In May 1944 Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote these words,
All Christian thinking, speaking and organising must be born anew out of this prayer and action…We are not out of the melting-pot and any attempt to help the church prematurely to a new expansion of its organisation will merely delay its conversion and purification…Till then, the Christian cause will be a silent and hidden affair, but there will be those who pray and do right and wait for God’s own time. May you be one of them…
‘Letters and Papers from Prison’. Edited by Eberhard Bethge, Published by SCM Press, 1986. p300.
The Church’s complicity in the Nazi horror show was something which Bonhoeffer could not be accused of being a partner in. He knew that any future the Church had must start with its own conversion and purification. Whilst Bonhoeffer practised resistance with his ‘non-co-operation with evil’, the Church collaborated.
Alas, after the War we did not heed his words, but pressed on with new initiatives for ‘expansion’. Bonhoeffer presaged this call to conversion with his views about the Church’s ‘fight’ during war-time; that it was simply focused on ‘self-preservation’ as an ‘end in itself’ and that this selfish act rendered it ‘incapable of taking the word of reconciliation and redemption…to the world.’ These words hang in the air over us, waiting for a heart-felt response and contrition.
Instead, to aid our new expansion we have altered the message and the meaning of the words of reconciliation and redemption. They continue to be inwardly focused, that is to say, they are utilised to aid attempts at the ‘self-preservation’ of the Organisation.
On the Upptacka pages you will see conversations about “(not) going to church (much)”. Part of the problem is that those whose lives are set on ‘resistance’, of non-co-operation with evil, sit uncomfortably within institutions of spirituality which conflate Jesus’ teachings about the Kingdom of God with the conservation of the Church.
The second part of Bonhoeffer’s quote, points to those who continue to work hidden outside of the Church’s expansion project; quietly, subversively. Such people wait for God’s own time and not the time appointed by some ‘anointed’ preacher or other. You cannot act in this way by being the front-man for the institution, because the game is up due to the baggage you carry.
Our crisis of faith is one of a Wilderness walk, a time of attrition, a time when God seems to have very bad taste in art, film, music and literature. We know this to be the case, since this is where God invests most of the resources and money! (Such investment appears not to have altered the quality of such products and is therefore a sign of unwise investment!) In the meantime, our crisis of faith is that God’s indifference to quality aesthetic products and great storytelling, renders life almost impossible for us.
Today I’m fasting by having a non-prayer day! My hope is that God will be shocked at the lack of incessant exchange and will come along to check me out and see what’s wrong. Should God ask, my answer will be “Stop giving artists the grand-vision of life and expecting them to make a difference with the crumbs you provide for them under the table. Stop investing your resources in kitsch.” I can be a very passionate pleader if I need to be, y’know!
Bonhoeffer’s words ring true today (some 67 years later) and still warrant a righteous response from us; otherwise what we build is merely the self-projection of our will, a token of our egos and a symbol of our collaboration with the powerful and the privileged. As for me, I’m left speechless.