Fleeing from a victory already achieved

“Who am I?”

By Dietrich Bonhoeffer (March 4, 1945)

Who am I? They often tell me
I would step from my cell’s confinement
calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
like a squire from his country-house.

Who am I? They often tell me
I would talk to my warders
freely and friendly and clearly,
as though it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me
I would bear the days of misfortune
equably, smilingly, proudly,
like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really all that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I know of myself?
restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
struggling for breath, as though hands were
compressing my throat,
yearning for colours, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
trembling in expectation of great events,
powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
faint, and ready to say farewell to it all?

Who am I? This or the other?
Am I one person today, and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
and before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army,
fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am Thine.

–Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Who am I?” in Letters & Papers From Prison (New York: Touchstone, 1953/1997), 347-8.

via “Who am I?” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer | Tolle Lege.

HT:  Ryan Gilles

OK, what about Newt?

The consensus of yesterday’s discussion here on the last Republican presidential debate is that Newt Gingrich had the best performance.  He is certainly conservative, experienced, creative in his problem solving, and very, very smart.  (It is said of him that the only preparation for a debate that he needs is a Diet Coke.)  So why not rally around him as the alternative to Romney?

Social conservatives and the Christian right turned against him because of his multiple marriages and his womanizing past.  But he is a recent convert to Catholicism.  He says his life is turned around.  Shouldn’t Christians accept that?  (Catholic question:  In Protestantism, a conversion to Christianity means that one’s previous sins are swept away.  In Catholicism, do his previous divorces and remarriages prevent him from receiving Holy Communion?)

The other thing against him is his reputation as an undisciplined campaigner, blowing through his fundraising and losing practically his whole campaign team.  He claims, though, that traditional campaigning like that is obsolete, that television and the internet–not kissing babies and pressing the flesh–are where elections will be won now.   Surely with the Republican party machinery behind him the practical aspects of campaigning could be taken care of.  He would surely acquit himself well in the debates with President Obama.

OK, I’m grasping at straws here.  But what would you think about Newt?

The World Serious

Even though the St. Louis Cardinals broke my heart by beating the Brewers in the playoffs, I find myself wanting them to win the World Series.  Not too long ago, the Cardinals were written off, 10 games back, with no hope for the wild card even.  But here they are in the World Series.  On paper, they are supposed to lose to the Texas Rangers–a team I also liked, especially last year in the series–but they have been defying whatever’s on paper with incredible clutch performances.  Chris Carpenter shutting down the Philadelphia Phillies, no less!  Albert Pujols batting close to .500!  And then the other performances all the way through the batting order!  And the manager Tony la Russa, said to be playing chess while all of the other managers are playing checkers!

What is your analysis, prognosis, and prediction?

God is Red

On Monday night, the dissident Chinese author Liao Yiwu gave a reading on my campus.  He read a poem, “Massacre,” about the killings of the pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square. For writing that poem, Liao was tortured and imprisoned for four years.  This led to his writing about his fellow prisoners and documentation of more government abuses.  He now lives as an exile from his homeland.  He also read from his latest book, God is Red, which is about the rise of Christianity in China, despite horrendous persecution.

Here is a review of the book by my colleague, David Aikman, a former correspondent with Time Magazine who covered what was going on at Tiananmen Square who is currently a history professor at Patrick Henry College:

Every so often, you come across a narrative of courage under suffering that is so well reported, so restrained and sensitive in its intelligence, that you are momentarily altered by the experience. Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich had that effect upon millions, both Russians and foreigners, in 1962. The publication of Solzhenitsyn’s novels—like Cancer Ward and The First Circle, for which the Russian writer was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature—even contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

It is far too early to guess whether Liao Yiwu’s latest book, God Is Red: The Secret Story of How Christianity Survived and Flourished in Communist China (HarperOne), will have any long-term impact on the author’s homeland. But readers will surely come away inspired by the landmark account of Chinese Christians living under the vicious political campaigns of the Mao era. (No stranger himself to political persecution, Liao was imprisoned during the government’s post-Tiananmen Square crackdown. He described his prison experience in Testimonials, an expanded version of which has just been published in German.)

Two ingredients, in particular, make God Is Red such a powerful account of Chinese Christians’ perseverance. First, Liao acknowledges that he is not himself a Christian, so he cannot be accused of trying to persuade anyone of anything religious. And second, the quality of his reporting is simply excellent.

The drama of the reporting derives from the fact that much of it takes place in remote areas of the Sichuan and Yunnan provinces. The characters Liao focuses on are men and women of extraordinary saintliness: the indefatigably beneficent Dr. Sun, for example, a man who turned down prosperous positions in China’s cities because he wanted to help the poor and outcast in China’s remote rural areas; the elderly nun persistently appealing for the Communists to return confiscated church property.

Some of the narratives are historically fascinating. There is the story of the martyrdom of Wang Zhisheng, an ethnic Miao executed by the Communists in 1973 and commemorated today by a statue in London’s Westminster Abbey. Almost as fascinating is the detailed story of the suffering of Yuan Xiangchen (Allen Yuan). A patriarch of China’s house churches, Yuan spent two decades in labor camps (as did his friend, the legendary Chinese evangelist Wang Mingdao) for refusing to join the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, the state-controlled church. Yuan died in 2005, but I can still remember visiting his house, which served as a house church, in the center of Beijing in the 1990s.

Like all good reporters, Liao lets his characters speak for themselves, without adding superfluous commentary. From hip-hop youngsters in Chengdu to seasoned old saints in Yunnan come varied stories of how each one became a Christian. From the same people come powerful recollections of the pitiless and evil tyranny of Communism as it struggled to dominate all of life in China. If you want to read one book that sums up the glory of the Christian witness under persecution and the tragic 20th-century story of China’s Christians, read God Is Red. Brilliant and immensely moving, it will, if anything can, inject new backbone into your own Christian life.

via Profiling Christians Who Have Suffered Under Chinese Communism | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

Some memorable lines from Liao, who spoke through an interpreter:  “To survive under a dictatorship, you have to lie.”  When asked about contemporary China, he said that Americans are so concerned with making profits that they are neglecting their traditional values of standing up for freedom and human rights.  He said that his father always told him that if you are confronted by a wolf in the mountains, be sure to look it straight in the eye.  If you don’t, if you look away, the wolf will tear out your throat and drink your blood.  He thinks we are avoiding looking China in the eye.

I think it was good for our students to be in the presence of someone who had been tortured for his political beliefs.  I think it was good for them to hear about Christians who were killed for their faith.

When I came to the event, an elderly Chinese gentleman came to the door about the same time I did.  I opened the outer for him, but then he insisted on opening the inner door for me.  We smiled and I welcomed him to our campus.  It turns out, it was Dr. Sun, one of the book’s heroes, a saintly physician who led Liao into his exploration of the Chinese church.  I don’t know his story, if he too was driven out of China, but I want to find out.  It was remarkable that he showed up for the reading.

Seeing people like Liao and Dr. Sun in the flesh turns abstractions such as freedom, persecution, and martyrdom into powerful, tangible realities.

Buy the book here.

The latest debate

We had another G.O.P. presidential candidate debate.  I’ve stopped watching them, finding them too disheartening.  If you watched it, please report in the comments.  Did anyone rise or fall?

Creative destruction

One side effect of the foreclosure crisis:  Many banks do not want to hold and pay taxes on run-down properties that no one will ever want to buy.  So they are razing the decrepit buildings that plague so many of our big cities and are donating the lots to new land banks.  These, in turn,  are making the land available for next to nothing for new development and neighborhood improvement projects.  (These include churches, which in some cases are getting land for expansion for pennies.) Thus we have an example of capitalism’s “creative destruction.”

See Banks turn to demolition of foreclosed properties to ease housing-market pressures – The Washington Post.


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