What Happened to Dietrich?: Bonhoeffer’s Theological Shift in Harlem

Bonhoeffer_Union_ClassNot too long ago I read Reggie Williams‘ thought-provoking book, Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus: Harlem Renaissance Theology and an Ethic of Resistance. This is an outstanding book and would easily fit within my top five recommended reads about the life and work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. There is so much to say from this book, but in our present moment I wanted to share this extended reflection by Williams from one of the final chapters of the book here. In our present tensions, we must understand that a shift must occur for the church, particularly for white Christians. We must enter into the experiences of others, especially our African American brothers and sisters, in a way that changes us to become more like Jesus. It begins with seeing God more clearly, then reading the Bible more fully through other cultural lenses, then seeing ourselves and others differently in ways that leads to concrete action for the sake of the kingdom of God.

The hermeneutical process that was set in motion by Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s formative German nationalist environment had been disrupted by immersion in a different community. During the Harlem Renaissance and at the beginning of the Great Depression, Bonhoeffer entered into the ‘church of the outcast of America’ in Harlem. He came to Harlem not as the professor come to give oppressed people The benefit of his knowledge; Bonhoeffer allowed himself to be vulnerable in the Harlem community, which was very different from his own German one, by an incarnational practice. In Harlem he learned from Powell’s ministry and was exposed to a black dialectical ecclesiology and to Powell’s interpretation of a model church community. That encounter exposed the limitations of Bonhoeffer’s Volk-centered loyalties, making him vulnerable to the influence of a different worldview and opening him up to important revisions in his faith. When Bonhoeffer shared with his friend Myles Horton the interrupting ‘Amens’ and ‘Hallelujahs’ that he experienced in the Abyssinian church service, Myles was surprised by the different demeanor that his German friend exhibited. It was the different Bonhoeffer, in the year following his encounter with black Baptists, whose piety sometimes appeared ‘too fervent’ to his students. One of Bonhoeffer’s Berlin students recalled the directness and ‘simplicity’ with which Bonhoeffer ‘asked us whether we loved Jesus.’ That different Bonhoeffer was the one who would later speak out against Nazi racism and become the celebrated author of Creation and Fall, Life Together, Discipleship, and Ethics.

[From Reggie Williams, Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus: Harlem Renaissance Theology and an Ethic of Resistance (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2014), pp. 105-106.]

A Prayer inspired by Hebrews 4:14-5:10

image 3 - Hebrews

Throughout our new series “The Final Word: Knowing Christ through Hebrews,” I am writing prayers related to the text on which we are preaching each week. This prayer is drawn from Hebrews 4:14-5:10. The complete list of prayers inspired by Hebrews is included at the bottom of this post. You can also view my message, “Jesus the High Priest,” from this passage here.

Father, we know that we were made for You,
that our souls will only find true peace and joy
when we are in reconciled relationship with You
both for now and for eternity.

We confess, O God, that we are lost without You.
Our minds are confused with various messages,
Our hearts are stirred by diverse desires,
and our very being is trapped in cycles of sin and brokenness.

Jesus, only Son of the Father,
You alone are our Great High Priest,
who makes a way for us to boldly approach
God’s throne of grace for the help we need.

Holy Spirit, we invite You to set us ablaze again
with the Pentecost fire of Your indwelling presence
that we might once again burn for Your glory
as a shining light in this world.

All this we pray in Your name, Triune God—
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—
the One we need more than anything or anyone else
and also the One who provides for our greatest need.
Amen.


Prayers from Hebrews:

Eastbrook at Home – May 31, 2020

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Join us for worship with Eastbrook Church through Eastbrook at Home as we celebrate Pentecost Sunday and continue our series “The Final Word: Knowing Christ through Hebrews.” This weekend I will preach from Hebrews 4:14-5:10 and what it means that Jesus is the great high priest. Follow along with the entire series here. Access the downloadable bulletin, sermon notes, and sermon discussion guide here.

Don’t miss the chance to join in with a virtual small group discussing the sermon every Sunday at 11 AM. More info here.

Each Sunday beginning at 8 AM, you can participate with our weekly worship service at home with your small group, family, or friends. This service will then be available during the week until the next Sunday’s service starts.

As we continue to tweak this experience, please let us know your experience by emailing us here. You can also access or download the service directly via Vimeo or the Eastbrook app.

If you are not signed up for our church emailing list, please sign up here. Also, please remember that during this time financial support for the church is critical as we continue minister within our congregation and reach out to our neighborhood, city, and the world at this challenging time. Please give online or send in a donation to support the ministry of Eastbrook Church.

The Weekend Wanderer: 30 May 2020

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.


George Floyd gospel legacy“George Floyd Left a Gospel Legacy in Houston” – Kate Shellnut at Christanity Today: “The rest of the country knows George Floyd from several minutes of cell phone footage captured during his final hours. But in Houston’s Third Ward, they know Floyd for how he lived for decades—a mentor to a generation of young men and a ‘person of peace’ ushering ministries into the area. Before moving to Minneapolis for a job opportunity through a Christian work program, the 46-year-old spent almost his entire life in the historically black Third Ward, where he was called ‘Big Floyd’ and regarded as an ‘OG,’ a de-facto community leader and elder statesmen, his ministry partners say.”


AND legacy“Statement from The AND Campaign on Racialized Violence in America” – “We mourn the loss of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and all others who have lost their lives due to racialized violence. The grief of their loved ones is our grief and we share in their agony. The riots in Minneapolis are not to be glorified or romanticized, but we must realize that they are a product of a riotous and unjust system. The disorder began when a man’s rights were violated and his life was taken. American racism was rioting against the people long before they took to the streets. We must condemn and address the cause before we can appropriately address the broken reaction.”


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“Becoming The Kinds of Leaders Who Can Do The Job” – Here is some wisdom from Dallas Willard published in 1999, later compiled into a chapter in Renewing the Christian Mind, that connects with the call to spiritual and moral leadership in this moment. “We had read all of Dallas’ books and been deeply impacted by them—not least by his latest, The Divine Conspiracy. But Brian had just finished presenting some thoughts on new models of leadership—leaders marked not so much by conquest and technique, but by spiritual goodness and wisdom. And so we sat there, slumped pensively in our chairs, until someone finally said, ‘Dallas…please talk to us about how we become those kind of people.’ So, during a break, Dallas began listing some of his thoughts on a whiteboard. And then in his gracious, careful way, he challenged us to become the kind of leaders this world so desperately needs. The following is some of what he told us.”


Grief Comes to Church“Letting Grief Come to Church” – Whether we know it or not, we are all grieving different losses that the pandemic has brought into our lives. What does it mean to allow space for grief in the church and how might that help us experience release and healing in our lives? Clarissa Moll writes about this for CT Pastors, sharing five ways we can welcome what may feel unwelcome once the doors reopen at our churches.


Supreme Court Church“Supreme Court, in 5-4 Decision, Rejects Church’s Challenge to Shutdown Order”New York Times: “The Supreme Court on Friday turned away a request from a church in California to block enforcement of state restrictions on attendance at religious services. The vote was 5 to 4, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joining the court’s four-member liberal wing to form a majority. ‘Although California’s guidelines place restrictions on places of worship, those restrictions appear consistent with the free exercise clause of the First Amendment,’ Chief Justice Roberts wrote in an opinion concurring in the unsigned ruling.”


balcony church“Balcony church gains popularity in Kenya amid pandemic” – I always enjoy creativity in how churches gather people or reach out to people. Here is one that I have never heard of that seems well-suited for this time of the pandemic, flowing from a children’s outreach in Nairobi, Kenya. “Machira has taken his ‘Balcony to Balcony’ service on the road since Kenya’s first case was found in mid-March. It has become quite popular, the preacher at the All Saints Cathedral of the Anglican Church of Kenya said.”


Washington D.C.'s National Cathedral Webcasts Sunday Mass Due To Coronavirus

“Seeking to Understand the Rise, Fall, and Loss of Young Pastors” –  Robert Stewart writes at Chuck DeGroat’s blog about a serious and hard topic. “At least (five) high profile young pastors of whom I’m aware have taken their lives during these past twelve months alone. As painful as this topic is to discuss I believe that we absolutely must force ourselves to do so if we’re ever understand what’s going on here. We shouldn’t be trying to address this crisis until we better understand all the cultural, characterological, spiritual, and biological issues which influence it. After the space shuttle Challenger disaster stunned the world in 1986 all shuttle flights were grounded until the underlying cause (defective “o-rings” in the right side solid rocket booster) could be understood and resolved. Seven astronauts died unnecessarily in that incident. Almost that many young pastors (or maybe more) have died in this past year. And, the many opinions about why don’t add up to any real comprehension which could guide us towards life saving solutions. It just seems unconscionable to continue on as usual amid the carnage. So, how might we begin the quest to understand and solve this crisis with an inquiry as focused and complete as the one which solved the riddle of the Challenger?”


 

Music: Common Hymnal (featuring Dee Wilson),Rose Petals,” from Common Hymnal

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

How Should We Respond to Racial Injustice?: some suggestions for this moment

George-floyd-protests

The killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery have added to the stream of cases, particularly over the past year, raising questions about systemic issues of racial disparities in the implementation of justice in our nation. Along with the well-known cases of Trayvon Martin in Florida, Michael Brown in Ferguson, and Eric Garner in New York, these recent cases increase the sense that something is deeply wrong in our nation in relation to racial justice.  This is a complex situation that touches on many elements, including law enforcement, educational opportunities, employment possibilities, and more.

I have talked with many individuals over the past weeks who are trying to understand what happened, what this means, and how we should respond as Christians in the face of these challenging times. As a pastor of a multiethnic church here in Milwaukee, I believe that the strongest witness happens when we journey together across our diverse backgrounds into a learning process that involves listening, healthy reflection, and taking action together for racial justice. Regardless of your opinions on the above matters, as followers of Jesus Christ we must approach these issues based upon God’s Word in Scripture.

A clear biblical response to this situation is to grieve. The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” We should mourn with the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, who lost loved ones in ways that are just wrong.  Regardless of our ethnicity, we should mourn together as one with the African-American community who senses things are deeply wrong in our country. Regardless of our politics, we should mourn over our own city which ranks so highly in ethnic segregation, poverty, violent crime, racial disparities for incarceration, and more. A healthy biblical response is to grieve over this situation that is shaking our nation.

As we grieve, we must also raise a prophetic voice for righteousness and justice. The Old Testament prophets critique the authorities of their day again and again for failing to bring justice into the courts of law. It was the prophet Amos who spoke judgment upon Israel for failing in this regard. He said, “For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not relent. They sell the innocent for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. They trample on the heads of the poor as on the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed” (Amos 2:6-7). God has a concern for justice and righteousness coming together in the public square. While we know no human being or system can ever fully represent God’s pure justice and righteousness, we still have a responsibility as God’s people to call authorities to pursue the ways of righteousness and justice in our public realm. Where there are questions of a miscarriage of justice at any level, the people of God must move beyond party politics to seek righteousness and justice for all.

At the same time, we must also bring the love of Jesus Christ into our prophetic voice. Jesus was the one who revolutionized the broken human tendency for wrongs endured to swiftly become wrongs inflicted. Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:43-45). Even as we stand up for righteousness and justice, as hard as it is, we must not enter a cycle of vengeance where violence is added to violence. The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., whose legacy of non-violence on civil rights advocacy is unparalleled in our country, once wrote, “We have, through massive nonviolent action, an opportunity to avoid a national disaster and create a new spirit of class and racial harmony.” Violence will not create a community of peace.

In the midst of this, we must stand together across the normal human dividing lines with prayer. The only hope for us as the church and the nation is to move into the dream of God described in Revelation 7:9, “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” The starting point for this is prayer; our ongoing conversation with the living God together. Prayer is not a meaningless aside from meaningful action, but is an essential activity for any movement hoping to bring good. When we pray, we humble ourselves together before the living God. When we pray, we see ourselves and the world more clearly. When we pray, we enter into praise of a great and good God. When we pray, we begin to confess the sin and brokenness that grips us and others. When we pray, we are moved to call out for God’s power to be poured into a world that deeply needs Him. Prayer is where true unity and transformation begins.

So, please join me in prayer. Pray for the families who have lost loved ones in painful and violent ways. Pray for God’s guidance and protection over those who are protesting and those who seek to maintain order. Pray for the pastors and community leaders around our nation, who seek to forge a new way forward that is constructive and meaningful in these very dark and trying days.


For more on this topic you may want to take a look at:

Pastors Forum on Race in America and Resources for Digging Deeper

Pastors Forum - MKE Declaration

Two weeks ago my friend Kurt Owens reached out to me about joining a panel discussion of pastors from The Milwaukee Declaration discussing race in America in light of the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. With the killing of George Floyd this past week, the discussion feels even more important than before. We will join a few other ministry friends—Peter Borg, Kurt Boyd, Jay English, and Beverly Rehfeld—for this panel discussion today, Thursday, May 28, at 11 AM via Facebook live here.

As part of previous gatherings for the Milwaukee Declaration we assembled a “Next Steps” guide of resources for furthering the conversation. I am including that here with some updates for more recent resources:

If you are interested in continuing to learn more about how race and racism have defined life in America, and in our country’s churches and denominations, consider watching the following movies or reading the books listed below.

Movies
Drama
Amistad (1997)
42 (2013)
Hidden Figures (2016)
Just Mercy (2019)
Selma (2014)
Twelve Years a Slave (2013; WARNING–due to Hollywood’s most accurate portrayal of slavery, some scenes are inappropriate for children)

Documentaries
Milwaukee: 53206 (2016)
Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years 1954-1965 (1987, 1990)
13th (2016)
The African-Americans: Many Rivers to Cross (2006)
The Making of Milwaukee (2006)
Slavery By Another Name (2012)

Books
By Dr. King
Strength to Love
Why We Can’t Wait
Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?

Milwaukee and Housing
Selma of the North: Civil Rights Insurgency in Milwaukee by Patrick D. Jones
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein

Race and Inequality
Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in America by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva
The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit by Thomas Sugrue
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
“The Case for Reparations” by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Race and Faith
The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James H. Cone
The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America by Edward Blum and Paul Harvey
A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow by David Chappell
White Awake: An Honest Look at What It Means to Be White by Daniel Hill
The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race by Willie James Jennings
Roadmap to Reconciliation 2.0: Moving Communities into Unity, Wholeness and Justice by Brenda Salter-McNeil
Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America by Christian Smith and Michael O. Emerson
Rediscipling the White Church: From Cheap Diversity to True Solidarity by David W. Swanson
The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism by Jemar Tisby

Learn more about the Milwaukee Declaration and/or sign the Declaration here.

Senior Pastor Video Update in the Time of COVID-19 (May 27, 2020)

Here is my latest video update for Eastbrook Church as we navigate the time of COVID-19. I will continue to re-post these weekly video updates here at my blog for those who have not seen it or who are not part of our church but could use the encouragement. You can watch it here or at the Eastbrook Church Vimeo channel.

In this update I highlight one theme of Hebrews related to hearing the word of God, both in Scripture and in Jesus. I focus that in by mentioning a verse from Psalm 119:

Your word is a lamp for my feet,
a light on my path. (Psalm 119:105)

If we want direction in the midst of confusion, there is no better source than turning to God’s Word. If we want light in the midst of darkness, there is no better source than the Scriptures.

If this theme captures your interest, you may also enjoy reading a few other posts on my blog: