Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Passion and the Cross by Ronald Rolheiser

The crucifixion is the other side of the coin of the nativity. As we approach Christmas through the doors of advent we see the love of God through the incarnation. Both the incarnation and the crucifixion show not just how much God loves us but they also show us how to love each other. The first chapter explains about the passivity of Jesus and how all during the crucifixion Jesus was not only passive about resisting but showed great love to his tormentors. Jesus demonstrated how to turn anger, hate and hurt into peace, love and health. Subsequent chapters unpack the mystery of the cross and Jesus as redeemer not rescuer. God did not promise we would not suffer but showed us how to turn bad into good. Christ redeems our suffering and gives it meaning. Rolheiser states, "the love that Christ reveals in the cross is so strong that it can descend into any hell we can create, thaw out our frozen souls, and lead us into the light and peace of paradise, despite our fears and weaknesses."
True love is sacrificial. In The Passion and the Cross, "This is what constitutes the sacrificial part of his love; namely, the excruciatingly pain (ex cruce, from “the cross”) that he had to undergo in order to take in hatred and give back love. But that is the only way that sin can ever leave a community; someone has to take it in, hold it, carry it, and, through a certain excruciating sacrifice of self, transform it into something else." Love is relational and transformative. We see this in the baby Jesus, stated by Rolheiser as "But God’s power is the power of exousia— a baby that lays helpless, muted, patient, beckoning for someone to take care of it. It’s this power that lies at the deepest base of things and will, in the end, gently, have the final say. It’s also the only power upon which love and community can be created because it, and it alone, ultimately softens rather than breaks the heart.
It is important while standing at the manger at Christmas we remember the standing at the cross that will be forthcoming at Easter. This completes the love story of Incarnation, Crucifixion and Resurrection. I would recommend this book to you to bring forth ideas I had not otherwise been exposed to in theology and exposition of the love of God. Why did Jesus have to be crucified? How are we redeemed? The Passion and the Cross brings the answers into focus.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Charles Marsh

One of the greatest theologians of our time, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a complex man of contradictions. The author, Mr. Marsh peels back every layer so we can see the whole picture of a man obviously enamored of Catholicism but who never converted. He remained a protestant preacher although highly intellectual and he spent a life time finding the truth to some of our biggest questions of "Who is God? and "Where is God during tragedy?".
Bonhoeffer was born in 1906 in Breslau, Germany in a wealthy upper class family. He had a life of privilege, with all the books, music and education he wanted. He earned two doctorates in theology. He loved travel, music and putting on skits and plays to entertain his family and friends. He had a twin sister, Sabine, whom he was very close until she got married. He was well traveled, traveling throughout Spain, England, India and the United States. He believed in ecumenism and reaching out to other religious leaders to combat evil.
Bonhoeffer's story is told not just against the backdrop of World War II but in the thick of it. He was originally arrested for avoiding joining the Nazi army to fight in a time when the idea of being a  conscientious objector did not exist. But during his incarceration it was revealed he had been involved in plotting to kill Hitler. He was killed in a concentration camp.  His famous last words were "This is not the end for me; it is the beginning of life"
Bonhoeffer found Lutheranism lacking with sola fide or faith alone. He recognized true faith and the common man especially when faced with the racism of the American South. His world view changed to include the understanding that faith is wrapped up in how we treat each other. He originally found being a parish preacher to be mundane and trifling but learned the richness to be found in each parishioner's life. He loved the beauty of the Catholic mass especially during Christmas and Easter. He recognized the inequality against Jews that began in Germany in 1933 and reached the level of evil slaughter and the height of the Holocaust in 1942. This was the year that most people died at the hands of the Nazis. He knew he could not stay silent and spoke out and wrote in opposition to the Aryan paragraph of Jewish exclusion and white supremacy. A quote from Bonhoeffer includes "This denotes a moment in which the church, in order to be true to itself and its message, must distinguish as clearly as possible between truth and error".
Bonhoeffer fought the evil of the Nazis first through the intelligence bureau and finally advocating murder of the fuhrer even though he was a pacifist. A protestant preacher and theologian that believed it mattered what we did in our works. As I said previously, definitely a man of contradictions.
I would recommend this book to you. It is a beautiful biography written by Charles March, the foremost expert on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He served as the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Visiting Professor at Humboldt University in Berlin. There was great detail and I loved the black and white photos. I was fascinated by what I learned about history and theology. Within Glory Days there was the intrigue of spy stories, love stories and news stories. This is a scholarly work that could be difficult to read at times but definitely worth the effort.