I started reading Christ for Us in the Theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by John A. Phillips. It was published in 1967 and it’s a bit dry, but I’m a big fan of Bonhoeffer, so I’m slogging through it. I’m interested in Bonhoeffer’s theology because it sheds light on Bonhoeffer’s actions which are where the rubber meets the road. Theology is a lot of thinky-thinky and doesn’t have much impact until people start doing stuff, which is where I will make the first digression of this post.
Before I started Christ for Us, I read The Case for God by Karen Armstrong, which I wouldn’t’ve read if it had been by anybody else because the title sounds like somebody arguing that anybody should believe in God, which I think is kinda pointless. Nobody comes to believe in God because of an argument, no matter how well written it is. But Armstrong is a wonderful writer so I went on ahead and it was well worth the time. The first thing that really grabbed my attention was Armstrong’s explanation that our modern concept of “belief” is a modern concept. We think of belief as an intellectual action – I believe the earth is round because I’ve been convinced by scientific evidence. This way of thinking about belief came about during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when the natural sciences were blowing up all over the place. Apparently, some folks were confused about the long established distinction between “logos” and “mythos” – that science and religion were different ways of thinking about different aspects of reality and were not in conflict with each other. Using science to talk about religion is like talking about upper-case and lower-case numbers. It doesn’t make sense.
Before the modern period, belief was like loyalty. All those places in the Gospels where Jesus talked about believing, He was saying “make a commitment and stick with it”. This is a huge thing. Many people have a hard time giving intellectual assent to many of the claims of Christianity – I know I do – who nevertheless show up and do what they do. I’ve handled it by accepting it – I mean, I find myself reciting the Apostles’ Creed and wondering if I actually, really believe some of the points – “resurrection of the body” is one – what does that even mean? Then I just let that go. I believe the big picture of the Apostles’ Creed and the finer details don’t bother me. Armstrong gave me information that rings true in my experience – I can certainly say that I give my loyalty to God, to Jesus Christ, to Christianity, and to my particular denomination, and I ain’t concerned about the exact details that some literal-minded fools seems to get all worked up about.
Back to Bonhoeffer – that kraut was put in a pretty tough corner. If ya don’t know anything about him, I’d suggest ya look him up, ‘cause I’m not gonna do a bio. The moral stand he took was possibly not the best – it’s about what I’d do, but I’m admitting the possibility that some other course would be better. The thing is, sometimes you have to pick something and then do that. It’s like saying “I’m not really sure I believe all these things, but I’m gonna act like I do”. Bonhoeffer made a choice and he saw it through to the swinging end.
So here I am, hunkered down in my house, quite aware that the coronavirus is only just starting to mess everything up. People gonna die. I’ve been doing quick guesstimates when they give the numbers on NPR – X people sick, Y people dead – and it’s seeming like the mortality rate is in the 0.14 neighborhood, with a wide margin of error because many people have it and don’t know, and because many more people will die. That’s a lot lower than the 1918-19 flu, which ran between 2 and 3% and was a lot harder on young adults than pandemics usually are. Still a lot of people.
And COVID19 is happening in an America that was in pretty shitty straits already, what with the lying, racist, orange dumbfuck in the White House. America is a spot on a world that is warming rapidly and no way of knowing how that’s gonna play out. It’s not hard to imagine that the planet just decided to release a deadly virus in self-defense. Back in my pagan days, I woulda been shouting that on a street corner.
Tough choices are coming. I’ve been really interested in people’s thoughts on God &c. for a long time for a lotta reasons, but one of those is I’m trying to get as many perspectives in my brain as possible so I’ll be better prepared to make choices and stick with them.
Before all this shit, I left a job and started looking for my next position. One of the places I looked -and sent a resume – was Open Doors, the local cold-weather, low-barrier homeless shelter. I think I could do a little bit of good there. When the first confirmed case of COVID19 in my town was reported, and local folks started to stockpile bread and toilet paper, I stopped by the Open Doors office and told them I was available to volunteer if needed. I got the email yesterday, saying they need people. So tomorrow, I’ll be hanging out with the homeless at this week’s location which is a Brethren church out in the county – Open Doors doesn’t have a building; they rotate around some of the area churches, which I think is a great idea. It keeps the overhead low and gets the local faith communities involved. Homelessness is a community problem, so the community should be involved in solving it, or just alleviating the worst of it. Christians are instructed to care for the poor, so they can step up.
There’s obviously some risk there – the homeless are disease vectors in the best of times – but I ain’t worried. My immune system is a badass muthafucka, and God has my back. I’ll do what needs to be done until they nail the lid on.
I always have mixed motives. That’s something that goes along with being a descendant of original sin – there is a selfishness in everything I do, no matter how altruistic it might seem. I want to work at Open Doors. Volunteering during a pandemic is one way to get a foot in the door and make myself look good to the boss. I’m hoping that I can make meself valuable and get on the payroll.
Or this thing’ll turn into a 28 Days Later scenario. That could happen.
Anyway, I’ll be digging into Bonhoeffer, praying, meditating, napping with the kitten, going out occasionally to connect to the internet, not worrying. I’ve got some art projects going on, some writing for school and some creative writing that I’ve been neglecting long enough. I know some loony preppers who are old and vulnerable, so if things really go south, I know where to go to get canned goods, guns and ammo. And I am fully confident in God.