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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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