Tuesday, April 22, 2014


The one who would study the scriptures must have much leisure. ~Sirach 38:24

I sometimes envy the Victorian stereotype of the rector as a “kept man,” pottering in his study, breaking for tea, then attending the parish flower show up at the manor-house. This is an exaggeration of the Church of England's "freehold" system, in which the vicar essentially had ownership rights to his parish, and was, in a way, "lord of all he surveyed." (And now—post-Victorian, thankfully—also “she.”) I have to say that the modern pastor’s job description is more like the line from a (Victorian!) novel about “the man who mounted his horse and rode off in all directions.” Yet I do not want to be disingenuous about (or give up on) the built-in need in this calling for what the Anglican Church refers to as “reflective ministry,” and what the Book of Sirach calls, simply, “leisure:” Time, that is, to study, read, and write. (See introductory line, above.)

We are discovering that, in a humane civilization, all occupations and professions ought to offer a measure of flexibility in the work schedule. (It was, after all, the pre-conversion Scrooge who told Bob Cratchitt, "Be here all the earlier next morning!") And studies show that flex-time even helps the bottom line. So rather than succumbing to the lure of workaholism (an illness), the pastor can model a healthy balance in his or her own life, and support such balance in the lives of members of the parish and the community. Gold, perhaps, has been the most pursued; but time the most valued resource after all.

John  Donne
John Donne, who delivered powerful sermons from the pulpit of St. Paul’s in London from 1621 till his death in 1631, also wrote volume after volume of religious (and love!) poetry during those years. R.S. Thomas, who died in 2000 after forty years as a rural vicar in the Church of Wales and who wrote thirty books of (Nobel-nominated) poetry in that time, said frankly, after he retired, that it was the “Anglican freehold” that allowed him time to write. I trust that the reflective hours in the Rev. Donne’s London townhouse
R.S. Thomas
and Father Thomas’ country parson-
age also resulted in caring ministry,
but the world is grateful to their
parishioners for granting them the time.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


I am a recently retired pastor, but
if I were preaching this Easter Sunday
I would take as my text the grievous murders
in Kansas City, and I would call to account
anyone—including anyone in this room today—
who hates Jews and anyone
who hates Barack Obama and anyone
who hates George W. Bush and anyone
who hates Republicans and anyone
who hates Democrats and anyone
who who hates the ludicrous Tea Party and
anyone who hates Muslims and anyone
who hates communists and anyone who
hates his ex-wife and anyone
who hates the Catholics and the
Methodists that the stupid Jew-hater
accidentally killed and anyone
who hates
who hates who
hates who
And even though
I’m a cold-blooded Norwegian-
Lutheran maybe by now I’d
be in tears and suggest that
since the hate-killing of
the Jew Jesus
all we have is
It’s all we have.
But I don’t know if I’d have the courage
to pronounce the crucified Jew’s benediction:
Father forgive
for they
know not
what they do

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.   ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Today is the anniversary of the death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, executed by the Nazis at the age of 39.

A Lutheran pastor from an elite German family (his parents, although supportive, were essentially non-religious and stunned by Dietrich’s decision for the ministry), Bonhoeffer was a visiting scholar in the United States when the clouds of war began to cover Europe. His American friends urged him to sit out the war on this side of the Atlantic, but he could not resist the summons he felt to return to his country.

Bonhoeffer became a leader in the Confessing Church, a Christian community that held out against the pressures of Hitler’s state takeover of the church as long as it could (while the majority of German Lutherans signed on to a document that basically said, “One nation, one Fuhrer, and out with the Jews!”) Far from being remembered simply because he was the victim of execution, Bonhoeffer was an accomplished theologian, and the works that survive him are a testament to the richness that the world has lost because of his untimely death.

Bonhoeffer’s work as a civilian in the Abwehr (German intelligence), provided him cover to accomplish some limited success in providing safety for Jews, and, eventually, protected  him (for a while) as he joined a conspiracy of insiders committed to getting rid of Hitler and to negotiating a peace with the allies.

Bonhoeffer was an ethicist and a pacifist, and considered his part in the plot to assassinate Hitler to be a grave sin, yet he also felt it was the only choice he had as a Christian. When the plot failed, Bonhoeffer was caught in the net of vengeance that followed, and he was executed at Flossenberg Prison on April 9, 1945. The criminal tragedy of his death is made the sadder by its timing: Two weeks after his execution, Hitler committed suicide, and on May 8 the war came to an end. Dietrich’s brother, Klaus, and two brothers-in-law were also executed.

The volume, “Letters and Papers from Prison” is considered essential for an understanding of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The poignancy of the death of this young man is captured in one of those letters – to his fiancée:
When I think about the situation of the world, the complete darkness over our personal fate, and my present imprisonment, then I believe that our union can only be a sign of God’s grace and kindness, which calls us to faith…. Jeremiah says at the moment of his people’s great need “still one shall buy houses and acres in this land" as a sign of trust in the future. This is where faith belongs. May God give it to us daily. And I do not mean the faith which flees the world, but the one that endures the world and which loves and remains true to the world in spite of all the suffering which it contains for us. Our marriage shall be a yes to God’s earth; it shall strengthen our courage to act and accomplish something on the earth.
 Bonhoeffer’s last words to a fellow inmate, upon being led away to the place of execution, were, “This is the end, for me, the beginning of life.”

The best biography of Bonhoeffer is “Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography,” a labor of love by his closest friend, Eberhard Bethge. Other good ones are "Dietrich Bonhoeffer: 1906-1945," by Ferdinand Schlingensiepen, and "Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy," by Eric Metaxas (a recent NY Times bestseller). Also recommended are “Letters and Papers From Prison,” and “Life Together,” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. “Letters and Papers” is a collection of what the title implies. “Life Together” is Bonhoeffer’s outline of the elements of a Christian community. It is, rightly, regarded as a “classic.” "Ethics" is his most widely known work of theology.

Photo: Bonhoeffer in prison