Daily Riches: The Inaccessibly Transcendent Christ (Charles Marsh, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Myles Horton)

“A Union student from east Tennessee named Myles Horton met him after he returned from his first visit to Abyssinian [Baptist Church.] Bonhoeffer, Horton recalled, was in an expansive mood and eager to talk. Horton accompanied him on a most animate walk down Riverside Drive, the whole way Bonhoeffer speaking excitedly–in both English and German, which Horton did not understand–of the preaching, the congregant’s participation, and ‘especially the singing of black spirituals.’ He conveyed the thrill of the flock voicing ascent with the preacher. Completely unguarded, at one point Bonhoeffer stopped abruptly and told Horton that this morning in Harlem was the only time ‘he had experienced true religion in the United States.’ Indeed, he had never seen such joy in worship anywhere before, certainly not in the melancholy north German plains. Bonhoeffer concluded that ‘only among blacks, who were oppressed, could there be any real religion in this country.’ His presence at Abyssinian that year coincided with important changes in Powell’s vocation as an urban minister. A skilled administrator as well as an eloquent preacher, Powell had already been senior pastor at the neo-Gothic church for more than twenty years. But with the Great Depression sweeping over the neighhorhoods of Harlem as bad as anywhere, he felt summoned to new convictions. For most of his ministry, he had traded comfortably on a notion of Christ as inaccessibly transcendent, the God-man in majesty. Lately, he had begun to dwell on Jesus as the one who wandered into distressed and lonely places to share the struggles of the poor as a friend and counselor. Bonhoeffer’s later formulation of the ‘Christological incognito’ bears the impress of Powell’s decisive awakening, of Christ going incognito into the world, ‘an outcast among outcasts,’ hiding himself in weakness.” Charles Marsh

“Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem”
Isaiah 53:3

Moving From Head to Heart

  • Does your understanding of Christ make him so lofty and powerful that he seems distant and inaccessible? Is there a place in your religion for the “despised” sufferer of Isaiah–who “shares the struggles of the poor as a friend and counselor?”
  • Would the Christ that your congregation worships have sufficed for Harlem’s forgotten people in the midst of the Great Depression?
  • When you think of Jesus, do you think of “an outcast among outcasts … hiding himself in weakness?” Would making room for such a Jesus lead you to some kind of “awakening?”

Abba, grant me a decisive awakening to Christ incognito in my day, in my world.

For More: Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Charles Marsh

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These “Daily Riches” are for your encouragement as you seek God and he seeks you. I hope you’ll follow/share my blog. – Bill

Daily Riches: Testing Christianity in Harlem (Thomas Merton and Catherine de Hueck)

“Few Catholics stop to think that Communism would make very little progress in the world, or none at all, if Catholics really lived up to their obligations, and really did the things Christ came on earth to teach them to do: that is, if they really loved one another, and saw Christ in one another, and lived as saints, and did something to win justice for the poor. For, she said, if Catholics were able to see Harlem, as they ought to see it, with the eyes of faith, they would not be able to stay away from such a place. Hundreds of priests and lay-people would give up everything to go there and try to do something to relieve the tremendous misery, the poverty, sickness, degradation and dereliction of a race that was being crushed and perverted, morally and physically under the burden of a colossal economic injustice. … If Catholics, she said, were able to see Harlem as they should see it, with the eyes of faith, as a challenge to their love of Christ, as a test of their Christianity, the Communists would be able to do nothing there. But, on the contrary, in Harlem the Communists were strong. They were bound to be strong. They were doing some of the things, performing some of the works of mercy that Christians should be expected to do. If some Negro workers lose their jobs, and are in danger of starving, the Communists are there to divide their own food with them, and to take up the defense of their case. If some Negro is dying, and is refused admission to a hospital, the Communists show up, and get someone to take care of him, and furthermore see to it that the injustice is publicized all over the city. If a Negro family is evicted, because they can’t pay the rent, the Communists are there, and find shelter for them, even if they have to divide their own bedding with them. And every time they do these things, more and more people begin to say: ‘See, the Communists really love the poor!'” Thomas Merton, loosely quoting Catherine de Hueck

“Those who give to the poor will lack nothing,
but those who close their eyes to them
receive many curses.”
Proverbs 28:27

Moving From the Head to the Heart

  • Would anyone say of your church, “They really love the poor!”?
  • Is “loving the poor” central to your life of faith? (It was for Christians at least up to the time of the Reformation.)
  • Do you know any Christians who live like the Communists Merton describes? I do. It’s not a fantasy.

Abba, teach us to love.

For More: The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton

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Thanks for reading/sharing this blog! – Bill

Daily Riches: Overwhelmed By So Small a Sign of Love (Thomas Merton, Catherine de Hueck)

In his autobiography Thomas Merton tells about joining the parents of young black students performing a play at Friendship House, a gospel outpost in Harlem started in the late thirties by Baroness Catherine de Hueck:

“It was an experience that nearly tore me to pieces. All the parents of the children were there, sitting on benches, literally choked with emotion at the fact that their children should be acting in a play: but that was not the thing. For, as I say, they knew that the play was nothing…. They were not taken in by that. Underneath it was something deep and wonderful and positive and true and overwhelming: their gratitude for even so small a sign of love as this, that someone should at least make some kind of a gesture that said: ‘This sort of thing can’t make anybody happy, but it is a way of saying, “I wish you were happy.” …If the Baroness had tried to face the tremendous paradox of Harlem with no other weapons than these, I think Friendship House would have closed down in three days. But the secret of her success and of her survival in the teeth of this gigantic problem was that she depended not on these frail human methods, not on theatricals, or meetings, or speeches, or conferences, but on God, Christ, the Holy Ghost. According to the plan of her vocation, the Baroness herself had come to Harlem, and had started to live there for God, and God had brought her quickly into contact with the others who were … the saints He had sent to sanctify and purify, not Harlem, but New York.”  Thomas Merton

The King will reply, “Truly I tell you,
whatever you did for one of the least
of these brothers and sisters of mine,
you did for me.”
Jesus in Matthew 25:40

Moving From Head to Heart

  • How often does some small gesture of yours convey “I wish you were happy.” to some person in need? Does that seem like a small thing to do in the face of gigantic problems? Can you imagine it being “overwhelming” in power?
  • Where you live, do you try to “live there for God” as Catherine de Hueck and others did in Harlem?
  • Is what you’re attempting for God too big to accomplish by “human methods?” Have you fallen into the trap of reducing ministry to what seems reasonable or attainable?

Abba, unleash the power of divine love through me and your sent saints.

For More: The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton

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These “Daily Riches” are for your encouragement as you seek God and he seeks you. My goal is to share something of unique value with you daily in 400 words or less. Thanks for following/sharing. – Bill