Monday, December 27, 2010

The right to sing

The notion of solidarity in authentic community doesn't come naturally to us. 

The spirit of "we're all in this together" appears lost to our consumer-driven, "every man for himself" culture. 

Most revolutionary leadership on the positive side of history's rolling ledger recognizes the importance/necessity of this understanding of our human interdependence. 

Again, the experience and counsel of Dietrich Bonhoeffer provides challenging guidance in shaping a renewed understanding of the essential nature of standing for and with others, even when no immediate benefit appears obvious for me and my interests. 

Eric Metaxas' moving new biography of the Lutheran clergyman contains the following passage on the clear connection between speaking out and standing with those who suffer oppression and powerlessness and the practice of genuine faith in the world today:

The Nuremberg Laws represented what has been called a second, "more ordered" phase of Jewish persecution.  Jews. who were once legal citizens of Germany, were becoming subject of the Third Reich.  Their citizenship was banishing, legally, in the center of Europe, in the twentieth century.  Bonhoeffer had known of this pending legislation through Dohnanyi (his brother-in-law), who tried to thwart it, or blunt it, in vain.

Bonhoeffer saw the enactment of these laws as an opportunity for the Confessing Church to speak out clearly, in a way they had not yet been able to do.  The Nazis had drawn a line in the sand and everyone could see it.

But the Confessing Church was again slow to act.  It was guilty of the typically Lutheran error of confining itself to the narrow sphere of how church and state were related.  When the state is trying to encroach upon the church, this is a proper sphere of concern.  But for Bonhoeffer, the idea of limiting the church's actions to this sphere alone was absurd.  The church had been instituted by God to exist for the whole world.  It was to speak into the world and to be a voice in the world, so it had an obligation to speak out against things that did not affect it directly. 

Bonhoeffer believed it was the role of the church to speak for those who could not speak.  To outlaw slavery inside the church was right, but to allow it to exist outside the church would be evil.  So it was with this persecution of the Jews by the Nazi state.  Boldly speaking out for those who were being persecuted would show the Confessing Church to be the church, because just as Bonhoeffer had written that Jesus Christ was the "man for others," so the church was his body on this earth, a community in which Christ was present--a community that existed "for others."  To serve others outside the church, to love them as one loved oneself, and to do unto them as one would have others do unto oneself, these were the clear commands of Christ.

Around that time, Bonhoeffer made his famous declaration:  "Only he who crises out for the Jews may sing Gregorian chants."  As far as he was concerned, to dare to sing to God when his chosen people were being beaten and murdered meant that one must also speak out against their suffering.  If one was unwilling to do this, God was not interested in one's worship.

from Bonhoeffer:  Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
by Eric Metaxas

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