Tuesday, September 30, 2008

letters and papers from prison, 3

look, the question is: does true spirituality consist of what we do -- externally acting in the name of the christ, or does it consist in what we think -- internally relating to the christ?

this is not a new question. is faith to be done or thought?

for the most part, my tradition comes down on the side of thinking. we are very much a "people of the book," which means we prize knowledge as the primary mark of spirituality, as in "wow, she really knows the bible!"

i am coming to the conclusion that this may be wrong-headed, and that in fact this part of our dna may have contributed to our current inaction and failure of nerve in the face of the post-modern/post-christian context.

bonhoeffer leaves little doubt where he comes down on this question, especially in his latter writings such as the letters and papers from prison. for him, religion asks, "how can I find a gracious god," but christians in a world come of age ask, "lord, what wouldst thou have me to do?" (martin marty about bonhoeffer), or take what Heinz Zahmt wrote in a tribute ten years after Bonhoeffer's death in Flossenb├╝rgy: "there have been martyrs who called the world to the church...bonhoeffer is a martyr who called the church to the world."

bonhoeffer himself said:

"she [the church] must tell men, whatever their calling, what it means to live in christ, to exist for others." (lpfp)

"The Christian, unlike the devotees of the salvation myths, does not need a last refuge in the eternal from earthly tasks and difficulties. But like Christ himself ("My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?") he must drink the earthly cup to the lees, and only in his doing that is the crucified and risen Lord with him, and he crucified and risen with Christ. This world must not be prematurely written off. In this the Old and New Testaments are at one. Myths of salvation arise from human experiences of the boundary situation. Christ takes hold of a man in the center of his life." (lpfp)

"In what way are we in a religionless and secular sense Christians, in what way are we the Ekklesia, "Those who are called forth," not conceiving of ourselves religiously as specially favoured, but as wholly belonging to the world? Then Christ is no longer an object of religion, but something quite different, in deed and in truth the Lord of the world." (lpfp)

"Is it not true to say that individualistic concern for personal salvation has almost completely left us all? Are we not really under the impression that there are more important things than bothering about such a matter? . . . Is there any concern in the Old Testament about saving one's soul at all? . . . It is not with the next world that we are concerned, but with this world as created and preserved and set subject to laws and atoned for and made new. What is above the world is, in the Gospel, intended to exist for this world. . . . "(lpfp)