics that is readily available today. Also in this house conspiratorial discussions took place which included Bonhoeffer, other family members and leaders of the resistance movement – plots to assassinate Hitler were discussed here.
As a Sermon on the Mount junkie, I’ve always been quite dialed in on how Bonhoeffer held to the high pacifist ideal in his writings (turn the other cheek, love enemies), but compromised (and justifiably so in my view) that ideal by participating in a secret assassination plot on Hitler. His (and Karl Barth’s) view of the myth of the separation of church and state very much appeals to me. Separating the spheres, Bonhoeffer insisted, is a denial of God’s having reconciled the whole world to himself in Christ. He said the Church wasn’t just to tend the victims of society run over by the wheel, the Church has a God-mandated responsibility to shove a spoke in the wheel and stop the victimization. He said the church may not keep out of politics if the state abrogates basic human rights. He demanded the church be prepared for political resistance and he was very much alone in that opinion.
Bonhoeffer criticized Luther for two things; 1) focusing the Reformation only on the church (whereas Zwingli sought to influence – salt and light – all of society). Bonhoeffer believed Luther’s views on this set the stage for the German Church of the 1930’s to stay out of Hitler’s business. In the 1000+ plus pages of Reformation history I’ve read this month, I’ve had the sense that had Zwingli been in Germany and not in Switzerland, the Holocaust wouldn’t have happened. Bonhoeffer also was one of the earliest voices in the German Lutheran Church to renounce 2) the anti-Semitism and treatment of the Jews.
In the years prior to his arrest he organized pastor strikes, signature drives, etc. and was very much political. As the Reich/State increasing silenced pastors, even friends distanced themselves from Bonhoeffer. He experienced the loneliness of the loss of friends and reputation. Honestly, I can really relate. Had I been called to trumpet the HIVAIDS issue I would be celebrated, but those of us who recognize the humanity of the unborn and the injustice of abortion and walk in a clear call from God to stop the shedding of judicially innocent blood — we are vilified. But, to quote one of Bonhoeffer’s more famous lines… “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
Recently I was told I cut the target of those I’m called to reach in half when I get political. Hmm, half. If I was a pastor in Alabama in the 60’s I’d be marching across the bridge with my black brothers and sisters even if it meant 99% of the white folks in my town spit me out. Today we don’t question the humanity of blacks – previous Supreme Court decisions denying blacks full humanity have been reversed. Science now confirms separate and unique living human beings are the product of conception. It’s a human rights issue, a justice issue. And, who does God have on the earth to be his “spoke” in the wheel that is running over the most vulnerable and helpless members of human society? Is it any wonder I’m the only pastor in our state to receive numerous death threats this year? I vote we apply a little Sermon on the Mount to our treatment of the unborn… let’s do to them what we’d want done to us – did you know they feel pain at 8 weeks? Wow– yet they have no voice and they use no anesthesia to dismember them while they are yet living.
For those of you interested to dive into Bonhoeffer a bit – first, buy two books. 1) Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Spoke in the Wheel by Renate Wind. Kristen, Caleb and I read this together a few weeks ago and that made for great discussion just prior to our visit to the Bonhoeffer Haus – it’s an easy 182 pages. Next read 2) Cost of Discipleship by Bonhoeffer. This is now universally considered a Christian Classic – this is where you’ll read his ideas about “cheap grace” and the entire middle section is his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount.
After that I recommend my professor Burton Nelson’s book – really a compilation of Bonhoeffer writings – 3) A Testament to Freedom and I also recommend Bonhoeffer’s best friends biography of his life 4) Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography by Eberhard Bethge. Bonhoeffer’s other works and letters are all readily available. If you are not much of a reader and just want a DVD version of his life I recommend – Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Pacifist, Nazi Resistor– which we show during the Omega Course. Those who are hard-core can join the International Bonhoeffer Society. Hope all that is helpful to somebody.