Government Takeover of Textbooks?

OK, not really–but there are new federal regulations that require colleges to list their textbooks with the course listing.  Since our line schedule comes out next week, I have to select books now for fall classes.  Here’s what I will be using:

For a new course on Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Life, Thought, and Influence, I will require the following:

  1. Letters and Papers from Prison (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Vol. 8).
  2. Ethics (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Vol. 6).
  3. Stephen Haynes, Bonhoeffer for Armchair Theologians.
  4. Jürgen Moltmann, Jesus Christ for Today’s World.

The new edition of Letters and Papers is due out this June.  It is nearly twice as long as the prior English edition–and will unfortunately be much more expensive.  But the Bonhoeffer Works volumes are magnificent editions, carefully edited and translated with helpful introductions and annotations.  The English series is nearing completion, following the German editions which appeared throughout the decade of the nineties.

The book by Stephen Haynes is also new and I haven’t seen it yet–I’m walking by faith here–but I assume it is of the same quality as his two prior books on Bonhoeffer.  Finally, I am using one of Moltmann’s little volumes because the course deals with Bonhoeffer’s influence.

Professor Moltmann spoke in 2008 at the Prague Bonhoeffer congress on Bonhoeffer’s influence on his own life and theology.  He mentioned that he was originally a bit put off by the formal and “churchy” language–Moltmann himself was brought up in a secular household and came to faith as a prisoner of war after an American army chaplain gave him a New Testament and Psalms.  He joked that his first reaction to Bonhoeffer’s Life Together was that after his years in prison camp, he had had quite enough of life together.

The book Jesus Christ Today is professor Moltmann’s attempt, some forty years later, to answer a question Bonhoeffer raised in one of his prison letters,

Wer ist Jesus Christus für uns heute?  Who is Jesus Christ for us today.

One answer is given in a chapter on Jesus Christ and Torture.  Jesus Christ is the brother of the tortured and the judge of the torturer.

Beautiful Prague

I am traveling again.  I am in Prague with my daughter Tabitha.  We are going to present a paper at the International Bonhoeffer Congress, which is meeting here this week.  We arrived early to do a bit of sight seeing.  I am learning to speak without vowels and type on a european keyboard.  Well, thez reallz do have vowels, it§s just that letters like l, r, m, n etc. can be used as vowels.  And z an y trade places on the kezboard.

I am planning to see the statue of Jan Huss today.  he was the earlz reformer.  A hundred years before luther he opposed the selling of indulgences.  In his days the indulgences were sold to finance papal wars.  He was promised safe passage to go to a conference to discuss his views but was betrayed and burnt at the stake.

Lets hope european conferences are safer and more civilized these days.

Traveling Mercies

Anne Lamott

If you have ever walked out on a speech by Tony Campolo, this book is not for you. Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies is one of the reading selections I brought along.

Anne grew up in San Francisco in the 60s and 70s with secular parents who were devoted to progressive causes. She did have some adopted “moms” who told her she was beautiful and God loved her. Later in life when she eventually admitted she was an alcoholic (but before she admitted she had an eating disorder) she started attending an African American church. If C.S. Lewis was was England’s most reluctant convert, Anne eventually became America’s most reluctant convert.

Somebody forgot to tell her some things, e.g.: Christians don’t cuss; Christians don’t believe in abortion; true love waits; and God is a republican. In a chapter dealing with forgiveness, she includes Ronald Reagan and George Bush (the elder; the book was published in 1999) among those who have hurt her personally and whom she finds it hard to forgive.

The portrait she paints of her self is not always attractive. You see her making the same dumb mistakes over and over again. One thing I admire about Anne Lamott, though, is that she remained loyal to all her friends whether they were atheists (most of them), Buddhists (a few), alcoholics (most of them), or whatever–I don’t suppose she ever had any republican friends; but she does describe one attempt to forgive one who happens to be the mother of a classmate of her son Sam.

If you can get past her personal failings, the book has something important to say: namely that people like Anne Lamott are the very people Jesus came to call as his disciples. She is a pretty good example of the kind of people the “emerging church” (or is it “emergent”? I sometimes forget) movement is trying to reach. She is a pretty good example of what Bonhoeffer’s nonreligious Christian might look like.

What Does God Need?

The obvious answer would be that God needs nothing from us. It was the answer Epicurus gave: the gods are perfectly happy and their bliss is neither diminished nor enhanced by anything we do. Passages in the Bible also agree, that God in his eternal divinity is in need of nothing–certainly not sacrifices. As David says in the Psalms, speaking for God,

If I were hungry, would I ask you?

God has all the glory he needs as well. Our pitiful attempts to “give” him glory and praise do not supply any deficiency in God.

And yet that is not the whole story:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from prison a poem about Christians and Heathens. He said all people go to God in their need, but Christians stand by God in his need. (I will post the poem in a day or two.)

The message of Easter and Holy Week is that God so identified with our needs that he became one of us, taking on our guilt, death, sickness, and needs. When Jesus walked this earth, he needed food and shelter, friendship, and strength from his Father.

He also said,

“Inasmuch as you have done unto the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done to me.”

We could speak abstractly about God been self-sufficient, immutable, and almighty. We could suppose that God can do anything he wishes. What we know is that he has chosen to work through us to fulfill his work on earth, his work of love, compassion, and providing for the needs of his children. As long as there are hungry, suffering, abandoned, or lost people on earth God needs us.

Sabbatical Plans


It’s hard to believe I’ve been at MCC for seven years, but here I am on sabbatical. Right now I’m studying at home, and enjoying time with Elijah when I can. Soon I will be leaving the country.

I will be working with a church in Buckie, Scotland, as interim minister and mentor and tutor to a young minister who will eventually be taking over full time. Scotland, as my former Colleague Scott Caulley says, “has a fine theological heritage.” Unfortunately, at least in the northern region near Buckie, there is a shortage of ministers. The church in Buckie has been served by American preachers for over thirty years. A young man from the congregation is now ready to take on the task of leading and guiding the church. I will be there from the last Sunday in March through the last Sunday in April.

Then I plan to spend a week in Tuebingen, visiting Scott Caulley at the Institute for Research in Christian Origins. While there I will present two papers to seminars led by Dr. Caulley. We also plan to worship with the church that has been planted by the mission that sponsors the Institute.

Sonja had planned on joining me for part of the time in Scotland and Germany.  We have decided that she needs to stay home to take care of the dogs and ‘possums, and I’m sure to spend some time with the new granddaughter Ariana Grace. I am going to learn where all the best shops and restaurants in Tuebingen are, and maybe next year the two of us will take a vacation trip there to visit with the Caulleys and wander in the Black Forest.

In May, I will go on to Klaipeda, Lithuania, to teach a class on epic literature.

Lithuania Christian College was founded in 1991 when the country gained its independence. After fifty years of communist oppression, the country’s leaders recognized communism was morally, spiritually, and economically bankrupt; so they asked Christian leaders to establish a Christian university that would train a new generation of leaders.

They want young people with a spiritual and ethical foundation and also an entrepreneurial spirit. They offer degrees in business and psychology and include a core curriculum of biblical and theological studies. The college has a good website:

My friend Alex is going to join me the last week in Lithuania.  He is going to rent a car, so that we can take some short day trips in the afternoon, and some longer weekend trips.  I hope they don’t have an autobahn in Lithuania, because Alex likes to drive fast.  In his job as a pipefitter he is used to walking on narrow beams 30 stories in the air, carrying heavy pipes and equipment.  He doesn’t consider that living dangerously.

Alex’s ancestors are Lithuanian, and he is looking forward to seeing some ancestral places. He will also be sitting in on my class.  He is reading all the books now: Gilgamesh, Homer, Vergil, Dante, Beowulf.  Alex has a great love for life, and we plan on having a great time.

After returning home to check on the tomatoes Sonja will have planted, my plans include one more trip to Europe, this time to Prague for the Tenth International Bonhoeffer Congress, where I have the unique privilege of presenting a paper together with my daughter Tabitha. We are currently working separately on different parts of the research, but will compare notes and work together on compiling the finished paper.

My travel plans are an unusual combination of professional development and academic work, mission work, and personal vacation.