Have Yourself a Bonhoeffer Moment

March 1, 2020

A while back there was a meme going around that pictured football players and soldiers. Two football players are kneeling on the grass. They appear to be praying. Underneath the turf is a tangled amalgam of bodies, drawn in a colorless light gray. On closer inspection, we see that those colorless bodies are wearing military-type helmets and carrying rifles. They are all crammed together, as if in a mass grave. Their faces wear no expression.
What is the message? How am I supposed to react? Am I supposed to see something that affirms my views on football? Football players? Soldiers? Praying? Kneeling? What’s the connection?
If I re-post it, will I get praise or criticism? “Likes?” “Angries?”
I’ve had varying reports from my Facebook friends. Some have been blasted for being white supremacists. Others have been praised for supporting one group or the other. Interestingly, nobody has responded with the implication that both groups, the soldiers and the athletes are in harmony with each other. Apparently, one is supposed to label each group as good or bad. So, some label the players as good; some label the players as bad.
This is an example of how one image conveys multiple responses, all of them based on prior knowledge, all of them based on fact. I, too, saw this meme and assumed it was promoting white soldiers. DUH!!!!!! If I hadn’t already chosen sides/issues, I would see that it is promoting the sacrifices that have benefited ALL of us. Put me kneeling next to those athletes. Put my family next to those athletes. When I become polarized, I bend over backwards to make the occasion fit my bias. My first reaction to the meme is that the players are portrayed as not being grateful. In fact, now that Facebook has made me look at this for more than 3 seconds, I see that the gratitude does not have to be divided by ethnic heritage or team loyalties. And furthermore, I’m reminded that protest is not unpatriotic, that protest is the first bloom of patriotism, unless we believe Thomas Paine was an idiot.
My FB post: “I never realized how many crosses I have in my office until I invited a Jewish person to have a seat.”
Friend’s post:They will know we are Christians by our love.ME : ????
Friend: “I shall not be ashamed of the Gospel of Christ.”
[Me, not posting: what does this have to do with —oh, apparently I was not only embarrassed but ashamed to have crosses on display in front of a Jewish person.]
This Facebook dialogue is another example of how our biases dictate our responses. It seems that my friends think I’m doing something magnanimous by having a Jewish person in my office. And by extension, it’s an opportunity to proselytize. We were not in my office for religious purposes; we were there for political purposes, coordinating call lists for a presidential candidate. But, I did feel awkward about the crosses, which are plentiful in my office, because it’s the most popular gift to give to a pastor. I don’t collect them: they accumulate. I guess I’m supposed to glory in the cross.
I found myself in the middle of an argument on a denominational Facebook page. (Something else to add to my resume: “argues theology on Facebook.” ) This argument is based on an article published by Sojourner’s Magazine in 2018 that wonders if it is time for a “Bonhoeffer moment.” An alarmingly short summary of the article is that the work of Bonhoeffer in our century is to do away with President Trump. A dubious connection. “Being Bonhoeffer” does not mean ridding ourselves of a corrupt leader. People are taking huge liberties with Bonhoeffer’s single deed of allegedly being in on the plot to assassinate Hitler. If removing Trump from office were the cure, the rest of us could delegate a hitman and sit on our hands. I’m smart enough to know that we can’t expect the death of one man to change things. Here’s my preacher card: The death of one man making a difference only happened once—when Jesus died.
Bonhoeffer was not an assassin; he was a theologian and a pastor. His most pressing concern was how his actions affected his neighbor. HIs priority was to stand up for his neighbor, especially if that neighbor were being persecuted.
I’m boning up on Bonhoeffer because I am troubled by my calling as our country moves toward a totalitarian regime. I’m not the assassin type, but what type am I? Am I the type who smells bodies burning and says, “must be a fire somewhere?”
Bonhoeffer says, in Life Together, “So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work. The Kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies.”
Do I have enemies?
I hold office hours at the local community center, which doubles as a tavern. I eat lunch there, chat with the bartender and with anyone else who is there.
The other day, the Sunday card players were there, playing a few hands before going back to work. I greeted them—they are always friendly to me. I sat at the bar and ordered the special, Spaghetti Casserole. The television hangs high on the wall and I was sitting right in front of it. The card players were across the room a little ways. The news was on and some of it was about the previous night’s debate.
At one point, Elizabeth Warren was pictured. Suddenly, one of the card players blurted out, “Fuck you, Elizabeth Warren!” I didn’t turn around, didn’t say anything. However, I felt personally attacked. The speaker did not say my name. He was not facing me. But his words hit me in the back like a rock.
Here’s the thing about the card players They are always polite, friendly, respectful. I found the “Fuck you, Elizabeth Warren!” to be very uncharacteristic.
At the same time, I know that they probably support the president, probably still hate politics and liberals on principle. They know my politics, know where I stand. It’s not like the speaker didn’t know there was “a lady/pastor in the room.”
I heard anger, the anger of frustration in his voice. I had never heard any of the card guys swear, other than “damn” and “shit,” which hardly count anymore.
I’ve been metaphorically waiting for someone to hurl a brick through my dining room window, because of my political activism. I guess today was the brick.
It did some damage.
It’s not that I love Elizabeth Warren. It’s that I hate hate.
I talked to one of the card players about the incident the following Sunday. After discussing the incident, he concluded that people were sick of having to be politically correct.
What is so awful about being politically correct? I think it means having to be nice to someone you don’t respect. Does speaking about “the other” as an equal symbolize a threat to the power one has as a member of the status quo?
So, that verbal brick left a mark. I want to take the “brick” and hand it back to the card player and say, “Let’s build something together. If I can do that, then so can you. So can your friend; so can your neighbor. Have your own Bonhoeffer moment.