Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Conversations with Bonheoffer

It is my sense that there are but few events in life that truly matter.

It is my further sense that these few events that do matter are events that, unasked and unbidden, transform us. They move us from where we were to a place so different that from that new place the option of retreat or return is denied. Where we were, we can be no more. And, from where we are, we can only go on.

Years ago, when my wife was still in the early years of her graduate training at Fuller Theological Seminary School of Psychology where she trained to become a clinical psychologist,I, as spouse, was permitted to audit classes for a fee so nominal one would consider it free. This I decided to do one summer, and, as the poet Robert Frost would say, "that made all the difference."

The class I attended was offered by Ray Anderson, Professor of Psychology as well as Professor of Theology, much in the keeping, I like to think, of William James of Harvard University,philosopher,psychologist,theologian.

Professor Anderson was man mature in his years mentally, physically, spiritually, and a man who prayed so beautifully that in and of itself his act of prayer presented at the start of each morning's session, five days a week since it was summer school, would have made the course a transforming life event had the day simply ended after his opening prayer. Indeed, a student asked and offered to record and transcribe Professor Anderson's prayers so that they could be recorded, published, and archived for those not privileged to hear that which was so freely offered to God in our presence. I fear that this did not occur, though I am sure his prayers still echo in heaven this day.

Never before and never sense have I been so moved by another's prayers, although there is another, Professor Hollenbecker, also theologian, who comes quite close, but that is another story.

The subject of study that summer was to be "The Life and Works of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.... German Theologian." Though at first I read Bonhoeffer, in time, the passage of which I became unaware, I ceased to read his words, and he, he, began to speak in a voice that seemed, as implausible as it is, audible to my ears. We entered into a dialog, I for the most part silent, the listener, and he the one with thoughts worth uttering. Though it be another story, I had never met such a man before, nor have I since. He could be pedantically tedious, for he is, after all a German theologian, but then, as in Life Together he would turn away from thought, and speak of Christ in the world and of the significance of community in Christ. It was at theses times I knew, our meeting was an event transforming.

I know, of course, he could not speak, for I was gazing upon his written word, but still I know equally well that I head him speak and felt myself transformed.

In the course of the summer I filled notebook after notebook capturing lecture and reading and bit by bit built my Bonhoeffer library searching used bookstores to find whatever was there for me to hear. And so I was transformed by a man so brilliant few could challenge his intellect and so intellectually honest that he permitted himself to be transformed by his own writings becoming the head of the underground Lutheran Church in Germany during the reign of Adolph Hitler, and even though censored by Hitler, and even though offered refuge in England as well as America, chose to remain in Germany, ultimately being arrested, imprisoned, and executed by the Nazis less than a month before the War in Europe came to a close in1945.

There are so many stories that find their beginning in that class I took that summer, but I stray, for even though I moved deeper into my love of Bonhoeffer, years passed and events in life occurred, transforming events, knowingly unknowingly moving me again, again, again. Where I was, I was no more, and where I stood .......... sand where stone once had been.

And so.......... earlier this week, unintentionally, in the cluttered clutter of my cluttered desk,I came across a book, a special book, given to me by a student in times ago who had permitted me to mentor him at the university where also I teach. We had spent three years together, meeting once a week, choosing a different book of our liking, usually a different one each week, simply to engage in a dialog as to how and why the book moved us this way or that. This we did, often in the company of another student of equivalent grace, and less often with an ajoining third, at an hour so early that as we finished, there was still time to grab a quick cup of coffee before meeting my 8:00a.m. class.

As time requires, we parted, he to continue with the deepening of his education in his young life, and I to simply carry on. But he, upon leaving, somehow gleaning from our time together, the significance I grant to Bonhoeffer in my life, gifted me "A Year With Dietrich Bonhoeffer" edited by Carla Bonhill. This I received, with thanks, but set aside for from where I was I heard his voice no more.

I left the gift untouched.I felt little of that which I had felt so many years ago in that summer that could pass but once. His voice had become silent and the conversations from the page had retreated to written form and become but words again.

I have been reading Yancy on prayer and whether it really matters and how is it that God seems to spend so much time not answering presented pleas. And, I had arrived, after some time, at the point where I would pray, "Lord may Thy blessings pass over me to those with greater need." And perhaps I did this because then when God would leave my prayers unanswered it would be because I had requested that he do so... and so I was able to make Him listen. But as weeks passed, my prayer began to make sense and I think at times I actually realized how many are they with greater need. And although I know an omnipotent God has more than enough resource to meet my trivial needs as well as those of commanding need, I also know that He does not in any way that I can understand and so, I came to believe in the merit of my prayer
asking that what blessings are still to be distributed, that they pass over me. And, in time to this I added, "Lord, may Thy mercies wash over me. Treat me not with your justice, but with your grace." And so I came to this point: I am in need, not of God's further blessings, but of his continuing provision of mercy and grace.

Desks, even my desk, must at times be cleaned. And so I embarked on that task. And so it is that I chanced upon the book gifted me. It had hidden quite near, unseen all this time. How often I must have passed near it perhaps even with a grazing touch... the book of silenced words. I opened it. I stared at the pages. I turned to the date of the day's mediation and looked again. It felt a stranger in my hands so long had it been. I read. Words, just words. Still I continued. Time passes. Unaware, unbeknownst to me, line yielded to line. The written word faded from the page. And then, then, a familiar voice from summers long ago spoke again to me as though we had never been apart. Dietrich was home.

I do not know how long he will stay, or why he will have to go. I do know that I have missed him so.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Got a blog for father's day

Strange things happen to those who wait.

This morning, while sorting through my e.mail account I came across one from my first born, now fully grown and long ago on her own. For some reason, at present beyond my understanding, she has presented me with this blog--set it up on her own, e.mailed me the access codes, gave me no instructions on how to make it look like I don't know what I am doing. Just said "Here. Go for it.".... only she didn't even say that... just e.mailed the cryptic codes.

I know I didn't ask for a blog. I never thought I needed a blog. This is totally unexpected. Certainly, there must be a proper and correct response to such a gift. Certainly this is not the first time a blog has been given. Still, I am somewhat at a loss. What rights and responsibilities do I have? Neophtyic bloggers are so easily lead astray I fear. What ethics apply?Is one obligated to accept and become the guardian of an unsolicited blog? Is the obligation here similar to that one incurs when one is asked, "Would you like to say grace?" while sitting at mere acquaintance's table for a first meal? There one cannot decline without incurring a greater need for grace for not giving it. My sense is that declining to blog in one that is given constitutes a faux paux. Still, from a simple practical standpoint, how many blogs are already out there, and how many more are needed and who reads a blog anyway besides the person writing the blog and perhaps someone stumbling through cyberspace on their way from one place to another on a url'd tour.

What could my first-born be thinking? Perhaps she is so embedded in cyberspace that she thinks we should all be there together, sitting around the cyber-table cyber-sharing the events of the day just like the Cleavers.... only in cyberform. Or, perhaps she has found the perfect cyberpresent to replace the traditional physically bound neck-tie of pre-cyber father's days. If so, I would certainly grant you that a blog is much better than a neck-tie, especially since if you don't like the color of your blog you (not me as of yet) can exchange at will for one's more to your liking. Still, as father's day presents go, nothing beats the little hand-prints on clay and paper that you get when your kids are so young that pocket change still seems like a world of money.

Perhaps she is telling me that she doesn't know enough about me and my life anymore and that if only I could/would blog then perhaps we could regain some of the closeness we had when I used to pack her on my back and ride the bus to graduate school with my lunch sack tucked in between her diapers, desitine, and pins that stuck me many more times than they did her just to plop her in the corner of my office while I would try to get one of the early versions of SPSS to run from a set of control cards that had a mind of their own. Or, perhaps she misses the days when I would place her on my shoulders for a field trip to National Lumber on a Saturday just to smell cut lumber or McDonald's on a Sunday for a breakfast of orange juice and french-fries that we would take down to Huntington Beach Pier to share with seagulls who would eat from your hands whether you liked it or not while her mother lay sleeping without the faintest of ideas as to what morning or morning people were all about or why anyone would want to see the sun dance off surfer crested waves five hours before a it would cast no shadows, marking, she was sure, a proper time for rising. Perhaps she is thinking that... or perhaps that thinking is my own.

She is my first-born, the one who revealed creation to me in the moment of her coming into being. She is the one who in leaving her mother's womb to enter my world, did so with skin so squeezed by the narrow passage that she looked fish-dead white only to become deep blue/black/purple with no hint of any color I had expected a newborn child to be, scaring me so that my first words to her were, instead of the intended "Welcome little one," "Breathe damn you, breathe." Breathe she did and breathe she does and that, that has made all the difference. Still, I am not sure that one of the rights of the first born is to bestow upon the father a blog... especially a father such as I who is as social as an agoraphobic hermit on retreat.

Cyberspace and I are not friends. Technology and I are at odds. Indeed, in my Ludite enlightened world, there is a general sense that once clay tablets were supplanted by papyrus, parchment, and vellum and the stiles used to mark the clay were made obsolete by the quill pen, enough was enough. Indeed, were there a font that gave a sense of said quilled pen, I would use it, but the script offered is so without splotched ink as to make it appear more as the calligraphy on a wedding invitation rather than the writings of one who in his mind's eye sits at gnarled desk with sight granted solely by the undulations of a flame teased by the vespers of an evening come.

Still, were a blog a tie, I would, out of love alone, put it on, try it, wear it for a day.

And so, with the same courage I called upon to set down the ball-point pen in favor of the gell-pen, I post to the billions who will not come and the one, my first-born, who will, this, the beginning blog of bob

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