Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Karl Barth

Resistance is Never Futile – especially now.

No predetermined outcomes, and death is always a possibility. Yet resistance is never futile. It’s about our character. Not just then, but now.

I have a theological hero. He wasn’t the most well-behaved man on the face of the earth. He was human just as I am.

Yet he’s one of my heroes. He showed me how to listen to myself, to Christian scripture, and to what’s happening around me. With a newspaper in one hand, a Bible in the other.

Actually, it’s about more than listening. It’s about looking in a mirror and discovering painful reflections of myself. Often as a collaborator, not as a member of the faithful resistance.

Karl Barth came of age during the early years of Hitler’s reign. A citizen of Switzerland, he spent most of his professional life as a professor of theology in Germany.

Barth cut his theological teeth on Hitler’s final solution for Jews and others. He was one of a small number of resisting theologians, and an influential member of the ‘confessing’ churches movement that refused to support Hitler.

His theological work is, in part, a critique of Hitler’s brutal treatment of Jews and others, plus a vision for something different. Here’s what it would cost:

  1. Total allegiance to following Jesus of Nazareth, a practicing Jew whose total allegiance lay with Yahweh.
  2. Commitment to one simple theme: Hospitality to strangers. This habit of life challenges every human interaction, including Hitler’s behavior, and the churches’ treatment of Jews and others strangers.
  3. This stranger (neighbor) is the person or group of persons you’d rather not see or meet today. Maybe they’ll give you a mortal headache. Or beat you up and leave you lying on the side of the road to die. You never know. It’s easy to wish you could banish ‘those people’ who annoy, threaten or terrify you.

Hospitality toward strangers sounds sweet, even though it’s neither sweet nor harmless. True hospitality toward strangers is a life-changer for the hostess or host, not just the stranger. It can lead to life; it can also lead to death. As it did for Jesus Christ.

During the past decades, we’ve become polarized into stranger groups. It still happens today in churches, between religions, in public and private institutions, news media and families. Many groups vet members formally and informally by political or religious tests of various kinds.

Given today’s challenges, what would it take to show hospitality toward strangers?

I’m not naïve. All strangers aren’t safe. Neither is every friend or family member. Wisdom and discernment are necessary, though they can’t guarantee a desired outcome. Nonetheless, we need each other, no matter what the cost. It’s about the content of our character.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 February 2017, edited and reposted 14 May 2020
Image found at islamforchristians.com

Upside down and inside out

The glories of being intuitive do not include being correct. As I’ve noted before, intuition is as flawed as any other remarkable gift. My intuition is prone to wander, prone to read things wrong, prone to finding a way to make it all work out so I’m still on the ‘right’ side of things.

I didn’t choose this. It’s how I survived childhood and youth as the first-born daughter of a clergyman who believed he was right and I was wrong.

My instincts back then were correct: I was NOT always wrong. Not that I could do much about it back then except pray for the day when I would be an Adult Woman. An Independent Agent living by her own instincts, not yours or anyone else’s. And, of course, with God’s blessing.

I had no idea what it would mean to live according to instincts and intuitions shaped by years of resistance to homegrown and social trauma. Even so, I was often on target, especially when I was dealing with other people and their situations.

Going through old notes from 1994, I recently discovered a small phrase I used in a forum. The phrase is simple: ‘upside down and inside out.’

The notes referred to Karl Barth, German theologian of the mid-20th century. He wrote and taught during Hitler’s reign, the Holocaust, and in the aftermath of World War II. Plenty of trauma going on there, don’t you think?

In the 1980s, when I was a graduate student, Barth invited me to turn my mind ‘upside down and inside out.’ Not to play tricks on reality, but to discover a different way of discovering and naming truth.

He argued that because of human confusion in and around us, we cannot trust our instincts. His theology is a grand effort to show how this works—turning our minds upside down and inside out. So that what we call good or even ‘normal’ is not necessarily that.

So today I’m back to thinking about my instincts. Instincts honed and shaped by what we now call childhood PTSD.

Back then it was all about survival. Getting through without falling apart (even though I fell apart regularly, especially on the inside). I dreamed of arriving at the magic moment when I could live without threat of imminent punishment or humiliation.

I left home at 16 years of age to go to college, never dreaming what my lifetime learning agenda would be. Especially about myself and my instincts. I thought thriving meant living on my own, having a job and maybe even a boyfriend.

Yet thriving isn’t about having a life or even letting go of things programmed into me as a child. It’s about welcoming, affirming and living as the woman I already am.

Put another way, it’s about living on the other side of letting go. I want to name and own what I love about myself and about life. I welcome this opportunity to turn my let-go thoughts and feelings upside down and inside out. I have much to put to rest, and much to bring back to life. Just like those beautifully upside down, inside out flowers and plants in the artwork above.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 March 2017
Lovely artwork found at akiane.com

Response to WordPress Daily Prompt: Instinct

Resistance is Never Futile

Never. What’s at stake isn’t a predetermined outcome, and death is always a possibility. Yet resistance is never futile. It’s about our character. Not simply as individuals, but as communities and nations.

I have a theological hero. He wasn’t the most well-behaved man on the face of the earth. He was human just as I am. Some of his theological ideas still irritate me. That’s an understatement.

Yet he’s a theological hero. From him I learned to listen to myself, to Christian scripture, and to what’s happening around me. With a newspaper in one hand and my Bible in the other.

Actually, it’s more than listening. I call it looking in the mirror and discovering painful reflections of myself. Too often as a collaborator, not as a member of the faithful resistance.

Karl Barth came of age as a theologian during the early years of Hitler’s reign. Though he was a citizen of Switzerland, he spent most of his professional life as a professor of theology in Germany.

Barth cut his theological teeth on Hitler’s final solution for Jews. He became one of a surprisingly small number of resisting theologians, and an influential member of the so-named ‘confessing’ churches that refused to support Hitler.

His theological work is, in part, a critique of Hitler’s brutal treatment of Jews and a vision for something different. There were several parts to Barth’s vision for humanity.

  1. First, absolute allegiance to following Jesus Christ as witnessed to in Christian scripture. Jesus of Nazareth—a practicing Jew whose total allegiance lay with Yahweh. No matter what the cost.
  2. Second, a careful reading of Hebrew and Christian scripture in which he discerned a simple theme that brought every theological idea down to earth. Hospitality toward strangers. This theme challenges all human interactions including Hitler’s treatment of Jews and the churches’ treatment of Jews and others strangers.
  3. Finally, who is this stranger? (Or, who is my neighbor?) According to Barth, the stranger is that person or group of persons you’d rather not see or meet today. Maybe he or she gives you a mortal headache. On the other hand, that person might beat you up and leave you lying on the side of the road to die. You never know. It’s easy to wish you could banish ‘these people’ who annoy, threaten or terrify you.

Hospitality toward strangers has a sweet sound about it. However, as developed by Barth, it’s not sweet and harmless. True hospitality toward strangers is a life-changer for the hostess or host, not just the stranger. It can lead to life; it can also lead to death. As it did for Jesus Christ.

We can already see the USA becoming polarized into stranger groups. It’s happening in churches, between religions, in public and private institutions, news media and families. Many groups vet members formally and informally by political or religious tests of various kinds.

It seems a good time to think about what it would take to show hospitality toward strangers today. Especially, but not only if we’re followers of Jesus Christ.

I’m not naïve. All strangers aren’t safe. Neither is every friend or family member. Wisdom and discernment are necessary. But not political or religious tests. We need each other now more than ever. No matter what the cost. It’s about the content of our character.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 February 2017
Response to WordPress Daily Prompt: Criticize

Sabbath Sloth

Sloth from imgsoup.com

When I was studying theology in the late 1970s, I got excited about Karl Barth’s descriptions of sin. Weird? Maybe. At any rate, I’ve been thinking about one sin in particular—sloth. It’s one of the seven deadly sins. Often understood as laziness, as aptly demonstrated in the photo above.

It all started with my post about the mouth of a labyrinth. Read the rest of this entry »

Are You a stranger? | Dear God

Dear God,
Are You a stranger? you know–the kind I feel uneasy about. Even afraid of.  Eager to avoid at any cost. The kind I’d rather not Read the rest of this entry »

The cattle are lowing…

Sing, Choirs of Angels!

The cattle are lowing,
the baby awakes,
but little Lord Jesus
no crying he makes.
I love thee, Lord Jesus,
Look down from the sky,
and stay by my cradle
’til morning is nigh. Read the rest of this entry »

He Stands by Us

Karl Barth, one of my favorite theologians, preached periodically to women and men in the Basel, Switzerland prison during the 1950s.  Following each sermon, he and they celebrated Holy Communion.  The following excerpt is from a Christmas Communion sermon in 1958.

Barth’s sermon challenges me to take my place with the “Dear Brothers and Sisters” to whom he preached it.  The sermon isn’t elegant or literarily stunning.  Barth simply tells the truth in a direct, personable way to women and men looking for someone to stand with and for them right there in prison.  The excerpt is from the end of the sermon.

* * * * *

Luke 2:7:  And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

“. . . We probably find ourselves in a stable or an open-air feeding spot for animals.  Certainly not in a nice and comfortable place where people like to dwell because it looks so cozy and homely, or at least decent.  No, it was a place compared to which the cells of this house might well be called luxurious.  There were animals right beside, oxen and donkeys, as many painters have represented it.  In this gloomy place Jesus Christ was born.  Likewise, he died in an even gloomier place.

“There, in the manger, in the stable next to the animals, it happened that the sky opened above the dark earth, that God became man, to be wholly with us and for us.  There it happened that this fellowman, this neighbor, this friend, this brother was given to us.  There it happened.

“Thanks be to God, the parents and the baby for whom there was no room in the inn found this other spot where this could happen, and indeed did happen.   And thanks be to God, as we now consider the Savior’s coming into our own midst, [that] there are not only the various inns where he stands outside, knocking and asking.  There is quite another place where he simply enters, indeed has already secretly entered, and waits until we gladly recognize his presence.

“What kind of a place in our life is this?  Do not suggest some presumably noble, beautiful or at least decent compartment of your life and work, where you could give the Savior a respectable reception.  Not so, my friends!  The place where the Savior enters in looks rather like the stable of Bethlehem.  It is not beautiful, but quite ugly; not at all cozy, but really frightening; not at all decently human, but right beside the animals.

“You see, the proud or modest inns, and our behavior as their inhabitants, are but the surface of our lives.  Beneath there lurks the depth, even the abyss.  Down below, we are, without exception, but each in his or her own way, only poor beggars, lost sinners, moaning creatures on the threshold of death, only people who have lost their way.

“Down there Jesus Christ sets up quarters.  Even better, he has already done so!  Yes, praise be to God for this dark place, for this manger, for this stable in our lives!  There we need him, and there he can use each one of us.  There we are ready for him.  There he only waits that we see him, recognize him, believe in him, and love him.   There he greets us.

“What else can we do but return his greeting and bid him welcome?  Let us not be ashamed that the oxen and donkeys are close by.  Precisely there he firmly stands by us all.  In this dark place he will have Holy Communion with us.  This is what we now shall have with him and with one another.  Amen.

“O Lord our God!  When we are afraid, abandon us not to despair!  When we are disappointed, Let us not grow bitter!  When we fall, leave us not lying there!  When we are at our wit’s end and run out of strength, let us not perish!  Grant us then the sense of your nearness and your love which thou hast promised to those with a humble and contrite heart who fear thy word.  Thy dear Son has come to all men and women in despair.  To overcome our plight he was born in the stable and died on the cross.  Awaken us all, O Lord, and keep us awake to acknowledge and confess him! . . . Amen.”

Karl Barth, Deliverance to the Captives, Harper & Row ppb (1978). pp. 141-43.  Translated by Marguerite Wieser from Den Gefangenen Befreiung, published by Evangelischer Verlag AG, Zurich, in 1959.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 21 December 2014

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