Lent: Having Lost, But Not Necessarily Losers

Post a Comment » Written on April 1st, 2009     
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CHICAGO, IL (April 1, 2009) – John Weborg is Professor Emeritus of Theology at North Park Theological Seminary and a longtime columnist for The Covenant Companion. Each week during Lent, we are sharing one of his columns that originally appeared in the magazine. The following appeared in the April 1996 issue.

By Dr. John Weborg

North Park Theological Seminary hosted a visit by Albrecht Schoenherr, then retired Lutheran bishop of East Berlin. He entered the ministry of the Confessing Church, having served with Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Following the Nazi reign of terror, he served the rest of his ministry under another and larger period of great woe, the Communist regime of East Germany. This is the same bishop who saw to it that Erich Honnecker, former boss of East Germany, received care during a long and debilitating bout with cancer.

Here we have the persecuted and persecutor drawn together by the ministry of Jesus Christ. In his eighties when he visited North Park, Schoenherr had now seen the wall come down and a country in the process of reunification. During a question period he was asked what the East German church brought to the table in the work of bringing the church together. His answer was something like, “Our poverty.”

Flannery O’Connor reports that when novelist Walker Percy won the National Book Award, he was asked why there were so many good Southern writers. He answered, “Because we lost the war.” As O’Connor points out, Percy was not speaking primarily of the Civil War as good subject matter. It is that. O’Connor says that in addition the South entered “the modern world with an inburnt knowledge of human limitations and with a sense of mystery which could not have developed in our first state of innocence…”

Furthermore, says O’Connor, “in the South, being the Bible Belt, there lurks the transcendent God of Moses who through that tempestuous servant pulverized human and historical idols.” This leads O’Connor to speak of a double blessing: the lost war, or Fall, and the means to interpret it, that is, the narrative of the Bible and its God. O’Connor’s words also fit Schoenherr: his country had lost a war too, in fact two of them, in this century.

Not only that, both of them, being Christians, knew well that the God of Moses has zero tolerance for idols, whether they be made of metal or political and racial ideologies. God is a jealous God and brooks no courtship of his people by a false suitor.

Schoenherr and O’Connor speak of this God, but not as the God of lost causes. And while both of them were on the “losing side,” neither of them were losers. They speak of loss with strength and of God with great awe. I think it would be fair to say that they speak more of service to their times than the time of their service.

One of the reasons may be found in a term of wide currency in liberation theology. It speaks of God’s preferential options for those who love and suffer in the process of being faithful. While Schoenherr brought an obvious poverty, he brought a mysterious power: God’s preferential option for those who lost virtually all and gained everything.

Such servants know all along that God is bringing things to justice and they hurry it along. So as God “pulverizes” the powers of tyrants and slave owners, his choicest servants get caught in the process. They have nothing to bring when it’s over but poverty and scars, both of body and soul. But they come with God’s preferential option. It is not an authority to be brooked.

In any case I have gained a new sensitivity for those who bring only loss and poverty to the table. They are not losers and very likely bear God’s preferential option. But often they evoke resentment and ridicule among the privileged and powerful.

The people on welfare, refugees, people with various disabilities, those seeking rehabilitation, immigrants, those born out of wedlock, and others may have lost much, but don’t call them losers. They may bring only poverty, but in doing so, they have brought everything. Have we on the other side of the table brought anything equal to that? Let’s start with receptivity.

Editor’s note: to read previously published columns as part of this special Lent series, visit the following links:
•    Lent: Standing By Your Word
•    Lent: Tears Can Do Double Duty
•    Lent: Encountering the Divine
•    Lent: No Easy Easter
•    Lent: The Chagrin of Lent

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